Tag Archives: Swans

Home Sweet Home

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At last. Settled. Our new home. Same old house (narrowboat) but a new location. Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire. We’ve been here now for just over 2 months. Getting to know the area. But at the moment, as I write this, we have been off the boat and away more than here on the boat. Let me explain.

You see, my best friend has a new art studio (she paints acrylicly). It just happens to be in this neck of the woods and was a long drive from Apsley, where we were moored previously. Now it’s only a 40 minute drive. And, we’re out in the country, surrounded by lots of natural foliage and occasional whiffs of manure.

The marina is part of a working farm near the town of Droitwich Spa. This field, near the canal, kept flooding, so the farmers thought…hmmm, next to the canal. Boaters need a place to moor. Let’s build a marina on this useless piece of farmland. And a good job they made of it too. Complete with a boaters’ lounge. Comfortable space to relax with free TV and everything. There is also a block for toilets and showers…even a bath in one of the rooms. I think we’ll stay.

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The offices and diesel jetty at Droitwich Spa Marina from the canal.

My favourite place is the boaters’ lounge, the top floor of the marina offices and small shop that sells everything from milk to mooring pins. The upstairs lounge has comfortable seating, is carpeted, has a balcony and a TV. A sideboard provides us with free coffee and tea and a sink. I go there to use the free wi-fi and do some writing. Rarely do people come in. But when they do, I get to meet some interesting folk, then they get on with their stuff and I continue with mine.

One day, a family came in…dad, grandparents and two little girls. They all had ice cream. We said our hellos and they went over the other side of the room, licking and slurping away. I was typing away when I sensed a presence. I looked up and there was a small girl offering me a some of her ice cream. I thanked her but politely declined. Boaters are a friendly bunch.

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Boaters’ Lounge looking out to marina.

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Boaters’ Lounge with the coffee and tea bar.

The chap who runs the marina is Nick, the farmer’s son-in-law. He is everywhere at once. I think he has been cloned. He fixes this. He moves that. He is in his enormous tractor hauling a narrowboat to be blacked (read through back Blogs), he’s cutting grass and he is in the office administrating. There is a staff of competent people who do most of the office work. Nice group they are too. Very pleasant. Very helpful. Nick orchestrates all of it, and is off to do 10 more things at once.

Everything we need for boating is available here. Diesel, pump-out for those who have built-in shitters, boat equipment in a small chandlery, gas for cooking and heating, coal or wood for our stoves, water and electrics. I mentioned a toilet block with showers, an elsan point (to empty our shitters) and an enclosed space to get rid of our rubbish. All of the jettys are long and stable. But they are quite narrow. You must have your wits about you when walking the length. Don’t want to fall in the water…again.

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The Glad Victor moored at Droitwich Spa Marina (north end), long, narrow jetty and no boats either side.

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Droiwich Spa Marina from the south end. Shower block to the right of the tree.

The marina is only a mile from town, a good walk and great exercise along the towpath. It spills out onto a park and the main shopping area of town, replete with many pubs and a train station. We walk in, buy our supplies for the day and walk back. It has been very hot here since May. On one trip into Droitwich Spa, I complained that I was hot and tired. “Oh, stop your moaning you baby,” says my best friend. “I’ll get you an ice cream if you behave.” Result.

When we arrived at the marina, there were no boats on either side of us. We loved the space around. Open the windows, look out at the water and breathe. But then they began to arrive. No, not other boaters. Ducks, coots, swans and an unidentified fowl that half quacks and half squeaks. With no boats on either side of us, they can jump up on the jetty and poke their beaks in our window, looking for munchies. On the other side of the boat, the water is wider. That’s when the male swan, a grumpy bugger, sticks his long neck up to the open window and hisses and snaps at anyone who walks by inside the boat. Bring on the other boats.

Our old marina had space for a little over 60 boats. Droitwich Spa Marina has 238 moorings. Lots more people and goings on. We’ve met some of our neighbours. Good bunch so far. One chap even helped my best friend carry groceries back to the boat from the car. He is a hulking sort of chap with a very little dog. It takes all types. We have a couple from Australia who come to England to cruise the canals. One of the boats beside us is used for trips out only. Nice couple own it. We have yet to see the other boat on the other side of our jetty. Apparently, they are out all summer long.

