After a week on the boat at Welford, Monte the Cat and I set out on our summer expedition. My plan was to make for the Ashby Canal as friends have told me it is quite lovely. Plus it isn’t that far (in narrowboat terms) from Welford. So, come Sunday evening after hanging around for Airbnb guests in the house to leave we set off.
It had been a horrible weekend with howling winds and rain. As a result, I was fed up of being moored under the trees, and unable to set up shop properly. I knew I was lowish on water, but had enough for a night. After all we would hit Yelvertoft on Monday. So, off we trundled. With me on the helm Monte was safely stowed away in his new flat pack carry box (it isn’t flat pack when he is in it). A lovely couple gave a hand through the lock and off we went, aiming for Bridge 36 and one of my favourite very local mooring spots.
Monte in a harness
Bridge 36 was deserted. With the added bonus of mooring rings, it makes it an easy spot to tie up. Moo and I settled in for the night and Monte even gave his new harness a try. With a lot of wriggling and squeaking (Monte – not me). He seemed to settle into it so with the lead hooked on I let him tentatively step out onto the stern and the towpath. Monte was quite bereft when the short lead halted his progress and he looked at me in disgust. As I grabbed my shoes to join him outside, the lead suddenly became loose. Then I realised he had done a Houdini turn and wriggled out of the harness – I clearly had not got the belly strap done up tight enough. Luckily as scaredy cat as ever he turned around and jumped back on the boat.
On our way
Monday morning was still dismal, grey and damp. After the previous 4 weeks of everlasting sunshine it felt miserable to be wearing jeans and shoes, along with rain gear. Monte settled down after breakfast in his hidey hole and was soon fast asleep. I started the engine and let it warm up for 10 minute. Monte did not react at all, so I made the decision to leave him sleeping. It seemed a shame to disturb him as he slept, so I left him in his hidey hole.
Monte gets upset
By now the rain was tipping down. I stood with the stern doors closed behind me helming the boat, as we headed down the Leicester Line. Suddenly, after only half a mile or so from the mooring Monte appeared around my feet. He was very stressed and meowing loudly to get out. I tried to push him back down into the boat, but he was having none of it. He was soon trying to leap over the stern doors. This was not looking good. I knew I would have to open the doors to get out and pull the boat in, and I couldn’t get Monte down inside the boat.
Monte jumps ship
I steered the boat in towards the side whilst trying to calm Monte. With one hand on Monte I opened the doors with the other, but my speedy cat was having none of it. Despite my best efforts, in a split second, he was out onto the stern. As he leapt for the towpath he missed and ended up totally immersed in the canal. Next he grabbed for the Armco (the aluminium siding along the canal) heaved himself up onto the towpath and disappeared into the undergrowth and the woods. This whole incident took a second with me calling and watching in horror.
Hysteria sets in
Overwhelmed with anxiety I pulled the boat in and tied up as quickly as I could. I ran after him, but of course there was no sign at all. By now I was becoming quite hysterical. Even though he had been gone only 10 minutes. I was berating myself for not putting him in his travel box and taking more care of him. I wandered along the towpath calling and clicking for him, but there was no sign. Just around the corner was another boat, and for a good few hours the lovely owners helped search the woodland for him, again to no avail.
My mood swung from hysteria of never seeing the Most Marvellous Mr Moo again to a rational ‘he will come back when he is hungry’. Though I must admit I largely sat with the hysteria. All I could do was wait and hope that he would return. Of course, the other issue was the water situation… My taps had already begun to splutter that morning. Implying I was pretty low. The lovely couple filled empty wine bottles, my MSR dromedary and anything else that came to hand and gave me a good 15litres, but I could be sitting waiting for days or even weeks….
Facebook comes up trumps
Next stop was Facebook – a pointless and facile place so much of the time. Do I really need to know which TV programme identifies the year I first went to school? I know when I went to school anyway. Or tag three friends who drink more gin than I do- who cares? Or post every bloody record cover you ever owned – and I thought a blog was self-indulgent navel gazing! However, on this occasion Facebook and its users turned out to be a total saving grace.
I posted in ‘Cats on the Cut’. If you are not a member think of it as Cat/Boat porn – handsome cats on narrowboats. Putting out the call that Moo had jumped ship and I was low on water. A string of kind responses and one from Barbara, whom I had never met, but who was moored about an hour away offering to come with water and stay until Monte was found. I also posted in ‘Women of the Cut – the other ones’ – the naughty breakaway group from the original- who are a kind and supportive bunch and again a flood of support online appeared.
