Why do we love to moan!

Let me start this by saying, I love a good moan, and always have an opinion! However, I do believe there is a time and a place.

A couple of things recently make me think that we are too quick to rubbish our canals and the people who look after them.

How often have you had a conversation which includes the comment “ohh, I would never go down xxx canal, I know people who have had problems going through there!” It is however interesting that it is rarely the person themselves who have had issues, it’s usually happened to someone else.

It must be said that as well as going through some fantastic countryside, canals go through many more urban settings, and often through some rundown areas of towns.  Whilst there are places where I would think twice about mooring overnight, I would like to think that there are none that I would fear to travel.

Maybe we need to stop rubishing these canals and start using them. It is only by using them, that they will improve.

We are currently on the Macclesfield canal in what should be one of the busiest weeks of the year. It is interesting how few hire boats we have seen doing the Cheshire ring, and I suspect this is in part to do with the need to travel through Manchester to complete it.

The Ashton canal has always had a bad reputation, however, I must have done the Cheshire ring half a dozen times in my boating career, and I have ever had an issue!

The most recent of these trips was last year, and I have to say it was very much improved, with good overnight moorings in Manchester, and no sign of trouble whatsoever.

I would even go as far as to say that Castlefield Basin in the centre of Manchester is one of my favorite mooring spots.

The fact is that avoiding these urban canals means that we are missing out on some fascinating canal heritage.

On a positive  note, it was really good to read an upbeat  report of a trip down the Rochdale Canal in Waterways world (August 2017).

More of these please!

But enough of the canals, let me move on to those who run them.

Let me start by acknowledging there are issues with canals, and I don’t agree with everything the CRT do, but on the whole, I think they do a pretty good job. So why do we take every opportunity to moan about them.

Let me give you an example. 2017 is the 5th anniversary of the CRT taking over the running of the canals, and quite understandably, much of their media is currently celebrating the fact.

But why did one Twitter user decide to reply to a tweet from the CRT, which highlighted their successes since taking over, with a moan about the way they had restored a particular bit of towpath.

Whilst they may well be right that this bit of work and the decisions behind it have issues, maybe pouring cold water on the CRT’s birthday celebrations was not the time or place to point them out.

The fact is that as a nation, our canals ore one of greatest assets and generally, they improve year on year. All in all, 5 years on from when the Canal & River Trust took over their management, I would suggest that on balance thy have done a good job.

Let’s start supporting and engaging constructively with those tasked with the challenging job of managing the canals and celebrate the whole network, and not just the bits that travel through green and pleasant countryside.

 

The Shroppie

So, we are on our way to Worcester to buy a guitar. However whether we will actually get there is far from certain.

One of the things I have grown to enjoy about boating is the lack of need to plan, and the fact that most of the enjoyment is the journey rather than the destination. 

In my early boating years I was the type of person who, on picking up the boat, would already have calculated that given the daylight available could do the 4 counties ring plus the Caldon canal (both branches) in a week without breaking a. Sweat!

This trip felt a bit like a return to those days, and I am not sure if I will be able to keep up the pace, but on the other hand, I do like a challenge!

So…. The Shroppie. Everyone loves the Shropshire union Canal, but me, I am not so sure. 

But before I get to that let me talk for a moment about the feature on the canal printed in the latest issue of Waterways World. Whilst I would never accuse them of lazy journalism, I do wonder how much time they spent researching this article. Rather I suspect, they dusted off some copy printed in a previous edition. As eveidence, I present the following:

Barbridge – “with a pint or 2 from the couple of pubs vying for attention! – In fact there is only one pub at Barbridge now, The Barbridge inn. The other – The Jolly Tar I believe – was knocked down a couple of years ago! – in their defense, they do only show one pub on the map!

The Anchor – It mentions the quaint use of “Enamel Jugs” to serve the beer. Unless they have gone back to them, they had a hand pump on the bar when I visited last year.

It does feel a little like  they have dusted off some old copy for a feature on the Shropshire Union to save some time, but I may be wrong!

Anyway back to our trip, and my view of the SU canal. In my eyes it’s a bit dull, yes it does have some epic cuttings, but it was built to get from A to B in a straight line as fast as possible, and today it definitely still has that air about it. 

In this instance, we did infact want to get from A to B as fast as possible and in that it serve its purpose!  And it does feature may favorite sign on the whole canal network!

Good Job Mr Telford. For the canal – not the sign!