We do have our resident curmudgeon. He is several boats away and grunts when we greet him. So, we stopped with the greetings. One day as he passed, we said nothing but he still grunted. Not sure what that was supposed to be. And, we have the naked lady. She is alone on her boat. She likes to wear nothing as she sits in her boat. I only know because one day I stopped to look at some baby ducks by her craft and she was sitting naked by her window. I stared in utter amazement until she caught me. I have gone past her boat every time since, eyes down, staring straight ahead.

Lots of fowl babies too. Ducks, coots and finally, cygnets. We are the 4th boat from the northern end of the marina. On our first day at the marina, the end corner was fenced off with orange mesh (Nick’s work of course) protecting a nest with 4 swan eggs. The mother was off doing something we guessed. On our way up the cut we had seen plenty of cygnets and so we thought this hatching was probably late. It was, according to the local boaters.

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Swan on nest and a hint of Nick’s orange netting..

We thought the mum was not being attentive enough. It happens. The usual vultures circled the nest…the heron, the seagulls, various vermin and a fox. Somehow the eggs survived. This charade went on for a couple of weeks. We had to leave the boat one weekend, thinking when we came back the eggs would have finally been destroyed. And they were. All gone we thought. Stupid mum. Then, up the jetty beside us where there is no boat (yet) came a mum, a dad (old grumpy Gus) and 4 cygnets. Relief. All are doing well.

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Apsley to Droitwich: Day 2

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Day 2. Heading off into the mist.

Up at 4:45 am. Check the engine (oil, water, stern tube and weed hatch). All good. Start the engine by 5am. Have coffee. Untie and go. It’s a very cold start this morning….3 Degrees Celsius. Heavy mist on the water, the sun is low in the east, just rising. My hand is frozen to the tiller. And so begins Day 2.

We make our way through a very thick mist to the next set of locks. Winding past moored boats on tickover. Don’t want to disturb boaters at this time of day. The going is slow. Tickover is the slowest our boats can go and you hear the engine actually ticking over. How ’bout that.

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Under Bridge 107 and into one of the Soulbury locks.

We head toward Milton Keynes. They feature part of this artificial city in the Harry Potter films where Harry is living with the Dursleys.

Milton Keynes was built in the 1960s to alleviate London sprawl. The government back then basically said, ‘Here’s some land. Build a city.’ And they did. I’ve heard the word sterile used to describe it. But going through on a narrowboat, you’d never know you were in an urban centre. We wind through parkland, a few houses and fields. This early in the morning only a couple of joggers are about, one dog walker and a few cyclists. Always cyclists.

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Houses along the way on the canal with private moorings.

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Ready to lower the boat in a lock.

And it’s warming up thank goodness. My best friend puts on more coffee and I begin to thaw. We can use all electrics on the go. We have a Dometic Travel pack that allows us to use 240 volts on the move. Brilliant piece of kit, already on the boat when we bought it. We can use all appliances, sparingly, and our coffee maker gets a lot of use.

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CRT dredging part of the canal. Day 2

Today we’re heading for the Buckby locks. If that proves a little too ambitious, we’ll moor up a little sooner opposite Rugby Boat sales. On the hill next to the canal is a great pub and Inn, The Narrowboat. I vote for an earlier mooring even though it is still a 12 hour day, 35 miles and only 13 locks. That’s a lot of non-stop helming.

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Best friend at the helm with Deb looking on. I’m walking along the towpath for some exercise.

We also have to go through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, where most of the day’s locks reside and the Blisworth tunnel of nearly 2 miles. Of all the things to get through on the Cut, tunnels are my least favourite, especially when boats are coming the other way. I get my first and only injury at Stoke Bruerne too. I hardly notice the great pubs along the top lock as we pass. 3 years ago, when we came down this way to Apsley from Crick marina, we stopped to eat at the Indian restaurant canalside. Best one ever.

Ah, the injury. I was told to stay on the boat. My best friend and Deb feared for my life if I got off. You see, I am a bit of a klutz (clumsy) at times and boats are a challenge. My fellow travellers said, ‘Stay on the boat. If you get into trouble, honk the horn.’ The horn….that’s another story. Anyway, we got to one of the Stoke Bruerne locks and the wind got hold of the boat as I tried to keep it steady and ready to go into the lock once the gates were opened. The boat got blown to the side, so I stepped off (naughty boy), grabbed the rope and held the boat along the edge.

