... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Friday 29 April 2011

Lockwheeling from Wheelock and avoiding a royal wedding

Two days' posts crammed into one as I couldn't keep my eyes open last night. First, the summary that I've forgotten so far:
Tuesday - Ellesmere Port to somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Wednesday - SITMON to Middlewich, about ten hours.
Thursday - Middlewich to Kidsgrove, about ten hours, and definitely thirty one locks.
Friday - Kidsgrove to Stone, only about eight hours and twelve-ish locks.

So, Thursday was a good day for getting the bike out, and some lucky person (who actually happened not to be me!) got to cycle six miles and fit in twenty six locks along the way. We were aiming for the Blue Bell, but because we desperately needed to eat, settled for the Red Bull, which we were tied up opposite. The food was fine, the beer was too cold, and there was super music from a regular last Thursday night of the month bluegrass outfit with a great many members who played very casually in the corner. I was falling asleep as I sat there but it was very pleasant.

This morning began with a shower at Kidsgrove - and very good it was too, not to say overdue, and then it was off, with perfect timing, to spend the exact period of the royal wedding ceremony safely hidden in the Harecastle Tunnel. It may not be much of a boast, being as it's very straight, but I was very pleased with myself for getting through without so much as touching the sides, no, not even once. The weekends taking Tarporley back and forth through the Islington Tunnel have clearly stood me in good stead. A gentle run today has brought us to Stone, where we have tied up opposite the Star, where we spent a very pleasant evening in 2006 with a couple called Tony and Sheila, but which appears to have attracted a younger clientele since then. So once again taking the advice of beer guru Mike, we repaired to the Swan, and enjoyed a very nice pint of Church End Bad Rabbit and some pork scratchings (not the best I've ever had) in an absolutely packed pub. Once again quite tired (I've done my washing too, more of that anon) and mindful of my blogging duties, we tore ourselves away. Aiming for Rugeley tomorrow.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Branching out to Middlewich

Yesterday it has to be said was not a good one. Frayed tempers and lowered pounds and a cold wind did not add up to happy cruising. It looked as if today was going to start where yesterday left off, but then, lo, the sun came out and all was cheerfulness again. We'd set off at seven (and put in ten hours before stopping in time for tea), negotiated a few more big locks and Bunbury (where no one got confused this time and we two boats going up executed rather a nice shuffle with one coming down), and buy the time I was making sandwiches for an early lunch, having made tea and porridge on the move, hard captain that I am, we were turning onto the Middlewich Branch.

We've not been here before, and it was lovely - so glad we didn't change our minds about coming this way. The fields full of dandelions that we saw on the way down are now fields of perfect dandelion puffs, the air thick with a snow of their seeds. We passed beautiful bluebell woods, a haze of blue. The view through the trees over the fields and flashes was breathtaking. I don't understand Cheshire; the more you descend, the wider the vistas and the bigger the views.

We tied up on the towpath just short of bridge 29 (or possibly 30). All along here there are (small, floppy) signs saying the towpath is closed for improvement works, and I wasn't sure whether we were meant to moor there, but the signs weren't very big or insistent, and there isn't anywhere else as there is alot of improvement going on. I chap on a little roller or something similar came rolling along and I thought he was going to tell us to bugger off, but he just wanted to ask about the boat. The towpath along here is lovely, covered in wild flowers and with lots of moorings with picnic tables and barbecue stands, thanks to the Shropshire Union Canal Society, who seem to be really active and to do good stuff. They also managed to keep sending us their rathr lush newsletter for years after we stopped sending them a membership subscription.

