Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Autumn Solo Trip - Market Drayton

28th to 31st October 2006
Calf Heath to Market Drayton
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

64 Miles
14 Locks
4 Days

Day one
Due to family commitments, this year's solo journey started with two passengers! Tilly and Jeff joined the Captain for the first two days with a scheduled pick up at lunchtime on day two.
We had an uneventful run out to Gnosall on the Saturday, stopping next to the Navigation Inn and sampling their fare during the evening.

Day two
Sunday saw us pass through the impressive Grub Street cutting, reaching Goldstone Wharf and the adjoining Wharf Tavern before two pm - just in time to order a Sunday lunch. Belle drove over after church and after a bit of too'ing and fro'ing she found us.
We completed our rather late lunch at 3.30 and, with the autumn sun setting beneath the horizon, the Captain set off for Market Drayton at a boating equivalent of warp speed. With 5 miles and 5 locks between me and my destination there was no time to lose. I completed the last of the Tyrley flight in pitch darkness illuminated only by my tunnel light. Whilst Tyrley can be picturesque in the daytime, its a gloomy and lonely spot at night and I couldn't help but reflect that the final lock / cutting would be a grim place to take a fatal misstep....
I turned the boat at Drayton Wharf, home of the Challenger fleet and moored up out on the embankment overlooking the school playing fields.

Day three
A particularly good day. By prior arrangement my brother came to join me, having cycled from his home in Newport - about 15 miles away. He arrived at 9.30 and we chatted our way back to bridge 26, just before Lord Talbots Wharf, drinking copious amounts of tea and sampling an interesting array of "little somethings".
With my brother gone in the 5.00 pm twilight, I decided to press on a bit longer with the aim of mooring near the old WW2 aerodrome, north of Wheaton Aston. With this being Halloween, the journey through the oppressive Rye Hill Cutting was particularly spooky. The tunnel light cast a narrow beam of light along the cut in front of me, but this only served to intensify the gloom pressing in on either side. I am not naturally nervous about ghouls and ghosties but this stretch did test my inner confidence. I finally moored on the embankment before Wheaton Aston but made the mistake of overshooting bridge 21, leaving me bumping on the underwater paving slabs, laid to protect the leak prone canal bed.

For future reference, if a mooring is needed in this area, stop either between bridges 22 and 21 or, or a much better option, between bridge 24 and the start of Rye Hill Cutting. This more northerly mooring is quiet and sheltered but be warned, the nearby farm is very active and you can expect a lot of activity from 6.00am onwards.

Day four
A storm blew up overnight, effectively bringing all the leaves down into the cut in a single day. The result was a carpet of detritus on the surface, which hampered progress but didn't necessitate any trips down the weed hatch. With winter approaching I topped off the diesel tank at Wheaton Aston garage and continued to make steady progress back home, dodging frequent squally showers.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Jeff's Birthday Bash - and back again

15th October 2006
Tixall to Calf Heath
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 Hours

After all the toxic waste excitement of yesterday you would expect a quieter return journey wouldn't you? Well, fact can be stranger than fantasy so here is the remainder of this comic episode:

After a 9.00 am start we soon passed the site of yesterday's emergency bailout, finding the autumnal air fortified with a very distinctive bouquet, not entirely pleasant I have to admit. It's a good job the spot was very remote and away from any moorings!

On our return to Penkridge who should be wandering around the lock? None other than yesterday's drunk - who had clearly invested his time and money topping up his inebriation in the local pub. Drunks seem to fall into two camps, they are either dangerously aggressive or they greet you as a long lost best friend. This chap was of the latter persuasion and he enthusiastically peered down into the lock chamber and asked how our trip had gone.

Given yesterday's final comment, I had to reply: "You know you were dead right, s**t does happen," and proceeded to tell the tale. I knew that engaging in this sort of banter carried risks but I didn't see the next one coming. "Can I ask you a favour please? - I need to get my boat up to Gailey and I was wondering if you could give me a tow?". In that moment I couldn't think of a good reason to say no, so I said yes and tied him onto the stern dollies. His little plastic cruiser was, of course, entirely without a licence, a mooring permit or valid BSC - but there, no one is perfect!

I kept well to the front on the locks to avoid crushing my companion, and all went well till we approached Shutt Hill. My "passenger" decided to jump off his boat as we approached the bank, but he failed to allow for the reaction of his craft, which skidded back away from him, leaving him suspended in mid air, rather like Wylie Cyotie when he realises he has run off the edge of a cliff. As if in slow motion, I watched him plunge beneath the murky waters and then start vainly scrabbling at the steel piled bank, trying to get out. The water was deep and cold, he was heavily dressed and drunk and the bank was sheer and high - all of which made an unassisted exit nigh on impossible. I genuinely feared the chap would drown himself so I abandoned the boat (again) and dashed back, hauling him out by his belt. He was too shocked to say much but from his moans of dispair it appeared that he had been wearing his best trousers, which were now soaked and ingrained with silt.