When it was time to go into the lock, I put the rope back and grabbed the boat ledge on the roof to get back on. Well….there was a chunk of cement broken off the side of the canal wall where I stood and some clown had filled the breach with loose gravel and not cemented it in. My right foot slipped on the loose gravel, went between boat and cement wall into the canal, scraping it badly along the side and my left knee smashed down hard on the gravel. I pulled myself up and got on the boat.

My left knee was bleeding badly, my right foot was soaked and my lower leg was torn and cut. No time to whimper. Get into that lock. Secured. Gates close behind me. A shadow looms overhead. My best friend. “I saw the whole thing. You idiot. All you had to do was stay on the boat.” “Yeah, but the wind and the gravel….” There were no excuses I could give that were good enough to save me. “I don’t care,” said my best friend. “Just look at the state of you. Can’t do anything about it now. Wait until we get through the tunnel.” I poured a bottle of water over the affected area and drove on, bleeding all over my shoes and the deck.

The tunnels are dark, cold and wet. Sometimes, the water pours from pores in the ceiling and rains all over me. The other 2 hide inside the boat. I have a front floodlight to light the way ahead and warn other boaters coming toward me that I’m present. All the lights have to be put on inside the boat (a regulation) and I close the doors behind me as a safety precaution. Some days are wetter than others. This was a bad one. I was soaked by the time we exited, nearly 2 miles later. But I had the whole tunnel to myself this day.

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Mum duck and ducklings.

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Canada Goose and gosling.

On we go, past some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer….and, yes, more great pubs that tantalize but are verboten because of our deadline. Besides, we were heading for the Narrowboat Inn. I was determined. The most fascinating thing about Day 2 has been the number of families of ducks, geese and swans all along the Cut, as well as Herons. No families of those, but so many eyeing the families of others. Herons will eat anything small and furry , even small rabbits.

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The English countryside. Day 2.

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More fields of gold (rapeseed).

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Ubiquitous Hawthorne trees along the route.

We have crossed over 2 aqueducts today too. Narrow pans of water high over the land or a train network or even a river. These aren’t that high and have railed fencing on either side for safety. But they afford good views of the land about. Never a dull moment on the Cut.

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Aqueduct No. 1

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Aqueduct No. 2

We gradually wind our way to Stowe Hill Wharf where we find Rugby Boat Sales and, as ever, The Narrowboat Inn on the hill. We moor along the bank just before a bridge. At this time of the day, moorings are hard to come by and we are a little too close to the bridge. But chances are, no one else is coming through tonight and we are starting again very early the next day.

The Narrowboat Inn. Tired as we are, the hill climb is worth every step. I have a cheeseburger with the works….a gourmet burger at that….and 2 pints of Pale Ale. Back to the boat and straight to bed. Day 3 is not far off.

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Morning mist at our mooring at Stowe Hill Wharf. Getting ready to go.

 

 

MARINA BABIES

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MARINA BABIES

Last year we had ducklings in the marina that I Blogged about in Duckingham Palace. They have all grown up and since moved on to greater things, I hope. It was a pleasure watching them grow week by week. The duck lady raised them as much as mother duck did. She has become the marina wildlife guardian and feeder….the good stuff, not bread and other things that are not supposed to be good for them.

Then an edict from above came over the ethernet to all residents of the marina not to feed the ducks in the marina because it caused them to poop on the pontoons. We didn’t think the demand went far enough. The ducks fed outside the marina ought to be told not to come into the marina for fear they would poop on the pontoons and we would be blamed. Not for us pooping on the pontoons, you understand, but those pesky ducks. Nonsense, all of it.

Feeding ducks, geese, swans and coots is a time-honoured tradition that goes back to prehistoric days when cavemen fed pterodactyl and such. You can dispute that fact all you like, but you weren’t there either. The point is, going to the park to feed the ducks and such is a given. Feed them better food than bread if you like, but feed them we must. I’ve read conflicting reports as to the efficacy of feeding swans bread. Some say it’s okay, others say they get some kind of wing disease. I also read that, unlike ducks, swans only eat what they need. Ducks are a bit like me. They eat anything put in front of them until they explode.