A Trip with a Purpose

It is said that every trip must have a purpose. Whilst, when it comes to narrowboating I would not always agree, in this case, our current trip does infact have a purpose.

To begin my story we need to go back a couple of months when, for no particular reason I decided to learn to play the bass guitar.

Rather than dive in and buy one I decided to see if I could borrow a bass so that I could give it a go. And sure enough, someone was kind enough to oblige.

The only issue was that it had too many strings! All the lessons I can find on line, bass, tabs etc are all for a normal 4 sting instrument, but the one I borrowed had 5!

Not a problem I thought, a 5 string Bass is just a 4 with an extra string (B if you are interested), so I can just ignore the 5th sting and use it like a normal bass. This was fine, but the probelem was learning an instrument is hard enough without having to negotiate unused strings. My so, solution was to remove the offending string!

Problem solved.

“So what does all this have to do with the purpose of a narrowboat trip” I hear you ask. Well let me tell you.

We had decided that this years big trip would be to Worcester. I also thought that if I am serious about learning to play the bass, I should at least learn on one with the correct number of strings.

As Worcester has a number of music shops, I thought I would combine the two decisions, and head to Worcester to buy a Guitar.

Hence the trip with a purpose.

So watch this space, and I will keep you up to date with how the trip and the Guitar playing go!

 

Beer and Brasso – Broken Cross BC Closing Cruise

closing_cruise-21-of-24Boating in September is always a bit of a gamble where the weather is concerned, but in this instance it was defiantly an each way win as the day, whilst not sunny, dawned dry & bright.

With the fire stoked, the good ship Blue Rover set off from Anderton armed with 4 copies of the observation quiz and eight eyes set to take on what was touted as the fiendishly difficult task of getting a perfect score.

Things started well up to the Salt Barge with answers flowing freely, but the monk’s hoods at the salt works sent the crew into a wild debate as to what constructed a cowl, and by the time it was resolved we were a couple of clues down! As anyone who has been in a tricky maneuvering situation knows, it’s amazing how fast narrowboats travel when you need time to think.

The quiz gave this very familiar piece of canal a new interest and it is remarkable how many times, the exclamation “well, I have never noticed that before!” was heard on the trip.

3 1/2 hours later, and fully confident that we had scored well on the quiz we arrived a big lock to discover we were pretty much the last to arrive with boats moored 2 deep from big lock to the corner.

A quick trip through big lock to the winding hole and back, and by 5 we were securely moored up just around the corner from the other boats. Ample time to finalise the last few quiz answers before setting off for the pub at 7:30.

We had been warned about BCBC time and that 7:30 for 8 meant be there by 7:15, and sure enough we were the last to arrive (well almost) when we turned up at 7:30.

I say we were the last to arrive, this is if you don’t include one member ( I will let you guess who!) who having just purchased a new headlamp for his boat, decided to wait until after dark to arrive so that he could test it out. I guess that could explain the reports of bright lights drifting slowly over the Cheshire countryside, that came in that night!

Having visited the London Camera exchange on a recent cruise to Chester, I was keen to try out my new toy, and thus being in possession of what looked like a proper camera, was quickly volunteered as scribbler & official photographer for the event (That will teach me!).

Throughout the meal, an excellent rendition of traditional British pub fayre, the wine (other beverages were available) and conversation flowed freely, and soon came the highlight of the evening – the results of the quiz!

Whilst some of the answers did spark some family lively debate; “was that REALLY a gold finger?” 20 minutes later the results were in – And the winner was – (obligatory 20 second pause) –  Peter & Judy Jones – a fitting result following Daeve Hook having triumphed in the last observation quiz – set by – yes you guessed it Peter Jones. All in all, a fitting result for the rematch.

With an uneventful and, without the stress of the quiz, enjoyably relaxed trip back the following morning, it was all in all a great end to the season.

New Ebay delivery service

When we decided it was time for an upgrade to Blue Rover’s hot water system, little did we know what we were starting!

We replaced the existing vertical calorifier located in the engine room with a new horizontal version which we could fit under the bed (toasty!) But what to do with the old and perfectly servicable calorifier? Ebay seemed the perfect solution.

Seven days later and the calorifier was sold to it new owner. We just needed to get it to him.

