We couldn't find the time to get the boat to Braunston, but I had a lovely weekend nonetheless, staying with Mike on Banstead. It was Mike's - and as far as anyone knows, Banstead's - first time there.
I don't know whether it was seeing it from the angle of a non-boater (although I spent so much time hanging around Banstead that two people shouted 'change boat!' to me) but it felt quite quiet and flat. There were 66 boats there - not many joshers, perhaps observing the 'Grand Union/Blue Line' theme more strictly than usual - which is still a decent number, although many had gone to Lymm instead. The weather wasn't great for bringing the public out. I think we were all relieved at the last minute decision not to participate in the Saturday morning parade, nor indeed the afternoon one, but we did go on Sunday, with sunshine all the way. Mike had somehow arrived in the prime spot along the very end of the arm - exceedingly handy for the toilets and hippy clothes, but last out for the parade. Nonetheless we were back within two hours. Compared to the five hour epics of previous years, I felt quite short changed. I sense that this swifter execution was more to do with the small number of boats than the increased organisation - I have a hypothesis that the more people with hi-viz waistcoats and walkie-talkies there are directing operations (and they multiply year on year) the more chaotic it gets. Co-ordinating the boats around the turn and into the marina, they tend to make boats stop to allow others to move, when at least a few times I saw, the steerers, knowing themselves, their boats, and each other, would have done better to work things out for themselves and manoeuvre around one another. Trying to keep boats stationary is a recipe for obstruction and collision.
For the last few years boaters in the show have voted for a 'best boat in show'. This year voting was clearly a bit sluggish as they kept coming round twisting people's arms to get their votes in. But as someone said, 'I already voted once this week, and that turned out badly.'
I managed to take no photos. I meant to take my big camera, but forgot to pick it up at the last minute. I made some purchases, at least one of which I will photograph later and show you. That's not the two bottles of blue I got after asking Jim if there was anything he wanted me to get from Midland Chandlers.
I also found myself stopping people with lurchers/greygounds/whippets/other long thin dogs and saying how lovely they were (the dogs, not the people) and telling them about Rocky, just like people do to us when we're out and about with him.
Anyway, it was really lovely being back among the boaters.
Long before the Industrial Revolution, the various hamlets that surrounded Sheffield were harnessing the renewable power of its five rivers in all kinds of manufacturing processes. One of the most important, the one for which the city was to become famous, was the manufacture of blades and 'edge tools'. All along the river Rivelin and the Porter Brook, from the sixteenth century (and possibly earlier) dams were built, forming pools whose water was directed over massive wheels, driving the spinning grindstones hewn from local gritstone, honing the edges of blades forged nearby prior to their final finishing and polishing in the city's innumerable small workshops.
One of these was the Shepherd Wheel, so named after the man who was its tenant in the late eighteenth century; a wheel and workshop existed on the site as far back as 1584, when it was mentioned in the will of one William Beighton, a cutler of Stumperlowe. It was referred to there as 'Potar Whele', presumably referring to its situation on the Porter Brook. In 1794, Mr Shepherd employed ten men, in ten 'troughs', in each of which a grindstone ran while a man straddled a wooden bench and bent over it.
The workshops were damp and dusty and frequently cold. Injuries from flying swarf and - if you can imagine it - exploding grindstones, were common, and if that didn't get you, the pneumosilicosis from the constant dust probably would. Nonetheless, as in most industries in most parts of the world, in most eras of history, children were commonly employed. While Mr Shepherd apparently directly employed the men who worked at Shepherd Wheel, it was common for the main tenant to sublet troughs to self-employed individuals. (As an aside, this tradition of small scale manufacture and independent craftsmen is quite distinctive to Sheffield, among big industrial cities, and has had knock on effects in all sorts of areas, including housing tenure.) At times of water shortages, fights would often break out between the tenants of the different wheels on the same stream, accusing each other of 'stealing' the vital water.
Shepherd Wheel remained in commercial use into the 1930s, which seems to me to be pretty remarkable.The land on which it sits was purchased by Sheffield City Council in 1900 to create a public park in Whiteley Woods (one of the city's many, a few of which I tramped through today). By 1957 the Shepherd Wheel was derelict and the Council voted £500 for its demolition. However, a local campaign led by the Council for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities succeeded in getting the funds put towards restoring it as a museum instead, and it opened as such in 1962. In 1997 is was closed again by the City Council, but transferred to the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust the following year and re-opened. Further restoration took place in 2012 and the wheel is now operational, and staffed by volunteers at weekends. It's not a massive attraction - two rooms (known as hulls) and the wheel itself but it's great for a passing visit whilst out on a walk, especially as it's free. They were just starting up the wheel while we were there this morning and I actually got some video, but need to work out the best way to upload it somewhere straight from the phone, as I don't seem to be able to transfer it to the computer. It was pretty impressive to think that it was working in a way not so different from over four hundred years ago.
I have actually used some sources for this!
