The most assuredly perfect timing of Halsall, the fuel boat… and the ropes are frozen again. #narrowboat #England

There was a spot of frost about yesterday morning.

Alright, that’s typical English understatement, it was as cold as the heart of government.

Yeti were seen to be slipping their toes into Ugg boots and to be wriggling into Duffle coats, scarves and woolly hats. The local drug users found themselves at a loss as the flames from their Zippo lighters froze solid underneath their spoons.


The Cardinal’s ordinarily better-behaved stove flue is smoking that way because I had just bunged on some fresh “coal” briquettes, some of which must have been harbouring damp. Mr Stove, generally in a good mood more often than not these days, keeps the Cardinal sufficiently warm overnight (with just one or two nocturnal feedings) that I don’t get goosebumps when leaping out of my bunk and performing my customary two-hundred press-ups, three-hundred star-jumps and warm-down stretching exercises.

My domestic first-thing-in-the-morning routine is an up and down the boat one, cleaning and feeding the stove, checking the stated state of the battery banks, putting the kettle on to heat, firing up the MiFi unit and asking the laptop to join me in the study, that sort of thing. Narrowboats are by design long and narrow, so each job usually involves plodding from one end of the boat to the otherm trying to remember to do half of two other jobs on the way past. Eventually it all settles down and I can huddle over the morning news online, sipping a glass of the blood of the orange fruit and savouring the aroma of coffee grounds drowning in hot, not boiling, water.

The hoar frost appeared to be playing technical havoc with the Virgin electric trains passing by in the dark, each one was trailing blue-white fire and a trail of sparks from its overhead power-pickup pylon. The sight was more than a touch post-apocalyptic and very impressive. I noticed later in the day that all trains were then passing at no more than a walking pace, presumably while some chap in hi-vis mended the damage with a hammer. They’re all back to “normal” now.


The ropes were frozen solid again of course.


It was quite amusing in an “I’m in the warm and just being nosy” schadenfreude sort of way to watch the boat moored up ahead trying to untie. Their wooden cratch cover had frozen solid too, and required much messing around to loosen so that they could reach out to the ropes. The ropes themselves didn’t know whether to bend or to just snap like twigs. The gentleman on the bow eventually worked everything loose and flung the rope to his companion on the towpath. The rope remained in the shape of a triple-granny double-wonder that’ll-do knot, and had to hugged and cajoled into coiling away.

Ee by gum, I were reet glad to not be moving, just watching.

The coal situation is not quite as dire as the lead photograph would suggest. The Cardinal sports an “indoor” coal cellar, and that, at the moment, still contains four sacks of coal, one of kindling and a bucket of the tools for the making of Man’s red fire. The single sack on the well deck looks lonely and forelorn, but in truth it is not alone.

However, Halsall, yonder The Fuel Boat, is on the roam and rove again after the confustications of the Silly Season (Spendmas and New Year). We have been in touch via the techno-wizardry of the interwebnettings, and they are due to pull alongside and tie on for bunkering tomorrow afternoon. Six more sacks will join that lonely one, and fifty or sixty litres of gently warmed Napoleon Diesel will splosh into the Cardinal’s tank to bring him back to “brimmed”. I must remember to keep my shoes on and a jacket handy.

If nowt else, I want this weight of fuel aboard to help with keeping us as low in the water as possible, the better, I hope, to get through the Harecastle Tunnel sometime very soon.

The way ahead looks, initially, to be inoffensive enough…


…but it leads to an overgrown place called “Stoke on Trent”, and that is a place that is as rough as an elderly badger’s bum.

Mr Wedgwood began his career hereabouts, the site of his factory is just up ahead. I am sure though that this (nineteen sixties?) “Sunshine Desserts” type of blot on the landscape is not the original factory!


This is where they make that unglazed blue stuff with the white raised figures on it, the stuff that makes my mind ache just touching its rough surface. Some people love it, my mother loved it, but I don’t.

I won’t be taking the factory tour, thank you very much indeed but no, thank you.

One thing that I do thank Mr Wedgwood for though is the canal.

The Trent & Mersey canal was completed in 1777, due in large part to the self-interest of Mr Wedgwood and his need to move goods to and fro his factories as efficiently as possible and at minimum cost.

I shall pause to salute the factory when I cruise past.

Unless there’s a really heavy frost again, in which case it’ll be to cold to pause and he’ll have to make do with just a nod.

Is it bed-time yet? Too early to go to my cabin again with a steaming mug and a damned good book? Are you sure? It must be mid-evening somewhere in the world, why do I have to keep to local time?

