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.