7.35am Taking Casper through a lift bridge.
The nice lady on the wireless had said the weather in Shropshire was going to be spinky sponky and full of sunshine. These weren’t her exact words but it is what she meant. So it seemed to me and Flash that we might take Casper out for a spin on the water. It’s been a while since the engine has done any hard labour and a tootle on the Llangollen will blow away the cobwebs and instill a feeling of deep joy in the Higgledy bones. I thought it prudent to take a strong coffee with me to the stern and so made myself a Java Palarva….a super strength brew for those who operate heavy machinery in the early hours. Casper’s Beta Marine engine started up like a peach and within a couple of minutes we had left our mooring and were heading west on the waterway with the local geese giving us a low pass, they are very respectful creatures.
Our first challenge was a lift bridge. These old bridges are wonderful beasts but they were designed for use by the old working boats that had a crew of two. One would jump off the boat, run over the bridge, and crank the mechanism that opened the bridge (The bridge would pivot from his side)…then the blokey on the boat would cruise through and moor up on the opposite bank. The bridge would be lowered and the chap would run back over the bridge and jump back on from the landing stage. So the issue for the single-hander is that the mooring is on the wrong side of the bridge to the mechanism. There is a way around this but it’s slow and very faffy. If you are lucky you bump into another boater on the towpath and they nearly always offer to lift the bridge for you. Luckily this is what happened this morning. A gent was walking towards us as we were mooring up and kindly offered to help. He had a campervan too, and a dog….he was like an older version of me and had clearly been developing his beer belly to an Olympic standard. You wouldn’t want to get into a beer belly competition with this chap, he hadn’t seen his feet since the summer of 1976 and I suspect he’d trained his dog to do up his shoelaces. The dog was a black labrador, and they make good service dogs.
With the lift bridge behind us we throttled up to the death-defying speed of 3 MPH. Flash said if we went any faster, Casper would break up and we would turn into photons.
The low morning sun was splitting through the hedgerows. Swans were swanning, Kingfishers were Kingfishering…all was well in the Shire. We pootled along for about forty minutes and then looked out for a suitable mooring about half a mile before the village of Bettisfield. We’ve moored here before, it’s south facing so our solar panels will be singing happy songs. Flash likes the local walks and the local squirrels put up a good fight.
2.30pm. The Bettisfield tragedy.
Back in the winter of 1905, Bettisfield was the location of a tragic event involving children from the village school. On January 18th, during their lunch break, the kids ran over the field outside the school to skate on the ice that had formed on the pond, known locally as the Gospel Pool. The ice gave way and five of the youngsters dropped through the ice into the deep freezing water and perished.
In a previous visit to the village, I had taken a stroll around the local churchyard and had come across the graves of the children, and this lead me to research the story. As the story unfolded I discovered that one brave young lad, Walter Madox, who was 14, had jumped in to try and save his friends and managed to pull out one young lass but it was too late to save her.
When I read about Walter attempting his rescue I knew I had seen his name somewhere in the cemetery and went back to look for his grave. At first I couldn’t find it but then I checked the war memorial and his name was enshrined there. At 25 years old Walter had developed TB in the trenches. He died June 26 1918.
Whenever we are moored up near here I take a walk up to the school, and then to the Gospel Pool, and then up to the cemetery. It’s a bittersweet walk. I think about how that day must have been for the local community and the hardships that those generations endured. I think about the impermanence of our lives and the marks we make while we’re here. I think about whether I am doing my best, the answer to which is invariably, ‘could try harder’.
I fancied something sweet so knocked up a tray of Flapjacks. It turns out my Flapjack skills are on the wrong side of rusty and I had instead managed to bake some sort of new roadbuilding material.
Bettisfield is host to a Buddhist retreat centre for women. I was rather hoping that by dusk, Casper would be populated by glassy-eyed, spiritual maidens who were intent on ‘letting go’. This doesn’t seem to be happening.
Please, please, please…if you can afford it, can you bung a bit of cash into our Just Giving page.