Our passenger disappeared back into his boat to change and didn't reappear till we cleared Gailey Top Lock, emerging as we refilled our water tank to replace the water used in yesterdays debacle. I figured that this trip couldn't have any more incident but no, there was one final twist in the tale. Jeff's best friend, Matt, is a lively lad and never walks when he can run. I had reminded him at regular intervals to slow down but what do I know? In the process of filling the water tank I has sluiced down the side beneath the chimney, rinsing off the sticky tar which oozes out. The result was a slippery patch which Matt hit at full speed and, for the second time in an hour, I watched an episode of Wylie Cyotie. This time the unpowered flight attempt ended with a small blond head bobbing down the side of the boat, spectacles still on his nose all glistening wet with water. Another emergency stop, followed by a rapid strip down and shower to quell the shivering. By this time I had had enough of the passenger (I didn't catch his name but I suspect it was Jonah) so I dropped him off on the visitor moorings and legged it back to Calf Heath as fast as I could.

As you can imagine, the three lads found the events surrounding the "toxic waste" weekend hilarious, with the component parts growing in dramatic content with each retelling!.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Jeffs birthday bash - to Tixall Wide

14th October 2006
Calf Heath to Tixall Wide
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 Hours

To celebrate Jeff's 13th birthday we decided on a sleepover with a twist. This year the celebration would be afloat, taking in a boat trip with plenty of locks, a spot of fishing, pizza and monopoly, mooring overnight on Tixall Wide, just before Haywood Junction.

After an early collection of two friends we set sail at 10.00am, making our way first to Gailey and then down to Penkridge. Whilst descending Penkridge lock I unwisely engaged in conversation with a very drunk Water Gypsy who proceeded to tell me his life story in the time it took the water to empty. He told me of how his girlfriend had deserted him, leaving him in favour of her supplier of illicit substances and also taking his boat with them, thus leaving him with an unpowered fibreglass vessel as home. Having told his sorry take he ended with a shrug and observer that "s**t happens". Oh how true he was.

During the next hour or so I had occasional complaints from the lads that it was smelly in the boat, but put that down to over sensitive city boys not being able to cope with the slightly fragrant holding tank system. But no, one of my passengers had managed to turn the flush mechanism of the loo on, and not turned it off after completing his ablutions. Needless to say, the fresh water supply is considerably greater than the capacity of the holding tank and I was suddenly faced with three ashen faced lads telling me that the toilet was overflowing! I dived below and sure enough, a steady stream of water was welling up from the toilet basin - like something from a second rate horror movie. With me frantically bailing out the cascading toilet, Jeff and his friends took command of the boat and brought us into land just short of the aqueduct over the river Sow. The boys laughter was stifled when I pointed out that we had to reduce the level in the tank to below the inspection hatch and proceeded to implement a chain of buckets, discharging a large quantity of "toxic waste" into the hedgerow. Not a nice job. Whilst we emptied about a third of the tank, many gallons found their way into the bilge, necessitating the cutting of an access hatch the next weekend and much unpleasant mopping out. Not a task I wish to repeat!

After the enforced delay we finally made it to Tixall just before sunset, and dropped out rods into the water. Result - one small perch. Not much but better than nothing.

Apart from a rather soggy floor and damp atmosphere the remainder of the day passed uneventfully.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Chillington and back

16th and 17th Sept 2006
Overnight to Chillington

Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union

14 Miles
2 Locks
5 Hours

A weekend away for just the two of us, Capt ad Belle. With Tilly and Jeff safely looked after by friends we grabbed the opportunity for some rare time to ourselves, and where better than on our boat. We wern't fussed about a pub so we stocked up on an Asda curry plus wine and a nice pudding. We chugged down to Autherley Junction and then up the Shroppie to a good spot just beyond the M54 bridge.

The location is by bridge 7, just before Chillington Wharf, sheltered by a stand of trees and just far enough away from the motorway to lose the drone of tyre noise. A cracking spot we have used regularly and one which is quite popular with local boaters.

Times away without the kids are very precious and need to be grasped wherever possible.