Wikipedia (of course; don't tell the students)
Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust - Shepherd Wheel leaflet
J. Edward Vickers, A Popular History of Sheffield, Sheffield, Applebaum, 1978 (3rd edn 1992) p. 90
Since we've been keeping Chertsey fully clothed up, and camping beneath in ever increasing comfort, we have had to deal with the top plank extending across the large boarded back end deck area to be supported on the beam on the cabin top - as can be seen in this picture taken at Bugsworth last summer.
This makes it a bit awkward climbing the steps onto the deck, crossing from side to side and generally using and making the most of this very useful space. So, a long term plan has been to make a frame which will support a shortened top plank, finishing cleat of the steps and the edge of the boarding. It also needs to be able to pick up the remaining section of the top plank for when we cloth the whole boat up for the winter. We decided to make a frame on the same sort of basis as a false cratch. It's not attached in any way, other than gravity and string, but is sufficiently stable and robust in itself to distribute the weight and strain safely. It's important that we can still be confident in walking along the top plank when we need to.
The top section of the frame is made from a bit of historic Chertsey - a section of top plank that came with the boat, and so is almost certainly at least forty years old, and very likely older. It's the foremost plank, from the deckboard to the mast. We've been using it as a gangplank, but it's a bit short, and increasingly rotten at one end, so repurposing part of it in this way seemed a good idea. Sawing off the rotten end revealed really old, solid wood. Within the piece that was removed there was an iron spike, which I persuaded Jim to hack out to keep as another souvenir of the boat's history. This hand made spike, hammered through the width of the plank and bent over at the end, is further evidence of the age of the plank.
To make the frame to fit perfectly under the top plank, we lashed it in position with the top plank still in place. Jim then cut to length and fitted four 'uprights'; the slightly misleading name of the 45 degree supports that pick up the top plank from the gunnels. The whole assembly was screwed together, with boards across the sides to give it rigidity and stability. Having done that, Jim them sawed the top plank in situ, leaving a shorter piece resting on the new frame, and releasing the longer length the be used as a boarding plank (a heavy one, admittedly, but nice and wide and stable, and long, for Rocky), and when not in use, it fits neatly between the last board of the deck and the first cross plank - out of the way and a handy shelf to boot.
This year we haven't taken the black top cloths off yet. We put them on last autumn over the translucent sheeting the we put on last year, and the boat stayed completely dry inside over the winter, which was very satisfying. With it clothed tightly up to the cabin, very little rain even got in the back end, meaning that there wasn't any damp under the floor. We know, however, that there are a few leaks in the translucent sheet, mostly where it has rubbed on the top plank under the strings but also in a couple of places where it's been attacked by vicious trees, so if we do take the heavy duty black cloths off, we'll have to replace them with the tippet - the narrow strip that reinforces the cloths over the top planks. But we might leave the top cloths on - we've folded them back where they join to make windows, and that seems to let enough light into the boat, at least for summer use. And as we'll be disporting ourselves at Woking (if all goes to plan) in the guise of a historic boat, then we can just flap them back again and look properly old again.
Here we see Rocky enjoying his private beach adjacent to Chertsey's new mooring. Well, ok, it's the Alvecote slipway. But he did enjoy taking a paddle on those hot days last week (and licking an ice cream, but sadly I didm't have my camera to hand for that). The downside is that it's quite a tricky plank walk on and off the boat for him (unless you're not looking, in which case he'll jump) but he's getting the hang of that too now.
After my trio of turns, I was ready for the challenge of coming into the marina entrance (right in the distance in the photo...), swinging round to the right, then reversing all the way through the marina into a boat-sized mooring between Whitby and the slipway - the extra challenge being to avoid getting stuck on the slipway. And guess what - I actually did it, once again, without hitting touching anything. What a boat!
The first retrospectively illustrated post is inspired by the Herbies' perturbation at a £22 pub sirloin steak. No matter how good it is, £22 is a lot to pay in a pub. Even the unsurpassable (these last few years) Nelson only charges around £13, from memory.
We are now moored, permanently, round the back of the Samuel Barlow pub, just yards from the entrance. Fatal.
A fellow moorer commented on the blog (hello!) that it's not really a pub pub, and I see his point in that it's a big square room with tables set out for eating, with no fire, booths or inglenooks - and no jukebox or fruit machines either. But in every other respect it fits the bill. It has its regulars; it has three (if unadventurous) cask ales (with occasional festival laying on of many more straight from the barrel) and the full range of everything else you'd expect behind the bar; it has quiet background music, friendly and efficient but relatively unobtrusive service, and a fabulous menu at very reasonable prices (which sadly you can't see on the photo).
The sirloin steak comes in two sizes - the 'regular', which I reckoned must have been around 10oz minimum, was £10.95, and was a beautiful big thick chunk of meat, very nicely cooked too, with excellent onion rings and chips and the other bits you'd expect. The oprional peppercorn sauce came in such a copious quantity that both Jim and I were able to avail ourselves of a pound's worth, with some to spare. The 'man size' steah at £16.95 was noticeably bigger, but perhaps not such good value. We also, over the week, checked out the pork shank (fantastic crackling), the Tex-Mex chicken, and the steak pie (maybe the least impressive but still a cut above most pub offerings and at £8.95 good value). Nicely cooked veg with it. Thursday night is curry night, for which the Halfies joined us, and while it was definitely an anglo-curry, you couldn't fault it for under six quid. You'll see that there are three decent, not boring, veggie options, and two fishy ones on the menu too - and there's a different menu at lunchtimes, and I think they do Sunday roasts. I really have put on six pounds since I left Sheffield last week, and I'll bet most of that was between Tuesday and Friday.
