Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Mercia Me

On the 27th we stumbled in blinding rain into Willington. We tied up there for 2 nights - right outside The Dragon pub.

On the second day (people who work say this was a bank holiday) the Captain, with the help of family, and a 2 hour plus bus journey, fetched the car down from Furness Vale.

His reward was a splendid meal in the popular Dragon. We left the boat at 7.44 for our 7.45 table and we were on time. This is an award winning establishment and was full to the rafters with good reason.

On the following day (not a bank holiday) Mercia Marina offices reopened. We left The Dragon with shopping from the well stocked Co op and cruised into Mercia in full sunshine.

This feels like being in a small town of boats or camping at Glastonbury. When all you can see is water and various craft, it is weird.  Anyway there are over 600 boats including a number of wide beams and dutch barges. We like it and it's in complete contrast to the sleepy hillside marina that is Furness Vale.

In less than 24 hours we have been visited by family, Chrissie and Chris, then today Leigh, Ali and Lucy. We are much nearer to our nearest and dearest for this reason will probably give up Furness Vale and stay around here.

One thing is for certain. We don't stand a chance in the best decorated boat competition. We are moored on one of the many piers with not one but two Eiffel Towers.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Lingering Threat of a Mince Pie

We are still feeling bloated from all the delicious food and drink provided by our generous Christmas hosts, Elaine and David. But who cares if we now have to wear harem pants? It was hugely enjoyable and the Christmas lunch of Indian takeaway dishes of all our favourite things was a genius idea.
We left Alrewas on Boxing day but not before exploring the iron bridges which span the marshes of the River Trent. We paddled across a field back into the prettiest part of the villiage, soft and mellow, with its old cotton mill and 13th century church.
Christmas Day. Jonesey's friend Roly
It was a lovely mild, fresh and breezy cruise into Burton. We tied up on Shobnall Fields which turned out to be good moorings. The old Shobnall rec has been transformed into a tidy park for Jonesy to play ball in, complete with running tracks and tennis courts. We laid on a  Boxing day buffet for Dawn and Craig and it was all very civilised being set in the remnants of a Victorian arboretum. This part of town does have a reputation and one of our party has been mugged on this tow path. So it goes beyond rumour.
When we went to bed, there had been talk of us being hacked to death in our bed for the sake of a ten quid hit.  However, the reality was that we spent a peaceful night and were not even troubled by noise from the A38. Captain left the boat keys on the roof all night so that we and the boat might have easily been pirated. We weren't. The dual carriageway is horrible. Planners allowed the builders to carve up what was the civic gift of a leafy space for the town's brewery workers. Some trees survive but there used to be a bandstand where the road is and long gone is the paddling pool that was a focal point on sunny days.
We were both born here and spent most of our adult lives pretty much in this place. So it was very evocative to bring Princess Lucy back to our home. First mate walked the streets for an hour this morning and every step released a memory of  childhood,  teenage years and being a young mum delivering Leigh to his first school in Grange Street. Some of the streets are looking even more shabby than when we lived in Wellington Street. Wendy's Wool Shop is now a Sari emporium but the area survives, just about, thanks to its Asian entrepreneurs.
We are told that there is a big drug problem on Waterloo Street but the biggest nuisance seem to be the need for black and blue wheelie bins which have to live permanently on the pavement.
We have left Burton now and are moored outside The Dragon in Willington. In contrast, this holds no significance whatsoever.
Refective mood over.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


