Tuesday, 1 November 2016

All by myself

I very briefly single-handed Chertsey a few years ago when Jim bought a Volvo at Botterham Lock on the S&W and drove it back to Stretton while I brought the boat. I did, however, have the back up of Adrian and Linda on Warrior, whom we were travelling with at the time, had I needed it. I did make a splendid turn into Autherley Junction, I recall, and there may even have been one or two people looking.

Nonetheless, it was with some excitement that I hatched a plan for a proper solo journey, back at the end of the summer trip. As we shared locks with Renfrew, I was suddenly inspired to ask Pete if he would make me a new steering step. When I got Chertsey, it had a nice solid wood step in, I think, elm, which extended as a shelf behind the stove. However, in the process of fitting the new Epping it was - ahem - damaged/adapted, and I was never happy with it after, so for the past five or six years I have been making do with a piece of rough wood with some lino stuck on the top. Then it occurred to me that I could get Pete to refit the table cupboard too, ooh, and maybe a new lower step (I don't have a coal box, just a plank between two brackets, which works well for me).

Pete made and fitted Chertsey's new front cant and breastpiece, gunnelshandrails and back end beamtop planks and cloths, and I have been extremely impressed with his work so once I'd had the idea there was no hesitating. I knew that if I was ever to start single-handing, there would be no better journey to begin with than Alvecote to Braunston: a familiar run, fourteen nice easy locks (yes, plus the stoplock) and all uphill, so I determined there and then to do it. This was back in early August, and the end of October, when Pete could fit it in, seemed an awfully long time away, and my biggest concern was that the weather would be cold and wet and, worst of all, windy. My second biggest concern was whether the engine would start for me, especially if it was cold.

I set off to Alvecote on Friday, arriving around lunchtime. First I lit the stove, then I set about clearing out the back cabin, taking down all the plates, lace, curtains and other fripperies, because at some point soon we are going to properly, finally, paint the back cabin. I also - after some thought - took down the cat containment partition.  I was in two minds beforehand as it made a handy bulkhead for hanging things on, and having the bed enclosed was quite nice, but it did make it difficult to impossible to slide around the table cupboard when it was open. Having taken it out I was pleased with the more open look.

On Saturday morning I got of to a slowish start, finally leaving at ten. I needn't have worried about the engine - I talked sweetly to it, attended to all its little needs, and it started FIRST TIME which hardly ever happens. The trouble is that having repeated this feat three times now, I will always have to talk to the engine before starting it (and thanking it afterwards, of course). I backed all the way across the marina (I had backed in following a brief trip the other week with some work friends, but ended up turning round and eventually going in front first after all) then headed out onto the Coventry Canal. I might as well say at this point (non-spoiler alert) that there were no disasters whatsoever on this trip. The weather was damp and mild and there was hardly anyone else around; conditions were pretty much perfect. Every time I went under a tree, the exhaust dislodged great clouds of leaves like confetti. The boat was soon covered with them. I made myself some sandwiches before I set off; I had the kettle within reach on the stove and teabags and milk to hand. It all felt pretty idyllic - I could not have imagined that even better was yet to come - but that's for another day.

It was about lunchtime when I arrived at the bottom of Atherstone locks (foolishly, I have left the comprehensive log on the boat). Of the fifteen locks on the trip, all but two were against me - one in the middle of Atherstone, where I met a single hander coming the other way, and one at Hillmorton. But it was no extra trouble really.  Everyone has their own technique for single handing locks, although with a big Woolwich you don't get many options. What I did was to go in slowly and out of gear and step off as I passed the appropriate point, taking the back end line with me. The rope is primarily because of the times the boat starts to drift back out of the lock, usually once I've got one of the gates shut. But having taken it I also used it to strap the boat in, meaning no bumps! The Atherstone locks are lovely and gentle, no banging about even when you open the paddles all at once, so that's what I did. The other thing to look out for here is the front fender going under the handrail, which it will do on nearly all of these locks, so I always stood by holding the fore end rope to hold it away. At Hillmorton, I noticed, the opposite happened and the boat drifted to the back of the locks as they filled. Where the locks are close enough together I'd open the top gate, then go and get the next one ready, then come back and shut it once in the next one up. I also had some success stopping with the stern end in the mouth of the lock and using the stern end line to make sure it didnt run away while I shut the gate. Which I was very good about doing.  So, I did eight locks on my own in this fashion, and then noticed that someone had caught up with me. But they had a boatload of Boy Scouts behind them, so they commandeered a couple to come and help me. This was actually quite welcome as the top two locks have quite a gap to step across to get off at the bottom. I was also able to practice being pleasant to people, and I gave them a big bag of popcorn which we'd bought in the summer and never quite felt like eating. In all it took me three hours and twenty minutes to do the Atherstone locks - probably about twice as long as with a crew - but I was very pleased that it had all gone so smoothly. I didn't carry on much further, and stopped for the night on the outskirts of Mancetter.

