Sunday, 28 February 2010

Jeff schmooses with the Hollywood set

Jeffs new best friend
February 2010

My links to the rugby film Invictus have kindled Jeff's interest in the sport. He has seen he film twice and has even started to watch the Six Nations competition - bad luck about yesterday when I thought they had it!.

Jeff with Zak Feaunati Feb 2010

Imagine his delight when he discovered that his new found hero, Zak Feaunati, was coming round for a meal.

Normally when we have friends round for a meal Jeff is conspicous by his absence, preferring the company of his Playstation. Not tonight - tonight Jeff announced that "of course I am joining you for dinner - what are we having?" But the attraction wasn't the food, it was the company.

Zak was tipped off about his latest devotee and came armed with Invictus paraphenalia. Jeff tested the original "Lomu" All Blacks shirt for size and examined each if the photo still with great attention, but it was the man he he really wanted to see.

Zak was charming, posing for a photo with Jeff which will no doubt become a treasured posession.

Thanks mate, you are a hero.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Coal Boats on the Grand Union

Working narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal

During our early travels on the Canals in the late 1960's there was still a bit of commercial traffic around, particularly on the Grand Union where bulk coal was being moved from the pits of Warwickshire to north London by water.

These were no "hobby craft" re-enacting the golden days of commercial traffic, these were the last remnant of the real thing. It's true that bagged coal is still moved by water, but this is moved by boaters for baters. Not the lose bulk coal which had to be emptied by sweat of a man's (or woman's) brow.

I am no great sentimentalist with a wistful hankering for a return to waterborne transport, far from it. The canals were built for 18th century volumes of commerce - can you imagine the country surviving with trade limited to 200 lorries moving along the M1 each day? However, there was something majestic about the sight of a fully laden pair pressing on purposefully down the canal at twilight, heading for who knows where. Impractical yes, but much more atmospheric than a couple of Fodens or Volvos parked up at Watford Gap Services.

These are the images I treasure most from those early trips.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Craik 1973 - Ouse

Ouse 1973

1973 marked a shift away from the canals in favour of the Fenland river navigations.

Craik 1973

We ventured into these waters for two consecutive years, initially hiring Craik from Hoseasons and exploring the River Ouse, the Cam, the Wissey and the Lark.

With Dr D otherwise engaged (quite literally) boating became a three person affair and at the age of 12, I was deemed old enough to take my turn at the helm and most importantly, to operate the locks.

Matilda dnd Capt Ahab on Craik

A bit of explanation about the Ahab family dynamics is needed here.

  • Mother Ahab (Matilda) is a wizz at driving cars but when it comes to boats she has a complete blind spot. No matter how much she tries, she can't get used to steering it "the wrong way". This was a problem back in the 1960's and to be honest, it remains a problem today, to the extent that I wouldnt even ask her to steer Wand'ring Bark out of a lock!. Matilda's role was focussed on galley duties (little somethings and mugs of tea were a speciality) plus rope holding. As I reflect on it, her continued support for my fathers boating adventures is a true sign of her love for him.

  • That left the Capt Snr. Now he was wildly enthusiastic about his boating and as soon as he took control of the craft he was away, lost in a watery world of his own. The problem was his mobility, or rather his lack of it. The Capt Snr was injured in WW2 with a bullet passing through one thigh, ripping out large amounts of muscle and vein. As a result he was unable to walk great distances and could easily find himself suddenly lame and virtually unable to move at all. This disability was a huge frustration for him, and boating was an ideal way to allow him to be out and about in the countryside, without too much walking.

So as I said, lock duties fell to me. The locks on the Ouse and it's tributaries were, at the time, all of the manual guillotine variety. This meant labouriously winding the bottom gate up and down to allow the boat to pass underneath. This usually involved a couple of hundred stiff turns in both directions over a sweat inducing period of ten minutes or so. Heartbreak Hill had nothing on Fenland cruising.

The sign says "hand operated" - like I didn't know it!

I believe that these locks have all been automated over the years, but it was interesting to encounter a couple of manual guillotine locks on the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals last Easter, when the twinges of back ache brought back memories of the stiffness I endured on the Fens in the 1970's.