We have to retract our damning of Rugeley. This morning the sun shone brightly on this decent little town. It is hardly the citizens' fault that they were shafted by Thatcher and had their pits closed.
In the huge canal side Tesco, the people were smiley and good natured. They didn't look poor, not judging by their trollies as they went about their Christmas shop. We didn't see any obvious heroin users as we did in Staybridge.
But it was hectic with longish queues as is normal for a couple of days before the holidays. We have been in similar situations in Burton's Tesco where if you accidentally make eye  contact there is a palpable threat of violence.  Not so in Rugeley. We've never encountered such polite and patient shoppers.
The meal was also very good in Terrazza although we puzzled over the waitor's insistence that all meals are 'cooked to order.'  Is there any other possibility in a restaurant? Only kebab and chip shops have food cooked in advance of their customers requests.
We left Rugeley feeling much more disposed to the place although Jim was quite right - even the charity shops were terrible. And it comes to something when they have to close down Poundland (closing on January 9th).
We are now moored in Fradley. It is pitch black and The Swan looks inviting but we are meant to be having an alcohol free healthy night with dinner on board.
* Please note that the above views are not necessarily those of the Captain. Surely a cheeky one in the Swan would be alright? And if the beer tastes bad, we could wash it down later with some Princess Lucy wine.
Blogging will no doubt be suspended for a few festive days, but we WILL be back.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Ranking Rugeley

We awoke this morning in the middle of nowhere. There was a towpath and some fields - you may have been there. The weather was predicted to be very heavy rain after lunch, so we cracked on to Rugely, and tied up as the heavens opened.
Mr Pearson in his canal guide says of Rugeley, "It is difficult to escape the impression that life here is lived on the cheap." First Mate visited both Boots, Poundland and ambled around the town in the rain. On her return she said, "That was a load of wank." So not a lot of favourable comments thus far.
What it is good for, is Supermarkets close to the canal. Tesco and Morrisons are in fact separated only by the canal, and it will be (on the 23rd) our last chance for food shopping before Christmas.
Tonight we will give Rugeley a second chance eating out at "Terazza." It is number two for the area on Trip Advisor.  However it may well turn out to be like coming second in the beauty competition where the pig came first.
We are possibly being inconsistent, after singing the praises of an equally run down Stoke, However, our views may be unduly coloured by the incessant rain, and paddling through copious mud on the tow path.
First mate says it will all look better after she has straightened her hair and had a glass of fizz.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Captain's Reflections 0n Unexpected Pleasures

Our friend Melinda sent me a birthday card with the image of  a very young girl. She was spray painting  'Fuck off Banksy' on a wall.

Then something occurred to me yesterday and this insight is unlikely to be found in libraries alongside books of Plato and Aristotle. No, this is a much simpler thought. The thing is, there is and has been for a while now a general "improvement" in canal infrastructure. Take Gas St Basin, Liverpool, Stalybridge town centre, many modern marinas, and so on. They are attractive to both boaters and visitors, but - and this is my point - are these developments ripping the soul and history out of the network?
We came through Stoke the other day - somewhere mostly unaffectred by "improvement" and we loved it. It was fascinating with all its layers of history visible: rusty bits and decaying concrete from the last 100 years; from before that there were older blue bricked branches sometimes leading somewhere, sometimes nowhere.
Some of the nicest town centres are now those unaffected by visits from Mr Arndale and Mr Westfield. I hope the canals will not be totally shafted by similar developments. Congleton, for example, may lack an M&S but it retains its essential character with its Georgian town houses. Who cares if it's colononised by pound shops. Stone, where we are happily moored for the night, is also a very attractive and historic town which is still is  interesting. Bland and corporate it isn't.
Time for another Absinth.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Captain's Cocktail Party

It's the Captain's birthday and rather generously, friends, Karen and Paul, arrived in Etruria last night laden with gifts. This included a bottle of champagne. Well it would be rude not to.
We had a walk round Etruria this morning and then set off down the Stoke flight. We stayed dry and yet again there wasn't another moving boat. So it was all very laid back. It was a pleasure to happen on the legend that is 'Rob the Lock'. He wasn't able to assist is on this occasion because he was off, in his Santa hat, to do Christmas shopping. Good to see his friendly face none the less.
Right, we now have a mad scramble to get into our cocktail dresses for this evening's celebrations. Chrissie and Chris will be joining us for dinner at The Plume of Feathers in Barlaston. We just happen to be moored right outside. Perfect.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Stoked up in Stoke