So this year a wrinkle has been thrown into the mix at our old marina. At first we thought there would be no ducklings. Duckingham Palace lay empty and no baby fowl of any description could be seen in the marina. The only babies we had were of the human species on our side of the marina. 2 of them to be precise, a male and a female. We made no attempt to feed them even without an edict from above (head office for those who have not yet caught on….no deity involved here).

At first it was 4 baby coots. Then it was three. They are so tiny that even a fish could swallow them. Apparently, we have a mean-spirited Pike in the marina who has a taste for cootlings and ducklings when they are very small. It may have been the Heron. We just don’t know. Anyway, 3 survive and took up residence in Duckingham Palace….a changing of the guard, so to speak. Cute little coots too. Tiny balls of black fluff cheeping away as they passed by.

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Cootlings head for their new home in the marina.

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Cootlings being fed in their new home.

Then in moved the swans with 5 cygnets. They are the ugly ducklings of Hans Christian Andersen fame. I remember Danny Kaye singing the song. But they are anything but ugly….the cutest big balls of fluff ever. Swan parents are not good at sharing space, so the Coots were driven out and the swans moved in to Duckinham Palace and what a scene that has been. Try moving 5 large fowl into a space built for tiny ducklings. Result? The roof was displaced slightly.

I suppose feeding them in the marina doesn’t count in the overlord’s dictate. They do not usually get onto the pontoons to poop and only eat a certain amount. The same goes for those very pesky Canadian Geese that are prolific and profligate. They give all Canadians a bad name. And they hiss a lot as you walk by, even when no goslings are involved. We don’t like feeding them, greedy buggers. Come to think of it, that’s what my best friend calls me….a greedy bugger….hmmm.

Anyway, the swans swim up to us when we are sitting at the end of our pontoon and pretty well demand being fed or they’ll start snapping at our legs and feet. And they do. They snap at them and hiss at us even when we feed them. They are protected by the Queen, so we can’t fight back. Canadians may be greedy, but these are nasty, vicious, English bastards I have to say. Still, we forgive them now because of the babies who don’t hiss or snap….yet.

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The coots, meanwhile, had to move into an old tyre (tire) tied to the back of a boat that came into the marina a week or so ago. It’s a temporary home that the mm or dad or both threw together when they were made homeless by the vicious swan parents. We all hope the boat owner doesn’t move out any time soon and leave the poor Coots completely homeless. That would be tragic.

And so into the mix come the ducklings. At last, the darlings of the marina. I don’t think it’s the same mum as last year, but who knows? They do tend to look the same to me. The duck lady will know. I’ll have to ask her when I see her next. They were 8 ducklings now down to six and are nested on an impromptu stand situated at the back of the duck lady’s boat. Problem” The duck lady has a cat who loves to torment the ducks by sneaking along the gunwale to the back of the boat and saying BOO! in cat speak, scattering the mum and ducklings out into the centre of the marina.

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Quite entertaining actually. Mum duck appears to have a certain quack for “Swim for it!” as they scatter wildly when she quacks it. As long as no one gets hurt….don’t judge me. And so it goes, day in, day out and we love it. What we don’t love is nature taking its course when some babies depart from this earth. Always a sad moment. I’ll update as time and situation permit. In the meantime, get out there, buy some fowl food and feed the little buggers wherever you are. Rise up and defy the Man. It is our right and our heritage.

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FROZEN!

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FROZEN!

Here’s something you don’t see very often. Our marina frozen over. And for the 4th day too. Late January has not been kind to us here in the balmy south of England. We can’t blame Canada for this cold front. This time it comes up from Continental Europe. That’ll teach us for trying to leave the EU or more determined than ever to go. Try to freeze us out will ya?

The only fun in all this is watching seagulls trying to land on the ice and seeing ducks pretend they can skate. Gives new meaning to the National Hockey League (NHL) team name of The Mighty Ducks. English ducks aren’t used to the ice. Suffice it to say no ice hockey scouts are coming around here looking for talent. Especially of the feathered kind.

While on the subject of ice hockey, congratulations are in order to the first Britsh (English) ice hockey team ever to win a major European championship. The Nottingham Panthers came home with the Continental Cup after beating an Italian side. Even though 8 of the 22 man roster are Canadians, with 4 Americans and 4 Europeans, 6 are English and 3 of those are actually from Nottingham. Nice one guys.

