Our fourth winter in Aylesbury is coming to an end. We live on our boat in a small marina run by Aylesbury Canal Society, and have made some good friends. There is a friendly, caring and thriving church on our doorstep. We are involved with the worship team, and can keep up with the best of the new worship songs that abound, as well as returning to some treasured songs from previous decades.
We have been leading a weekly life group, focussing on ways in which we can reach out with the gospel to people who have not yet taken that step of faith which leads to a glorious relationship with our heavenly Father. Our church is trying to reach into the community, and there is a programme of building work going on that will bring nearly 2,500 new homes into our parish. We are looking forward to it immensely.
We also are part of the folk club scene in this area, often going to Chesham Folk Club on Mondays, a pub in Wing on alternate Tuesdays, and a pub in Wilstone once a month.
This last winter has been more harsh than usual, and we have found ourselves iced in a few times. Despite the cold weather, life on board is cosy in a well insulated boat.
So that’s a summary of our life in the winter. For the rest of the year, we move our floating home around the canals and rivers, making ourselves available to the people we meet. Last year, we covered the Grand Union, the Lea, London, the Thames to Lechlade, the Wey to Guildford and Godalming, and the Kennet and Avon as far as Bath, returning via the Oxford Canal.
The highlights of 2017 were the two boating missions in Thatcham and Newbury. Here we met up with other boaters from Canal Ministries and Boaters' Christian Fellowship, as well as Waterways Chaplains, and people from local churches. We had hundreds of school children visiting the boats in small groups, went to men’s breakfasts, lunch groups, held open air barbecues and cream teas, plus some folk singing in pubs.
What does 2018 have in store for us? Plans are not final by any means, but we intend to head for the Llangollen Canal for a mission in Ellesmere in July. On the way, we also hope to take part in the Middlewich Folk and Boating Festival in June.
Plans are there to be changed, and already we have had to amend our timetable. One very windy night in January, at about 4am, James went through the boat from the bows, where we sleep, to see if he could do something about the doors that were banging at the stern in the gale. We have a dark grey cat called Hugo, and he was not in his usual place on the dinette seat. James thought he must be outside somewhere. Sadly, this was not the case, and he was asleep in front of our fridge, and James trod on him in the dark. A visit to the vets in the morning revealed four broken bones in his foot.
His leg was put in a bandage with a splint for six weeks, with weekly visits to the vet for a bandage change. After the six weeks, a further x-ray showed that the bones were out of alignment and there were four choices. The first was another six weeks with a splint in the hope that the leg would heal. We could have the leg amputated. We could have the cat put down, or he could have an operation to have the bones pinned together. We chose the latter option, and he now has metal rods in his foot. Whenever we are not watching him he has to wear a cone-shaped collar to stop him worrying the operation wound. He will need a further x-ray six weeks after the operation to check that everything is OK.
The result of this is that instead of leaving on our voyage on 2 April, we need to delay four weeks until the 30th. We have extended our mooring arrangement, and revised our route.
Now we find that there has been a canal breach near Middlewich, and there is a large hole in the canal. This removes a long length of moorings for the Middlewich Folk Festival, and it is the route that we were going to use to get from Middlewich to the Llangollen Canal. We may have to go around via the Manchester Ship Canal instead, but it is all uncertain.
So who knows what route we will take? God does. Whichever route we take this summer, we want to be available for God’s appointments. We are looking forward to serving Him.
In His Name
James and Hazel Bell
Canal Ministries - sharing God's Love on the Inland Waterways.