Thursday, 19 December 2013

First Prize for boat Decoration at Furness Vale

Some things were never in the Princess Lucy budget but just sneaked in. We have a lovely Christmas tree on the bow that has already survived an 80 mile an hour gale. To celebrate the fact that it is still there we have added (LED) Christmas lights.

We appear to be the only decorated boat at Furness Vale Marina, and as such, we claim our prize. Unlike Pillings Lock, the marina has no liveaboards, and many of the boats are winterised, so perhaps this is not surprising.

The plan this time is to spend Christmas week on the boat. We will not be going far, but if the weather forecast is correct, far enough to experience the rain and gales and spill a few strangers' sherries as we helplessly bump into their carefully moored boats.

36 lock free miles on the Macclesfield and Upper Peak Forest canals is the challenge. And with eight days allocated, the maths (4.5 miles per day) makes it sound easy. I hope so.

Convalescing aboard will be Jemmathedog. A few days ago she had 4 teeth removed. But with 2 gone from one side, 1 the other side and one at the front, it has really left her no safe place to chew and she is wandering around the house looking glum and confused. Perhaps some fresh sniffs on previously unexplored towpaths will be the tonic she needs.

Our tonic will hopefully be some lazy days on the boat interspersed with some short dog walks (for Jemma) and longer dog walks (for Rocky), meeting up with family and friends to include some meals out at Sasso (Disley), Murillos (Marple), Sutton Hall (Gurnett Aqueduct), Lazeez Indian (Macclesfield), and just maybe the odd pint in the Wharf and Waters Green Taven at Macclesfield.

Unless there are any other entries, we we will celebrate our self awarded first prize for Christmas boat decoration at Furness Vale with a small sherry! No one else seems daft enough to be on board.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Before and After

Nothing hip about this bath
When we bought our boat, there were things we loved and a couple of things which almost put us off. What we liked particularly was the warmth afforded by the ash panelling, the large stern deck area for socialising, and the big bed in the aft cabin. The bathroom and lack of stove were the serious downsides. The multi-fuel stove went in first and made the saloon into a cosy space. But the issues with the old bathroom have taken until now to resolve.

The first mate's sister says we are spoiled and that is was fine, but the truth is that we both loathed the dismal, dingy feel of the bathroom. It was so dark, and the fittings were old, bog standard Canaltime.

Hot shower anyone? And where's my drink?
You can see them again and again in boats of this age. It was screaming hire boat, looking tired and lacking personality. We had to steel ourselves to go in there for a wash and brush up mainly because in the long dark days of last winter, you could barely see to do anything.

Ta dah! This weekend, we stayed at the marina in order to add some finishing touches to the newly fitted bathroom. Apart from the floor that will be replaced when we do the rest of the boat, it is finished and quite transformed.
Wind, rain, sweat and toil, bring it all on. 

Gone is the one miserable down lighter, the beige aqua panel, grubby sealant and plastic hip bath. There was absolutely nothing 'hip' about that bath. It looked like something invented for a Victorian water treatment. You could just imagine an under weight consumptive being lowered onto one of its ledges.

Now it's all bright and cheery, tiled and chromed. It is very warm and welcoming with its heated towel radiator and thermostatically controlled shower. The first thing that young Rocky did was get into the shower but it is definitely not for him or Jem. This is for grown-ups after a long day's cruising.

Whilst one crew member shakes a cocktail in the galley, the other can be foaming away the grime of the day in our mini spa.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Shape Shifting Leaf Monster

We went to the boat this weekend and definitely against our better judgement given the forecast of heavy rain. We just about managed to dodge a soaking for a cheeky night out to Whaley Bridge. It was worth it given an amazing curry at Zayka. The food is so different there. 

But then again, we keep meeting the unexpected. It wasn't the rain that we fell foul of. On the short trip from Furness Vale to Whaley and on our return, we fell into a black hole at the junction between Whaley and Bugsworth. A black hole where the tiller stops working and a boat on full forward power - goes backwards. A boat ahead of us was being manhandled out of the same predicament which will be hereafter known as the Bugsworth Bermuda triangle. We were forced to stop only to suffer the same fate. We hadn't run aground, as we first thought, as the boat could rock about happily.

We eventually fathomed it, and our theory was confirmed on reading the blog of NB Star, which is copied here:

The boat gradually loses power with all the symptoms of a plastic bag wrapped round the propeller  Yet look in the weed hatch, as I did several times, and there's nothing.

 After being reduced to a virtual standstill while trying to pass a line of moored boats the mystery was finally resolved when a fierce bout of alternately reversing and going forwards saw a cloud of leaves appear from the rear.

A passing boater who watched confirmed "it's leaves; they wrap all round the prop". And of course, when you stop to check the weedhatch, they just drop off again!