Friday, 18 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Saltersford to Bartington Wharf

Cheshire Ring - Saltersford to Bartington Wharf
18th August 2006
Trent & Mersey Canal

2 Miles
0 Locks
1 Hours

The last day of a hire boat trip is always a serious anti climax - just a short run to have the boat in by 10.00 am.

We arrived within 10 mins of the prescribed time and were the subject of the usual checking out process.

We confessed to three losses, a windlass on the Rochdale "no problem", a tumbler in Bugsworth "normal" and a wife at Sandbach. "Oh, now that is unusual. We havn't had a missing wife for years but don't worry sir, there is no surcharge!".

It was a good week covering an interesting route. It was a shame that we were not on Wand'ring Bark, but all in good time.

I liked the Black Prince boat, it was constructed of very solid steel and would make a good private purchase, if you don't mind the very distinctive Black Prince style. My bit gripe is the rear deck. It is large but with it being flat to the sides there was an ever present danger of coffee cups etc rolling off.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Chshire Ring - Sandbach to Saltersford

Cheshire Ring - Sandbach to Saltersford
17th August 2006
Trent & Mersey Canal

15 Miles
9 Locks
7 Hours

The day started with a walk to Sandbach Station, a 15 minutes from the canal. Belle was off to London so Kiwi was left in the care of Tilly and Jeff whilst the Capt waved her off from the platform. Her departure left an empty hole, reminiscent of the separations when we were courting years ago.

We had a deadline to meet and a boat to return to Black Prince, so we were on our way again by 10.00 am, shortly after Sarah had passed us once more The weather was fine as we crossed the broad open tract of land leading to Middlewich, past various chemical and salt works. The geography changes little after Middlewich, with the next 9 miles passing endless flash lakes caused by the extraction of brine. Most of the length is on a slight embankment, built up at the land has settled down.

We passed the Anderton Boat Lift, which we would have loved to experience or at least look around, but time was against us and so we pressed on initially through the Barnton Tunnel and then the Saltersford. We stopped just after bridge 204 and spent a couple of hours tidying up the boat and then a spot of fishing before a meal and a DVD. The bed seemed very large without Belle.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Congleton to Sandbach

Cheshire Ring - Congleton to Sandbach
16th August 2006
Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey Canal

14 Miles
27 Locks
9 Hours

Yesterdays thunderstorms cleared away leaving a glorious summer day for the descent of Heartbreak Hill. The final four miles to the Hall Green stop lock passed quickly and uneventfully and we soon found ourselves looking down into the orange water of the T&M from Pool Lock Aqueduct, a structure which is more impressive when viewed from below. Red Bull junction performs its curious circular descent, taking the canal back on itself using the first two locks to lose the necessary height.

As we emerged from lock three, a hire boat made a desperate dash to move off from the waterpoint before we passed, cutting it all so fine we had so apply reverse gear to avoid a collision. Things got interesting when they realised that Tilly had walked ahead and set the lock ready for our entry. I pointed out that it was our lock and after much muttering on their part I politely pointed out that it is very bad form to push into the stream just as another boat was about to pass. Result: more huffing and puffing.

As we descended the lock a self righteous plonker from said boat decided to come and remonstrate with me for criticising them, trying to justify themselves by claiming that they were merely trying to clear the water point for us - how thoughtful! But I has the last laugh. These locks are mostly duplicated so for the next eight I raised a top paddle on the parallel lock to fill the chamber for them before they arrived. It was very amusing to see the result of my "killing with kindness" policy.

By the time we reached the Wheelock flight proper a queue had build up at lock 55 involving 9 boats, which took and hour and a half to clear. Here we had time to catch up with Sarah (2 boats ahead) and avoid contact with Mr Pushy who was behind us.

Heartbreak Hill dragged on interminably, as it always does and we paused at Hassall Green for ice creams, provisions and to purchase a copy of Narrow Boat Planning by Graham Booth.

It was a relief to reach the bottom of the flight at 5.30, but Belle had an appointment In London the following day so we pressed on the bridge 160, near Sandbach and about 15 mins walk from the station. The mooring was very secluded and one which we will use again.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Higher Poynton to Congleton

Cheshire Ring - Higher Poynton to Congleton
15th August 2006
Macclesfield Canal

17 Miles
12 Locks
8 Hours

Today we played tag with nb Sarah, who had been our companion since Manchester. Among her crew was a girl called Emma, who quickly became Tilly's new best friend. The girls swapped back and forth between the boats, ultimately settling for Sarah because of her superior DVD capabilities! At one stage we lost Tilly for over three hours, only to see her plodding up the towpath from the foot of the Bosley locks.

