Sunday, 10 September 2017

Swans at Swanley Bridge Marina

On Wednesday (6th September) we turned the corner straight into the first of four locks which begin the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. We pootled into our new marina at Swanley Bridge wondering if it was it named after the numerous swans and signets that greeted us.  Despite a reasonable breeze Captain managed to reverse with first mate doing her well worn impression of a towing shire horse hauling all fifteen tons onto its new mooring by a combination of skill and brute force. After oiling the squeeky jetty shackles (with spray olive oil) we were all tied up nice and quiet.

And quiet it is after Kings Orchard. It seems so much more open. We attribute this feeling to there being just one point of security in the shape of an electronically activated vehicle barrier into the marina and other than that we are free to roam. There are no locked jetties or locked toilet blocks and our boat (3rd in from the left of the row) is along side and tucked behind a hedge so it feels private. It's all very well kempt. There were a few people about but there was none of the Brummie yauping we have become accustomed to mooring up to. Perhaps we will miss it. Come to think of it, there was usually someone around to catch a rope or hurl an insult about the Captain's steering. Not so at Swanley.

Captain then decided to fetch the car from Kings Orchard Marina. So a delayed taxi got him to Nantwich railway station for a delayed train and after a change at Crewe he arrived at Lichfield, where with no waiting taxis, he legged at across fields for half an hour to the marina and the car. The dark, busy and fast M6 was a bit of a shock after a fortnight of canal speeds, but he survived and arrived back in time for a late and slightly singed dinner at 9.15pm. It had been a long day and the giant couscous turned out to be a mistake. Any foodstuff with 'giant' in the title is probably a mistake.

We spent the next couple of days getting to know the immediate area. This was especially important for Jonesy who needed to check out the sniffs and walks, and for First Mate who needed to check out the shops in Nantwich. This historic town is full of lovely shops, cafes and timbered buildings. It has something of the feel of Chester.

Our next serious jaunt will be to Chester on the run up to Christmas with maybe a cheeky couple of nights up the Llangollen before that.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Tidy Toy Town

Our boat outside The Shroppie Fly
We spent yesterday afternoon and evening in the picturesque town of Audlem. We had heard about the famous Shroppie Fly pub from Chertsey's crew as this used to be very much their neck of the cut. We were keen to check it out and arrived by early afternoon in bright sunshine. It is such a pretty town and very very tidy. Much more affluent than Market Drayton and Penkridge, it seems to nestle around the lock flight which adds to its charm. It was busy with boats which, unusally, are allowed to moor both sides of the canal.

We had the choice of three pubs that would allow us to take Jonesy and took advice on which to favour. This was, of course, a matter of taste and all three got recommendations from passing boaters. In the end, we had an afternoon walk and a lovely run round the playing field for Mr Jones and popped into the The Lord Combermere on the way. We decided to go back there for dinner and it was a good choice. The staff are attentive, the menu is imaginative and there is a nice atmosphere about the place. Some of you may remember the gammon and egg vs pineapple trauma of our  recent Stratford trip, No such issue here. Captain was served a wopping thick gammon steak with runny egg, just as he likes them, and fresh, yes fresh, pineapple and monster chips.

Audlem seems to have everything a passing boater could want for - a chip shop, pizza takeaway, pubs and a fully stocked Co-op. We liked it a lot. This morning we left, completing its pretty lock flight and made for Nantwich. But we only just managed to get tied up here. It is a very busy place for boats - where do they all come from? Tonight, we will venture into town for a mooch about and find some dinner.

Tomorrow is an auspicious day as we leave the Shropshire Union for the Llangollen canal and cruise into our new marina.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Pot Noodles

It's a mellow Sunday morning aboard PL 2. A bit rainy, but with the heating on and Cerys on Radio 6, a late breakfast of yoghurt and fruit, it's cosy. I am making up for the fact that I have so far failed to write a single blog this trip. Captain is elsewhere and I have stolen his laptop. Here is my chance to beat the early bird who has usually posted before I wake. So nothing here about flanges or smashed dollys or replacing the batteries or the fact that he nearly cried when, naked as the day he was born, and about to step into the shower, the whale gulper failed. I sprang into action and found a chandler's just up the cut, but moments later, he discovered it was just a wire that had come loose and was easily fixable. So for the moment, everything seems to be working as it should.

I have come over a bit Gerard Manly Hopkins over the last few days especially as I watched a massive bird of prey circling the canal. It made me think of his poem celebrating the power of 'The Windhover' written in May 1877.

       'As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
           Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
       Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!'

The cut has been dramatically beautiful: we have never been on the Shropshire Union before. It's wide, lush and feels laid back. Chugging along, you feel as if you are miles from anywhere. It's what makes boating occasionally mystical. I am glad that this feeling has been restored because we had a few days on the Staffie when it began to feel a bit stressful, like being stuck in umoving traffic on the M25 (well not really but the analogy will have to do). I guess we have been spoilt in mostly having the canal and locks to ourselves. On this end-of-summer trip to our new marina, we have been at the end of a long queue for locks, failed to find moorings for the first time in our five years of boating. Boaters are usually lovely but people seemed grumpy by canal standards.

We completely missed our stop at Goldstone because there was just nowhere to moor for miles. As it happened I have fresh food on board and a middle-of-nowhere mooring is fine because there is always the fall back of a reasonable dinner if the pub fails to materialise. Unlike the two youngish men who also failed to moor up for The Wharf Tavern for food. They told me the day after that they had feasted on some delicious Pot Noodles. Nothing wrong with Pot Noodles, of course. I've lived on them at a certain time of my life before I had heard of muesli or mange tout.

Last night was much more normal. We tied up nicely on the aqueduct above the river which runs under the canal. We are high over the pretty Georgian town of Market Drayton. For his early evening walk, we took Mr Jones and ambled in for dinner at the comfortable and very dog friendly Joules brewery pub - The Red Lion. We ate excellent burgers, pies and Jones had the pickings of a tin of various dog treats. It was a sunny all day yesterday and the evening was gorgeous. It is noticable that almost exactly on September first, we felt the air cool and the earth slowly tilting away from the sun.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Post Bank Holiday Calm

We have been a rather poor in blogging, but the Bank Holiday Monday plan worked a treat. We stayed put and had an easy morning, a mid afternoon barbeque. This gave us a good vanatge point to quiz the boaters coming down as to the length of the lock queues. We eventually set of a bit after half four.

