Sunday, 30 December 2012

Twixt Christmas and New Year

Jemma has had a sociable few days aboard even spending some quality time with the original Lucy Belle who gave the boat her new name.

Pillings Lock Boat House cafe came up with the goods again serving up a great Boxing Day breakfast. Christmas lights twinkled on lots of boats and it was all very lovely.

Our first night aboard was punctuated by the sounds of express trains giving full whistle followed by a police helicopter flying round the marina.

The next day we learned that a freight train had derailed just behind the marina. Fortunately no one was hurt in the accident but it has caused chaos to the main line to London. As it was carrying limestone from a Buxton quarry, at least they will have a start with the materials to rebuild the collapsed bank! The accident appears to be as a result of the continuous heavy rain flooding the tracks and causing dangerous subsidence.

We pressed on with our list of jobs and have done lots of sorting out of cupboards aboard Lucy Belle. Boring work but it means that everything will be much better organised. We faced up to the dreaded first pump out of the Mansfield Traveller toilet tank. Not knowing how to do this, we feared the worst, but it all seemed relatively painless. The real achievement has been the installation of the Horstmann programmable thermostat which means that the boat will be frost protected. This very clever piece of technology should automatically switch on the heating if the temperature drops below 5 degrees C. It also means that, when we are there, the heating is set to come on at 6am and we can get up to a wonderfully warm boat. Had a fantastic curry at The Spice Cube in Montsorrell, a village that was also suffering from flooding. It was fortunate that we were the Defender with a decent wading depth. We plan to take the boat up to Mountsorrel soon, mainly to give us some relief from working on the boat. 

So what with Christmas stopovers at various family members, Jem has had an exhausting time and even given her brand new bed, she needs to recharge her batteries at home with extra long snoozies in readiness for our new year party. We plan to go to Lucy Belle next on the weekend of Leigh's birthday and take her out for a spin. All this, of course, is weather permitting. We know that the marina staff are keeping a close eye on water levels. You'd think having a boat was quite useful in times of flooding but it just isn't that simple. 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The High Peak Junction Canal

Sschhhh! Jemma (the dog) is sleeping and I have taken this opportunity to post a blog. 

Now, I have been wondering for an hour or so how to weave in some publicity for my books, into a blog that ought to be about all things canal.

Then it came to me, one of my books does include some notes on a canal:  The High Peak Junction Canal. Now, you won’t have an iron plaque for this one as it was never built, and had it been built (and still been open) you might have had second thoughts tackling locks that would raise you over 500 feet! But the idea, sponsored by The Grand Junction Canal Company, got as far as far as obtaining its Act of Parliament, and during the period when this seemed a possibility, further connecting canals were proposed, most notably, The Sheffield and Manchester Junction Canal, which hoped to connect to the High Peak Junction Canal near Grindleford, and provide a much needed link from Sheffield to Manchester. But all of these routes came to nothing. There remained though a need for a route cutting across the Derbyshire peak district. The Cromford canal had opened in 1794, and that provide good routes for the cotton mills in the Derbyshire peaks, to the south east, but there remained no canal route north, to the mills’ chief markets in Manchester.
Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal
Closed, due to subsidence, since 1900

The following is taken from Robert Blincoe and the Cotton Trade.

‘In 1802 there was a proposal for an extension of the Cromford Canal to take it ten miles to Bakewell, but this came to nothing. Then in 1810 there was a proposal for “The High Peak Junction Canal” sponsored by The Grand Junction Canal Company. This was to connect the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal near Whaley Bridge. The route presented to Parliament [around 33 miles] was from Chapel Milton through a three mile tunnel to Edale [more or less following the route of the existing Hope Valley railway line to just beyond Hathersage], then down the Hope and Derwent valleys. It would cross the Derwent near Baslow and then pass through a one mile tunnel to the Wye valley near Bakewell. After Rowsley, it would follow the Derwent to Matlock, and then through a one and a half mile tunnel through to the Derwent aqueduct on the Cromford Canal. The canal was never built as it would have been too expensive with so many tunnels, and dozens of locks would have been needed to raise it over 500 feet above the Cromford level. [Cromford is around 300 feet above sea level, and Edale around 800 feet.]

Robert Blincoe and the Cotton Trade by Stuart Courtman
Click on the above image for more information
Eventually a link was established between the two canals, but this was a railway: “The Cromford and High Peak Railway.” The idea was put to Parliament in 1825 and by 1830, the railway was partly operational. The route was very different from the proposed canal, although its engineering complications were similarly challenging. 

The first part of the line was from the wharf at the Cromford Canal to Hurdlow near Buxton. From the canal it climbed over a thousand feet in five miles using four inclines ranging from 1 in 14 to 1 in 8. The line then proceeded up the relatively gentle Hurdlow incline at 1 in 16. The second half from Hurdlow to Whaley Bridge opened in 1832 descending through four more inclines, the steepest being 1 in 7. On the steep inclines the trains were hauled by ropes operated by winding engines.’