Princess Lucy at Harecastle Tunnel
The very clement December weather, with temperatures well into the teens has caused major confusion on Princess Lucy. We expect, especially in December, to light the stove quite early and enjoy warming the mince pies on the top of it. Well, we did light the stove last night, but it was quickly unbearable. Just as well captain had clean y-fronts.
We were advised not to tie up near the tunnel entrance overnight. "You'll probably be stoned," the lone boater told us the day before. But we woke this morning quite unaffected.
Princess Lucy was the only boat booked to go through the Harecastle Tunnel today - in fact we have not met another moving boat in the last three days.
It is Friday afternoon and we are now tied up at Etruria and our concerns as to whether the bottom Stoke lock, taken out of service some weeks ago, would be repaired in time for our passage tommorow, were ill founded: it is done.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Sunset over Lock 12

Today we expected to battle tempests on our cruise from Macclesfield down the Bosley flight. It is December after all, but the reality was rather different.  The weather was benign and we even saw the sun. Typical of the British climate, it felt like Spring. It was a hassle free trip, with an overflowing canal and full pounds, locks filled and drained quickly and this speeded our progress. 

We were the only moving boat on that stretch of canal today, and those who didn't venture out missed a treat. As we meandered out of lock 12 and on to our Dane aqueduct mooring, we cruised into a glorious sunset.

It feels like we are hundreds of miles from the Christmas shoppers that we saw jostling in Macclesfield yesterday.

All is peaceful and it's pasta and Prosecco time on board Princess Lucy.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Fire is so Delightful...

It is the end of day 2 of this trip, and we are an hour ahead of schedule and tied up in one if our favourite spots close to the gigantic AstroZenica plant in Macclesfield. This always makes us think of James Bond. You can easily imagine some underground rocket making enterprise beneath its vast and sprawling edifice. There is the occasional sighting of a white-coated person moving from building to building. What do they make here? Who knows?
One hour ahead translates to nothing really, as our Harecastle Tunnel passage is booked for Friday morning at 8.30. So there is no gain, save an extra hour in bed... maybe.
Last night we ate at Murillo's in Marple, tonight first-mate is rustling up a mushroom risotto. It is all about settling in to the trip now and working round the precious few hours of daylight. We need to be moored up by 4 at the latest.

Jonesy's evening walk is on an unlit tow path. But we knew all this and planned to eat dinner earlier, go to bed earlier, and get up by first light. However, we are very bad at doing the sensible thing. So the likelihood is that we'll that we will fail in all of these.
The weather has been kind today (unlike yesterday) and looks reasonable for the next few days.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Oh the weather outside is frightful ...

As with many of our ideas, they are often formed at a distance from the proposed outcome. Cruising for three whole weeks around Christmas had its appeal at the planning stage when the weather was warmer, the winds calmer and the nights longer. The imagined scene was of cruising on bright, crisp mornings, rising from the cabin to a light frosting of snow.  And cosy evenings, mulled wine in hand, toasting crumpets on a log fire. Then there were the long, fresh, breezy walks with Mr Jones to the nearest pub. It all added up to something that looked like a Christmas TV advert.

Oh dear. How reality bites. For weeks now, we have experienced freak storms, gales, continual rain and the plan is now looking, even by our standards, rather foolhardy. Especially with large parts of the North suffering from major floods. What is the chance of us getting onto the Trent? We face being marooned in the middle of nowhere.  But the alternative was infinitely more scary. Staying in, safely tucked up watching 'Homes Under the Hammer, or the Christmas Special of 'Flog It.' Only time will tell if we have made the right decision.

Last weekend we ventured out in 25mph winds with 50mph gusts. We only went a couple of miles to Whaley Bridge for a cheeky overnight curry where we met friends Tracey and Mark. It all worked well, and we also found time to decorate the boat, including a real Christmas tree that withstood its first battering. We even had a bit of a dance around the saloon after a couple of sherries.

The boat is stashed with wine, logs, presents and chocolate. Brian (of Alton) has topped up our diesel and filled the coal bunkers. We are all set for a Sunday afternoon start but not without trepidation.

The route is from Furness Vale to Marple on the Peak Forest Canal, to Stoke on the Macclesfield Canal, to Burton on Trent on the Trent and Mersey (briefly crossing he Trent) and finally into Mercia Marina for two or three months after Christmas. God willing.

We might live to regret invoking that song in our title - 'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.'