The queues had gone and we had a very pleasant evening cruise to somewhere near Acton Trussel. (No I had never heard of it either.)

We assumed that at the end of the Bank Holiday all this nonsense would disappear, but the Tuesday morning proved our assumptions wrong and we queued too much, eventually arriving at the somewhat uninspiring Penkridge and the seriously underwhelming Boat Inn.

Yesterday (Wednesday) seemed calmer, and we are now tied up at Coven Heath. Where that is we do not know, and where we are in relation to the real world is a slight mystery. We keep getting a bit (too) close to the M6, the M54 and electrified railway lines.

Today we will leave the Staffs and Worcester Canal and start heading North on the Shropshire Union. Well that's what the spreadsheet says.

Perhaps like the Spall's I should carry a decent road atlas too.


Monday, 28 August 2017

Bank Holiday Congestion

Colwich Lock Bank Holiday Monday
Sunday and bank holiday Monday have been the busiest days we have ever seen on the canals. Busy with boats that is. On Sunday there were rumours of 11, 13, 18 and even 30 boats queuing to go North at Colwich lock. Whatever the number we avoided counting them by slipping through after they had gone - under cover of dusk, and tied up above it just before dark.

On the Monday Captain explained his theory that queues should be a function of the distance between the locks. He argued that in a flight, after the first lock there can be no queue, and the same argument applies when the locks are fairly close together. On Monday we needed to go just 25 minutes between Colwich lock and Great Haywood lock, and so apart from the odd boat setting off from overnight moorings between the locks, he said his theory should apply reasonably well and there would be no queues.

Not so. On Monday morning boats coming down reported boats queuing to go north at Great Haywood. The numbers we heard were 8, 12, 14. Ah well: it was only a theory.

The latest theory is that most boats will be tied up by late afternoon. So we are aiming to leave about 4pm. We need to do 3 hours today, so that might work. Maybe.




Sunday, 27 August 2017

Hit up the Bum.... TWICE

On our last jaunt we spent a few days in Bancroft Basin at Stratford. When we came to leave there, we found our rudder had been knocked off and we said that in future, whenever possible, we would park the boat 'pointy end out.'

Fast forward from that conversation two weeks and we arrived back at our home marina: Kings Orchard (no apostrophe), where in the rush and mindful of a neighbour watering our bow positioned plant pots, we went in 'pointy end in.'

Big mistake.

The picture here shows what happened. Presumably a gusty marina day and someone's bow pretty much knocked off one of the rear dollys. Not only that it is the one with the diesel tank breather in it.

The only solution I can see is to run with the remaining dolly and bolt a new breather pipe over this mess. This will still mean drilling and tapping into the top of the diesel tank which I am not too keen on, but probably better than getting the welding kit on it. (any other suggestions gratefully received.)

We have now left Kings Orchard and we are headed to Swanley Bridge where we will spend the next year. Today in the heat, we should end up somewhere north of Rugeley.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Multitudinous Locks Equals a Mutinous Crew

Tolson's Mill, Fazeley
We have just tied up in a sun streaked Fazeley and it feels much closer to home. Just a few lock free hours tomorrow and we can be back in Kings Orchard Marina. We will drive back to the Peak District and by this time tomorrow, we should be home with our dishwasher, washing machine, constant hot water and Wi-fi. So this is officially the last evening of this epic sojourn. As we are notoriously bad at writing anything by this stage, this brief blog must break the pattern and mark its closure.

Careful calculations suggest that in the last 23 days we have negotiated the passage of 143 locks. Our previous holiday record was 118 locks - but that time we had an extra week to do it. We feel each one of these 143 in our bruised, cut, scarred and aching bodies. We are not quite broken but there has been an indecent amount of swearing (at each other and the inanimate lock gates that is). Everyone is a twat sometimes. Everyone is a hero sometimes.

The galley staff are on the point of mutiny. A skivvy that must cook, clean, steer, tie up, and wind locks is notoriously volatile after such a stint. Toughened and roughened by the experience too. So wisely, the Captain has decided to take advantage of fish and chips from across the road.

All in all, we have learned a lot from this trip and will take time to reflect on its highs and lows - none of which we would have missed. It's all part of the rich tapestry of life on the cut. The demands of locks have certain advantages. No expensive gym membership is required with all the weight bearing and balance exercises you can manage as part of a daily routine. On the plus side, we must be fitter and stronger but on the minus side, we have drank a cargo ship of wine and eaten a hell of a lot of crisps.





Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Starless Night

Yesterday was grim for several reasons. We made our way towards Camp Hill water stop and tackled the first of eleven locks in pouring rain. And it was cold. When we saw another boater pass in a winter coat and gloves, we knew it wasn't just us feeling the chill. The locks were on sharp bends. We swerved to avoid the railings which barely separated us from lorries roaring towards us on a dual carriageway.

Bordesley Junction is designed to catch you out. It is an abrupt turn which gives you the slip as you steer out of the lock trying to miss the mountain of rubbish just waiting to grab the tiller.  We thought we couldn't be any wetter or more miserable as we tried negotiate the slippery double lock beams of the Garrision flight. Jones was barking the whole time to be let out but he didn't realise that he was safe, warm and dry whilst we were far from it. In the midst of all this struggle, we mulled over horror stories about cruising through this part of Birmingham and being stoned or worse. There are warnings to press on without stopping. After 11 locks in the rain, there was no way that were going to heed that one.

So, what about the promised hooligans and scalliwags? We met none. Everyone spoke to us politely, asked about the boat and in spite of the horrible weather even managed a smile. The kids larking about under graffiti covered bridges were only sheltering from the rain and were bettered humoured than we were.
Star City

As we reached our mooring at Star City, we were determined not to be further demoralised by stories about its dangers. As usual, we resolved to make up our own minds about people and places until experience persuades us otherwise. Keeping an open mind may seem naive but it works out more often than not. As it happens, Star City was tidy and civilised. It must of been part of the deal with the planners that it was tastefully landscaped,  with floating pontoons to attract passing boaters to use its considerable facilities. As you need a BW key to access the jetty, it is only available to boaters and there was a security guard on or near this gate.  It's a wide canal and we were opposite the near deserted tow path.  It felt quite safe especially as two other groups of exhausted and soaked boaters joined us so we weren't alone.