This section is the "Mac" at its best, with open countryside interspersed with small towns. It may be lock free in the main but it certainly isn't without interest. Bollington is passed high up on an embankment complete with aqueduct, providing excellent views of the area. The Middlewood Way also accompanies the canal, providing good walking and cycling potential for those that prefer to move under their own steam.
Next came Macclesfield, complete with the original Hovis Mill, with the hills rising up to our left. Finally we arrived at the top of the Bosley flight, overlooked by the impressive Jodrell Bank radio complex.

All 12 locks (if you exclude the stop lock at Red Bull) on the Macclesfield are grouped into the Bosely flight which drops the canal by 110 ft in about a mile. I decided to test Jeff's boat handling skills by awarding him points out of ten for each lock, with one point deducted for each bump, no matter how slight. He rose to the challenge and was dismayed when he did a double tap on the penultimate chamber, breaking his perfect record and resulting in a score of 118 out of 120. Not bad for a 12 year old and represents a record I am not sure I could achieve myself. This feat of navigation marked his boating coming of age and an acceptance that he really can be trusted at the helm.

Just before Congleton the canal takes a wide sweep to the north before arriving in the town amid a collection of embankments and cuttings. We moored at Congleton Wharf and tramped down the Dog Lane Aqueduct to the Wharf Inn, under an atrocious thunderstorm which soaked us to the skin. Both families shared a table and enjoyed the rather splendid ales offered by the CAMRA pub.

Monday, 14 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Romiley to Higher Poynton

Cheshire Ring - Romiley to Higher Poynton
14th August 2006
Peak Forest Canal and Macclesfield Canals

16 Miles
16 Locks
9 Hours

It was a short run from Romiley, through the Hyde Bank Tunnel and onto the bottom of the spectacular Marple Flight. Running alongside Brabyns Park and then through Marple itself, this is unquestionably one of my favourite flights. The chambers are made of huge blocks of limestone brought down from Bugsworth basins with short, curved intervening pounds, all tucked away in groves of trees. There may be 16 of them but they are such a delight that they pass all too quickly.

During our passage there was a problem with the water levels in some of the short pounds and in one the level was nearly a metre down, rendering navigation almost impossible. Jeff became stuck mid channel and was only able to progress when a lock of water was run through under him. But I could only do this once because of the limited supplies in the next pound up.

After the Marple flight we made our way firstly to the Whaley Bridge terminus, filled with water and then went to explore the Bugsworth Basin complex. As we entered we saw much arm waving and there was nb Susan, who we had accompanied up the Rochdale and Ashton the previous day. We moored up alongside and sampled an excellent pint in the Navigation Inn, before taking a good look at the drained inner basin, and the remains of the inclined plane which once connected the Peak Forest Canal with the the Cromford via the High Peaks Tramway.

We were both completing the Cheshire Ring in 6 days, so we didn't spend the night there, though we would have liked to. Instead we returned to the junction at Marple and then moved down the Macclesfield past the impressive Goyt Mill. With evening approaching we pressed on past High Lane and into Higher Poynton, mooring just opposite the shallow flashes and near the excellent Braidbar Boats.

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily
14th August 2006
Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest Canals

14 Miles
27 Locks
11 Hours

We had been strongly advised to stay in Castlefields for the night and given our late arrival we didn't have a choice. The mooring is surprisingly good for such a central location, and we awoke to the rattle of trains bringing commuters into Piccadilly Station on a fine and sunny Monday morning.

One hears dreadful stories of the Ashton Canal, with yobs running amok on and in boats so we decided on the tried and tested approach of sneaking past early in the morning, before they stir their adolescent a***s out of their beds. We were up with the larks and engaged with the first of the Rochdale Nine by six am. I may have been up but I wasn't really awake, and as a result dropped my first (and so far only) windlass into the lock. It slipped off the paddle gear, bounced off the balance beam, was nearly caught as it tumbled to the ground but took an unlucky bounce and slithered over the concrete and polp! straight into the cut.

Surprisingly, we weren't the first boat out. A "stealth" hire boat had beaten us to it was was already three locks ahead. The Ahab team is an awesome sight when we are moving in full flow and in spite of their efforts to keep ahead we kept making ground on them. Realising that our progress was unstoppable they slowed just below Bridgewater Hall and we continued up working the locks as a pair - which was much easier for all concerned.

The towpath around Canal Street is very obscure at times and as I was working the locks it fell to me to run around the streets and finding access points to the cut. Canal Street is interesting in the day but probably not to my taste at night, if the discarded syringes and prophylactics (used) were anything to go by! Jeff and Tilly are innocent little souls so we suggested that they take a break and manage the boat through this section!