We might be more understanding the next time a train is delayed because of  'leaves on the line.' This is what shape shifting is all about - disappearing and reappearing as something frightening and unfathomable by all rational means. 
Rocky continued to learn about what goes on with canals and he must have been mystified by Princess Lucy's backwards motion because of the leaf soup. He patrolled vigorously but was quite well behaved on the stern deck and at least didn't try to launch himself off at every narrow or duck crossing. We left Jemma to rest down below and no doubt sigh heavily. She must be fed up of the young Rocky getting all the attention. Like us, she was young and flighty once. Here is a picture of a youthful Jemma with our gorgeous late and great rescue dog Crystal.

It is fair to say that Jemma is looking more portly,or stately, or any other suitable euphemism, than her younger self. Sadly, so do we. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Narrowboat Alchemy: Turning Pine into Ash

Princess Lucy is lined with ash, and she looks very nice. However modifications and improvements are needed in some areas, and any new wood really needs to match the old wood.

Having searched the world for a local (and affordable) source of ash, and failed, I set about looking at alternatives. Staining or colouring pine seemed to be the obvious solution. The grain patterns are not too different, so it's just about getting the right 'colour.' The internet, where I fully expected to see a man on YouTube giving me the precise answer also failed me, so without boring you about the precise steps along the way, I will go straight to the answer.

Coloured varnish was the answer. But Beech varnish proved a bit to yellowy or orangey, although fairly close, and Medium Oak varnish was a bit too grey and mucky, although again fairly close. The answer was a 50/50 mix of beech and light oak (I used Wilkos) followed by gloss yacht varnish.

The result (of a part of the new shower surround) is shown here.

Next week: "Lead to Gold" using 2H pencils from Woolworth's and a tin of Red Cardinal Polish.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Jem shows Rocky the ropes

We decided to have a night away on the boat this weekend to see how Rocky would cope with eating and sleeping aboard Princess Lucy. More to the point, to find out how we would cope with 2 dogs with very different 'issues' in such a tight space. Jemma can't manage the steps and has to be lifted in, and out of, the saloon whereas it proved almost impossible to keep Rocky in. He really is a racing snake and slithered out of the front hatch in a nano-second but fortunately only ran to find the Captain who was in the process of ferrying things to and from the Landrover. When we got under-way to Whaley Bridge, we had both dogs up top and there was quite a tangle of leads and tripping hazards. It occurred to us that this may have been the first time that Rocky had seen water or ducks before. It was certainly his first experience of moving at walking speed.

The narrows proved a particular challenge as we tried to stop him from stepping off every time the bank appeared close enough. It's fair to say, that Jemma was showing off by playing the old sea dog (this is a complete lie as she has been the biggest pain in the neck up top before). We got to Whaley and had a lovely walk up the old railway incline and then fed them, got ready and went out for dinner. In spite of trying to wear Rocky out and putting on the radio, he barked and barked as we walked away. Fortunately we weren't moored near any other boats.

It was all a bit stressful and this was followed by a terrible dinner at Memories of India. There was a complete amnesia about the importance of good service. We waited well over an hour for starters, then nearly as long again for our main courses. By this time, we had drank most of the wine and were past caring about whether the food was good, bad or indifferent. The answer to the delays became apparent as we saw huge cauldrons of food disappearing outside followed by most of the waiting on staff. We guessed they were providing catering for an outside function whilst we sat waiting patiently for our meal in an increasingly deserted restaurant. We must have become invisible and trying to catch the attention of the one remaining waiter failed.  A long drawn out meal was the last thing we needed on the first occasion of leaving the two dogs on the boat. As it happened, they were fast asleep when we got back so there was no harm done. After a bedtime walk and cuddle, they both slept peacefully all night.

The next morning we woke to glorious sunshine and headed for Bugsworth Basin. As usual, we were in complete ignorance of the fact that there was an event on: this time a steam rally, and we couldn't find a place to tie up. We only wanted to go there to let Rocky have a run but it was very crowded. so we went back to Furness Vale. En route, we had never seen so many happy shiny people using the tow path for leisure purposes. Walking, jogging, cycling, ambling. We had pleasant discourse with other dog lovers who admired the new addition to our canine crew. One lovely little girl shouted at us from a bridge "Wow a boat and a dog!".

So all in all, not a bad first time cruising for Rocky. He even lay down in the sunshine on the Stern deck as we headed back home. Jem seemed happy to be the old hand who could show him the ropes. We viewed this performance with more than a little irony.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Great Uncle Receives Very Important Visitors

Some visitors to Princess Lucy are very special indeed. Some time ago, the captain received a polite request from James and Harriett White, great nephew and great niece, to visit the boat. A day was arranged right at the fag-end of the summer holidays. Oh how the Captain worried about these V.I.P. twins and whether everything would be ship shape for their arrival. The itinerary was planned, a short cruise to the historic Bugsworth Basin and preparations for the twins were made. Up to the last minute, the Captain paced the floor, racked by persistent doubts: would they be bored? Would they be underwhelmed by this little boat? Would the Peak Forest Canal hold enough to entertain such important little ones?