Jim used our newly acquired First Mate guide to go and find the shops and most importantly a cashpoint while I waited for Liam on Ariel to catch up and sell us some diesel, and sought expert advice on the pubs of Middlewich. So many, and yet not a mention in the Good Beer Guide. Well, apparently there's a reason for that, so we stayed on the boat (well, the towpath) and enjoyed the lentils I started cooking at lunchtime. Here is a brief recipe interlude: Impromptu Lentil Curry. Take half a small pack of lentils. Add two tins of tomatoes and chop them up. Add a good dollop of HP sauce that you found in the back of the table cupboard and a sprinkling of black pepper. Cook slowly on the stove top for an afternoon, then go to Tescos and buy some curry powder. Add two teaspoons of this and serve with naan bread. It was jolly good and some much needed healthiness. Now all I need is some fruit.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Tired out

Oh dear, even though there was a good signal at Ellesmere Port, I was too busy enjoying myself to blog. In the bar every night, boaters' entertainment and quiz (in which we did not come last) on Sunday, dinner with Annie and Colin on Eli on Monday, learning to handle ropes, and re-learning how to splice courtesy of Nick Wolfe, and of course, best of all, sharing Blossom's wonderful news. More of all of this anon on a quiet news day.

We reluctantly left the museum at 8.30 this morning, and it has been a rather trying day, as apparently a pound up here on the Shroppie was drained last night and BW had, they claimed, been running water down all day to refill it. Must have been coincidence that after I rang them it suddenlt started filling up a lot faster. In the meantime we had pointlessly, as it tured out, jettisoned a good proportion of our fresh water. Still, it's good to know we can lose a ton or so from the back end when we need to.

Can't say what a lovely time I had at the Port; in some, indefinable, ways, a better event than Braunston - more compact, very informal (to the extent that half the time we had no idea what was going on) and in such a lovely setting. Add to that, atypically sunny weather (although it has been sunny every one of the three Easters I've visited, which when I've gone elsewhere, it's snowed) and it was a fantastic holiday.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Best campsite in the world

Yesterday was a wonderful sunny day, and it felt great to be properly on holiday. Wandering around the site, meeting new people, buying hippy skirts... Amy and James Duck arrived at lunchtime and set up camp in the hold, and other than that, really, nothing happened. The solar shower on the cabin top produced satisfactorily hot water for washing up, and I reckon thet it is more effective on the cabin top where the steel is conducting heat underneath it, than lying on the reflective bubble wrap on top of the water tank - although I own that the latter may have got slightly less sun. This is such a nice place to be, especially in the evening after the crowds have gone, and first thing in the morning.
Watching the ships go by...

Last night we were sitting outside drinking and chatting when behind the boats and the buildings a ship came slipping down the Ship Canal, dwarfing us all. Shortly after that the steel grey clouds were split with the first shaft of lightening, and as the rain began to fall we took shelter in the bar, where we spent a very pleasant evening. This morning is cooler, and breezy, but still pleasant.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Back at the Port

Not like me I know to do two posts in a day - I like to eke them out - but here we are back at Ellesmere Port, a week after we left. We arrived at about four (so that's a six hour journey this time, but an uneventful one). Clair on Plover had phoned just before we left the house to ask if we wanted them to start moving Chertsey up to the top basin, so we said yes please, and when we arrived it was waiting by the floating bridge and half an hour after arriving we were taking Chertsey through, the first boat into the top basin and right at the end next to the wooden boats - the pumps can lull us to sleep all night. It's a lovely spot with a great view over the lower basin, where there was much frolocking earlier, but we up here, with Laura and Peter on Stanton have been very staid.
We both have solar water heating systems to test, and they are all filled up and ready. And we have done our brass, of course, and eaten our tinned curry, and hopefully are all set for tomorrow.

Solar power

No, we won't be covering Chertsey with photovoltaic panels, but are hoping to harness the sun's energy more directly, and thus hopefully more efficiently, for heating water. When the stove's lit, it's easy to keep the big kettle and the teapot topped up and pretty much always have hot water available for washing up, hair washing and so on. I tend to keep the kettle on the hot part ready for making tea, when a shift of a couple of inches will bring it to the boil, and the big teapot full over the oven, where over the course of the day it gets hot enough for the washing up (albeit in slightly tea-tinged water). But when the sun's blazing and it's too hot to light the stove, you still need hot water for washing up and I'm not quite rugged enough for washing myself in cold water yet, despite my impromptu shower in the Northgate locks last week.