Loading on to Blue Rover ready for the delivery trip
Loading on to Blue Rover ready for the delivery trip

With Blue Rover based at Anderton on the T&M and the new owner at Preston Brook Marina at the bottom of the Runcorn  Arm, the answer seemed obvious. Delivery by narrowboat wasn’t an option on the Ebay menu but what the heck! Arrangements were made and the calorifer was shipped aboard Blur Rover for the journey to Preston Brook. 3 hours, 3 tunnels and 1 lock later, delivery was made to the new owner on their project boat, a 70ft x 12ft ex trip boat with an interesting feature – propellors and rudders at both ends – no need to wind. I know a few people who would benefit from this addition!

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Safe arrival and handover at Preston Brook Marina

Good luck to Mick in his project. I hope his new calorifier provides many years of hot water. Maybe our experience will open up a whole new option for Ebay deliveries?

Roads to nowhere

Before I start, an update on Floodgate – it seems the water pump was the culprit and the offending pump is now serving time in a CRT waste bin. 5 days later with stirling service from a battery operated caravan fan purchased from Lidl for a fiver, the cabin bilge is now pretty much dry and normal service is resumed.

The last couple of days cruising the Caldon and currently moored in the idyllic surroundings of the tunnel pool on the Leek branch, with only 3 ducks and 2 families of geese for company, has got me thinking about the joys of dead end canals!

Over the past couple of years we have cruised a number of them:

  • The Llangollen
  • Shropshire Union to Ellesmere Port
  • The Caldon

And they are all, in their different ways, wonderful. First and foremost, they are wonderful because they don’t go anywhere. The only reason to cruise them is for the joy of doing so. Because of this, and because most people don’t understand the pleasure of this kind of boating, they tend to be pretty quiet.

imageThe second thing that these canals have in common is that if you make it to the end, you are rewarded with an amazing mooring spot.

Up til now, my boating has tended to be about doing the distance, (usually in a ring) you have a week, or 2 weeks, and it’s about working out how far you can go in the time. More recently the distance travelled in a given time  has been reducing, but it has been about using Pearsons ( other guides are available, but not sure why you would want to use them) to  divide the route by the days available, and that was your itinerary. This trip, we had 2 weeks and the plan was “to do the Caldon”. Using the above system, even on a leisurely itinerary, we would be back in a week. So Pearsons stayed on the shelf, and we are going with the flow.  So far the flow has taken us to the end of the Caldon Leek branch and a night alone with the geese. Tomorrow  who  knows, but after 30 odd years of boating, I think I am finally starting to get it!

 

 

Water Water Eveywhere

Back on board for our 2 week cruise and fortunate for us we had no real itinerary, as things did not start well!!

I read in Waterways World a couple of months ago that being on a narrowboat is a bit like being stranded on Mars (as depicted in the book/film The Martian) whilst the consequences of failure are somewhat more drastic on Mars (get it wrong and you are dead!), I can definitely see the parallels.

The skills of problem solving and lateral thinking are key boating requirements, and in this case the problem was water – Too much of it in the wrong place!

The crew who had brought the boat back from Crick commented that all had been well with the boat, but reported a calorifier leak leading to damp under the bed.

Further investigation suggested the calorifier was not the source – seems that leak is sorted. Now to a process of elimination.

  1. All other pipe work – dry
  2. Shower drain pump and all connections – dry
  3. Carpet next to the bed – wet – very wet

Lifting the cabin floorboards we found the source of the damp. The bedroom bilge was full of water! Now everyone knows that in a boat the water should be on the outside, so this was not good.

45 mins and 10 buckets later, the water was put back in its right place, and the question then was where is it coming from. For this, there were again 3 options:

  1. The central heating
  2. Rain from leaking windows
  3. The one we really didn’t want to think about – The canal!!

Central heating was the favorite – it had never worked that well,  we had topped it up a few times and that water had to have gone somewhere!

We had ruled out the domestic water, as the pump had not been running (tell tale sign of a leak). But I decided to check the water tank anyway, and glad I did. It seems that the above is only true as long as it’s not the actual pump that is leaking! And it was. Didn’t seem to be leaking much, but small leaks add up over time! Still not a conviction, but definitely charged and reprimanded in custody pending further investigation! I still think this crime was not committed  alone, and central heating is still in the frame and under surveillance.

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Anyway enough of the crime metaphor. I think a visit to Kings Lock chandlery may be in order later, and a maintenance day is on the cards.

As I said at the beginning, lucky we didn’t have an itinerary!

Roll forward 4 hours, and a very strange shopping list (water pump and a pack of Incontinence pads) later, we were ready to start the repair job.