Well, as it happened the sun shone and the twins were an absolute joy to have aboard. James even managed to steer the boat - without being able to see over the top of her. Quite a feat. They found peeping the horn and feeding the ducks a right laugh.

They marvelled at everything including the labyrinthine basin at Bugsworth.

Such is the joy of being a child. Everything is potentially fascinating when you are open to new adventures. They, or possibly their mum, Shelley, brought a picnic and they were absolutely no trouble at all. In fact they were the opposite. They proved to be a 'great' niece and nephew in every sense of the word. A complete success, and of course this was much to the relief of their GREAT Uncle!

Friday, 13 September 2013

I don't do floors

The planned trip to Sutton Lane along the lock-free Upper Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals was aborted due to bad weather. There was also some uncertainty as to whether our new rescue dog, Rocky the greyhound, would need more time to settle into our house routine before tackling life aboard. The weather had the final say but we had thought maybe a little spin to Bugsworth Basin or Whaley would provide some familiarisation and lifeboat training. But even this was abandoned due to quite heavy rain that had not been forecast by the Met Office.

Fair weather sailors we may be, and in the end an afternoon snooze (grown-ups and doggies) and the fitting of the DAB radio was all we could manage. Except there is no DAB coverage at our mooring in Furness Vale! We were at least able to play our music downloads through the speaker system which runs throughout the boat.

We just couldn't keep Rocky off the fixed seating and a website for greyhounds suggests that they just 'don't do sleeping on floors.' Funny because Jem was just the same when we got her. After the first night, we found her trying to sleep on a hard backed dining chair instead of the fluffy dog bed we had provided. Now, of course, she is too elderly to jump up on sofas like the young Rock star but we keep reminding her that, at his age, she was just as annoying. 

After a visit to the vets for micro-chipping which was also abandoned due to Rocky's extreme reaction, we've all just about had enough for one day. So we will now settle down with a fire and a glass of something chilled to watch Harry H. Corbett in the 1964 canal-based film called The Bargee. It is only thanks to someone tweeting that Brian of Alton (coalboat) bears more than a passing resemblance to this famous Steptoe and Son actor, that we discovered the film. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Rocky Rescued

Hi, this is Jemma the dog here. For once I can get on the laptop to write on my own blog! Understand that there may be the odd spelling mistake which can be credited to my poor education and fat paws.

Today we went to collect the gorgeous Rocky from 'Just For Dogs' near Brailsford, Derbyshire. This is a rescue centre run by a dedicated team of people who clearly are all about getting their dogs re-homed rather than turning decent people away because they don't happen to have a side gate to their garden (this is a true story by the way!) Just for Dogs are wonderful with those homeless hounds who are on 'death row'. As I was myself awaiting execution at Green Lane Kennels Tutbury, way back in 1999 when I was adopted, this is a most miserable state of affairs that I know about. 

Rocky is a handsome fellow. At 2 years old he is a typically laid back whippet/greyhound. I have had to put him in his place a couple of times for getting over familiar! No one of my age appreciates being humped. He needs to show respect for the dignity of an elderly lady like me - but all the signs are good. Although do we look a bit like little and large, I think we may become good friends. 

There is a rumour of a possible weekend on Narrowboat Princess Lucy. This will depend on how Rocky settles into the house first and whether we can live in a really small space together at such an early stage of our relationship. It could be interesting as we could easily fall over each other (or all fall in the canal), or better still, tip the Captain overboard. 

But Rocky is an elegant, dainty footed, narrow dog, and therefore should be suited to a narrowboat. 

If we do go away, I'll no doubt blog about it here.

(More pictures below)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Shirkers, Staly-Vegas and the addition of lace

Staly-Vegas, all at peace in the sunshine
Our plans to spend a couple of days in Manchester changed a little when our "lock crew," especially recruited for the 18 Ashton canal locks into Manchester, cried off. Maybe it was the advice to be ready for all weathers, hard work, to be prepared for grease marks on clothes and strictly no high heels, that finally scared them off. In the end, we all bottled it. Especially Jemma who had been pacing up and down for a solid 4 hours down the Marple flight. 

So having dropped down the 16 locks from Marple, we reached Dukinfield junction, but instead of heading West to Manchester, we thought we might go East, on the Huddersfield Canal. Ever the adventurers, we had no idea what lay ahead. 

The first lock on the Huddersfield was protected with anti-vandal straps and this was really the first time we had used, in anger, the (Midland Chandlers) handcuff keys. All went well on the bottom gates, but on the top gate paddle straps, the outside diameter of the key was greater than the hole it had to go in! Ten minutes furious filing and swearing sorted it and we were on our way arriving in Stalybridge late that afternoon.