The other year we were impressed when Izzy on Bath had some spare water left over in her 'solar shower' - it was warm enough to wash my hair with very comfortably, and with all the flat surfaces available on your average boat (slightly more than on Chertsey, in fact), and very cheap technology it had to be worth a try. So of course I did nothing about it for nearly two years, like you do(n't). We popped into Millets in Chester last week to see if they had any, but they said they ware in short supply, owing to strong demand from the military(!), so as soon as we got home I got on line to see what I could find; loads, but while prices were low, p&p was not; this would have been OK, but no one could deliver before we left (today. OK, maybe I didn't get on line immediately we got home).

So this obviously now became a vital mission to track down what are essentially big black plastic bags. Jim rang around the outdoor shops in Brighton; Millets didn't have any, Blacks had one; Cotswold had four. So he got them to put two aside and off we set. Driving into Brighton on a sunny spring Sunday is, of course, the first circle of hell, but we'd forgotten that (bit like childbirth). Likewise, probably better to draw a veil over the game of hunt the carpark with a space, find and compete for the space (20 minutes), pay for the space... Fight your way through the shopping mall; I lied, this is the fourth circle).

By the time we got to the shop, we decided to take all four to make the journey worthwhile; at a higher price thanb the online ones including postage, plus car parking and petrol, plus hair tearing, so they'd better work. Of course, now when the sun goes in for the next three weeks, you can blame me.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

A new sticker at last!

It's been a long time since I had a new photo to put in my Town Class Sticker Album (my attempt to spot and photograph as many Grand Union large motor boats as I possibly can), but haring down the towpath last week I spotted a familiar shape, being painted in familiar colours, which a brief exchange revealed to be Ladybank - one I've not even seen before. Having glanced over the album again, I must make sure to get a photo of Alton at the Port, and also to find one of Nuneaton, which god knows I've seen often enough.

Monday 18 April 2011

Apples and pears

Staircase locks still make me furrow my brow a bit. They're OK when I'm on the bank - no problem on the Chesterfield - but we've had some fun with the big ones on the Shroppie. Bunbury was the site of an early mishap on Warrior, and the reason I think anyone who cruises with side fenders down doesn't know what they're doing. On our return there we met what looked like a pair of seasoned boaters - overalls, beards - who turned out to be anything but. The chap with the biggest beard had just bought his own boat, and the other guy, his mate, was a supposedly experienced boater who'd come to help him and show him how it was done. All I could do was warn Bigger Beard that his friend was in danger of wearing his bowthruster out for him before he even needed to use it. By the time they gone we were so discombobulated that Jim forgot to empty the bottom lock before the top one. Prior to that a couple has been going down and had offered to share but at that point I was less confident about the width of the locks (I now realise it's only Beeston Iron Lock that's problematic) so declined. I don't know if it would have been good or not to have them with us for the rest of the way, as they insisted on emptying the lock at no more than a trickle. Now I can understand some people being cautious about filling a lock slowly, but going down?

The middle lock of Northgate Staircase, where I thought I might have to take up permanent residence

Then there's the Northgate Staircase of three locks going into Chester, which we had never traversed before. No problem here remembering to do them in the right order, but lots of grief with a stuck paddle and getting a level between the second and bottom locks, and then more fun getting out of what are rather short locks, which finally entailed me taking an impromptu shower in order to hoick up the button fender to enable me to finally get Chertsey's nose past the gate of the bottom lock. And thus I made my triumphal and dripping entrance into Chester.
Here's Chertsey in the basin

And two gratuitous pictures of our approach into Chester

Sunday 17 April 2011

A lot can happen in five years

I almost hate to admit it, it makes me feel like such a parvenue, but it was five years ago about now I first recall encountering old working boats. Close encounters in some cases, as we had rather unwisely (or innocently) chosen the week before Easter to bring the recently purchased Warrior from its old mooring at Golden Nook up (that doesn't sound right in a map sense, but in a canal sense it is) to Stretton.