Goodness, this holiday business is tiring. It's been showery today (and is now pouring) but we managed to get a few more jobs done between the showers, and all the better for being unplanned. First, we finished rigging the A-frame over the back end, and cut a section of unused tippet to waterproof the top, through which quite a bit of last night's spectacular rain had found its way. It's being tested again as I write. Then we went to measure up in the fore end for a planned bed/platform. Aargh! I went, look up there (into dark corner above the deck board) What? says Jim. That, says I, shining torch at two inch diameter spherical object suspended from the string. What is it? says he. A wasps' nest, I shriek. Fortunately not currently occupied, tho Jim says now he thinks of it there were a lot of wasps hanging around last year. Anyway, that was swiftly disposed of, pausing only to marvel at the entomological skill that went into building it. Jim then fitted the new (old) headlight, bought at Braunston last year to replace one broken in an encounter with stoned hippies in a bridge hole on the Coventry last year. To his delight, it fitted the existing stalk so was one job that turned out to be easier than anticipated.
There's a nice stretch of straight towpath here, bounded by a hedge, where if I go on ahead to meet him, Rocky can have a good gallop. This morning I attached my GPS watch to his harness and Jim set it before releasing him. He ran 0.14 miles in 29 seconds which is equivalent to 3.07 minutes per mile or nearly 20 MPH - so his top speed would have been faster than that. I don't know how that compares to a racing dog but he certainly looks fast! It's a very impressive sight.
I started this morning by scraping out the chimney, then polishing the stove. Then we went off to investigate the shops... The biggest, most terrifying Asda I have ever seen, followed by a massive B&Q, all on an enormous retail park, or possibly two, on the outskirts of Tamworth. Back at Alvecote I got on with some more polishing and cleaning in the back cabin, while Jim got stuck into some carpentry. Photos to follow but basically the idea was to make a structure like a false cratch, but for the back end, to pick up the top plank so that it doesn't have to extend over the back end decking. It was completed just as the threatening thunder finally delivered a heavy shower. When that was over we took Rocky for a gallop down the towpath, getting back just before another downpour. We are now eating in the Samuel Barlow for the fourth night in a row. It really is just like being on holiday.
Car shuffling up and down the A5, charity shops of Tamworth, lazy afternoon, Alvecote curry night joined by the Halfies, coffee and chat on Jubilee. Turning into a proper holiday, with the sun and all.
On our new mooring. We left Fradley at twenty past eight, and arrived here at half past two. It looks good here... Dog friendly, rubbish and elsan on site (rather than a seven mile drive away)... Lots of other historic boats (albeit mostly joshers) and a pub on site too, where we are about to tuck into a rather nice meal. So not too hard to guess where we've moved to...
Well, good old Blogpress seems to think we're in Burton but actually we're at Fradley Junction, just on the Coventry. Where this evening I completed a hat trick of perfect turns - perfect meaning not hitting , no, not even touching, anything. I don't set my sights too high. I had to reverse - just the once - for the acute left out of Cut End - can you get 72' out of there without? But I got the stern end within four inches of the concrete and didn't touch it. Out of Great Haywood without even reversing... And a touch of reverse at Fradley only because there was a josher coming out. It's been another good day's boating, with fabulous weather once more, contrary to the doom and gloom of the forecast. Less than a day to go now, if all goes smoothly tomorrow. On our many journeys this way, I have amused myself by memorising the licks on the S&W to the tune of Cwm Rhondda: Gailey, Brick Kiln, Boggs, Rodbaston Otherton, Filance, Penkridge Longford, Park Gate, Shutt Hill, Deptmore Tixall Lock and Tixall Wide Great Haywood, Great Haywood We shall pass this way no more (No more) We shall pass this way no more.
Just over ten years ago, we arrived for the first time at Industry Narrowboats yard at Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union. The story of that trip is one of the earliest posts on my Warrior blog. At ten to eight this morning we left there for the last time. I didn't look back.
We've been to Asda for provisions, to Turners for diesel (will we ever again pay 49p a litre?) and paid a valedictory visit to Penkridge market. The engine's running well and some of the brass has even been polished. So we're all ready to set off in the morning.
Well, in a few minutes I'll be setting off to the station to go to Stretton, via Stockport, Crewe and Penkridge. Although we've been to check up a couple of times, I haven't actually been on board Chertsey since last October. That is both incredible and shameful, I know. So who knows what Jim and I will discover when we arrive. Hopefully nothing that can't be sorted, and after cleaning up, victualling, and overhauling we should be able to set off on a short trip. I'll be trying to blog on the phone so expect posts to be short, and, the way Blogpress is behaving, unillustrated. But let's give it a go!
I started my much-heralded new blog well over a month ago. And it has had NO VIEWS. No one has stumbled across it by accident. So why not have a look now and discover some things you never knew about me...