Star City itself is an impressive entertainment centre which seems to attract families with small children looking for fun out of the rain. It has a multiplex cinema, a climbing wall, bowling alley, gaming centre and Nandos, KFC, Macdonalds, a Diner, Pizza Hut, a Turkish restaurant, Indian street food. In short, something for everyone. We explored on Jones' evening walk whilst we fathomed how to get onto the tow path opposite. We walked the canal towards the next junction (Salford Junction) which lies below the thundering Aston Express Way, We have driven on it into Birmingham and cruised past it but we have never actually stood under the beast. The heavens opened again and we were soaked yet again. It was one of those days when boating looks about as much fun as fishing out all the crap that gets dumped into the cut. We cheered ourselves with a log fire and good dinner. The rain thrashed down all night.

Today, a different story unfolded with a lovely cruise to a Curdworth countryside mooring in bright sunshine. But that's how it goes. Glen Campbell passed away yesterday and we do well to remember the wisdom of his song: 'I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there has to be a little rain sometimes.'




Monday, 7 August 2017

Pointing at Planes

Yesterday saw us leave the very pretty Stratford canal. After smashing our way through the mysterious basins and canals and channels of Lapworth, we tied up opposite the Navigation Inn. It was there that Leigh, Alison and Princess Lucy came to visit us. And not only did they bring our Ocado delivery, but a large tin of cakes, baked by Princess Lucy.

Our '10:30-11:30' Ocado delivery had arrived on time at Leigh's house that morning, and a few minutes later Leigh's own '10:30-11:30' Ocado delivery arrived in a different van! That made me smile. I worked for BT for many years and their electronic work distribution system introduced in the 80s was still hopeless when I left in 2007.

Today was relatively unadventurous. We took on just 5 locks (the broad locks of the Knowle flight). This time we were on our own in the locks and no volunteer lockies were to be seen. After the hen party day boat had finally vacated the bottom lock - slightly assisted by Captain who advised them that having paddles up on top and bottom gates was not the quickest way to drain a lock - we began our ascent. Theses locks are fairly heavy to wind and open, so first mate took to the tiller whilst Captain ran between the locks. We took our time and were soon up.

We are now approaching Birmingham and many of the villages have 'Oak' in their titles. Sadly I remember that the TV series Crossroads was set in the fictional village of Kings Oak, so perhaps we are close by? But what we are getting closer to is Birmingham Airport. Our route takes us right around it and we will be spotting planes for the next few days.

This evening we tied up in the village of Catherine de Barnes (or Catney as the locals have it), with a hefty days cruising planned for tomorrow. Horror stories of where we should or shouldn't tie up in the metropolis are mythering us a little. We thought about moving under the cover of darkness, but decided on a ridiculously early start of 10:00am as a compromise.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Egg or Pineapple?

When your biggest problem in life is whether to have egg or pineapple with your gammon, then it would seem that it is all going OK. The Specials board did say 'gammon or pineapple' but Captain is still smouldering because he distinctly saw someone on another table with both.

Apart from a shortage in chocolate, hopefully rectified when Leigh comes tomorrow with our Ocado order, the journey home goes well so far. Tonight we are moored in Lowsonford by a gorgeous stretch of locks and a canal dotted with the intriguing barrel houses. Why build houses with barrel shaped roofs when pitch roofs normally suffice? This we can't answer but must find out.

Neither do we understand the fierce competitiveness of the village show. When we went for dinner tonight at the The Fleur de Lys, the archetypal flower decked village pub, they were just clearing up after a monumental collection of stalls and marquees. There were people going on their way armed with cakes in boxes, guarded more preciously than their first born. A woman staggered into the pub demanding food and carrying a garland of tomatoes on the vine and a small pepper. Presumably, she dare not put these down anywhere whilst she had dinner. We are sure it all meant something to the people it meant something to, but what?

The strange weather continues with a sun hat and sunscreen one moment followed by storm-wear the next. Tomorrow we continue on our journey home and will tie up at Lapworth where we look forward to a visit from Princess Lucy and her mum and dad - and of course - a chocolate delivery.

[note from Captain: I did get two eggs with the Gammon, so the chef and staff are now safe in their beds.]


Friday, 4 August 2017

Keep Them Doggies Moving.

Boating is all about keeping moving but pausing long enough to find something interesting. We definitely stayed too long in Stratford and the excitement of being in the epicentre of this tourist town soon turned sour.

Our boat top right
The nearest example I can find to Stratford's Bancroft Basin, and this is quite a stretch, is Bodrum Harbour in Southern Turkey where we moored on a traditional wooden Gullet holiday once. Bodrum was disco heaven until four in the morning when they closed down the drum and bass just in time for the dawn call for prayers. Intoxicating at first, but impossible to stomach after a few nights of sleep deprivation.  For noise, chaos, tourist traps, loud music, trip boats, giant bubble machines and Shakespeare fakery, Stratford comes close to that experience.

Therefore, what a relief to leave Stratford yesterday (even the manual labour of 16 locks was satisfying) and get back out onto the cut. We have had two nights in gorgeous rural moorings, lovely isolated spaces that feed the soul and make for great cruising and dog walking. We are no longer dodging camera lenses or multipeds. Dinner in a pub has lost its charm and it's a pleasure to cook with splendid views on both sides. Candles are flickering, there is wine on the table and all is good with the world.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Who Pays the Ferry Man

Stratford on Avon
This is our sixth day moored on the pristine park that hugs the River Avon. We are loving the ever changing scene out of all of our windows.  The river view is fascinating and busy with craft of all imaginable types. Hanging out of the side hatch, people pass by and say hello in everything from skulls to kayaks, to stripey jumpered gondoliers (surely they must be misplaced from the Venetian Lagoon). There are trip boats, rowing boats and last but not least, there is always the antics of the historic chain ferry.