One of the things that needed attention was Warrior's engine, which was on average firing on one of its three clyinders; the other was the gearbox, which was very chary about engaging reverse. (A third urgent requirement was to get rid of the horrible paint job, of course.) Just what you need when you're still a bit of a nervous newbie and there's all these big beautiful beasts coming the other way. If I'd known then what I know now... but of course I didn't, and we had quite a few hairy moments, and spent a lot of time running down the towpath warning people of our approach. I think the best bit was with Bernard Hales's tug and at least two day boats, including one which was being bowhauled all the way. He was very nice about the ensuing melee.

Could I have imagined back then that a mere five years later I would not only own one of these beauties, but would be confidently steering it towards Ellesmere Port for the Easter Gathering...

Saturday 16 April 2011

Down to the Dee

If I was a real boater (TM) of course, I'd have taken the boat down the Dee branch of the Shropshire Union, (and up again, backwards) and have got the plaque to prove it, but it didn't really seem such a good idea so I walked it instead. Though short, it was a bit further than we expected, and sufficiently interesting to make it worthwhile.
Above is the final, disused lock out onto the river. On the left, out of shot, were some relatively new flats, of which a 'penthouse' was still being offered for sale, which were already showing cracks and other signs of having been thrown up in a great hurry and at little expense.

Little more pleasing to the eye are these deadening developments that line the canal both here and on the main line in Chester.

I did like these S-shaped brackets on the lock handrails though.

Friday 15 April 2011

Last legs and Chester

A word of advice for anyone considering travelling from Ellesmere Port to Stretton by public transport. Don't. Go to Timbuktu instead. By elephant. It will be easier.

Of course, as the Irishman said when asked for directions, I wouldn't start from here. And we hadn't planned to start from there either, but from Chester. Fourteen quid, one change, and you're in Penkridge, a short cab ride away from the car waiting at Stretton. However, we'd decided that we didn't fancy leaving the boat in Chester - the towpath where we were moored was quiet enough, but 48 hours, and over the other side, where we'd been told was the best place, was right by a building site and a pub, and, we were told, shallow and full of rubbish as well. As we arrived in Chester, we met Laura and Peter on Stanton, and they were about to leave for Ellesmere Port that day, Wednesday. So we decided that we would follow on Thursday.

This gave us a day to explore Chester on increasingly aching feet. First impressions of Chester was that it was a deeply odd place, rather disconcerting. I have never seen so much Victorian Mediaeval in one place before. In fact, I've never knowingly seen any, but Chester's full of it. And where it isn't Victorian ersatz, it's bland contemporary clone-vernacular. We walked down the Dee Branch to the heavily silted lock onto the river, and there saw the most shoddily built flats I think I have ever seen. The town centre is full of expensive shops and tasteful cobbles; bit of a fur coat and no knickers sort of place. I didn't like it.

My favourite building was the Westminster [something I've forgotten] and Motor Car Company, which is now Chester Library, a glorious bit of (at a guess) early twentieth century glazed and embossed brickwork. We also took a long evening stroll to find the Albion pub on the other side of town, as it sounded interesting. It was; it was a bit like sitting in a museum or at least a 1916 timewarp. The place is full of WW1 memorabilia, but I didn't find it oppressive as some reviewers suggested. There were lots of enamel signs and old adverts, and it wasn't too emetically mawkish. Beautiful wall paper and subdued lighting made it feel a bit like sitting in your old granny's parlour. The landlord clearly prides himself on being very grumpy, with a big sign outside telling people not to bring stag or hen parties in in no uncertain terms, and apparently, previously, one saying 'this is a family-hostile pub'. A blackboard on the bar advertised this week's guest lager as 'I Can't Believe It's Not Piss' which would have been funny if they'd had more than two beers (Adnam's Bitter and Rudgate Viking) on, both under 4% (Jim reckoned the landlord didn't allow people anything stronger during the week), and hadn't been serving Carlsberg.