Only a boating trip would include somewhere like Stalybridge in the travel itinerary, and we knew nothing about the place. Our ignorance intact, we set off that evening on the Manchester train to meet our very glamorous "shirker lock crew" friends. It was a mere 14 minutes by train into the impressive Victoria Station.On the way back around ten, we wondered why everyone seemed to heading out of Manchester on our train. When they all got off with us, the penny dropped.
Portuguese Lace Door Curtain bought in Bridport

On the platform at Stalybridge a girl told us, “Did ya know they call it Staleh-Vegas? Ya guaranteed a good night here.”

Staly-Vegas is a strange place. It is an old mill town that having been very prosperous during the industrial revolution is now struggling with its identity. Apparently the plan was to develop a kind of 'cafe culture' in the town but clearly that didn't work out given the number of cans that litter the tow path. The prettiest thing by far is the canal which around 2000, was restored through the town centre where it had been culverted. (In fact we met a council worker who had been responsible for much of the culverting a few locks further up.) We hadn’t planned to go much further, but it took all of one day to travel up from Stalybridge to the water point and then beyond lock 12 to wind (having failed so closely at the entrance to Scout tunnel).

More vintage lace recently added
The rest of Stalybridge is unremarkable excepting that it has a shop advertising "tripe and sandwiches". Now there's a vegetarian nightmare. More than half of the town centre shops are boarded up, and as we were advised there is a vibrant night-life, with the noise and mess that goes with it.We did enjoy a boogie on deck to Michael Jackson. Well it would have been rude not to.

On our way up for water, in the pound between locks 9 and 10, we passed a boat heading West. Our first mate took the boat into lock 10. But the Captain of the boat we had passed remained at the previous lock. “A boat was sunk in that lock, lock 9, last week. If she gets into trouble, I can flush some water down from here.” Now it took us a while to fathom what he was rattling on about. But, yes, two boats in the last couple of years have sunk in lock 9.

Marple Crew
It seems that the bottom gates leak badly, the top gates are fairly OK. So if the pound is already low, there is a fair chance of running aground as you enter (or leave) the lock. If this is the case, with the bottom gates leaking badly, there is then only a few minutes before the water will stop entering the lock, and the lock will then drain. The boat is not so much sunk, as dry docked at about 20 degrees! There are some links here HERE to the previous events, (note: these are not for the faint hearted).

We met our (entirely cheerful and reliable) Marple crew at Marple bottom lock, and after a quick spin back over Marple Aqueduct and through Hyde Tunnel, we huffed and puffed our way up the locks. At lock 12, the Captain’s little finger was mangled between the balance beam and the windlass. Captain did a little dance in sort of clockwise circles, his right hand between his legs. He chanted words that must have been Anglo-Saxon, but did he complain at all over the next 2 days about his bruised and throbbing finger? 

It is good to do locks ... occasionally. It makes you appreciate the Macclesfield Canal and the UPPER Peak Forest. After rocking it in Staly-Vegas and avoiding the potential horrors of lock 9, Furness Vale is going to seem very pedestrian.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

New Life as The Princess Lucy

The boat can now begin to take on its new life as Princess Lucy. As part of the Canal Time fleet she was called Grasshopper 101 and painted  a vivid turquoise. We still see some of these boats and call out to each other -  'Look it's our boat!'. For the last six years, she lived out her existence as 'Florence II' with her previous owners. Last night we finished putting on the vinyls which we bought from The Graphics Boat Company. And we were quite pleased with ourselves for not making a spectacular balls up. Imagine living with the shame of a spelling mistake? Although we have seen plenty of other boats with misspelt names. Their owners obviously think it is funny to call their boat something like 'Anonymouse'.

Preparation is everything and so having watched a demonstration video, we copied their method. And it worked beautifully. You need a water spray, masking tape and a credit card. Patience, care and that's it.

She seems to be quite proud of her new name. Gone forever are 'Mike and Sheila' and 'Florence II'. She is still a long way from being fully painted but we figured that with a boat, it's a bit like the Forth Bridge.and it will be done as a matter of continuous maintenance.

She is now freshly painted black up to her gunwales, has cream name panels and will get a bit of red before the end of the summer. Next year, we will continue to paint the roof cream and finish the rest.

This latest flurry of smartening up is all in preparation for our trip to Manchester at the weekend. The more we get to know and love her, the more we also see how scruffy she is. TLC is needed and at least looks a bit tidier when our visitors meet her for the first time.

You will see from the photograph that we settled on 'Sheffield Basin' for her affiliation and, coincidently, our new boating friend Sarah very kindly gave us a postcard which is an old print of the historic Sheffield Basin. It's a lovely water colour and shows The Straddle Warehouse which still dominates Victoria Quays today. There are plans to take Princess Lucy to Sheffield next winter and so the name and the postcard is quite fitting. We both work in Sheffield and it is our adopted city. Given the number of times we have been snowed in, at home in the Peak District, it would be good to have a base in the city for when the bad weather comes in.

