Rescue Me

It felt like a cooler morning. Fortunately the cattle were at a good distance so casting off was reasonably straightforward but required a bit more care and thought about sequencing, in the river, compared to the canal, especially when it was so fast. Shane stayed aboard to control the boat while I did the removal of spikes and brought them in.

We have been enjoying a good variety of birds and the river has a different range. Yesterday we had seen cormorants and an egret at a distance. Today we saw an egret again and several cormorants. In the morning one flew overhead.

Cormorant flying overhead

There were a lot of greylag geese along here too and we saw a tern, swallows and sand martins, which I identified by their little burrows in the bank. It is common for boats to have a bird name and sometimes a little painting of a bird, often a kingfisher or duck, on the side, but this boat had a very different bird and had gone to great lengths with their paintwork.

Snowy Owl on a boat
NB Snowy Owl

I had decided to do a load of washing as we would be charging up as we drove and it had fairly backed up even further over the week when we could not travel and had some wet days too. I set it going just as we were about to set off. There are still a couple more loads to go. We can only do one load at a time due to drying space, especially when the heating is off and we have a shortage of radiators.

We saw a couple of deer at the side watching through the trees, but also sadly one dead in the water. Whether it was the speed of the river that caught it out, sweeping it too strongly to swim or whether it had died some other way. It had antlers tangled in the branches of a tree.

As we approached the first lock, there was a further reminder of the fast water with a large danger sign. We could see the lock keeper was getting the lock ready for us opening gates. As we approached the mooring bollards Shane drove us right up to the side so I leapt off with the rope, and put it round a bollard, thinking perhaps he wanted to wait for the lock keeper to wave us in. Immediately, it was obvious he hadn’t meant to come to the side, but the strong side flow had made it hard for him to do anything else. As he drove into the lock I explained my actions to the lock keeper who replied that every boat did that and there was nothing to worry about and then went to speak to Shane about it. He was a very friendly lock keeper who made us feel at ease and was happy to be photographed. I liked seeing the gadget he had to allow them to close the opposite gate without walking round. I commented and he let me know that he always opened both gates, but at the next locks they may be unmanned and I was welcome to use only one gate and that there were instructions to follow.

I had hoped to get more photos of the lock but holding the rope at the side adjusting the tension and operating the camera, was not too easy. The lock keeper had been very reassuring about working the locks alone however so I was looking forward to the next one. A grounding incident between that one and the next had me determined not to drive on the river, since Shane was doing such a grand job.

At the next lock we met others in two boats going the other way who already knew what to do and that gave me a bit of a run through. I told the woman from the second boat to leave to get on and I would deal with the gate as our boat was on the bollards where she might want on and anyway we needed the gates open. It was much easier for her to board at the lock than beyond. I started to close one gate after they left to save time and Shane signalled to leave it open. It occurred to me that he was coming round at quite an angle and may have been concerned about the steering, especially in the river. I left it open and he steered easily round. Apparently he was under the impression that the lock keepers prefer both gates to be opened, possibly because that is what the lock keeper had done last time, even though he could see only one boat. I told him the lock keeper had told me the opposite, so he was definitely okay with that. The instructions were a little hard to read in parts and I ended up walking to another gate to read a clearer set. The gardens around the locks themselves were beautifully kept and the mechanisms much less heavy to operate. At Pinkhill there were instructions but I couldn’t see any at Northmoor, we just had to try to remember. The last ones were manned by two staff.

In between I continued to enjoy the countryside and the wide variety of birds. I brought Shane cups of coffee, then eventually had to briefly take the helm while he emptied his bladder. There were fields with sheep and lambs of various ages and stages alongside, as well as more cattle.

Sheep with quite young lambs
Sheep with slightly older lambs

I was hanging up washing when Shane called me. He had spotted a very young lamb at the edge of the water that was shivering and unable to get back to its mother, slithering in the mud and too low to get up. Its mum and twin were nearby. He brought the boat as close as he could and helped me get the gangplank down. I couldn’t reach the shore without it, but he needed to get back to the helm. I went to see what I could do. As we approached the ewe had scarpered, of which I was glad as it meant she didn’t rush to the lamb and cause more trouble.

“I’m coming lambsie” – planning the rescue.

Shane’s plan, to prevent me trying to go on the clearly slippery mud was to take the gangplank to the lamb. I was less confident of this idea as I have watched sheep avoid ramps. It was awkward to place and had to go in the nettles but I gave it a go.

Lamb contemplating the gangplank, it’s possible route to dry grassy land

Sure enough the lamb was nervous of the board and needed coaxing to go towards it and then avoided it and hid underneath it. Any thought that handling the lamb might make it less acceptable to mum (if they can tell humans apart, as they have already been handled, by somebody) were now irrelevant since I had had to prod it to move it along already. So to plan B. I pulled the gangplank away. I had originall wanted to just go down beside it but Shane was concerned about me slipping and I was worried about frightening it into the water. I tested the mud and it was very slippery so plan C was to lie down on the grass and try grabbing it from above and behind quickly so it didn’t try to run. Although I have not dealt with lambing, I have dealt with sheep and so was well prepared for it to wriggle and would need to get a good hold. I was able to reduce the wriggle by grasping some, if not all, of its legs. What I haven’t experience of, is standing up from lying flat on the ground while holding something wet and slippery and having no free hands or even elbows to push myself up, so a bit of ungainly rolling was required. It was no longer struggling as it was cradled in my arms and I took it well away from the water, in case it would run from me. I set it down and stood between it and the water. It just lay there making me fret it would just get too cold being wet and was too tired, but then it stood up and started bleating and mum came running over. The lamb ran bleating towards her. It was like something out of a romantic film watching the joyous reunion. The lamb, as normal ran straight in for a feed. I didn’t get a picture though as my hands were too muddy to handle the camera. Gangplank returned, I got on the boat happy, even though those trousers had been clean on that morning. Washing my hands I noticed that I had the blue dye on me too. Still that came off easier than the blue paint the other day.

Muddy from lamb cuddling, no worries.

We felt flushed with success and then we noticed someone walking towards the fields. He looked like he might have a life jacket and rope with him but we couldn’t see well. He was walking towards the water and climbing from one field to the next and slowly getting closer and I was more and more sure those were the objects he had. He did seem to be looking towards the water a lot and we thought it likely someone may have reported the stranded lamb. Shane slowed down so he got close enough to communicate. He asked if we had seen a lamb. We told him we had and we’d returned it to its mother and that’s why I was so muddy. He had a wasted journey but seemed happy and perhaps we needn’t have intervened after all, but we were still happy to have done so, and it was hard to see the lamb from the field if searching the whole river bank.

Later we found some older lambs playing on the bank on drier ground who could get back to the field without difficulty. They were having a grand time jumping up and down. We also saw a flooded field on the other side that was taken over by different animals. They didn’t mind wet muddy fields at all.

Happier lambs by the river
Swans taking over a flooded field

As we safely got through the locks and the weather improved the drama of the day returned to the thrill of seeing and hearing new birds. We both loved hearing the curlew and I was pleased to catch sight of a reed bunting in a tree. We saw and heard plovers too. Merlin heard many more than I saw. I have never seen a linnet or a greater whitethroat but there seemed to plenty around giving it laldie. We spent a little while in a hide near where we are moored. That didn’t yield as many birds as sitting on the boat or standing in the path.

A game of Hide and Seek