We made it up to Cambridge and has a mooch up the Lark and Wissey, but never went down as far as Denver Sluice, which sounded so remote and mysterious. To this day I havn't been to the Sluice, or experienced the delights of Salters Lode. It's a bit off the track from a Midlands base, but one day...

These were wild and empty waters, with few other boats to be seen and cruising was mostly within the confines of high embankments . Maybe it's not surprising that landmark events were thin on the ground. 

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Lindy Helen - 1971

Lindy Helen - 1971
Llangollen Canal

Among the many "pre narrowboats" cruisers we hired, one stands out.  I am referring to the Lindy Helen which was hired from Llangollen, Trevor or somewhere near the top of the Langollen Canal from a man named Mr Smout. It's strange that I remember his name but can't remember the hire base. Why am I thinking Maestermyn Cruisers? But maybe that was a later trip. I have a feeling that Mr Smout was stout - an unkind rhyme which stuck in my adolescent mind!

 Lindy Helen - Promotional Postcard circa 1970

The thing about Lindy Helen was her unusual carvel construction, made out of mahogany with the planks held together with some sort of brass rivets. As you may have gathered, I like wood - real wood, and in particular I am a sucker for varnished hardwood. In Lindy Helen I found acres of highly glossed hardwood and I spent a very happy week staring at the woodwork as I fell asleep.

  Lindy Helen emerges from a tunnel

If you are going to build a wooden cruiser, this is pretty much how it should look - a period classic! It is a narrower version of the classic 1950's Broads Cruisers, about whaich I am also very enthusiastic.

However, all was not well with the good ship LH. Sure, she carries us all the way down to the Shropshire Union and back again, but somewhere along the way we must have hit a rock which set off a vibration. I say a vibration like it was the sort of tremor we saw in the puddle scene in Jurassic Park. What I actually mean is the whole boat shuddered on the way back and in the absence of a weedhatch (how did we manage without?) we had no way of telling what the problem was.

Crossing Chirk Aqueduct

I guess that this followed our problem with the bent propshaft on Halcyon the previous year, so it was probably attributed to the same thing. In the event, Mr Smout encouraged one of his staff to take an early bath in the canal only to discover that there were only two blades on our propeller!

Crossing Pont Aqueduct and the Vale of Llangollen

Looking back we seem to have been very hard on our boats, or maybe the craft were flimsy, or the canals were shallow and poorly maintained, or maybe a bit of all three. Whatever the reason, we returned yet another boat to it's owner in a broken down state and scuttled off with out tails between our legs.

It's a good job that the boatyards didnt maintain a blacklist of hirers, or Capt Ahab Snr would most certainly have been close to the top of it!

Update October 2014:

Lindy Helen up for sale.

Lindy Helan has been fully restored and is looking for a new owner. Here are some photos of her in 2014 - almost 50 years after we hired her.

For more details follow this link.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The bridges of Salford Quays

The bridges of Salford Quays
February 2010

With a title like this you almost expect to see Meryl Streep making an appearance.

 Swing bridge - like the Barton Swing Aqueduct

Sadly Ms Streep was not inevidence at the time of my visit but there was a very fine selection of contrasting bridges to photograph.

 Dutch style lift bridge
I hope you like my collection.

Vertical lift pedestrian bridge at the Lowry.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Salford Quays

Salford Quays
February 2010

One of our business offices is located on Salford Quays and a recent visit offered an opportunity to take an hour out to have a look at the place.

 Salford Quays

I parked up at the Lowry Shopping Outlet and venturted forth into a bighting cold wind coming straight off the snow covered Pennines to the east ( or maybe it was the Urals, the next highest point to the east).

I wasn't too sure what to expect, with my only previous contact being the glimpses one gets from the perspective of the Bridgewater Canal, and a fleeting cameo over the top of Pomona Lock. We did toy with the idea of gaining access to the docks as part of last Easter's South Pennine Ring trip, but in the end thought the better of it and just as well given the slowness of the Huddersfield Narrow and western Rochdale.