Chain Ferry
The regular overseer of this plodding craft is curmudgeonly and seems to spend much of his time shouting at rowing boats or blowing a whistle at the trip boats signalling for them to slow down. First mate has set various visitors, including Chrissie, the challenge of getting a smile out of him. All failed until today. The gradual charm offensive mounted by first mate eventually paid off when he wished her a good day on the way out and waived the 50p crossing fee on the way back. Boom! We are in! Stratford has accepted us as one of its own.

We have had good food out with our lovely visitors eating twice at the excellent Vintners and once at The Pen and Parchment, Keys and Kitchen and the Bear at the Swan. We have done none of the tourist things. No theatre or visits to Shakespeare's this and that. Unlike our cultured neighbours Rod and Sue, Anne Hathaway's cottage failed to lure us in as did Mary Arden's.

Chrissie and Chris's attempts to take the open top bus tour didn't do much to encourage. The tour was aborted because of heavy traffic after they had crawled for thirty minutes down a busy road. The rain poured down and when they peeped out into the open top when the sun appeared, they were almost decapitated by one of the many weeping and romantic willows that fringe the streets of this place.

Even the willows have had a serious hair cut today as the park received its daily make over involving rubbish collection, grass cutting and general prettifying for the hoards of tourists that seem to enjoy its delights. We are getting to know the rhythm of this place in a way that probably can only be done from the river. This is its life blood supporting so many theatrical and non theatrical activities.  We find that we grow to like Stratford very much.


Saturday, 29 July 2017

You Can Keep Your Hat On


Leaving Bancroft Basin assisted by neighbours Rod and Sue
The plan to move the boat onto the Avon began well enough. Mindful of the possibility of hundreds of Gongoozlers watching our manoeuvres on Bancroft Basin, we discussed who would do what in advance. There was to be no embarrassment.

It went well, which was surprising as Captain discovered as soon as he reversed off the jetty that the tiller was very wobbly. We had a shipped rudder (I believe that's what boaty people call the event). Now, there had large number of inexperienced boaters in the basin over the last few days and we had observed some unusual antics, so we figured it was most likely that our stern had been well clobbered by one of them, and this had resulted in the rudder being knocked out of its bottom mounting.

Anyway we made it onto the Avon and on to our new mooring. Captain stripped to his boxers and after a few "dives" managed to fathom and fix the problem.

A shivering Captain returned to the deck wrapped only in a small dog towel. This all seemed to entertain the passengers on the trip boats who were busy snapping at us. But having fixed the rudder problem, Captain was in a slightly euphoric mood, and this may have contributed to him giving the audience his very best Full Monty impression. The towel was flung high above his head, and there was no hat.

Flashes all round.



Friday, 28 July 2017

Watching Them Watching Us

Mr Jones watching them
Bancroft Basin is very pretty, but today we will move onto the River Avon. That was always the plan, but now feels like a very good plan, as we are awash with tourists.

They have photographed our boat hundreds of times. They have stood in front of our boat and had their photographs taken, Some hold onto the handrail for their snaps, and one or two have jumped onto the boat for their "Titanic" poses.

We are parked "front in" so the view from our sofa is quite entertaining .... or was for a short while.

Captain has therefore decided that sitting in his boxer shorts might not be the outfit for the mornings. He fears he could go viral on the Japanese internet.

Captain also though briefly about offering Mr Jones for photographs in front of thne boat at 50p a go, but then thought better of it.

The weather continues to be "changeable." That is: monster showers and then lovely clear skies. It is also fairly windy, but we will lock down and tie up on the river bank where it might be a little more peaceful.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

Body Building

They told us the locks on the Stratford Canal were hard work. They were right. And the last five locks into Stratford were something different again. Reserves had to be called on to shift those bottom gates. First mate had the additional challenge of steering through the lowest bridges on the planet whilst bobbing down to avoid decapitation. The boat just scraped through with every morsel removed from its roof. On the plus side, Captain's Log shows that we have passed through 77 locks and we both feel that we are perhaps a little stronger than when we began the trip. First Mate is especially proud of her biceps shown here. She has now reclaimed her school nick name which went from Weedy to Wiry in the second year when the school bullies had to recognise that skinny didn't mean feeble and timid.

We arrived in Stratford on Thursday evening a day ahead of Schedule to gorgeous sunshine having been soaked through during the Wilmecote flight. How pretty everything looked. We even managed to get a table in The Bear at The Swan with Jones tucked underneath. We had great food which helped replaced some of the thousands of calories burned shifting sixteen locks. It being light until gone nine o'clock, Jones also got a run in the park after dinner and we re-acquainted ourselves with the little chain ferry. Walking back as it was going dark, we realised we could see the actors from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre changing costume on the top level of the terraced back stage building. They were illuminated almost as well as if they were on stage. One of them was stripped to waist briefly.

Bonus.






Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Onset of Scurvy

We are now on the very pretty Stratford Canal. It is lush and prosperous compared with the suburban decay of the Grand Union that took us away from Birmingham. No homeless or graffiti here just lots of things with Mary Arden in their title. Last night we ate dinner in the Fleur de Lys.  We were delighted to find a gorgeous canal side pub, festooned with garlands of dried hops and antique rugs, posh cars, rich looking folk and lots of well kept pooches. Jones looked out of place being a mongrel and having come to us with no name, no age and no breed information. He kept a low profile under the table and didn't even cause a rumble with the flat faced pedigrees that kept streaming in the front door. Quite simply, he was heavily out numbered.

In 24 locks and 11 miles we will be in Stratford on Avon. This is just as well as the last fresh groceries we have are almost a week old - and not so fresh. Now we, sort of, expected to pick up the odd cabbage, turnip, or bag of damsons at a village shop along the way, but no such luck.
Barrel Roofed Lock Keeper's Cottage at Lowsonford

Village shops are now, it seems, only allowed to sell lottery tickets, feminine personalia, jammy dodgers and cheap vodka. As a male methodist (lapsed), and a fan of the gin, none of the above are of much interest, and none will prevent scurvy.

Of course the supermarkets are to blame, and as great fan of supermarket home deliveries, I too am to blame. So that's that then. I am hoisted by my own petard.