Replacing the pump was infact pretty straight forward, with the only complication being why, when the old pump had a built in pressure switch, was there an external one fitted. Deciding that it was probably because the built in one had failed at some time in the past, I chose to leave it out. If nothing else it meant 2 fewer connections in the circuit.

Fired up the new pump, no leaks (check) water out of taps (check) – so far so good – and as a bonus the flow rate out of the taps (and the shower) were also much improved. All looked good, and to top it all, the amount of water flowing into the bedroom bilge ( where all this started) also seemed to be slowing.

Given that the water had had to traverse half the length of the boat to get from the leak to the flood, it was reasonable to expect that it would take a while to dry out, hence the need for the incontinence pads. These were installed in the bilge to soak up the remaining water.  Tip for anyone doing plumbing jobs, inco pads are an excellent way to soak up inevitable leakages – obviously really, not sure why Tena  haven’t thought of this already!!

Tomorrow will tell whether the problem is solved! Fingers crossed.

Call me crazy, but this is why I love boating!

Homeward Bound – Days 5 & 6

Stowaways – 1

Wales – 0 (Portugal 2)

Swan attacks -1

Flesh eating horse fly attacks – 1

Day 5 dawned bright and sunny (this is getting monotonous) and we set off at 8 am on what would prove to be a long day’s cruise. Overnight I had been informed that ‘the toilet appears to be overflowing‘ it didn’t appear to be overflowing, it WAS overflowing – and guess who had to deal with it!

Inevitably my focus was on reaching the CRT services at Great Heywood and normalising the toilet situation. As we passed through Rugeley we suddenly realised we needed a provisions restock (actually I think my crew needed to visit the toilet at Tesco) so they were both despatched as I cruised on alone. I don’t think they appreciated that typical cruising speed is pretty similar to typical walking speed so it could take HOURS for them to catch up. Eventually I relented I slowed to wait for them.

The swan attack took place in the afternoon as a (perfectly reasonable) swan took offence to crew member Neil being in the vicinity and decide to lash out. Neil cranked the throttle and left the neighbourhood. Peace returned as we headed for Stone.

Good thing we hadn’t planned to stop in Stone. There was NO space. This seems to be pretty common in the area (in my experience). As we ascended Stone locks we passed the birthplace of my favourite narrowboat (Strathspey – if anyone knows the owner and can convince them to sell for a fair price, give me a call!)

Then ensued our daily debate of what to do for the evening – pub or countryside. The pub on offer was the Plume of Feathers at Barlaston and, as regular readers of this stuff will know, we aren’t impressed. The earlier correspondent from May tried to convince that it was really OK despite their rant here.

We weren’t swayed and my home made macaroni cheese at a mooring as far from the railway line as possible was order of the day.

Question: Has anyone visited Lakeside Tavern? It is marked in Pearson but there is no reference in the text. Last TripAdvisor report was in 2014 but there were cars parked outside this morning?

Having listened to Andy Murray’s Quarter Final Wimbledon victory on the radio, we eventually fired up the TV to watch the second half of Wales-Portugal. The deed was done and what we saw wasn’t great.

Rain overnight had cleared by this morning and as we stopped to queue at Trentham Lock the stowaway boarded. I noticed a Robin standing on the edge of the cratch he/she then hopped down onto the cratch floor to feast on the detritus from yesterday’s crisps. All fine but I was taken aback when said robin the flew into the saloon. I dread to think what happened over the next minutes but when I returned to take the boat into the lock, the interloper was nowhere to be seen and, as far as I could tell, all valuables were in place.

On the way towards Stoke, the horseflies got hungry. Fortunately for Neil and I, Steve was the tastiest.

Pounds were low through the Stoke flight but we got up the locks with no problems. Between Stoke and Harecastle it started to rain! Not a lot but enough to make me put my coat on. We arrived at the tunnel just as as southbound convoy started – and with one of them taking 50 mins to get through (leaving clouds of exhaust in their wake).

Since Blue Rover went south in May, new profile boards had been fitted at the Harecastle entrance. Our topbox squeezed through with about an inch to spare. The tunnel keeper was happy and we were off.

35 minutes and we were through – out into sunshine and on to Heartbreak hill. Very easy passage down to Rode Heath and the Broughton Arms for tea. (We visited the Royal Oak but weren’t convinced)

On the way, my pic of the day which wins my award for most unnecessary waste of money on a CRT sign:

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I don’t think any but the most naive to day-boat hirer would try to use this lock.