Salford Quays walkway

Whilst I am used to the sprawling acres of London's Docklands, Salford Quays way exceeded my expectations. The place is huge and the section occupied by the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum makes up only a small part of it. I had niavely thought I would walk round it but no way. To explore this are one either needs a whole day or a bike, and I had neither.

In the event I explored the northern section, covering maybe a quarter of the circumference.  I hadn't realised that it was a whole network of docks with a number of locks between them. Most docks are accessible to boats, although some have been closed off by low bridges. Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is the quality of the water. It was crystal clear in places, letting you see 10ft down to the bed of the dock. Mind you, one canal bed looks very much like another with the usual scattering of stolen bikes, beercans and shopping trollies in evidence.

Heavy duty mooring hooks

I can see a real appeal in gaining access to this watery wonderland in summer, taking a few days to explore all the basins, sample the local resteraunts and visit all the attractions. One day, when I have time, I have pledged to return with Wand'ring Bark and book a passage through Pomona Locks.

 Inner Basin, Salford Quays

As well as the Quays there is also the River Irwell through the city and for the poineering there is the start of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal. A veritable smorsgaboard of obscure waterways.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Cromford Canal Cruising Cuide - Day Three

Day three - Pinxton Wharf to Cromford
14 miles 0 locks

Whilst the the locks are behind you the drama of this route is set to increase. Its an early start to get you back to Ironville and round the Codnor Reservoir and then on the final mile to the eastern portal of the restored Butterley Tunnel. This tunnel is low and narrow and operates a one way system - west in the mornings and east in the afternoon. This tunnel collapsed in 1900 and remained unpassable for over a century before a third of its length was rebored and lined with concrete sleeve at a cost of £5m.

You will emerge form the tunnel blinking into the afternoon sun, and almost immediately find yourself looking down into the Amber valley. Initially the canal hugs the southern bank of the valley, rising higher and higer with the road and railway falling away below. Finally, just as the canal shelf becomes improbably narrow and steep, it takes a sharp right at Sawmills and leaps across to the northern side over the new aqueduct. You are now well into Derbyshire, and the nature of the villages has changed. The canal works its way through Bull Bridge following a route which is close to it's original but then carving a detour round a large industrial site before rejoining the original canal at Ambergate.

The canal is now narrow and shallow, similar to the  wastern end of the Llangollen, and also prone to slippages which have plagued the canal since its construction. This is extreme contouring which is all the more amazing when you remember that the canal was built with a summit pound of 14 miles in such hilly country. The canal perches on the eastern side of the Amber Valley, with the River Derwent carving its majestic turns along the valley floor. This final run is along a wood lined route, with good moorings available beside the Derwent Hotel at Whatstandwell. 

From here its is just four more miles to the terminus at Cromford, but not before the dramatic crossing of the Derwent on William Jessop's Wigwell aqueduct. If you are in luck, the pumping engine will be in operation, lifting 4 tons of water every twenty seconds, just as it has for the last  years. Cromford Wharf is your final destination, with attractive moorings available which provide an excellent springboard for the Derbyshire attractions in the vicinity, including Matlock Bath.

This is a lovely spot and you can expect hot competition for a mooting near Arkwrights Mill. Spend a few days here and enjoy the sights and sounds for which Derbyshire is rightly famed.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Cromford Canal Cruising Guide - Day Two

Day two - Langley Mill to Pinxton Wharf
7 miles and 7 locks

It is generally recognised that the last couple of miles into Langley Mill providesa taster of what lies beyond. Langley Mill marks the end of the Erewash Canal and the start of the Cromford Cana,l which will carry you the next 16 miles deep into the hills of Derbyshire.

 Langley Mill moorings

Langley Mill is a watershed in your trip, with your passage under the busy A610 tranforming what was a largely industrial canal route into one of rural tranquility and abundant wildlife. Biu don't be misled by what you see today. You are now entering the old coal mining area, ravaged by rampant subsidence and opencast mines which obliterated the next couple of miles of canal . The canal you travel on is all new. As you glide across the open meadows and shallow lakes, remember that this used to be a hive of industry and where there are now Coots and Cormorants there used to be coal cacophony.

