Friday, 29 September 2017

South West holiday - The Boat

This blog is fast turning into a travel journal! I think it's because I'm doing so much paid work that the 'Fun Things I've Made' aspect of this blog isn't really needed at the moment.   I'm sure it'll pop back up soon.

At the end of the summer, in the first week of September, I took myself off on a much needed holiday. I'm trying to buy a house at the moment, so I knew it had to be as cheap as possible.  I emptied the contents of my kitchen cupboard into a cool bag, and brought along a sandwich box.  No lunches out for me!  This was also the least planned holiday I'd done in a while.  I'd had no time to look up any activities, other than where I'd be sleeping.  Instead the idea was to turn up at a location, talk to people, get hold of a map, and figure it out as I went.  In some ways this took a lot of the pressure off.

I also knew that that I'd be travelling alone.  Given that I've been very out-of-sorts lately, I wasn't sure if I'd be in the right headspace for this,  so I decided to go visiting.  The week-long trip would connect me with friends and family I don't often get to spend time with (with the bonus of being able to sleep on their spare beds and couches, saving money on accommodation).  Although in the end it turned out that my favourite location was the one where I was completely alone after all...

My first stop was in West London, where I joined my friends Matt and Eloise on their narrow boat, the Tittlemouse, travelling from Hayes to Brentford...

Matt and Eloise have't done their habitual canal tour this summer, after a small fire on the boat meant they had to re-panel and repaint around the kitchen.  However I didn't get to visit them last year, so I was determined to make it this time.  As a last big challenge for the summer they were on their way to team up with three or four other boats and go as a flotilla down the big scary tidal Thames, to Limehouse and back.  I joined them at Willowtree Marina in Hayes on Friday evening, and would be travelling with them through at least a dozen locks to Brentford to meet the others.

Even after two years apart (they're both busy teachers, and even more infrequent on social media than I am) it's reassuring to see that they're the same people.  Matt is pleasingly artless; he says what he thinks, means what he says, and unashamedly likes what he likes.  Eloise remains such an obviously lovely person, gentle and quietly wise, and has a knack for seeing quality in both things and people.  I find I've missed their simplicity in what for me has been a complicated year.

We make a start, cruising for while before mooring for the night.  Eloise and I steer and catch up across the tiller, sharing the challenges and joys of the last year, and the hard truths that come with getting older.  We eat good pizza and chocolate eclairs, turn the dining table into a bed for me, and I fall asleep early and easily.  I slept well on the boat last time too.  It's dark and quiet, few people are on the towpath at night so the window hatch is left open to let in the fresh air, and the whole thing shifts and moves under you.  It's a lovely cosy nook, but feels surprisingly spacious!

Woke at 7am, an hour before my alarm, and dozed about till the others were up.  Cereal in pyjamas, and then tea left balancing on the roof of Tittlemouse as we worked our way through a series of locks.  Matt promised us five but I swear there were at least eight!  Mostly Eloise piloted, Matt ran ahead to prepare and fill the next lock, and I closed the gates and paddles behind us.  As a trio we worked through them smoothly and swiftly, but the sun was up and it was quite a workout!  Stiff paddles and constant hand-winching with a windlass is hot work.

Between two sets of locks Matt and I wound up walking on the towpath together and had a good chat, mostly about the kinds of trees we know and the changes in our living situations that were coming up.  They are also buying a house - a different kind of life in a stationary dwelling - but will keep Tittlemouse too.  There's never an awkward silence, just an occupied one, as there's always something to do; steering, looking at the water, naming birds, strolling along, winching paddles.

What I like about the boat is the sense of being somehow apart from everyone else.  There are people on the towpath but they can't touch you or get at you, and mostly the world doesn't bother you. People are out there, driving by or rushing about, but you just slip quietly by behind screens of ash, hazel and hawthorn.  A relatively straightforward and serene pathway through an otherwise chaotic world.

We reached our mooring spot just in time for lunch (which was lovely, and at which I learned about this weird cod roe paste that Matt loves.  It's disconcerting, which is mainly down to the very very pink colour of it, but oddly nice to eat on a cracker!)  We found that we'd stopped right next to two of the boats that were joining the Thames flotilla, so the owners popped in to say hello.

About that time I had to head back to my car.  Matt and I found time for a quick music session perched on top of the boat, with his fiddle and my ukelele, and then I had to go.  I went to a train station to catch a bus, to get to another train station, to get on a train, and when I got off that train I walked back to the Marina along the towpath, which took about an hour.  It was fine enough weather though, and I saw a lot of herons, some sleek and serpentine and others a bit bedraggled.  There's also a lot of cormorants around here!  Found the car and drove down to Dorset, my next stop.  My grandparents live in Poole, and had dinner waiting courtesy of my uncle Jeremy, whose pie is delicious.

A tank of fuel: £40
A day on the Tittlemouse, with Bed + Board: 1 loaf of banana bread, and a lot of winching.

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