After about 2.5 hours of effort we emerged blinking from the subterranean last lock and intro Ducie Wharf. The Rochdale continues on straight ahead, but we took a right under Ducie Street Bridge, which marks the start of the 7 mile Ashton Canal. This stretch parallels the inner city sections of the BCN, with the combined estates of Ancoats, Clayton and Audenshaw representing the danger zone, which until recently demanded a BW escort. But it was still early and as we ended up in front the the other boat, we set the pace , leaving a bottom sluice open behind us to ensure they could keep close astern. The area is clearly undergoing a massive regeneration, with the tower blocks giving way to the Manchester City Stadium and the National Cycling Centre. Posh flats are being built to the north of the canal, complete with a big new basin and repro drawbridge. It was only as we approached Clayton that the deprivation started to make itself felt, but we didn't see a single gathering of kids till Fairfield Junction, by which time it was too late for them to bother us.

The M60 marks a boundary and the inner city Manchester quickly falls away and is replaced by a much more pleasant Aston Under Lyme and Portland Basin. We were in need of supplies so we entered the bottom of the Huddersfield Narrow, passing under ASDA, which spans the canal and forms a long rectangular tunnel. Belle and Tilly were dropped off at the far end whilst Jeff and I carried on the the winding hole just below lock W1. The little used Huddersfield Narrow was enticing and was identified as a future route for a Wand'ring Bark adventure.

The afternoon was completed by the first 4 lockless miles of the Peak Forest Canal, winding along beside the River Tame, often surrounded by trees. It was immediately apparent that this is a narrow and shallow channel, with progress slowed to little over 2mph. We finally moored Romiley, nearly 12 hours after leaving Castlefield and dined on fish and chips purchased from a shop on the High Street. Jeff had another stab at fishing, but this time without success.

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Moore to Castlefield Manchester

Cheshire Ring - Moore to Castlefield Manchester
13th August 2006

23 Miles
0 Locks
8 Hours

The Bridgewater slides along the southern bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which can be glimpsed form time to time from the canal's lofty 83ft contour. The canal is popular with moorers and boats line the route for mile after mile, slowing progress but adding interest to this lockless waterway.

Shortly after passing under the M6's notorious Thelwell Viaduct (we were travelling faster than the traffic) we passed through Lymm, a pretty town which catered well for a provisioning trip. Then it was on through open country for about four miles before reaching Sale, the M60 and onto Waters Meeting, the arm (was the old main line) leading to the Barton Swing Aqueduct. The section from Sale gets progressively inner city, hemmed in with run down factories and wasteland. I have a liking for this sort of post industrial waterway, all lonely and seemingly unloved.

As we had reached Manchester in good time I convinced Belle that you really can't pass the Barton Swing Aqueduct by on account of it being on the seven wonders of the Waterways (an argument I have used on more than seven occasions!). The run out past the Trafford Centre was quiet in the extreme, with only a handful of fisherman to keep us company. The aqueduct offered fine views up and down the deserted MSC, and we turned in the Worsley Cruising Club's winding hole, returning for a second viewing of this extraordinary structure. With evening approaching we scurried back to the main Bridgewater Canal taking a left past Manchester United'sTrafford Park and the famous Throstle Bridge. We are expert canal football finders and it grieved us sorely that there was a prime MUFC ball in the scrub next to the stadium. Sadly, it was tantalisingly out of reach and had to be left behind.

After good views of Salford Quays we passed Pomona Lock, entry point to the Docks and the Irwell. Another backwater which will have to wait for another year. We finally approached Castlefield Junction in the gathering gloom and ate fish and chips to the accompanyment of skateboarders on the steps opposite. The whole area seemed like one big set from Cold Feet. After we had eaten Jeff and the Captn extracted their rods and did a spot of fishing under the railway viaduct arches. The memorable feature of this evening was Jeff catching his very first fish - it was only a tiddler but I wish I had a camera with me to capture the moment.

Castlefield offers a surprisingly secure and peaceful spot for an overnight stay.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Bartington Wharf to Moore

Cheshire Ring - Bartington Wharf to Moore
12th August 2006
Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater

6 Miles
1 Lock
3 Hours

This is an account of an clockwise circuit of the Cheshire Ring in Black Prince's nb Kiwi. The trip had been booked long before we seriously thought about buying our own boat,and by the time we had we would have lost nearly £600 had we cancelled.

In addition, Wand'ring Bark needed some major internal alterations to accommodate two teenagers and the trip offered access to a relatively remote section, so we went ahead. However, it did seem rather perverse to be taking a hire boat out when our own craft was bobbing at her moorings a mere 80 miles away!