Last full day tomorrow. 🙁

 

Homeward Bound 2 – Days 3 & 4

Rain showers – 0

Sunburn – 2

Music – none.

Left our ‘M69’ mooring at 8.30 heading to meet the 12.23 Birmingham to Leicester train at Nuneaton to collect our 3rd crew member. ‘Found’ the missing Lock 1 at Hawksbury junction but the rest of the trip to Nuneaton was uneventful. Canal and station are on opposite sides of the town so our walk across gave a chance to see the sights. Nuneaton is pleasant enough but unremarkable.

Station meet-up went on time and according to plan. We were back on the boat with full complement by 1.15.

I have to say that IMHO the Coventry isn’t the most inspiring of canals. My highlights were Hartshill Yard and learning what a Laccolith is (Rawn Hill Bridge 37). Having worked down Atherstone Locks we arrived in Polesworth to find (a theme is starting here) it was shut. We had been recommended an indian restaurant but it transpired all restaurants in Polesworth are shut on Mondays. The Monday entertainment was a travelling fairgound which accounted for the large number of yoofs wandering around some of whom were (according to Neil) unnecessarily foul-mouthed. I blame the parents!

Getting hungry, we opted for the Indian takeaway which (we subsequently discovered) was the same place frequented by the ‘Down Trip’ crew back in May. We agree it was very tasty.

Day 4 dawned cloudy but dry and as we set off things seemed to be going very slowly. I don’t know whether it was a shallow bit of canal but for a good 30 mins progress was certainly laboured. Things then improved for a while until the ‘travelling through treacle‘ returned. This time the answer was obvious when we looked. Somehow a plank had wedged itself across the bow acting as a very effective brake for half an hour. Our vague plan to reach Fradley for a late lunch was well and truly sent west.

The upside was a very pleasant late lunch at The Plough in Huddlesford. Fradley came and went. We stopped for the night here:

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Not sure where it is but somewhere near Handsacre and a lovely sunny end to the day.

 

Homeward Bound – the first day and a half

Crew members converted to drowned rat – 1

Convoys joined – 1

Rabbits saved – 1

Classic album of the day – Fuzzy, Grant Lee Buffalo

The trip back started well, Gayton  Marina and it wasn’t raining! In fact it was sunny. Within 5 minutes we passed 2 boats I recognised leading my newly acquired crew member Neil thinking we knew pretty much every boater in the Midlands. Unfortunately the stats have headed steadily downhill since..

The trip up to Norton Junction reversed the trip down. Locks in the dry followed by 4 hours in the rain was swapped for 4 hours dry followed by locks in showers,  some of which were INTENSE. It was at lock 11 that crew member Neil was converted to drowned rat. He was stoic and allowed the warm July sunshine that appeared 10 minutes later dry him out.

Braunston locks were shared with Keith and his family from Edinburgh They were on their first ever canal trip, and loving it. Unfortunately Brauntston was shut. Why doesn’t the Wheatsheaf do food? Ended up at Marstons 2 for 1 family friendly theme pub The Boathouse. It was very average but cheap.

Next morning and not long out of Braunston, we joined ‘The Convoy’. 4 boats travelling VERY slowly. Eventually arrived at Hillmorton where I raised things with the lead boat. The following conversation ensued:

Me: Would you mind letting people behind you come past if they wish.

Him: The speed limit on the canal is 4mph.

Me: I know but you were doing much less than that. (I’d clocked him at 1.7mph)

Him: I don’t think this boat will go much faster.

Me: I’m not asking you to speed up, just be aware of people around you.

Him: Shrug

Anyway, after some discussion and slick lockwork we managed to get out of the Convoy and never saw any of them again. Such is life on the canals.

It was at Hillmorton locks 5/4 that we made the rabbit-rescue. A young rabbit was stuck in a lock by- wash and clearly not happy. I managed to grab it’s ears and lift it out, shocked but alive. It made it into the hedge so fingers crossed it survived the ordeal.

BTW where is Hillmorton lock 1?

Rest of the trip down the Oxford (so Far! ) pretty uneventful though my attempts to identify any of the loops marking the original route of Brindley’s were pathetic failures.

Finally a reflection on modern life: a plot of canal bank with 90ft mooring space. Mains water but no electricity. Offers over £90,000.

You used to be able to buy a narrowboat for that!

So we are up to date moored somewhere about half a mile from the M69 but you’d never think it:

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