The next morning, Sunday, I left at eight - that's Greenwich Mean Time; back on Real Time, hooray!! The weather was similar to Saturday and I just kept chugging on, quite slowly on the shallow Cov. At some point the boat that was behind me at the locks caught me up, and I let them by - when you're on your own it's not always convenient having another boat right behind you as sometimes on a nice straight bit you want to slow right down and quickly nip into the back cabin to tend the fire or something. I got to Hawkesbury around lunchtime, made an average turn (touched the bank gently but didn't get tangled in the bridgehole, and bonus marks for there being a day boat moored in front of the pub). Passed the boat I'd let by, who had stopped for lunch, and just kept on going. With being back on Real Time the clock no longer lied about the fact that the light started fading around four. By the time I got to the swing bridge at Brinklow, Black Sheep had caught me up again, and we both stopped around four thirty, just before the cuttings start. I chatted with him for a while, and then it was really dark, so I went back, cooked some tea on the stove, ate, washed, and went to bed at seven! I fell asleep too, although I did wake up between midnight and three am, which was just as well for the stove.

I was up again at six thirty and ready to go again at eight. Monday morning was misty with the sun big and white behind the cloud - a truly beautiful morning. Again I hardly met anyone. By lunchtime the mist was clearing and by the time I got to Hillmorton the sun was so hot I stripped down to a single t-shirt. Hillmorton was a pleasure, with one boat coming the other way but other than that completely deserted. And so on I went, on the final stretch now and with a lot more water underneath the boat than on the Cov I could wind it up a bit. At one point I saw a big Woolwich coming the other way, and sure enough it was Aldgate. I'd hoped to catch Nick at Hillmorton, because I had some curtains to give him (arranged at the Alvecote do at the end of August). I swiftly dipped down into the cabin and retrieved the bag from the side bed. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to hand it to him, and made a split second decision to throw it into his hold instead, but did it left handed and a bit halfheartedly, so it bounced on the gunnel before falling... on the inside. And that was the nearest I came to a disaster all trip.

I am sorry there is only one photo of the whole trip

The sun beat down as I wound the last few miles to Braunston, and long strings of spider silk floated across the canal and trailed from the boat, which was covered in leaves, and it was all magical, and perfect. I got to Braunston Turn at ten to three and tied up next to Rat (so I can be the target for the hire boats coming out of the Turn for the next few weeks). Pete made me a cup of tea and showed me the work he's doing on Clent and James Loader, as well as some very large pieces of oak, then we went and talked about the work he's going to do on Chertsey. I had a final tidy up then we went and had a late lunch/early tea in the Boat House, and Pete then very kindly gave me a lift all the way back to Alvecote. I had a fantastic run back to Sheffield, and thus ended an utterly perfect boating weekend.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Resurrecting the Town Class Sticker Album

More recent readers may not know about the Town Class Sticker Album - my repository, begun more than six years ago, for collecting photos of all the GU 'Town Class' motor boats.