On previous journeys we have successfully arranged Ocado deliveries to the boat, moored up adjacent to Steam Mill Wharf in Chester and the Kings Lock chip shop at Middlewich. Middle-class solution that it is, it can be precarious. Unless you know the area very well, and can control the uncontrollable forces on the canal, it can easily go awry. When you are not where you need to be,or find that that you cannot  tie up when you get there, and that the delivery van is unable to park somewhere.

So, with developing open sores and a serious alcohol dependency, we may resort to foraging in bushes, stealing from gardens, or even (as we did once before in Scotland) robbing swede from a farmer's field that were destined for his cattle.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Flower Walls

Ashted Tunnel
Yesterday we left Aston Science Park. The first (of the 6) Ashted locks lead straight down and down into the spooky Ashted tunnel with its spider web curtains which waft menacingly past as you scrape though. Although the tunnel is short and reasonably high, it  is arched and has a reputation for catching boats on their offside handrails.

First Mate did her impression of a horse (easy) and held the bow of the boat hard against the towpath. We made it with no scratches, but it was a close shave.

The weather was good in the morning and, it being Saturday, everything was very quiet. There are so few boats on this part of the canal system that it adds to the general air of sad neglect.

But the few people we met were friendly and courteous, asking us all about the boat and our destination. However, the stories that abound about the outskirts of Birmingham scare many boaters off completely.The Ashted locks were easy and they led to another 6 locks: the much deeper locks of the Camp Hill flight. The last boat through had, conveniently for us, left all the bottom gates open, so we could just go straight in and Captain could whizz up the ladders and do the rest.

A Flower Wall on the sides of one of the Camp Hill locks
This is a quite interesting post industrial cityscape. There are ghosts of important loading points, like the Typhoo Wharf, that has been replaced by Birmingham City University buildings. What is also alarming is that around Aston and beyond, the access points onto the canal have been fenced off. Why? It is nearly impossible to get on or off the tow paths. Are they afraid of vandals or drug dealers or what? It seems wrong to deny the citizens of Birmingham access to an ancient system of walks and cycle routes that are such a part of their trade and commercial history. It just doesn't make sense when so many places in the rest of the country are making a feature of their canal side and opening trendy bars in former warehouses. We saw a few homeless people sleeping rough under the arches but probably because they would be left alone there. And they amounted to nothing compared to the ever increasing homeless population of Sheffield. Mysteriously, there is an abundance of graffiti to demonstrate not only the endless creativity of the artists who have chosen this as their outlet but also their determination and resourcefulness. You have to stand in awe at the graffiti artists that have clambered into some of the treacherous places they choose to exhibit their work.

This trip, our journeys have been taking much longer than our route planner (CanalPlan) suggested. I realised that there are many lock flights on this trip, and their decreased times for locks in a flight (8 minutes is their default) is not really going to give any advantage when there are two of you (and no cycle). So I have changed this figure to the same as a single lock (12 minutes).

Catherine de Barnes was our stop for the night. Another rainy evening though, and we ventured out for a walk round the village and saw the local pub which trades on its canal connections. However, it does not allow dogs inside and so we stayed aboard and ate Spanish tortilla and giant couscous.

The next three nights we have doggy pubs planned.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Some days just go right and some don't.

Some days just go right. Take Thursday when we were blessed with help in every lock, sunshine for all our walks and even a safe field for lots of ball play. Cruising past fields of rolling corn, it felt good. Then there was the unexpected delight of finding that The White Horse was dog friendly. It's a very smart, trendy, candle-lit place (a Vintage Inn) and we had walked past it last year without dreaming that they would allow dogs in. Not only that but the staff positively get down on the floor, and give them a really special welcome (ignore the last blog. The Captain is suffering from delusions). We had planned to eat on board but this is now one of my new favourite dog friendly non scuzzy places to eat. No chance here of having to humour the 'cream faced loon' (Shakespeare knew how to describe people alright) in the last pub that remonstrated with us for messing up the order of sauce sachets.

Yesterday (Friday), not so yin and yang. We were promised very heavy rain and with 14 locks to do, this made us anxious to get off early - or early for us which is ten o'clock. However the rain didn't really materialise whilst we were doing the locks but we had a quite unexpected battle with the wind that sent the boat crashing a couple of times. We made very poor time due to happening upon a boat that was towing another little boat which had to be hauled into every lock by hand. This was frustrating and made our day drag on.

We are now tied up in Aston and arrived to the most almighty din from heavy construction traffic: cranes, diggers, tarmac machines and every one of them had some sort of screeching alarm. They seem to have packed up for the night but it is now raining quite hard and is gloomy. We are tied up early enough but knackered and there is no where really to venture out to. So it's a shower, followed by a nice dinner on board, a glass of wine and a few candles might banish the drear.

Today we face the Dickensian Ashted tunnel which begins our descent into a satanic lock flight and out of Birmingham.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Lovely Claire

Yesterday was tricky. The rain didn't stop until almost noon. But we were ready. We set off immediately after that - at two, and were tied up, 7 locks later, in Curdworth by four thirty.

For dinner, it was The White Lion. The board outside said that "Claire welcomed all" and she did.

As we were settling down with our bottle of wine, Claire walked past.
     "What a lovely coat," she said.
     "Thanks," I said and I smiled at First Mate. A strange comment, I thought, as it was just a well used waterproof I threw on in case the weather forecasters were right, (they were not).
 
A little later, a waitress came by and spoke to First Mate.
     "Oh hasn't he got gorgeous eyes."
I blushed a little and uttered "You're welcome."
The same waitress returned a little later, and addressed First Mate.
     "Is it alright if I sit on the floor and play with him?" she asked.

Jonesy off lead
Now, even for me, this seemed to be getting a bit weird.

First Mate later proposed that all of the conversations with the pub staff had been about Jonesy.

Well, she is entitled to her opinion, and I am entitled to mine. And I know the truth.

The food, service and compliments were all superb. Dogs are allowed in most of the pub and Jonesy was given his own water bowl. We plan to visit again on our return.

I imagine that next time there will be a phone number scribbled on the back of my receipt.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Off to Stratford on Avon

Yesterday we set off on our summer trip to Stratford Upon Avon. At our usual daily average of 3 hours a day, it will take about 8 days.