A new friend
Barbara duly arrived and immediately set about handing over 35l of water and making sure I was OK for food and anything else, before heading into the woodland where Monte had disappeared. There was a stream running under the canal through a tunnel, and she produced a rope and torch so I could look through it and see if Monte’s beady eyes could be seen – they couldn’t. We walked the fields alongside the canal and back through the wood, but it all seemed pretty hopeless and as the afternoon wore on I became increasingly despondent.
Monte had jumped off between bridges 36 and 34, a spot which for Northants/Leicestershire is ridiculously remote. It was a 2 mile walk to the nearest road accessible bridge, without a house or farm insight. This was good on many levels and there were no roads, or railway tracks, nor any buildings to lay low in. On the other hand it was impossible that anyone would see him. Come 6ish another Facebooker arrived with more drinking water, as we chatted I heard Monte meow in the undergrowth. The feeling of sheer relief was tempered with the fact I couldn’t see him, nor locate him easily and the meows ended as soon as they started.
As darkness drew in Barbara and I chatted and again around 10.30pm heard him meow again, once more we shone our torches to try and pick up his shape or eyes, but could see no sign of him. As it got later I pulled out the bed on the boat and lay there with the back doors open in the hope he would magically reappear on the boat, hardly sleeping. Around 2am I went out to call him again and he appeared on the towpath, but not close enough for me to catch him, he did the same again around 3am and at 4am I enticed him to the towpath with a plate of food. Bingo! As he gobbled I stroked his head and then lunged into grab him… and missed and he darted back into the woods……
I finally went to bed and slept for a couple of hours before sharing the news with Barbara that I had almost caught him. That morning he did meow again around 10am but seemed to be in a different part of the woods, I tried to find him, but as Monte can hide in the house and not be found there seemed little chance of finding him in undergrowth and trees which all seemed to take on an orangey hue.
My sister, Sally, called to see how I was doing and offered to drive up from Hertford – a good two hours away to help in the search. She too had been looking at the map and working out where I was, there seemed to be a track alongside the canal which might give car access. Sally offered to drive up bringing more water and food and late in the afternoon she appeared hauling stuff down the towpath to the boat. The private track was inaccessible so she had walked two miles from the nearest road-bridge to reach me. Once more the three of us went into the woods to hunt for the ginger boy. Sally had bought loppers to help get through some of the thicker undergrowth, but there was still no sign.
Back on Facebook another cat person posted that she was trying to rescue her cat using a humane trap. Sally and I chatted and I remembered a local cat rescue group I had been in contact with. I messaged the organiser and asked if she had a trap I could borrow. A response came back quickly she did have a trap, but she was worried it might be stolen and used for illicit purposes. I replied that I was miles from anywhere and would be near the trap 24 hours a day until Monte was caught.
So, once again my sister trundled down the towpath to her car and drove half an hour to pick up the trap. When she returned I couldn’t help wonder what people would be thinking if they had seen her. First time emerging with large garden loppers and second time with a large trap…. If Crime Watch were still on TV I envisage images of her taken through a boat window appearing as a ‘suspicious’ character!
With the trap back at the boat we decided to set it down in the woods, as Monte had been so nervous of coming to the towpath. We ate and around 8.30pm and I heard Monte meow again, but he only did it once. Clearly Sally and Barbara thought I was becoming delusional! I went back into the woods calling, but all was quiet and I began to question my own sanity. Sally decided to head back to Hertford, leaving as darkness fell and I continued to calling.
Monte surfaces again
A little after 10pm Monte meowed again, this time he sounded close and kept on meowing. But, in the darkness it was impossible to see him in the woods, though he may have been within touching distance. Barbara reported her cat was sniffing and fidgeting because there was another cat around. I continued calling, by now my high pitched ‘Moooooooo’ and clicking were becoming reflex actions. I did wonder whether both would become a permanent affliction. The calling continued and then at 11pm I heard the trap go. Yelling to Barbara that it had gone, and with my headtorch on, I went crawled through the undergrowth and down into the woods. What an absolute relief it was to see Monte in the trap. (I had had a split second thought of what if it had caught a badger instead)
I hauled the trap back to the towpath, with Monte inside and me crying with relief. Monte was hungry and thirsty, but apart from that was fine, though perhaps a bit shocked by my hysteria and his being trapped!
Off we go again
Next day we set off again, Monte safely stowed in his box, and me jumping at everything. However, over the past week things have settled and Monte is none the worse for his adventure.
Finally, thanks must go to Barbara, a stranger who came to my aid and Monte’s. As well as my sister, Sally, who went above and beyond to help find the mighty Mr Montefiore Montague aka Monte Moo.
Post Script – February 2021
It is with sadness, I share the news that Barbara died in January 2021. She had lived with cancer and the associated treatments over the past two years. We never met again. However, I am forever grateful for the kindness and help she gave me.