Kiwi was a good 6 berth boat, with a cabin each for Tilly and Jeff. We picked he up from Black Prince's Bartington Wharf base at the northern end of the Trent and Mersey and departed at about 3.00pm, after the necessary but rather frustrating hirer's briefing. In no time at all we were passing through the broad Dutton Stop Lock and making a mad dash to catch up with the short line of boats passing into the Preston Brook Tunnel - before the traffic lights turned red. We very nearly made it and were on the final approach when the colour changed. Never mind, we speeded up a bit and soon caught up with the last of the convoy, emerging long before the lights at the other end turned green.

Just beyond the M56 motorway the Bridgewater splits with the Runcorn Arm on the left and the Bridgewater on the right. We skipped the Runcorn arm - leaving it as a destination for a future trip, and pressed on through open farmland dotted with stands of trees. The canal is broad and deep allowing an easy passage.

We had no plans for a long journey on the first day, we just wanted to have travelled far enough to ensure we could reach Castlefield Basin in central Manchester on the Sunday evening. We therefore stopped at at Moore Bridge, which offers quiet and secluded moorings.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Journey Home - Great Haywood to Calf Heath

Tuesday 13th June 2006
Great Haywood to Calf Heath
Staffs and Worcester Canal

14 Miles
12 Locks
6 hours

It was a perfect start to the day, waking to the sound of ducks nibbling at the weed on the hull and the birds singing in the nearby trees. But the weather didn't hold and steadily deteriorated as we moved westwards. By the time we reached Penkridge and the start of the climb up to Gailey the rain has set in, penetrating our coats and soaking us to the skin.

There was a moment of confusion as we sailed Wand'ring Bark into the marina for the first time. Which mooring bay was ours? - they all look the same from the water. Luckily my car was parked immediately in front of our berth and acted as a landmark to guide us in.

1st voyage completed without mishap and more importantly, without discovering any mechanical issues with the boat.

Monday, 12 June 2006

Journey Home - Amington to Gt Haywood

Monday 12th June 2006
Amington to Gt Haywood
Coventry Canal, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and Trent & Mersey Canal

27 Miles
7 Locks
10 hours

A slightly shorter day but glorious sunshine all the way. Mr M decided it was his duty to maintain a steady supply of liquid refreshment as we made our way through Glasgote Fazely, Seethay, Fradley and them along the Trent and Mersey through Rugely to moor at Great Haywood, just as the sun sank beneath the horizon. At we neared Gt Haywood we reviewed the substantial pile of empties and wondered just how we had managed to consume so much... little and often seemed to be the answer!

We elected to pass through Gt Haywood lock and moor just before Haywood Junction, allowing us to walk back into the village for some pub food, and another pint or so. On this particular evening an art class was in full swing painting all aspects and details of the locks. They watched as I stepped between the open lower gates and observed that it was a good thing I hadn't been drinking. Curiously, it was a thought that had just passed through my inebriated consciousness and for a moment I had considered taking the long way round, just to be on the safe side. Whilst their warning was a bit late, they did have a point!

We had a good meal in the village pub, a regular destination which never fails to satisfy. The mooring was quiet and due to the warmth of the night we slept with the hatches open.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Journey Home - Brinklow to Amington

Sunday 11th June 2006
Brinklow to Amington
Oxford Canal and Coventry Canal

30 Miles
12 Locks
11 Hours

A long day of glorious weather interrupted by a thunderstorm as we descended the flight of locks at Atherstone.

About half way down the flight we met a boater coming up who paid an unusual interest in our craft. Don't get me wrong, Wand'ring bark is a lovely boat and is very interesting to me but viewed objectively she is an unremarkable, modern, mid sized boat and why someone would pay her close attention was something of a mystery. All sorts of questions were asked including, as a finale, the question "how much did you pay for her?". I muttered a generalisation only to stand corrected by Jeff to the exact pound (he likes things exact) which elicited an "ah - that's interesting from the enquirer. He then looked at Wand'ring Bark which was lying front on above the lock and said - "that's Piccolo, isn't it?". I am not often lost for words but stood amazed with my mouth hanging open like he had performed a conjuring trick in front of me. "OK, that's amazing" I replied, "you can't see the side of the boat, only the front doors and you know the boats name. Yes, it is Piccolo but how do you know that?" He grinned and told me that they had sold Piccolo to Whilton Marina a couple of months previously and were making a return journey with their new longer (albeit older) craft which they had bought for £44k.