It fell into disuse for a long time because I somehow came to believe that I had forgotten the password for it. But it's on the same account as this blog! So I am a fool. Glancing down it, there are photos of boats that I haven't seen for years (so lucky I grabbed them when I did) and so many missing ones that I could so easily have added - Aber, Alton, Aldgate, Banstead, Birmingham, Letchworth, Nuneaton, Renfrew... all of which I've seen up close in the past year; some of which I do have photos of. Then there are others where I could add more recent photos.

What sent me back to it today was a most unexpected find - well, I certainly didn't expect to find a large Northwich on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, but coming back from doing the Five Weirs Walk this afternoon, there it was - Naburn. Cut down a bit, of course, and apparently still a BW CRT workboat.

I shall now gradually set about tracking down photos taken in the last few years and uploading them to the album, and then we'll have a better idea of how many I've still to see.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Feeling detached

I finally got around to it! Having boated (in Warrior) all the way up the Chesterfield Canal from West Stockwith to Kiveton Part, and in Chertsey as far as Morse Lock, on Sunday we finally took a trip on the detached part of the canal, from Chesterfield itself.

It was a two hour trip - an hour out and an hour back - taking in three locks, on the Chesterfield Canal Trust's new trip boat John Varley II.

The section of the canal we travelled was largely rural, and to be honest, fairly devoid of any interest other than the fact of its restoration - but that is pretty amazing. It was very pleasant, particularly as we were two of only four passengers, the others being a very knowledgeable man and his grandson. Our numbers were equalled by those of the crew - a steerer,  a hostess and two lockpeople, one of whom was ninety. The volunteers seem to work incredibly hard, equivalent to a full time job in some cases.

My photos are rather disappointing - I put the longer lens on this time and a lot of them are a bit shaky. But here is a small taste.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Holiday cakes

It's a bit of a tradition in our office to bring back edible treats from one's holiday. This we have enjoyed, this year, salted liquorice from Denmark, 'wine biscuits' from Greece, chocolately Frenck biscuits and a variety of fudge and shortbread from those holidaying in the UK.

I, on the other hand, would normally bring back pork scratchings (not universally popular) or Staffordshire oatcakes which, with the best will in the world, unless expertly handled and filled with something greasy and tasty, bear too close a resemblance to damp cardboard to really be considered a treat. But at least the Black Country has regional delicacies. I was completely stumped as to what I could possibly supply that would be redolent of Woking.

A quick Google, spreading the net a little wider to encompass the whole of Surrey, however, provided inspiration, in the form of Maids of Honour, also known as Richmond Maids of Honour, reputedly enjoyed by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at Richmond Palace and Hampton Court. Well, we boated past Hampton Court, and here we are going under Richmond Bridge, 
Photo: Pete Boyce
so that is the treat I am taking in tomorrow to help keep people's strength up as the new cohort of students arrives.

There are lots of different recipes (and different stories) but I plumped for this one from Clarissa Dickson Wright, although I used shredless marmalade as I couldn't get quince jelly. The pastry is absolutely sublime - I shall be using it for my mince pies this year. Now all I have to do is get them to the office without crumbling.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Crochet progress

Having successfully managed something approximating to a square with one colour, chunky wool and a big hook, I went out and bought some DK in three different coulors, and settled down with a 4mm hook. So far I have made three tri-coloured squares, each neater - but also smaller - than the last. That's the first one at the top, the second on the left and the last on the right, but the perspective's a bit squiffy. If I can stop the increasing tension here, that will be perfect, as the last square is bang on 6". That means I will need 72 of them to make a blanked to cover the top of the crossbed (or go under the mattress). The current plan is to stick with just these two designs of square, and join them with cream, although that might alter.

So, crochet away!

Monday, 12 September 2016

A weekend in Woking

Here are a few photos to give an impression of the Woking gathering

A long plank was vital...
Handrails optional..

Sunday, 11 September 2016



After decades of failure and frustration, I can crochet.

With the invaluable help of How to Crochet: A Complete Guide for Absolute Beginners by Alison McNicol, the encouragement of Cath Fincher, and a great deal of brow-furrowing and trial and error.

My project this winter is a cross bed blanket. I feel I am now sufficiently competent that I can go and buy the wool.