Animal Crackers

It rained heavily overnight and there was another little shower as I was eating breakfast. Across the canal was a heron perched in a tree. It must be it’s usual spot as we saw it there while we were mooring last night. Too far away for a good photo but it makes a jaunty profile. We saw it again as we set off just a short distance further on, It was closer then but all I got was an even less clear shot of it flapping away.

Heron sentinel

On opening the doors this morning, to set off, I saw the super large stripey legged black and white spider we had seen straddling the tiller and the side of the boat, on our first day back to Coventry. Once fully opened it is not in the way and I haven’t seen it since.

I was excited to see in the field beside us, as we went along, a green woodpecker, then we saw there were two, one a little paler than the other. For such a bright bird they were surprisingly hard to see, and it was only their movement that alerted me at all. Our photos again were simply a blank looking field with creatures discernable at all. We were still pleased to have good look (Shane reversed back to get a better view) and this dull looking day was seeming pretty good already. 

The plan was to potter to Atherstone, have lunch in the village, turn and potter back to the boatyard for a service on Thursday morning. We were already hungry when we got there but while perusing the main street for lunch opportunities I saw a charity shop ( Mary Ann Evans Hospice – seems a local charity as I went into one in Coventry , this could be another Mary Ann Evans or it’s possibly named after George Elliot) and asked if they had any wool. She replied they only had one ball, but it WAS the right colour for my 16 colour project – I had to chase Shane down the road to get the change to pay for it as a card was not acceptable for such a small sum. Success I am ready to start that project. I like Atherstone already.

We had heard Atherstone was an attractive village. It has an ancient ball game tradition on Shrove Tuesday which we have missed by a long way, and we had missed the twice weekly market days but it has a nice square and very old church. I learned a bit about English history from the informative boards around the church (dating from the 9th century). It changed hands a few times with Normans and Henry VIII each radically changing and part of the building was a school for several centuries. We were surprised to see  a game of Bingo in the cafe area, while we looked around the church. They didn’t disturb us and we tried not to disturb them. We didn’t try out ringing the bells, for instance. 

While Shane had  done enough village exploring, and hurried back, I went up a road we had not gone as we were pressing on for lunch, and made new discoveries. The back of the little shopping arcade looked like it was a dull car park – it was indeed – but from the other side I could also see a mural that encapsulated the main sources of pride for the village, their favourite team; their Shrove Atherstone ball game; the church; hats and the canal.


Atherstone mural

There was a shop, which I was unlikely to go in and another large car park just next to it. I have been to a few cattle markets but no beauty shops. They are certainly proud of their little village, quite a few attractions in a small space.

Clare’s hair and beauty, but not mine
Please come to Atherstone poster

Along a little alleyway I found a shop we had ignored in our lunch quest, Craft Corner. I had a little explore. It’s window had a much more impressive example of yarn bombing than that posted yesterday. I felt I couldn’t just take photos so ended up buying wool, a pattern and buttons and this took quite a lot longer than just turning the boat around, which Shane was doing in my absence.


Bike, thoroughly yarn bombarded and lent to Craft Corner Shop, from the inside
Window with other side of bike on view

I hurried back, not quite sure where the boat might be but it turned out to be in just the same place but facing the other way. There were further artistic representations of village history…I am wondering what the snake link is…

Wooden sculpture beside the canal

I had a spell of driving on the way back and we had some further interesting bird encounters when a sparrowhawk swept into a hedge, resulting in much panicked sparrow noise, while we watched intently. It emerged empty taloned.

Swallows were swooping nearby and we some some flying into holes in the canal bank. Shortly after another bird of prey soared in the field beside us.

In another field we saw some frisky horses, playing chase. They had calmed down by the time the camera appeared, pretending that nothing had happened. In this background black and white doesn’t have much of a camouflage but piebalds do break up the outline.

Horses…nothing to see here…

It being a cooler day there were slightly fewer people out and about on the path but a group of teenage boys were coming along . Many people are quite negative about teenagers, lads in particular, and they get a bad press. They are likely to keep to themselves and ignore you.  I have worked with lots of lovely teenagers and gave them a cheerful hello and they smiled and greeted me back then one called out something, and I wondered  if they might be asking to come aboard or get a lift, which is a popular quip, though we were going in the opposite direction. I asked again and he politely asked if we had a bottle of water aboard. I said we did and slammed into reverse while they walked backwards. I explained it doesn’t stop very quickly. Shane fetched it from the fridge – he had forgotten we had it. – and threw it across the water where it was well caught. So far it had only served as a fridge door wedge whe it was off and we were off the boat, as we don’t drink much bottled water, but it had come with the boat, so I was glad to see it being gratefully received. We could see it was being slugged back straight away.

What I had forgotten when I went to the craft shop was that Shane had pointed out a sign for alpaca wool at the side of the canal. It seemed the only way to get to it was by mooring alongside on the non-towpath side. I wasn’t sure they were selling fleece for spinners or wool for knitting but there was only one way to find out. It proved hard to get the back close to the jetty so Shane held it with a rope while I came down the gunwale to get off part way along. Getting off at the front wasn’t easy either, as Shane had hung up a load of washing in the bow well to dry (while waiting for me choosing wool in Atherstone).

I found a man working with wood (canal boat joinery, Shane informed me later) in a workroom and asked him, once his sander was off, about the wool. In fact they sold wool for spinning or knitting, mostly natural but some skeins were dyed. He obviously loved his animals, which were housed right beside the shop and while he wasn’t a knitter he was happy to talk about the provenance of each pack of skeins. Rather than being labelled in dye lots of with colour or breed names they were labelled by date of shearing and the names of the animals. I was choosing between a colour batch named “Phoebe and Maisie” or the slightly darker “Boris and Evie”. I went for that one and was told that Boris now lived in Scotland and he pointed to a picture of a woman from Scotland who farmed alpaca. Looking at the calendar I saw that today there was an entry for “Chloe toe nail clipping”. Chloe wasn’t an alpaca though, but was someone who helped him clip their toenails which had apparently been quite a tiring job. He then said if I wanted I could see them being fed. I was delighted to join in and one ate right out of my hand, though most were quite flighty and pictures proved tricky as they moved so much.

Farmer feeding alpaca of all different ages
Daddy of them all – separate from mums and babies
Up Close, about the colour of “Phoebe and Maisie”

Our little pootle out and back turned out to have a few unexpected highlights, and the alpacas were the highlight of the highlights to me. Having stocked up at the Atherstone bakery with very fine products, and eaten in The Old Bakery Cafe for lunch I didn’t even have any cooking to do at the end of the day!