Sart of the Ironville flight

Having crossed the Erewash on a small aqueduct the canal follows its original path to the flight of seven locks which lift you up to the model village of Ironville, built by the Butterley Company, then owners of the canal. Some boaters choose to moor alongside the expansive Codnor Reservoir but most decide to press on up the three mile lockless Pinxton Arm.

Pinxton Wharf

This interesting detour is not to be missed, skirting beneath the tower of Ironville Church before crossing the site of the reinstated Somtherfly opencast mine and then into the tranquility of Pinxton Wharf. There is nowhere quite like this location, with moored boats lined up on an autumnal evening, smoke curling from their  chimneys as their owners swap watery tales in the welcoming embrace of the Boat Inn.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Cromford Canal Cruising Guide 2020

Cromford Canal Cruising Guide
 February 2010

Having explored the full length of the Cromford and Erewash canals in some detail, I thought it would be a good idea to pull back and reflect on the the big picture, a sort of a round up review.

With cruiseway status already conferred on the little travelled Erewash and restoration plans progressing on the Cromford, how better to review this contrasting pair of waterways than by the publication of a virtual cruising guide. Set aside the troubles of 2010 and leaf through the new canal guide, published in time for the new 2020 boating season. 

Cromford and Erewash  Canal Cruising Guide

Welcome to the 2020 cruising guide to the Cromford and Erewash Canals.

After the exciting reopening ceremonies of 2019, the canals are now ready and waiting for their first full season of visitors. A cruise to the terminus at Cromford Wharf offers a varied boating experience which can be achieved in three days if you are on a strict timetable, but the beauty of the area means that most visitors are likely take it at a more leisurely pace, savouring what has justifiably been described as the "Llangollen of the east".

We hope you share our delight in this unique network of restored canals on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border.

Day One - Trent Lock to Langley Mill
12 miles and 15 locks

Most visitors take an overnight stop at Trent Lock, where the River Trent, the Trent and Mersey Canal, The River Soar and the Erewash canal combine. This is one of the great inland waterway crossroads and is blessed by an excellent pub, The Steamboat, plus a Tea Rooms  and BW services, which are few and far between in these parts. This spot is very popular with non boaters, so you can expect  to attract quite an audience as you leave the Trent behind.

 Sandiacre mills
After a few miles of level cruising the Erewash Canal starts it's relentless climb, rising through Sandiacre and Ilkeston via 15 broad locks. This lower section of the canal is mainly industrial and urban, but it is not without interest. The old cotton mills of Sandiacre have been sympathetically restored and converted into housing, adding a spectacular backdrop to the waterway. This canal used to be known for its rubbish, but with the arrival if more boats has restored local pride in this once great waterway which, in its day, delivered riches beyond the wildest dreams of it's investors. This ribbon of water gave access to the rich coalfields in the north and was the enterprise of its day.

Cotmanhay nr Shipley Lock

Most boaters press on beyond Shipley Lock where the urban gives way to countryside, mooring amid quiet fields and small farms. But for those in need of refreshment there is always the Great Northern Inn at Langley Mill which offers locally brewed Kimberley Ales and food at very reasonable prices. Limited mooring is available at the Junction with the Nottingham Canal (currently being restored) but these is plenty of quiet towpath mooring below Langley Lock.

Langley Lock pre 1900

Look out for the old toll house bedside Langley Mill Lock, a rare surviving relic of the canal in it's heyday.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Lisa 1972

Lisa 1972
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal

I think 1972 must have marked a low point in the Ahab family fortunes.

Capt Ahab, Matilda and Dr D

Till this point each boat seemed to be a progression on the one before, but now it was back to earth with a bump!

We hired Lisa for an Easter week on the Monmouthshire Brecon Canal, but for some reason I always think of it as the Brecon and Abergavenny. Maybe time has seen a shift on the canal 's name.

Friends and family

Lisa was a poor old craft costing, I think, £25! We got what we paid for.