However, them canal people have gone and dug up part of our route: The Garrison lock flight is closed on the Birmingham and Warwick and so we now have an alternative, but longer route – going up through the Aston flight and then through the Ashted locks (and tunnel).

To keep to our schedule we planned to catch up some time on our first day, and planned a mammoth 4 and a half hours. But then at the end of the cruise, there was a moment of confusion and indecision, and we went a lock further than planned. This extended the time to 4 hours 45 minutes and by that time we were exhausted. Hopefully these rough notes will tell the tale. 

But we had reached the Dog and Doublet at Bodymoor Heath. We were a little late for our table and as we dragged ourselves up the steps into the bar (on our hands and knees) I think they took pity on us. 

And it was wonderful to be there, but given the circumstances, I imagine the food and beer tasted better than it was.

Today is more sensible 2 hours to Curdworth.




Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Caledonian Dreaming

Although we are on holiday and not on our own boat, a wee blog still seemed fitting as we are busy watching other craft negotiate the engineering masterpiece (of Thomas Telford) that is the Caledonian Canal.

More precisely we are staying in Bona Lighthouse which was built to guide boats travelling north east from Loch Ness into the narrow channel leading to Inverness.

We are staying in the converted stables of the lighthouse which used to charge boat keepers for stabling their horses overnight. We look directly out over the magical, mystical and sometimes palpably scary, Loch Ness. A fact that we cannot avoid, with the trip boats bearing loud hailers and a reliable script echoing regularly off the lighthouse: 

"You will see a group of little white houses over to your right. That is the village of Lochend. And it is well named as we are at the Loch end." 

If that was a joke, no one ever laughed.
A quiet Sunday at Fort Augustus
One of the little known stories of the area around the lighthouse, followed from an underwater "side sonar" survey. This revealed huge stone blocks and there was talk of discovery of a new underwater Stonehenge. It was close to being publicised when someone found that Telford (yes him again) on finishing building the canal, had dumped hundreds of tons of surplus stone from a dredger.

It is the end of June and the canal seems very quiet. I don't know how many lock-boat movements there are, but I would guess maybe 20-30 boats a day, with even fewer through the sea locks - as most of those are hire boats "doing the canal." We may do the canal one day. I thought it would be more expensive than it is, and on a quick look, it appeared less expensive than hiring a narrowboat,
 
One highlight of the trip is the local stag. He spends a fair bit of the day in the wheat field at the back of the lighthouse, but also wanders around our garden when he fancies it. 

Last night, we took Jonesy for a romantic bed-time stroll on the shoreline adjacent to the stables, The Loch was like a silver mirror with dark shadows occasioning a slight chill in our bones. We were returning from the beach, climbing up a a slope up to the garden, but blocking our way and towering over us was the silhouette of Mr Stag, His magnificent furry antlers just visible against the night sky. 

Jones was not happy. First mate took matters into her own hands as he appeared unbothered by a barking dog and two humans. She shone the torch, first directly at him, but he remained rooted to the path. Then she shone the torch up into her own face and he ran for his life. An impressive thing at any time of the day but especially awesome in the moonlight. We haven't seen him at all today and we are wondering if he was seriously spooked. 





Monday, 19 June 2017

Piping Away

After months in the design stage and a good few weeks in the making, we are now the owners of possibly the only narrowboat with a decorative stench pipe.It's rather elegant in brass and metal of the type is often used as an engine chimney on historic narrowboats. So it doesn't look out of place but hides its real function. 

On our boat, the combined vent and rinse point from the toilet holding tank is fitted in the roof skin. And the whiff from this pipe can be quite intense.

Now, it needs to be stated that I am no expert in fluid dynamics and most of the theories here are a bit home baked. But I think what is happening is that a boundary layer effect is allowing the venting gases to hug the outside surface of the boat and creep in through any open windows and portholes.

Now houses traditionally have soil stacks or stench pipes. The simpler ones just vent to the atmosphere. Household Building Regulations require that the top of the vent pipe must be 900mm above any window. Presumably this is to both avoid the boundary layer problem and get the gases (which are slightly lighter than air) into the atmosphere and maybe into a breeze.

Household stench pipes have been in common use for over 150 years and in all the houses I have lived in, they have worked very successfully. So, we figured there was no point in looking any further.

The stack was fitted yesterday and after a few exhaustive tests, it does appear to be a success. Now we can catch the summer breeze without any noxious top notes. 


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Hot Rails

With First Mate away on a jolly in France, Mr. Jones and I thought a few days boat painting would be a good idea. The plan was to paint the handrails and the cratch front

But we hadn't counted on the weather. Now DIY painting of boats, or bits of boats, is always a trial. There are flies, blossom, leaves, wind blowing other stuff, farmers mowing, it can be too cold, too damp, and of course there can always be rain. This week, though, the problem was the sun and the heat.

But we hatched  a rough plan. It involved getting up at SIX! and masking as soon as the dew had gone. This was tricky on the handrails as the dew kept down rolling off the roof. Then the idea was to paint before the sun became too strong. As a way of mitigating against this, the unpainted section of handrail was shaded with old bed sheets (at least I think they were the old ones).

Handrails don't look very exciting in photographs, so here is the cratch (before and after). Mr. Jones and I are reasonably satisfied.






Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fighting With Nature

Cratch after second undercoat
I have long been a believer that fighting with nature is a task you are never going to win. Attempts to engage that power need to be considered carefully. 

It is one of the reasons we do not have any lawns at home – in fact we barely have any land. We acknowledged the nonsense of lawns at our last house, where the ratio of the time spent mowing it, to sitting in it, was about 20:1. 

Of course there are occasions when the fight is necessary; such as staying alive at our age! But clipping hedges, mowing lawns, and vacuuming, or is it blowing? the autumn leaves surely must be questionable.

One - Two -Three
Staying with the garden theme a bit, we realised, a while ago, that oiling or varnishing outside furniture is a battle you are going to lose. After a summer or two, you will have lost. I know this from experience and it has been added to my list of questionable activities.

Now the wooden cratch on our boat is rather tired: the varnish has gone and the wood is looking not so new. So armed with my garden furniture knowledge, I set about painting it. I am a big believer in paint. 