I never did enquire what they sold her for. There are some things that it are better left unknown. I am satisfied with the price we paid and don't need to have a nagging thought in my mind that I paid maybe £2k more than I needed to.
One interesting observation based on this encounter. When we were negotiating with Whilton Marina they held out that they were selling on behalf of the owner and at one stage left the room to "call the owner". That was a crass negotiating ploy which is best relegated to used car salesmen. Whilton Marina were the owners and they were just playing silly bu****s. Buyers beware....

His wife was equally excited at the sight of their old boat coming past them and, when we emerged from the lock, she went somewhat misty eyed reflecting on the three years they had owner her. Having exchanged information about known faults and recent service history, he commented that his big regret was leaving the unusual kettle on board - he had been unable to find a replacement like it. Oddly, Belle had been particularly taken with the kettle when we agreed to buy the boat and I have sometimes wondered if it was the kettle which sold the boat. We had previously ended up buying a tent instead of a camping kettle.... Hmm, something to muse on.

With the weekend over, Tilly and Jeff had school to get back to so we did a quick change of crew at bridge 50, outside Polesworth. Tilly and Jeff left and were replaced by Kevin M, with whom we had made tentative plans to but a narrowboat the year before. With a couple of hours of daylight remaining we continued down the Coventry Canal, finally mooring up at Alvecote Marina, previously home to the Samuel Barlow fleet. Whilst the pub wasn't serving food we downed a couple of very acceptable pints and watched two widebeam boats being craned into the water for RCD testing.

The restored working boat Samuel Barlow was being tested up and down the cut. The crew were taking her up to full speed and with her high torque engine and no load, wow did she shift.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

Journey Home - Whilton to Brinklow

Whilton to Brinklow
10th June 2006
Grand Union Canal and Northern Oxford Canal

20 Miles
12 Locks
8 Hours

Wand'ring bark was purchased from Whilton Marina in late May 2006 under the name Piccolo but a family trip to America delayed the inaugural journey to her new home mooring at Calf Heath, on the Staffs and Worcester Canal. Due to pressing OU assignment, Belle's role was confined to taxi driver and the first two days were undertaken by the Captain, supported by Tilly and Jeff.

Whilton Marina had held Wand'ring Bank (nee Piccolo) pending our return from America and we found her lying on the main line, just outside the marina entrance. The location is sandwiched between the M1 and the busy Westcoast Mainline and a mixture of the traffic noise and the excitement of finally owning our own narrowboat resulted in a very broken first night aboard. Saturday 10th was the start of England's 2006 World Cup campaign, with a match against Paraguay. We were keen to watch this match if at all possible and after close reference to our trusty Pearson's aimed for the Old Royal Oak pub at bridge 73 of the Northern Oxford. We made it to the pub with 20 mins to spare, secured excellent seats and settled in to watch a very satisfying England win.

After a 2 hour footballing hiatus we pressed on, finally mooring in a quiet area of parkland near Brinklow (bridge 35) under a clear blue sky. Whilst Wand'ring Bark had performed perfectly during the day, this first trip had highlighted some profoundly irritating features which were deemed unacceptable and demanded rectification before travel resumed. The Capt unpacked his toolkit and removed the TV ariel in an act of constructive vandalism (we never watch live TV on the boat). More significantly, we also took a hacksaw to the tiller arm. The tiller arm was so long that it it threatened to sweep anyone on the rear deck into the cut and was a good twelve inches longer than it needed to be. Ten minutes of sawing addressed the problem and having reattached the wooden handle, the new configuration was a major improvement. The provision of an oversized tiller arm appears to be a feature of Floating Homes, the hull manufacturers, and may suggest that whilst they are metal fabricators of note, that are not boaters.

All in all a memorable first day and one which proved that although the boat needed some significant modification / upgrading, it was fundamentally sound and without significant fault.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Honey - Whittington to Rugby

Whittington to Rugby
May 2006
Coventry Canal, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Oxford Canal (northern section)

40 Miles
14 Locks
2 Days

With Florida looming, we decided we would divide to conquer. Belle would stay at home packing and studying, leaving me to complete the trip with Tilly and Jeff.

On the Friday evening Belle returned us to Whittington, where Honey was moored all safe and sound (prayers of thanks).

We were off with the larks the following morning, up through the slow Goscote locks and then the long Atherstone flight.

Honey behaved herself and the two days passed in a blur, burrowing under the M62 and then the M6 before emerging in Ansty and on to Rugby.

As we approached Rugby we received a phone call from Mr Truth wondering where we were. We soon realised that we were about 200 years apart and that he had found a good mooring in a park, opposite Tesco. Crucially, it was close to a beefeater pub and the next phase was clearly a booze cruise!