Jemma came with us and spent a few hours sniffing round the Furness Vale marina while we worked our magic with the water spray. She is unimpressed by the new name (probably thinking it should have been named after her) but at least she really does seem to be happy at Furness Vale. There are gorgeous views across the valley, its peaceful and she always makes a new friend - dog or duck - they all look the same to her with her fading vision.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Thugs in Whaley pelt us with Bourbons

Things continue to progress, albeit at the leisurely pace fitting of a narrowboat. We spent a lovely weekend pottering about the canal and the marina.We cruised all the way from Furness Vale to Whaley Bridge to give her an outing (about half an hour) and to meet up with Alton for a pump out on Sunday. We both thought we heard Alton whilst we were still in bed, having learned to pick out her distinctive chugging sound. So there was a bit of a scramble to get up and make ready. It surprised us to see Alton but without Brian and Ann-Marie. It is great that they can get away to Spain and still continue to provide their service to boaters.

On Saturday evening, it turned out to be much sunnier and nicer that the weather forecast had predicted. We mixed Cava cocktails with strawberries, kiwis, mango, passion fruit and orange juice. Our neighbours arrived in time to sample the recipe.

After a curry at Zayka we returned for coffee and to finish up the cocktails. It was just about warm enough to sit in the saloon and have the doors open. All was very chilled when some lunatic pelted us with a Bourbon biscuit. Now this wouldn't be the usual weapon of choice to liven up a a bunch of boozy boaters, but it had an effect.

We have paused the work on the shower room because the Captain is intent on smartening up the outside during what is left of the summer. That said, she looks rougher than ever at the moment as he has peeled off all her old lettering. The names of the previous occupants continue to haunt us. Even with the vinyls removed, the names MIKE and SHEILA are etched in undercoat. We hope to start to put things right by painting her in new livery, done in stages and adding her new name. What we achieve before we go on our next trip to Manchester will depend on the weather. This means we have had to make a final decision on the outside colour scheme and the name.
If you google the name 'Lucy Belle' you get quite a few hits for an international porn star. So we have decided this association is not something we want to promote. She will be named 'Princess Lucy' after our beautiful granddaughter and in homage to Tim and Shane Spall and their boat 'The Princess Matilda' - which they also named after their granddaughter. We have been much inspired by their courage and fortitude. Tim fought off the most aggressive form of Leukemia and they took to the seas in their dutch barge and sailed round the coast of Britain. It took them years to complete their circumnavigation of England, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland. Tim continued to make films to pay the bills so they kept having to leave their boat in various ports for months - including Penarth in South Wales, where the first mate lived for 2 years. We loved their boat and their story.

The tea is now brewed, and so it's time to spend more time what we do best: looking at the work to be done. Now, where is that bourbon?

Friday, 12 July 2013

Scythes and Ice Cubes

We spent another relatively lazy, and lock free, weekend cruising from Furness Vale to Sutton Lane (and back). We saw Brian and Ann-Marie working as hard as ever on Alton, and as usual that made us feel guilty (only for a moment though). 

But it is high time we ventured further and next month we will tackle a good number of locks as we aim for Manchester city centre. There are also very woolly plans to get to Sheffield for an extended stay there, but these ideas are very much at the beer mat stage.

The Macclesfield canal is even prettier at this time of year: The ducks have their new broods, the herons are as abundant as ever, and the greenery surrounding the canal is just stunning. Only a couple of months ago, we saw hundreds of new ducklings, so we wondered why there were more ducklings, so soon after. Maybe they are just a bit later, or maybe (as Wikipedia suggests), the "still sexually potent males remain on standby to sire replacement clutches (for female's that have lost or abandoned their previous clutch) or forcibly mate with females that appear to be isolated or unattached". There you are then.

Spot the boat!
This greenery however, is seriously encroaching across the canal in many places, and how those boats with smarter paint jobs than ours, (that would be most of them) navigate through the trees and brambles, and keep their polished scratch free finishes intact, is a mystery to us all. We are about to paint the boat (up to the gunwales) with the "famous" Andy Russell matt black ... but it will be tempting to carry on above there!

The towpath banks too are becoming overgrown, and we did wonder (briefly) whether the boat could accommodate a scythe. It cannot. After the very hot weather of this weekend, we already have plans to carry a mains powered fan, and we still haven't fathomed where a mop bucket might live.

Considering it was 30C in the cabin on Monday, Jemma coped quite well. She paced around a lot and kept a watch on all quarters, but she does that anyway. First mate was worried about her in this heat, and she devised a cooling technique involving rubbing ice cubes around Jemma's chuff. Jemma seemed to like it. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


It might have helped had we known in advance about the "Whaley Water Weekend". As boating virgins, we made our plans in ignorance of this event, an event which would have previously passed us by. Anyway, there is a canal side festival with a name which puns on the acronym TW3. If you are really young, like Jemmathedog, and don't know what TW3 is, then just Google it. 