Anyway, I digress. On Thursday morning we duly made our way (after inadvertantly attending the grand opening of Chester's brand new Poundland in search of Fray Bentos pies) through the not very interesting landscape towards Ellesmere Port where we locked down into the lower basin and ties up to Stanton. Then the fun started. Carrying two bags apiece, we made our way to the station, through a very run down landscape and across a couple of busy roads. Once there, we discovered there was no ticket office, no helpful cheery railway employee to advise us on how best to make the journey. There was an interactive touch screen information display but it couldn't find its own website. So we pressed a button which caused a phone to ring, and a man at the other end looked it up on the National Rail website, and told us to get the next train to Liverpool Lime Street and change there for Penkridge, so having got that sorted, we settled down to wait for the train. Just as it rolled in, I realised we hadn't bought tickets! So dashed over to the machine, bashed in the destination, and was offered the choice of 'Any Permitted Route' or 'Via Chaster'. Hmm. Any Permitted then, if we're going via Liverpool. £28.10 each!!! Scream. OK then, what is it via Chester? £17 each. That's more like it. But how do we do it? Back to the man on the end of the phone, who can't understand why we would want to take such a convoluted route, but when we explained, got his colleague to discover that we had to change at Hooton for Chester, and then go from Chester to Crewe, and pick up the train from Liverpool there. Amazingly, we would still get to Penkridge at the same time. So this is what we did, and it involved more time waiting at Chester and then at Crewe than it did actually travelling. Jim rang for a taxi to meet the train, and was told that they didn't have one available until ten minutes later; OK, we accepted that. It actually turned up thirty five minutes later, driven by a lunatic who played awful music. It's the first time I've ever paid a taxi driver without tipping.

After that four hour odyssey, it was a simple matter to get in the trusty Volvo and set a new record of just over three hours for the journey home, to arrive after eleven. So next time we want to come home from Ellesmere Port, we'll start from Chester.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

News in brief

As this is the first time since leaving Stretton that I've had a decent signal, there's a lot to cram in.
Sunday, Stretton to Adderley, no disasters, no getting stuck, and one good deed done. Ten and a half hours.
Monday, Adderley to Audlem, no disasters, new friends (Colin and Annie on Eli) and old (Jill Wrigglefingers), three hours and lots of beer.
Tuesday, Audlem to somewhere between Beeston and Rowton Moor. One getting stuckness, and one boatful of annoying people. Nine and a half hours and a very long day; cold wind.
Details and photos to follow.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Grease is the word

And oil, and diesel, and paraffin. A nice day of petroleum based products. Firstly Jim went off to Turners at Wheaton Aston to get diesel. We are really lucky being moored near this cheap and helpful garage, but we still didn't take the boat - couldn't be doing with winding twice before setting off. We'll be passing them in the morning of course, but they won't be open then. Jim went in the car with our collection of containers. He also took the opportunity to buy about 20 litres of paraffin, at about half the cost of the 4 litre pre-packs.

Then we had to change the oil. Jim had removed the old oil yesterday, and today I helped him put the new stuff in, finally getting to open my 25 litre Morris's tin - it was once I had that that I knew I was a real boater! We thought it would take about ten litres but it actually swallowed a fait bit more with its extra-large BW sump. Then he greased all the relevant bits of the engine room, and I attended to the stern tube and prop shaft plummer block.

These have the original cap type greasers. You unscrew it to remove the cap, then fill this up with grease. Of course it doesn't hold anything like as much as a modern greaser so you have to do this quite often. Then it needs to be located on its very fine thread, which is the hard part, and start to be screwed down.This is directly into the stern tube, you can just see it in the dark in the photo above. A turn or two a day when you're boating until it's screwed right down, and then do it all over again! Further back there's a plummer block picking up the propshaft, and this has a similar greaser, which I really should remember to give a trun to more frequently. I just thought I's write about that for people who'd not come across them.