Mrs Truth swapped husband and two cronies for the Captain plus children, dropping us off at home and the prospect of two weeks in America.

Honey did indeed make it to Little Venice and this time without significant mechanical mishap. I am advised that one crew member went for an unexpected swim near Whilton but the less said about that the better.

The return journey was again undertaken by Messrs Whately Snr and Jnr who reached Stone as the closest achievable point to the Tatton Festival. Her stern gland problem reared its head again on the return journey, and I paid her a quick visit at Tamworth with Mr Whateley to apply remedial treatment, and pump out the many gallons of water which had found its way into her bilges.

That was the last I saw of Honey. Her engine seized and extensive work was required at Stone boatyard. I think she has since been sold on to a friend of Mr Primrose so if you see a very scruffy springer, now painted British Racing Green, clock her location and let me know if she is still afloat.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Honey - Calf Heath to Whittington

Calf Heath to Whittington
May Shuttle 2006 - phase one
Staffs and Worcester Canal, Trent & Mersey Canal and Coventry Canal (detatched section)

31 Miles
17 Locks

Honey was off on her travels again, returning to serve as accommodation for the 2006 Chelsea Flower Fesitval. A relay team had been sorted out, organised by the Captain. The bulk of the trip south would be undertaken my Mt Truth, supported by a variety of friends and conscripts.

Due to a holiday to Florida, The Captian's contribution had to be limited to two weekend shuttle trips, getting Honey as far as Rugby before handing her over.

Phase one, Calf Heath to Whittington, was undertaken by The Captain and Belle, whilst both Tilly and Jeff were elsewhere, a rare weekend alone.

Saturday started with a two car trip to Whittington and a mooring identified during the previous year's hire boat (Conrcrake from ABC Leisure) Black Country Ring trip. The first day way ideal spring weather, bright and fresh, but with a nip in the evening air. We made our way down the Staffs and Worcester mooring up below Gt Haywood lock, eating in the nearby pub. The night was particularly memorable as we lay snuggled under our duvet with the stove chugging away beside us.

As we started to doze off Bell observed what a perfect day it had been and how much she had enjoyed it. I think her actual words were " I am amazed, I have found this absolutely lovely and Honey is a horrible boat (a bit harsh in my view but not that far wide of the mark in reality). If I like boating on Honey how much better would it be in a nice boat of our own". With that she fell asleep and my mind went into overdrive.

The next way was cold and blustery. We made our way through Armitage and Fradley Junction, turning down the disconnected part of the Coventry Canal passed Seethay wher we refilled with diesel. During this stage we talked about buying a boat, what it would cost and what would have to happen to make the dream a reality. We concluded that it would need an income uplift of £200 pm minimum and left it at that.

We made it to Whittington and our parked car by 3.00pm leaving Honey securely moored and sheeted down. I left her with a prayer for safety.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Honey - Easter 2006

Easter 2006
Calf Heath to Stone and back

46 Miles
32 Locks

I had worked on Honey over the winter, readying her for her BSC and sorting out the practicalities of her dry docking with Phil Jones. As a reward, Mr Primrose agreed to let me use her for an Easter trip and the plan was to do an anticlockwise trip round the Four Counties ring in the company of Jeff and Tilly. Belle was poorly with a bad cold and leaving her to some peace and quiet after a difficult winter seemed like a good idea.

We made it to Tixall on the first day, mooring on the wide with very little company. It was bitterly cold so we maintained a fire in the grate all the time. Tilly was in the cabin up front and I shared the cross bed with Jeff - all cosy and warm.

Our destination for day two was supposed to be Eturia in Stoke on Trent, but in the event I received a call from Belle just south of Stone. Far from feeling better she was much worse with a terrible temperature and her sister (Bag lady) coming to look after her. I spoke to Bag Lady - what should I do? Well, Belle is really ill, you really need to get back asap was her reply.
I agreed to rush back but the words rush and canals are not comfortable bedfellows.

I had to press on to a winding point just short of The Star and retrace my steps with all speed. We pressed on and on, finally running out of light and energy two locks below the top of the Gailey flight where we were forced to moor. An early start saw us back at the marina by mid morning and home by noon.

Belle was indeed really ill and was confined to bed for a week.

I have since made numerous forays around the Four Counties Ring, which is on our back doorstep. I have covered every mile, some bits many times, but to this day I have never actually made it all the way round in a single uninterrupted trip. Maybe 2009 is the year!

Update 10.1.2010 - 2009 wasn't the year and I still havn't done it!