With a car in Stoke-on-Trent, and a funeral to attend down in Dorset, it was time for some rationalisation… parking up in Alvecote Marina for a few days Fran stayed put looking after Sir, while Bob caught a train from Tamworth to Stoke to rescue the car, drove home, then to Poole and back, then caught a train back to Tamworth. A frenetic couple of days: it was good to get back to the the boat! All the trains ran to time: a pleasant surprise.
It had already become clear on this journey that Biggles was living up to the old adage that any cat in unfamiliar territory immediately forms a one-feline escape committee – that’s why they’re into every room, cupboard, drawer, whatever: always looking for a way out.
Heading down the Trent & Mersey through familiar territory towards Fradley Junction on a hot sunny day, as we approached Wood End Lock (soon, it was to appear, to be christened Wits End Lock), it was clear there was a queue of boats in front of us so we decided to stop for an early lunch while it cleared.
The first mate came up and said that the Captain was throwing a wobbly and not at all happy. On descending into the saloon to investigate, Sir fought his way through the locked cat flap into the well deck – didn’t think that was possible. Then he burrowed under the bottom edge of the securely fastened cratch cover – didn’t think that was possible either. Finally, with the feline equivalent of a cry “Geronimo” he leapt three feet across the water to the towpath while we were still travelling, and disappeared into the thick hedgerow.
It was impossible to moor where he’d gone overboard, so we backed up to the nearest place and started searching and calling. After lunch – with no sign – and in need of provisions, SWMBO went on a long trip down the towpath to Fradley Junction, while I continued calling and searching up and down the hedgerows for some distance either side of where we were moored (which was some distance from where he jumped overboard).
At about 19:00 he strolled in through the front deck area completely unconcerned – butter wouldn’t melt – and started eating his dinner.
As he now seemed to be well settled, we left him with his usual access outside overnight so he could do his business. Vaguely aware that he went out at zero:dark early, there was no sign of him at breakfast. Or lunch. This time he came back, again completely unconcerned, about tea time.
A 28 hour snack lunch must be some kind of record.
Locking him in, we steamed through Fradley Junction on to the Coventry canal without stopping for a beer at The Swan (sacrilege) and ended up moored at Whittington, a nice little village with a decent pub for dinner.
A sunny Saturday spent hooked up to electricity and water in Great Haywood Marina catching up on the washing and drying, while someone visited the large Canal Side Farm shop adjacent, and someone else supervised the engine maintenance requirements (oil and filter change now it’s run in a bit). Guess who did what.
The quiet night weather-wise saw a large hot-air balloon drifting very slowly over the marina in the evening, and another coming into land just across the railway line at 08:30 Sunday morning: there’s an outfit based at nearby Shugborough Hall, and it was pretty much perfect weather for it. Don’t see nearly so many balloons these days, I guess the foot and mouth restrictions some years back made it all too difficult for many operators.
Wandering further down the Trent & Mersey Canal on Sunday afternoon, after passing the delights of Rugeley power station and the Armitage Shanks toilet factory (bidets are clearly in at the moment) and getting near Kings Bromley, we both saw a weasel-y animal rearing up out of the canal-side greenery before bolting across the towpath into the woods. First time ever we’ve seen anything like that on a canal (though I guess there’s no reason why we shouldn’t). Eschewing the old joke, Google suggests the black-tip on the tail means it was a stoat. Definitely a first.
Normally reluctant to leave the boat during broad daylight, and not entirely happy in a busy marina with people traipsing through the boat fixing things, Sir expressed his approval of our quiet, remote and sunny moorings near Kings Bromley by diving off immediately into the bushes and returning two minutes later with a small rodent which he ceremoniously discombobulated on our newly cleaned floor. Good job he didn’t find a stoat…
Escaping from the Stoke-on-Trent megalopolis, just down the Trent & Mersey canal lies the market town of Stone, which is a favourite place to stop overnight. Moorings right in the middle of town, the Co-Op delivers to the boat, or Morrisons is a short walk, plenty of decent restaurants, and of course the Star Inn, at which a glass of Guinness is mandatory…
Then on down to Great Heywood in the rain, with a short diversion and stay on Tixall Wide (an odd place) then a night in Great Heywood Marina to catch up on chores and get the first engine oil change done.