Damn, I’ve just remembered that I finished my damned good book yestereve, I shall have to choose a fresh one from the shelves. Somewhere there’s a Hornblower that I haven’t read yet. It’ll probably take me until evening just to find it.

Chin-chin, chaps.

Ian H.


    1. Thank’ee kindly sir, I have this day ordered that a small, virginal goat be taken to the hills and sacrificed in your honour! Did I write “goat” there? Silly me, I meant to say MP. 😉

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  1. I would have loved a Wedgwood visit, but I suppose there is limited space on a narrowboat for display. Nice to see a train in proper situation above the water. I found it most disconcerting on the occasions the line was lower than, or passed under, the canal.

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    1. The canal system does feature every combination of cross-over and cross-under that you can imagine. It seems alien sometimes to be cruising along, high over a busy roadway. Then again, I’m not too fond of tunnels under roads and railways – I just can’t bring myself to trust the design and workmanship! There is at least one junction on the canals where a motorway meets a railway meets no fewer than two canals, all crossing over and under one another…

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  2. I am jealous of Mr Chapman – I haven’t seent the stars for weeks, and Venus is high in the East at present but I have not been able to see her for some time.

    That scritty Wedgewood Jasperware? Hate it with a vengeance!

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    1. Jasperware sets my teeth on edge at the slightest touch, it’s that rough, fingernail-on-blackboard surface… not for me at all. When the weather plays the game I do get spoiled sometimes on the Cardinal, when moored miles from anywhere without any light pollution the sky can be stuffed to full with stars (and nearby planets).

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      1. This morning the beautiful Venus was smiling on me again and she held off the clouds so that I had some sun until a little while ago – so good while it lasted!

        Beware the Jasperware, hateful stuff. Mind you, I have the same horror of Swansdown – my Ma had a powderpuff made of it and it made me squirm if I ever touched it. Odd, ain’t I?


  3. Are all the English Canal systems connected to each other. Could you, should the insanity possess you, mooch all the way to the Thames and London and finally to the Sea? Or is the canal system localized in different parts of the country? If it is just localized, was it ever a large interconnected system, like modern highways are?

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    1. Provided that your boat is of a certain size (no bigger than is the Cardinal, 57′ in length) then most of the system is connected and accessible. One or two stretches of canal are isolated, a few others require some braving of tidal flows and large rivers to connect. One day, if the madness takes me, I will indeed head south and scoot through London and onto the Thames (but only the more “civilised section”, heading upstream, not down)! For one thing I have to take Cardinal Wolsey to visit Hampton Court Palace… It is also possible for narrowboats to lock out into The Wash and cross there, although you do have to be either very brave or very silly to do that (miles and miles of open sea). For the moment though, and for the foreseeable future, I am staying on the tame sections, they are adventure enough for me! 😉

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      1. Goodness. I wouldn’t think a narrowboat would be safe in waves and sea conditions. I’m glad you aren’t going out.
        I wish the US had maintained more of it’s Canals. There used to be one from where I live up to the Great Lakes. But Roads and Railroads came along. Then it had a major blow out and no one fixed it.
        On the other hand I live on the Ohio River and that is still used for commercial traffic. A lot of coal and ore goes up and down it. So it seems to me that a canal connecting the River and the Lakes would a used. Even now.

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        1. I think that even The Wash is a bit borderline for narrowboats, those who do it have to have an experienced pilot aboard, and choose flat calm weather – but it’s still not for me and mine! 😉 Canals could be so useful if they were expanded and new ones were built instead of roads, specifically for freight. Heck O’Reilly, the “government” in England has just mooted this revolutionary notion that some of the local railway lines that were closed down in the nineteen-sixties would be a boon and a benefit to all if they were re-opened… well, duh! We really aren’t the brightest little species in the test tube!

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  4. And here I am in sunny Northumberland pondering at the amazing sight of the barometer on ‘Fair’ and hygrowhatty thingy at 50%. I actually saw the stars last night and went to my outside freezer without a coat on!

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    1. The weather is indeed a most lumpy thing! I have always had difficulty coming to terms with why weather is so variable and localised, when all of its basic causes – ocean currents, the tilt of the earth, insolation, the lie of the land and wotnot – can be regarded as just about constant in the grand scheme of things. Doubtless what I regard as huge variations are just minor irregularities in what is a fairly stable global system. Tis all about perception and scale. No wonder the Ingurlish can rant on for ever about the weather! 😉


  5. Yes ’twas the coldest night so far and time to stock up (and stoke up) for the big freeze yet to come. Hope the writing projects going well? Keep warm!

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    1. Tis indeed that time of year. The writing is bouncing around – I keep changing from one project to another, but at least they’re all getting some attention! 🙂


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