An uninsulated and unheated fibreglass cruiser is not what you want for a sleety easter in the Welsh hills. It wasn't then and it isn't now. As I recall, there was no escaping the weather, there wasn't even a place to eat inside and all meals had to be taken round a collapsing table in the cockpit. If the precipitation got too bad there was always a pram hood arrangement, but without sides it offered little in the way of protection.

The dining room in "snug" mode

Looking at the photos I can see an attempt was made at creating a makeshift emergency exit on the front deck, but beyond that the boat had little to comment it. I am amazed that Matilda agreed to come on any future boating holidays, or maybe that is why the quality of boats we hired took a sudden turn for the better from that time on.

Capt Tom at the help

One notable feature of this trip was the presence of visitors in the shape of my grandparents (Tom Cooke is steering in some shots) and a Mrs Wiseman, a longstanding friend of the family from Leominster.

The dining room

I fear that my one experience of the Mon and Brec  was, how shall we put it? Ah - the phrase "sub optimal" captures it well. The photos show it was very pretty but nothing looks very good when you are cold to the core.

Cold - but pretty.

Not one of the great cruising trips and sadly, one I have never repeated. I have read many glowing reviews of the canal and I must try and re-explore it again one of these days.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Its Complicated - film review

It's Complicated
Film review
February 2010

I took Tilly to the cinema last night, the Showcase in Erdington which has recently regained its status as the "Ahab cinema of choice".

The visit was unusual because the place was heaving - we had to queue in the wind and rain for ten minutes just to get inside the door, which was rather like the cinema experiences I remember as a teenager. I'm not sure if it was because it was half term, or because it was "Orange Wednesday" or because the ticket buying experience at the nearby Showcase Vue Cinema is so deplorable - maybe its a bit of all three.

Finding a film we will both enjoy is always a challenge, with Tilly leaning towards cartoons and teenage romances - which are the two genres I will try and avoid at all costs! In the end we settled on "It's Complicated", billed as a romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.

The plotline is the classic love lost and love regained, but done with an interesting twist. Instead of teen love or angst ridden thirty someting love (Bridget Jones) this took a very mature love, love in the 50's and all the scope for happiness and heartache that can entail.

Without blowing the plot, Meryl Streep was married to Alec Baldwin for 20 years before he ran off with a younger woman, but all was not happiness. Meanwhile, Streep takes five years to start getting over him and then another five to establish herself as a successful businesswoman and complete the task of raising their three children.

Come the graduation ceremony of one of the kids, Mum and Dad meet up and wonder, does the flame still flicker? Indeed it did, and before you knew it she has assumed the role of mistress to her ex husband, who is now married to the woman who was the mistress before their divorce. They had warned that it's complicated!

The twists and turns of this rekindled romance leave acres of scope for confusion, misunderstanding and farce, which is where Steve Martin comes in playing a remarkably straight role as the would be suitor.

That's as much of the plot as I am prepared to reveal. The key thing about this movie is the reaction it had on the audience. Many comedies play fo a silent audience but not "It's Complicated". Within minutes the film has us in stitches, falling about at the excruciating embarrassment of many scenes. I laughed so much I actually cried, and that dosn't happen to Capt Ahab!

If you like Meryl Streep, and you fancy a good laugh, go an see this film. Of you miss it on the big screen, dont worry. It is carried by the plotline and not the image, so it's a perfect candidate for a successful switch to the small screen format.

Ahab rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Working Pair on Grand Union Canal, 1969

Unidentified working boats from 1969
February 2009

My brother has managed to convert all our old boating transparencies into digital format, which has given me access to a large selection of photos going back to 1968.

I have already used a number of these images in my accounts of our voyages in 1968 and 1969, giving a glimpse at pleasure boating from forty years ago. Strangely, although Blogger will allow me to backdate posts to 1968, if I do they won't appear in the date sidebar before 1971. Odd. Ever the pragmatist I have / will use 1971 at the year of publication for the reciods of our first  four trips.