And whist I was painting it, First Mate and I thought we might add some diamonds or hearts: something to give it a bit more colour. So after much debate, including discussion of the rather difficult to prove 'Four Colour Theorem,' we came up with the picture here.

To save dragging the cratch home and having it on the living room table for a week or two, we decided to paint the cratch timber a single colour in situ, and make the decorated centre panel from sheet steel that could be screwed on when finished.

The plan is progressing well and I will post again when it is finished.


Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Bubbles

We spent Easter Sunday in Stone, batterned down, awaiting a deluge that never materialised. Our wonderful neighbours, Rod and Sue, arrived for lunch in more than decent weather. Bringing our post, Prosecco and chocolate cake, they were more than welcome. Mr Jones almost licked them away. His way of telling them that he loves them very much.
 
We even managed a gentle stroll down the tow path past the old Joules Brewery and back through the woodland which runs along the river.
 
After a small Babycham, we went for dinner at Smoke and Rye. Since The Plough incident, we are scoring the quality of service. These young staff scored 10 out of 10 for respect.  politeness and attention. The food is American, burgers, ribs, steaks and Mac 'n Cheese.   It is carbo loading at its best. Heavy on the gut but very tasty.
 
Today we leave Stone and head for a middle-of-nowhere mooring and a slightly healthier dinner on board.



 

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Star by the Lock

The Star must have been a siren call for hard grafting boat men, situated as it is,  literally on one of the prettiest locks you're likely to find. Last night we decided to take Mr Jones in for a pint and had our dinner there.  It's an interesting old pub with welcoming staff and good food. It's honest, unpretentious and the sort of pub we like.
 
It is thundering down and has been a rainy day off and on.  We are now holed up with the stove ticking over - coats dripping in the cratch. We can't actually move after stuffing down rather too much of a fish and chip supper.

It's a quiet night in having had visitors for lunch. Our friend Amanda and her five year old daughter Daisy came to check out our new boat. They live on the Wirral and this is nearer for them than Kings Orchard Marina near Lichfield.
 
We like Stone. It's a solid little town with plenty of green spaces for Jones to play ball in. The canal runs past the edge of the shops and restaurants. It has its fair share of charity shops but feels quite buoyant in comparison with Rugeley.
 
More exploring tomorrow and we will stay put quite happily until Monday.



 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Rugely Hugely Appreciated

We really knocked ourselves out yesterday and cruised for a full hour and 20 minutes with no locks. Taxing but we just about made it from our lovely rural mooring to Rugely.
 
On our morning walk we met a very wise woman, a solo boater who lives and works at Fradley on her boat 'Don't Panic'. Jones was very frisky with her Cairn terrior Bonny who appeared to be dragging round a piece of slim cord and a triangle cut from a piece of Fablon bearing pebbles.
 
Mystified, we had to enquire as to its purpose. She told that it kept the runaway near her and the boat and that it had worked successfully for 6 years. Bonnie, like Jonesy, is very independent and thinks nothing of running off after a rabbit and had once  disappeared for 10 hours! Even though this string is not attached to anything - it fools her. The bright patterned fablon helps her owner see her if she burrows into some undergrowth. Genius.
 
We arrived at Rugely in the afternoon sun. It still has a Boots, a Wilcos and a Morrisons. We had a delicious dinner at Terrazza. This is an old fashioned Italian with fantastic service and food. After the contempt heaped on us by the staff at The Plough, we really noticed the difference and it was much appreciated. Perhaps the Plough could send their rather superior bearded hipster manager for a refresher training course to Terrazza?
 
 
 
 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Pizza Ahoy

Now we do love a pizza. Who doesn’t?  Lunch today was reheated pizza from Papa John’s in Lichfield and this made our fifth pizza indulgence this week. My but it was good today. It was even better last night as revenge pizza after we had stormed out of The Plough at Huddlesford. It was the second time they didn’t have our table even though we booked in person two weeks ago. They are shockingly bad at that joint and there are only so many times they can treat us with contempt.


We had a lovely afternoon lolling in the sun with Jim, Sarah, Ricky and Mr Jones followed by an equally enjoyable evening around Princess Lucy 2’s table scoffing our body weight in multiple toppings and drinking beer and wine. We can live without The Plough and, clearly, they can and will survive without us.

Today, it was much cooler and we went from tee shirts back to hats and gloves as we cruised through Fradley and up towards Handsacre. We are moored in beautiful countryside surrounded by acres of glorious yellow flowers. Trees are in blossom and willows sweep the canal. All is peaceful after a risotto dinner which has finally weaned us off the hard stuff.
No more pizza for at least 24 hours.

 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Canal Speedbumps

One of, the many, sweeping changes that will be made when my own political party comes to power concerns speedbumps.
 
The Peoples Party of Common Sense, will both stop filling in potholes and stop providing speedbumps. This will save the country millions. A true win win.
 
I was reminded of this manifesto item yesterday when first mate complained that the bedroom drawers were flying open at random. The reason for this was twofold. First, Captain had made the very stiff and badly fitted drawers run beautifully. And second he had corrected the list of the boat with 125kg of railway 'chairs.'
 
Perhaps like the potholes, he should have left everything just as it was.
 
The boat is fully stocked and decorated with plants on the bow, and today we begin a little (fortnightish) cruise.
 
This afternoon we plan to meet up with Chertsey. Obviously we are looking to meeting up with the crew, but the main thing is that Mr Jones will catch up with their greyhound Ricky (nee Rocky).
  
The picture here is from that meeting. 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, 27 March 2017

First World Problem

After we blogged about how to charge the electric toothbrushes, one of our readers gently pointed out that this was hardly a real problem. And we had to agree.

These stupid little annoyances that we spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to solve are trivial when compared with destitution, war, famine.

OK so we are spoiled, but we have now sought and found a solution to another issue that the previous owner had inadvertently pointed out when she sold us the boat. She said that she just hadn't been able to 'get comfortable' and had tried various furniture configurations but nothing 'felt right' when she came to sit down and watch TV.

The problem is a perennial narrow boat issue in that all the furniture tends to be laid out down the edges of the boat to provide for a passage way from front to back.