Friday 8 April 2011

We have the power!

We never could find anything wrong with the dynamo, but the battery clearly wasn't charging. Perhaps it was the regulator (bad news if so!). But to give the dynamo its best shot, we took it to be looked over by a man in Hednesford, and collected it this morning, duly looked at and serviced, and assured that it was in full working order, and with a wiring diagram (given that thde one we were working to previously might have been wrong. So Jim connected it up and... still nothing getting to the battery.

Lots of conversations ensued between John in Hednesford, John here at Stretton who was generously applying his electrical engineering knowledge, and Jim, none of which in all honesty I really understand, but the upshot was, after trying almost everything else, to disconnect the ammeter (that's not it in the picture, that's the oil pressure guage. If you want to see a picture of the ammeter, scroll back a few days). Magic! A quick rev of the engine, and power was going to the battery, and at a good rate too. I can now extravagantly charge my phone without guilt!

Monday 4 April 2011

A sad success

We got quite a few responses to the Apollo Duck advert for Warrior, and Jim has spent the last couple of weeks answering questions, uploading photographs and searching out engine videos for the favoured few, whilst fending off, with various degrees of politeness (ahem) the less favoured many. Only one - who asked whether it was moored in Brighton Marina - actually had the phone put down on him. Anyway, he got it down to four likely candidates, and two of them were lined up to visit Bill Fen at the weekend, with one other still trying to arrange to come.

We arrived at Bill Fen on Friday night, having delayed our departure owing to the house's boiler deciding to stop being unreliable and simply stop working instead, and to reinforce the point by depositing a large quantity of water on the kitchen floor. Fortunately, being boaters, we are not deterred by the absence of hot running water, and it is just about warm enough now not to miss the heating. Hopefully it will be fixed tomorrow.

So, with the first viewers due on Sunday morning, we had all day Saturday to clean and polish, and Warrior looked an absolute treat. Naturally we were a bit concerned about what John and Lyn would have to say about us selling 'their' boat but they took it pretty well, consiodering, John's opening greeting to Jim being a cheery 'Traitor!' We must have been forgiven though as we were invited along to the Railway that evening where there was a band on. That's the sort of offer you don't refuse, so along we went. We enjoyed the band.... from the other bar, where the noise level was just about bearable, and spent the evening chatting to two Welsh guys who were trying to persuade me that sailing is a good idea.

Come Sunday morning, a quick wash of the floor and Jim went off to fetch the paper. Before he returned, I was hailed in a Yorkshire accent by a man with a pipe. Clearly a good sign. Adrian and Linda had arrived, and shortly afterwards, Jim returned. We had a cup of tea, and then they looked over the boat - by arrangement, we hid the engine from Adrian until everything else had been inspected, less it cloud his judgement. Then the engine was revealed, started, and we set off towards Ramsey Forty Foot. We went a way beyond the village, winded, and met Moomin coming the other way before stopping outside the George and tying to the tree in time honoured fashion. In the George we had a couple of pints and a roast Sunday dinner, and inspected the guest book where Warrior's maiden voyage (December 23rd 1995) is recorded - as well, we noted this time, as many, many other visits. Then back we went to Bill Fen, enjoyed another cup of tea - and were then taken quite by surprise when Adrian said it was their ideal boat and offered us the asking price! What a wonderful outcome, and to see it go to two such lovely people too, and the first people to ring up to boot - within minutes, almost, of the advert going up.

So we parted as new friends; Jim rang the chap who was coming today and told him the bad (for him) news, and we headed straight for home. So a very successful day, but a sad one too of course, thinking of parting with the boat that we've put so much time and work and thought into - but mollified greatly by the thought of it going into such good and appreciative hands.