Working narrowboats on the Grand Union 1969

Whilst commercial trade was rare, it still existed and some coal was being transported along the Grand Union. The above photo is of an unknown a working pair running empty on a short rope. These are no carefully restored hobby boats but the real thing, bashed and scarred with a "full" waterline clearly visible on the hull (thats something you rarely see today). Judging by the way thay are coming past they took no prisoners, and expected pleasure boats to "get out of the road".

Well secured mooring pins were the order of the day, as I recall.

Can anyone put a name to the motor boat? The colours on the bows are distinctive.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Keeping the home fires burning

A day of logs and DIY
February 2010
I had one of those rare days when both Belle and Jeff were otherwise engaged, leaving me pretty well free to do whatever I wanted.

Naturally, my 'want' involved a trip to the boat, this time to progress the ongoing shower room project. Now, DIY is probelmatic in sub zero temperatures on a number of accounts:
  1. Wood adhesive wont cure
  2. Yacht varnish thickens, but wont dry properly
  3. My fingers go numb!
Progress has therefore been slow of late, but I have managed to build and varnish the cupboard doors. The task for the day was to get these fitted.

Door one (left) went in like a dream, exactly the right dimensions with maybe three mill clearance top and bottom, the door fitting snugly into its recess. Time to complete the job - 30 mins.

Door two (right) was exactly the same size and shape but would it fit? The heck it would. The problem isn't the doors, it's the cabinet which I had to build by rule of thumb and guesswork, fitting it in as the space in the boat allowed. Inevitably, the resulting appeture wasn't perfectly square and the door had to be tailored to fit.

Two hours later after much jigsawing and planing I finally had door which still looked square, but  at last fitting into it's new home. The problem is getting it closed. Try and I might it still has a 'spring' in it for the last few degrees, which will be overcome with the aid of a sturdy catch. All in all it's looking ok. Time to find some tiles for the shower and splashback.

With the work done by three pm, and nearly two hours of light left in the sky, I decided on a bit of firewood foraging. In November I had reviewed by woodpile at home and calculated that I had enough to last till the spring, but I hadn't accounted for such a cold January. The Ahab logpile has dwindled at an alarming rate and it is apparent that the end will be reached before spring arrives.

During my Christmas trip I spied a tree felled by BW, about half a mile from our moorings. I mentally earmarked this for our grate, but was disturbed to see photos of nb Retirement no Problem cutting logs in the vicinity. Surely they hadn't bagged 'my' tree!

I ventured forth armed with the trusty chainsaw and was relieved to find my tree safe an well in the undergrowth, and the remains of RNP's tree a few hundred yards further on. Half an hour of chainsaw weilding and I had a satisfyingly large pile of cut logs, just enough to fill the well deck of Wand'ring Bark.

 I love the scavenging aspect of boating. By diligently keeping an eye out for felled timber in the autumn I manage to pick up enough free fuel to keep the fire at home going all winter. It's ecologically sound too, because the only carbon I release is what was taken in by the trees over the last coulpe of decades, not carbon stored up in fossis fuels from millenia ago. 

Mind you, there is alway the smoke free zone thing to contend with in the city, but with industry dead no one seems to bothered about that any more!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Barging into Burgundy - book review

Barging into Burgundy - book review
by Gerard Morgan-Grenville
14th February 2010

This is the third and last book in the "Barging into" series by Gerard Morgan-Grenville, writer, traveller and proto eco warrior.

 I was absorbed by his earlier accounts of his 1970's travels in the venerable Virginia Anne, a 150 ton barge which he had nursed from Holland to central France in his first book, Barging into France. He then continued on to the Med and ultimately the Atlantic via the Canal du Midi, which he unpacked in the sequel, aptly called.... Barging into Southern France.

Morgan-Grenville was clearly a man who called  spade a spade and turned in his third book with the pithy title of Barging into Burgundy, and true to it's cover that is exactly what he describes.

If you have read the first two volumes this is more of the same really, a wry slightly self deprecating account of their continuing misadventures on a boat past it's sell by date and on waterways under imminent threat of closure. As such it is a fascinating insight into the French waterways of the day, all presented an a series of fragmented but amusing anecdotes. The course of his travels are unclear and appreciation is enhanced if one has a map of the area to hand.