Maybe the boating web sites we follow could put more effort in to publicising events such a this, and spend a little less web space annihilating CRT: Perhaps they (and we) should spend more time celebrating what we have?
New Cushion

Anyway, our plan was straightforward enough: Furness Vale to Whaley Bridge basin (for water) and then to the nearby visitor moorings and to the excellent Zayka (where we have been once before) tor a Goan meal (Jemma guarding the boat and enjoying a can of Butcher's Tripe.She isn't keen on Indian food).

"Are you trying to visit the mayhem at Whaley Bridge?" someone shouted from the towpath.
We must have looked a little like people who do not speak the language.
"Make sure you visit the cheese boat," were his last words as we sped towards the mayhem. A boat made of cheese? Whatever next?

The thought of reversing from the "mayhem" of Whaley Basin back to the Bugsworth junction made us nervous, so First Mate was sent ashore at the junction for reconnaissance.

A friendly boater stopped her in her tracks, reading her mind apparently, and said that there was mooring space after the Tesco bridge and reiterated the advice to visit the cheese boat. You can't turn around in the basin, he also said. 

So,we gingerly we made our way to the 200 yards of "permanent moorings" beyond Tesco (where no one has ever permanently moored). We fought past 3 or 4 trip boats on the way (one had Johnny Depp on it - honest), and discovered that on this stretch of the canal, you can float quite close to the edge! Quite a novelty for the Macclefield and Peak Forest canals.

At our mooring, there were signs of people flowing away from a big old party. The towpath was very busy with families, balloons, and children with tiger painted faces, so after testing the new front bench cushion with a glass of Pinot Grigio - and which more importantly, was given the paws up by Jemma, we ambled into W3. 

Sadly, we were a little late: the cheese boat and many stalls (especially the foody ones) had gone for the day. But we enjoyed an ice cream and sat in the sun across the canal just as the first band of the evening kicked off. The music was grand, beginning with rousing folk ensemble and finishing just after ten with a thrashy heavy metal band. Something for everyone.

Alton in the middle of the mayhem at W3
The three day event was blessed not only by the visit of Jemma, but by the weather, and Whaley was buzzing. Someone did say that it was the first time in five years that the sun had shone. We couldn't visit everywhere that evening, but there was live music in the Goyt Inn, The Railway, and the festival tent. And every other house appeared to be licensed (?!) When we arrived at Zayka, the Chef was outside on the street with a traditional clay oven cooking fluffy nan breads and selling kebab type things to passers by. We admired the food and the enterprise.

The meal at Zayka was excellent. Goan food is new to us and it is so very different. Lots of fish and much more delicate in flavour than the usual Anglo-Indian cusine. Zayka is a now a favourite, as is W3 which is now in the diary for next year. 

On Sunday, on our return, we met up with Brian and Ann Marie. They are such a hard-working crew. We seem to see them every time we are out, providing some vital service or other to the many boats on their stretch of the canal. What we would do without them? And we love to see Alton, the gentle giant loaded with coal and diesel, skilfully navigating the tightest of spaces. 

"You're not going to the mayhem at Whaley Bridge, are you?" we asked. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Weather and Swizzels

Sometimes, you are just too busy enjoying yourself to blog, but we should reflect on our first real taste of boating in what felt like summer.

Captain's mother, Daisy, is in her 91st year. She lives comfortably in a bungalow, and naturally at her age she doesn’t go out that much. She has no need to really.

She has long driven us mad by beginning every telephone call with a discussion about the weather. I don’t know why. The level of detail and prolonged debate about what the weather has done and might still do yet, is staggering. 

We had little or no concern for weather forecasts before owning a narrowboat. It all changed when  moved out to the Peak District, where we live at just 1,000 feet above sea level and can be easily  trapped in by snow. We somehow became much more in touch with the elements as they impacted on our ability to get about. Before then, as urbanites, if it was raining or cold we just slung on a coat: we travelled in climate controlled cars so it was a minor issue. We feigned interest in Daisy’s conversations.

The problem now, now we have a boat, is that it is US who talk constantly about the weather. Rain, sunshine, snow, and worst of all for boaters: wind. 
     “It’s been a bit blowy,” we hear ourselves reporting as if other boaters haven't noticed. Things like “there's been a few sharp gusts now and again.”

Daisy must now be very tired of the weather conversations. Revenge is sweet.