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pictures for Lucy Belle

Bargee by G L Wheeldon [1913-2006]
Jemma has absolutely minimal interest in this latest blog but, then, she is a dog. She cares only about gravy bones, gentle and frequent walkies and having her velvety ears rubbed. Quite a shallow creature really. However, in the run up to Christmas. on her behalf, we are getting together some personalia to take down to Lucy Belle. Having discarded some of the taste of the previous owner -plates of the Titantic included - it is clear that she might need one or two pictures. Having loved all things narrow boat for some years now, I looked around the house. I have a precious pencil drawing done my artistic mother entitled 'Head of a Bargee' which helped secure her a full time scholarship to the Burton on Trent Art school. Being the eldest of a large, poor, single parent family she had to go out to work and never made it to Art School. She treasured this drawing that might have offered her a different future. When she died in 2006, I made sure that I kept it safe and we have scanned it for framing for Lucy Belle.  It is dated 1925 and signed by her young self as 'G. Lewsley'. No idea who the man in the picture is but she was only 13 when she drew this so it is quite special. I wonder if she hung about the then busy Horninglow Basin, quite near to where she grew up, and sketched this man. It always struck me that his face was both wise and kind. 

The only other picture that I could find is an antique etching of a working barge. For some reason, I bought this for Stu's birthday many years ago. It is his birthday today and it made me think of this print. 
Barge on Trent near Wychnor
We have had it displayed in two different houses, in Staffordshire and now Derbyshire, for about twenty years.  It is an etching by Arthur Willmore [1818-1888] of an original drawing by Henry Warren [1794-1879]. These artists must have worked closely together as Warren has named the barge in the picture "Warren Wilmore & Co." The location is a stretch of the Trent near Wychnor (between Barton and Alrewas). I can remember walking the tow path after I bought it  and it looking much the same. It's a fine print and will also fit nicely with Lucy Belle. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Mercy dash to Marina

Two days of temperatures below zero and with a forecast low of around minus five, we thought it wise to get down to Pillings Lock to get some heating in Lucy Belle.

Pillings Lock Marina

We arrived after the first day of frost and everything was OK. Nothing was frozen. So we ran the diesel heater and got the radiators and water nice and hot and plugged in a (shore powered) oil filled radiator. The idea being that this would tick over nicely to see us through the next day; a day which we knew was to be colder.

This was a fair trek ... a trek after a day's work, and all the way across country from the Peak District. Whilst this is not really what we wanted to be doing it just had to be done.Rush hour and freezing temperatures slow the onward journey but we try to keep our spirits up as a completely static M1 calls for a sat nav diversion. We got to Pillings Lock on the weirdly names Flesh Hovel Lane at 7pm. I should say that the latest plan is to give Leigh the spare keys to the boat and show him the basics as he is only 20 minutes away and could have helped. 

The high point of the trip was the Pillings Lock Marina restaurant. We dived in there at eight o'clock leaving Lucy Belle getting nice and warm. The restaurant is amazing. The staff are friendly and the service is first class; the food is VERY VERY good. In fact, for me, food doesn't get much better. The reviews on Tripadvisor echo this. They also mention the beautiful setting, and even on a cold December night this was true. A thinish layer of ice, some ambitious Christmas decorations on the boats, all mixed in with a multitude of smoky chimneys, created a unique picture.

So, the next plan is to make the radiators earn their money, and drag them into the current century with some 'automation.' The plan ... I like plans ... is to fit a programmable thermostat, to (a) see off frosts and (b) allow us to wake up to a cosy boat on those chilly days. Now I know the purists would rather I woke up with frozen boots on, full of black frost-bitten toes, but I'm sorry, I need comfort.

Narrowboat Central Heating Automation

There followed an email exchange with a nice man at 'Horstmann' who advised that their battery powered thermostats would not be capable of switching the start up current on the diesel heater. 
Jemma the dog by the Christmas tree
So I came up with the above design utilising a Maplins 12v 40A automotive relay.

So, that is where we are, with the above wiring job is planned for the end of Decenber. And on the subject of 'where we are', Jemma, whose blog this is, spent the evening land locked, in front of a land stove, looking after the land house. This was Jemma's view of the evening. Aunty Rachel took her out for wee wees and she had a sniff around the tree for chocolate money but no joy. 

She did miss out though on the deep fried haloumi and chips!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Change of Plan!

Jemma the dog
OK, so the plan has changed. The rather ambitious plan to travel at the end of December and arrive in Furness Vale on Christmas Eve has been scrapped. 

Now it would be easy to blame everything on the Barton Turn Lock, where the December planned stoppage for repair work has been extended to 19th, or 21st of December (depending on which website you believe), and this alone would have meant sitting there for one or two days. But also there would have been a knock on effect meaning we would have missed our slot through the, only occasionally open, Harecastle Tunnel, and we would have been unlikely to get passed there by Christmas eve.

Soar Navigation near Pillings Lock
Between Loughborough and Pillings Lock
But we cannot blame our change of plans on the "larger area of lock brickwork needing repairing" at Barton: the truth is that we got scared of the cold, and wet, and short days we would be certain to enjoy, and we had already abandoned the plan before the Barton Turns Locks announcement was made. Waking up to a frozen Loughborough basin last week made us think things through again. Below is an artists impression (well a picture I found) of what might have been!

Narrowboat in Snow
So we have now paid for an extra three months mooring in Pillings Lock Marina, and we will make our next attempt towards the end of March.

It can still snow in March though. Hmmm.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Sunday Morning

So, to answer those of you who asked if the canal ever freezes, we found out the answer to that this morning: Yes it does!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Saturday night, Loughborough basin

Just lit the fire for the first time. There is wine, candles and me. Feels like a real boat. Some girls, very rowdy, singing "get it out" remind us we are in Loughborough studentville. 

Loughborough Basin

Just had my first trip out on the boat to Loughborough basin. A cold afternoon, but lots of ducks. Turning and parking in the basin proved quite tricky.