But I digress. Back to the marina in Apsley. We have had our stove on 24/7 for the last few weeks. And we have resorted to putting on the central heating from time to time to supplement the need to keep warm. Last winter, the marina froze over one night and that didn’t last for very long. So this year is an anomaly and we are doing our best to cope. One night it went down to -8.5C. Our boat neighbours’ outdoor thermometer said so. My best friend was away at the time, visiting family at the old homestead. I stayed behind to keep the boat from freezing up. How noble.

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Day 2 Frozen boat

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Day 2 Frozen marina. Our boat can be seen.

Much of the canal outside the marina was frozen too. Chimney stacks on boats in the marina and along the cut are working overtime. The guys who sell coal and wood from their boats are rubbing their hands together in glee over this good turn in fortune. The south of England is usually quite mild in the winter. But now this. We’ve gone through bags of coal like there was no tomorrow. Will it ever end?

That’s not to say the south of England is a complete stranger to this kind of winter weather. But it is very rare. The coldest snaps in the south go back to 1739/40. Then in December 1878 and again in 1879 but in January the south froze over. The temperature went below zero for weeks. The next baddie was in 1947 and the worst in 100 years came in 1963. There have been days here and there in the years since, but nothing like in 1963. Glad I lived near Toronto, Ontario Canada at the time.

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Day 3 Front of boat looking into the marina.

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Day 3 Looking out from the end of our pier into the marina.

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Day3 Frozen boat from just outside the marina.

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Day 3 Ice between ours and Eddie’s and Mimz’s boat.

Wait a minute, what am I saying? The average daily temperature for Toronto in the same week of January was -21C and reached -24C on the 24th. The average temperature for the whole month of February was -14C. Colder than the south of England in 1963 and certainly colder than here at the moment in 2017. I was nearly 12 years old back in 1963. I remember cold winters where I lived in Grand Valley. Makes me shiver to think.

So, I’m not going to complain. A couple of years ago, a friend back in Ontario put a photo of herself digging snow from her drive in Orillia, Ontario. It was over her head. They’ve had some bad ones in the last years back there. I don’t miss that. It gets so cold over there that those who are of my age and have good pensions usually vacate the province for a few months in the winter and head for Florida. They are the lucky ones. Those who stay are the avid snowmobilers, skiers and those with kids or grandkids in the upper tier ice hockey leagues.

Me? I’ve become much less hardy since moving to the south of England 11 years ago. That’s why I get antsy when the temperature hovers around the zero mark and then slips just below. And it has become more pronounced since moving from house to boat. Two winters now. At least the boat is warm. That reminds me, have to go out there after writing this and put some more coal in the scuttle. It’s a good fuel. Low smoke and leaves little ash. But not looking forward to going out to get it. Just checked the temperature. Nearly 7pm and it’s 2C.

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Day 4 Swans on ice.

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Day 4 Frozen solid marina.

Before I go, I must tell you about a lad I caught in the marina a couple of days ago. He and a mate had ridden here from elsewhere on their bicycles. I saw one of them, about 14, over the way inside the marina which is private property, for boaters only. He had bare feet and was just putting on his socks and shoes when I hailed him (yelled really). He had been down testing the ice to see if he could walk on it. Obviously he couldn’t. It’s only an inch or two thick at best. Then I watched him, as I walked toward him, pick up an object and toss it onto the ice. It must have been heavy enough because it broke through the ice.

I hailed….yelled….”Oi, this is private property. You can’t be in the marina.” He shot back, “Wha!? At’s paffe’it” (‘that’s pathetic’ in case you weren’t savvy). “But that’s what private means (I wanted to add, ‘you cretin’, but he wouldn’t have got it and so I refrained). It means the marina is for those who belong and you, young man, do not.” He reiterated his first phrase. Then I said, “Come on, out you go. You’ve been caught on CCTV and the police have been called” I lied. There is CCTV but I hadn’t reviewed it.

“I dunt do nuffink (you can guess)” he said. “Yes, you did” I replied, “You threw something onto the ice near a boat.” Wew (well)” he said as he climbed the wall to get out, “Oi wuz finkin’ ‘o dem pooah bo’ahs, stuck ‘n all. Oi wuz troyan ta get ’em loose.” I laughed out loud. The comebacks these young wiseacres come out with. Anyway, on his bike he got and the two sped off in a mad dash to avoid the police who were never called and never came. I think I’m safe in telling you this. Doubt he’ll ever see or read this Blog. Stay warm.