But, on the subject of weather, the sun shone last weekend, and we made the most of it. It was quite simply glorious being on the water after all the trials of the journey home. And the penny dropped. This is what it is meant to be like. You are meant to bask in the sheer loveliness of sunny boating - not count the minutes to the next respite from the freezing cold! Ah hah! This is why people do it. We saws lots of sights on the water that we would have missed otherwise. Some of them quite alarming. Like the whole family of little urchins who ran up and down the roof, jumping onto tow paths, scrambling back on and all this whilst some poor guy was trying to steer. We still don't know how he could see anything. Still, at least he held onto his can of Stella and that must have dulled the pain.

Goyt Mill, Marple
On Friday evening we arrived in Marple where we ate good and 'authentic' tapas at Murillo’s. It scored a ten out of ten. Saturday night we were at Sutton Hall on Gurnett Aqueduct. It was mad busy on the tow path but a fellow boater helped to pull us into the tightest mooring you've ever seen. It was sheer brute force and pig-headedness that got Lucy Belle into that space. She was touching, not to say kissing, the boats either end. Nobody seemed to mind. We ended up by the steps down to The Kings Head but the smell of stale fat wafting up from the fryer was unappetising. Somebody told us they had a rack of lamb with no lamb. We just had to go back to Sutton Hall as it scores ten out of ten for setting, but as before, the food is always a bit of a let down given how gorgeous the building is. Sunday night back to Marple and we found Marple Spice just round the corner from the lock flight. The decor is stylish and crisp, but like one or two Indian restaurants lately - everything was a bit too sweet. 

Perhaps it was a younger chef with a sweeter tooth? Perhaps he just lost concentration worrying about the weather.

Jemma had a splendid time. As we cruised along, she kept herself busy patrolling the rear deck. First one side, then the other, then to the rear. Her efforts were successful as we arrived home safely. This despite seeing a father and son towing a plastic alligator head on a fishing line near High Lane. Perhaps it was the weather for it. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Jemma slips into the canal and not for the first time.

Poor Jem managed to slip into the canal on a Sunday cruise up to Whaley Bridge. She was in such a rush to get to the bank, that the gang plank tipped her into the air and then into the cut. Several people rushed to help but she amazed us by swimming with confidence. In spite of her arthritis, her back legs seemed to work perfectly in the water. First mate was just about to leap in after her but Captain calmly pulled her out by the scruff of the neck. She weighs quite a bit already but given the gallons of water clinging to her coat, this was a feat of strength. She had spent the weekend with little Lucy who was most upset by this incident. She kept saying "Jemma's alright?" and we kept repeating "Yes she's fine. She can swim."

We had had a lovely weekend which included a trip on the tiny train round Buxton's Victorian park, a cruise up the Peak Forest Canal to Whaley Bridge and a very good lunch at the Pear Tree Cafe. We even managed to eat outside in the sunshine. Jem has already forgotten all about it and is none the worse for the experience. At least it wasn't Lucy who went in. But more care is needed with Jem as she can't really see that well and she seems to misjudge the gap between boat and tow path quite frequently. That said, for an old lady who has only recently taken up narrow boating, she's doing OK.

There is progress on the shower room. We have a new sink which will give us space for a heated towel radiator and a bit more floor space. Captain has done a great job custom-building the cupboard out of old bits of recovered Ash paneling and a door that we removed to make space for the multi-fuel. We are hoping that the room will start to function by adding a new corner mirror cabinet, and couple of new lights.It was so dimly lit in there that Captain was shaving blind.  Hopefully, he will now be able to see, and will lose the lop-sided beard.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Crises in confidence and moments of inspiration

Our captain's fastidious research into the canals that never were and his explanation of why we can't get to Sheffield in under two weeks, reminds me of why we bought Lucy B. It was October when we made this reckless purchase having never set foot on a narrow boat before. Shoot first and ask questions later. Why wait until Spring to hire one and then pay around £1000 for a wet week to find out if it works out?  Once such a daft idea forms in our heads, it's unwise to risk a cooling off period in case good sense prevails.

 But Lucy Belle was never going to be just the mental and physical challenge which the journey home delivered in spades. It was always meant to be inspirational too. I can see a book about all this canal stuff some day. It could actually happen. I had high hopes of re-kindling a love of painting but this probably won't happen because gazing out the window is a default choice over risking failure. And then of course there is the all-consuming nature of boating which I hadn't reckoned on. It's cruise, eat and sleep. I am not short of inspiration. Everything I have seen so far has offered a moment of wonder - even the Dickensian marshes of the river Soar in flood dominated by the giant edifice of Ratcliffe power station puthering out miles of acid-rain. There were lots of live aboards on these muddy banks and I feared for their safety and was awed by their ability to survive such a harsh environment. So it's hardly been all weeping willows and meadow.  We have passed by so many things that you just would never see. The artist in me responds to this. It just may stay as a cerebral experience for now. I am taking it all in. Storing it all up.