We too found ourselves uncomfortable, especially on the winter cruising trip when we realised that the sofa (generously proportioned and very comfortable) faced away from the fire and the TV. Often when we sat down, we couldn't see if or when the fire needed attention.

So we took a risk and replaced our lovely three seater white leather sofa with what is euphemistically called 'a snuggler' that could be turned to face the fire. This snuggler is not big enough to qualify as a two seater but bigger than a chair and technically roomy enough for two, that is if you don't mind a certain amount of intimacy. Placed across the boat it doesn't protrude any more than the fixed seating and dinette.

This weekend we trialled this solution and it seemed surprisingly comfy especially with the aid of a glass of wine and footstool. We are now positioned in apposition to the stove and the TV. What we hadn't reckoned on was the fact that Jones would need to get in on the act. He did manage to squeeze in between us in about a two inch gap and slept that way for most of the evening.

Our other triumph is the modernist style log unit/drinks shelf. We designed this and Captain fashioned it out of new French oak floorboards. We have managed to get rid of all the fuel and clutter that barred the way to the stove and looked a mess. Logs are drying out nicely under the gunwales and coal, sticks and firelighters are in the step.

We had Mothers' Day visitors including the real Princess Lucy, who came to do more even more spoiling of the first mate To accommodate them, we simply turned the rug - with the sofa on it - through 90 degrees to put the snuggler back against the wall. So it is now a boat that is very comfy for two (and a Jones) and quite comfortable for entertaining up to six.

Captain's next tricks include painting the front cratch timbers and the installation of a stench pipe!








Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Boat Solution Number 539 Remote Controlled Heating


We don't live on our boat but are fully committed to using it all year round. We have always done this since we bought our first boat Princess Lucy and decided that we needed to get year long adventures from her. We are not unique in this respect but quite unusual. For good reason, many of our marina neighbours simply winterize their boats and ignore them from September to late Spring. That just won't do for us. We go away for Christmas and Easter and have weekends in between. So boat problem number 539 is how to arrive to a boat that is warm and inviting on a foul winter's day. On a freezing day, it can take several hours to bring the boat up to a nice temperature. So what to do?

We may just have cracked it.  After talking about it for a  year or two, and researching what is available, and fathoming the wiring, it is finally installed and working.

We can now text the boat and command the central heating to turn on, or turn off and we can interrogate the inside temperature too. The system also has "inputs" to it so that if the heating is turned on by, say, the frost thermostat, we will receive a text alert then. There are a few other things too.

For those interested it is called EZTEXT. It is manufactured and sold by RF Solutions and also sold by Maplins and others.

The main benefit, apart from the sheer fun of it, oh and showing off in the pub, is that we can arrive to a cosy boat and lots of hot water.

If anyone wants to know more - I am happy to supply diagrams and so on.

We are though rather troubled by the name EZTEXT. Why can't it be called Donald or Rupert or Daphne? Something that trips of the tongue a little easier and sounds friendly would be so much better.

We will think of something I'm sure. Coming up next is boat solution number 540. Seating.



Sunday, 5 March 2017

USB Toothbrush: The Future


We have long been fans of the electric toothbrush. At home we have rechargeable ones that we are very happy with. On the boat we fitted the same ones (Oral B).

The only downside was that when cruising, away from our shore power, we needed the mains inverter on for a few hours every now and then.

All was well at first and we enjoyed a good few weeks in the summer with charged up toothbrushes. But on our Christmas jaunt. Something failed: the toothbrushes stopped charging. A quick search on the Canal World forum suggested that toothbrush chargers will eventually fry when connected via  a Modified Sine Wave Inverter.

What followed was lots of walks with the dog where I could discuss the problem. Jonesey and I both agreed that podding out the hundreds of pounds for a Pure Sine Wave Inverter was not really justifiable. I also explained to Jonesy that I didn't fancy going back to a  manual toothbrush. This was when Jonesy suggested we copied his daily oral care routine, which is a bedtime Dentastix chew.


I don't know if you have tried one, but I haven't. And I intend it to remain in the list of things in life that I don't ever experience.

We initially gave battery powered toothbrushes a go, but we didn't get on with them. Then we hit on the Colgate "ProClinical Pocket-Pro" which is a USB rechargeable toothbrush,

Brilliant! No inverter needed, no swapping of batteries, no flat toothbrushes ever.  This is now fitted in the bathroom and permanently connected via (yet another) USB charging point.

Captain has tried it over a couple of days and gave it the thumbs up. It seems quite powerful - but we'll see how we get on during some longer trips this year.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Oak Faced Ply, Spray Foam and Rockwool

I knew the title of this blog would grab you, and had you not read the content below you would have been destined to remain awake tonight in a fitful and hopeless attempt to imagine the tale that follows.

So, to begin at the beginning. Our current 5 year old boat is showing signs of water damage to some of the interior timber lining. Most of this is caused by heavy condensation. The insulation, by the way, is spray foam. Now, our previous 12 year old boat had similar levels of damage, so it had done quite well by comparison. And it had done even better when you take into acount that it had rockwool for insulation. It is generally understood that spray foam is way superior to rockwool; That’s what everyone says – but maybe they just believe what the spray foam people say? But (and in case them spray foam people are thinking of suing me) I will admit that statistically, a sample of 2 boats is maybe not significant.  

Anyway, replacing the occasional lining panel is not that difficult, especially when you have a perfect template to copy. The problem is finding a handy source of oak faced ply. 

I wandered into a good number of local timber yards. I didn’t expect them to stock it, but thought they would be able to order it in. It was not to be, most of them laughed at me. When I finally found a relatively local source who actually stocked it, I was unexpectedly elated. Infact this whole experience made me realise just how sad I have become – I mean getting excited over a bit of ply?

In the event that you need any of the stuff, and/or need a similar level of excitement, then if you live anywhere near lock 70 on the Erewash Canal, then get yourself down to Ilkeston Ply and DIY. It is very close to the canal there.

However I drove there, as a 1 hour drive seemed more sensible than a fortnight on the canal. The nice man there had 9mm and 6mm and probably other thicknesses of oak faced ply. He also cut them into car sized bits for me.

Here is a snap of the new varnished panel (the one in the middle with the light switch.)