The inspirational moments are matched by crises in confidence that all the Captain's arty plans and drawings may stay as just that. I experienced a motivational dip last Sunday when even putting a print up of the Cheshire Ring proved almost impossible because of the sloping steel. It took over an hour to do what should have taken 10 minutes max. Have we bitten off more than we can chew with this boat? Surely not? Not the dream team of fixers? A nagging thought persists that the boat will become a black hole for time, money and labour instead of the inspirational pursuit it was meant to be. In reality we have to accept that it will be both, for a while at least, until its made into something we feel is ours. The list of jobs seems to grow faster than anything that can reasonably be achieved. The boat will get older and may deteriorate faster than we can enact its preservation.  It is easy to get distracted by other more pristine boats. Lucy Belle has been through the wars on the way to Furness Vale and she will always be a boat with an Italian feel for life. That is, with plenty of scrapes and scratches. We have always admired the Italians for their lack of preciousness about their cars. Cars are for bouncing off the walls in the narrowest of streets, wine is for drinking not counting units, pasta for eating huge bowls of. We will keep this spirit even when she is eventually repainted. We are learning that no job is straightforward and that things take a long time. With tiny spaces, sloping sides, the watery world of narrow boating makes even fixing window coverings a challenge. And, does anyone have any brilliant ways of securing wooden blinds so they don't hang away from the windows at the bottom? I see plenty of other boats with them.

The sketch above is one of many. I began to think that we would never solve the problems of how to fit any standard bathroom fittings in to our tiny shower room. I know what our new friend Sarah's Jim would say - it's a boat not a house! But... this is an ex-hire boat and even purists might forgive me for trying to stamp out the hire-boatiness. The Canaltime fleet were built to work - and they do. There is no way I am messing with the layout or cooker or anything that is perfectly serviceable but the kitchen sink, work tops and sanitary fittings are at least 11 years old and have seen scores of users. I have a ridiculously glamorous and impractical vision for the shower room. It involves walnut flooring and cream and black tiles, a sort of Orient Express wash room. Will it happen? Probably not with cheap-as-chips, and frankly shoddy, fittings from IKEA. A girl has to dream. You have to have a dream.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Grand Commercial Canal

Reading Sarah’s blog about the Sheffield and Tinsley canal about how abandoned it seemed and how little used it is, got me thinking about how different it would undoubtedly be if Sheffield Basin was not a “dead end” but was a through route. Now by car (or train) we live about 30 minutes from Sheffield, but to get our boat from Furness Vale would take around a fortnight (111 miles and 149 locks CanalPlan says). Actually at our usual pace, it would be much longer than that.

But there were, in the nineteenth century, various proposals to connect Sheffield by canal with Manchester. The first of these came in 1813 from a Mr Chapman. His idea was to leave Sheffield along the Sheaf valley, rising 440 feet in 6 miles. Then, at Strawberry Lea, the canal would enter a 2 ¾ mile tunnel, emerging at Padley Mill, near Grindleford. The canal would then join the proposed “High Peak Junction Canal” which in turn would join the Peak Forest canal at Bugsworth. The route proposed is almost identical to the Hope Valley railway line (apart from the Bugsworth end where the canal was to drop down quite quickly).

See Google Books for full text

Nothing became of this proposal, and it was not until 1824 that "The Grand Commercial Canal" was proposed by Joseph Hazlehurst. Again he would join onto the planned route of the High Peak Junction Canal near Grindleford/Padley (although the High Peak Junction Canal proposal, connecting Cromford to Bugsworth, was pretty well abandoned by this time), but then his route differed: The canal would enter a tunnel which would emerge much further south and take the canal past his own colliery at Unstone, and from there the canal would climb around a hundred feet, before descending into Sheffield.

There were further proposals in 1824: James Dean ambitiously proposed not only linking Manchester, and Sheffield, but also linking this canal to Chesterfield, via a branch near Dronfield, and then linking the Chesterfield Branch to the Cromford Canal via a branch between Cutthorpe and Pentrich. His Sheffield to Manchester canal revised the route from Bugsworth, keeping the canal lower, and the two tunnels much longer. He also called this The Grand Commercial Canal and there is more information on his proposed canals on this blog.

From The New Monthly Magazine, 1824
In the same year Thomas Telford joined the growing band of engineers to propose an idea. But this was very different. His canal would connect Sheffield and Manchester via a much more northerly route, following the course of the River Don, west out of Sheffield, and then the course of the River Etherow. This is roughly the routes of the A616 and A628 (Woodhead Pass). This canal was to join the Peak Forest Canal much nearer to Manchester, at Hyde Bridge (No 6). Telford's canal would have been cheaper to build, but in avoiding the longer expensive tunnels resulted in a canal of 39 ½ miles with 146 locks!

None of these proposals came to anything. Writing in 1826 Sanderson suggests that most of these proposals would have cost over £400,000, and with an estimated annual income of around £20,000 it is easy to see why this was unattractive to investors.

Shame though. It would have been nice to get to Sheffield in under a fortnight.