Whilst the book was a pleasure to read, it lacked the certain someting contained within the first two volumes. The first book handled the realisation of a dream and then the thrills and spills of taking an unreliable craft into unknown waters, and the second took this process further with it's account of the journey south along massive waterways, which regularly threatened to sink his plans to the bottom of the river. All gripping stuff which served to give an underlying direction to the books.

Barging Into Burgundy had none of the "will they?, won't they?" suspense about it, returning to Virginia Ann after six or seven years of ownership for a meander through the canals of mid France, never really reaching any sort of conclusion. Sure there were incidents along the way but nothing of great significance.

Strangely, it was the end that I was looking forward to. Not because I wanted the chronicles to finish but more because I wanted to read about how things ended up. Whilst this turned out to be the last book in the series, I suspect that the author didnt' know it at the time. I half expected a dramatic finale, maybe a catastrophic sinking in the Seine or more likely an spur of the moment sale to a like minder adventurer he met along the way. In the event, nothing like this happened. The boat is simply laid up at the end of the season with a strangely prophetic reference to the casual remarks of a French lock keeper, which appear to have crystallised Morgan-Grenville's thinking and set him on a new course into the area of sustainable lifestyles.

"I'm an old man, but I've lived long enough to see the rise of materialism which is crushing the very people by whose effort it thrives. Perhaps we may all be killed by some war, some accidental holocaust, who knows? I tell you M'sieur: it won't make the slightest difference. We might as well be killed in these ways as by the steady strangulation of the spirit, the erosion of the fundemental satisfaction obtained by doing ordinary things. You must believe me, M'sieur, the machine we have made is killing us".

Very eloquent for a French lock keeper. I suspect this short but skilfully drafted mantra contains more than a little bit of Morgan-Grenville within it, but well said whoever spoke it out!

That is the end of the travels of Virgina Anne. One assumes that the author had found a new interest in life and that the craft was sold, but who knows. 

Answers in the comments box please.

David and Cherles 1975
ISBN 0 7153 6834 6

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cromford Canal Walk, Erewash Meadows and Aldercar Flash

A circular walk including Langley Mill and Brinsley Flashes
Erewash Valley
February 2010

The arial shots of this final length of the Cromford Canal down to Langley Mill fail to do it justice.

Before I dive in with a description of a very pleasant circular walk above Langley Mill, you need to understand a little of the area's history. The foundations of the region lie in it's geology, which in this case is known as the Riddings Anticline out of which no less than 20 coal seams appeared on the surface.

The course of the Cromford Canal

The extraction of coal therefore shaped what you see today, initially in the form of underground mines which collapsed causing the flashes, of which Brinsley is the largest. The southern end nearest Langley Mill was then subjected to open cast mining in the 1980's, and subsequently refilled as an urban refuse site with the infill then covered by the busy A610 we see today. 

Looking north under the A610 - the future path of the Cromford Canal

The resulting valley floor is therefore significantly lower than in the days of the canal and when the river is in flood the water can stretch form one side to the other, ponded bach by the A610 embankment. This wetland is a haven for birds and the whole area has been given over to the Wildlife Trust. Over the years the Trust has worked on the flashes, widening and deepening them so that now over 200 species of bird visit each and every year.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the canal and wildlife lobby groups are in conflict, but the line of the canal has been carefully preserved, particularly in the north of the reserve, with fences marking it's boundaries as far as Boat Lane. Between Boat Lane and the A610 the impact of the opencast mining is greatest, and it is here that the canal crosses from the western side to the east. I suspect that achieving this crossing will be the most challenging aspect of the restoration effort, necessitating a longish embankment which could impede the drainage of an already flood prone area.

Map of the Nature Reserve

Through all this the River Erewash follows it's meandering course, and if you search diligently it is still possible to find the abutments which carried the canal aqueduct. The name Erewash is a derivation of the older Irre - wandering, wisce - wet meadows, ie "wandering boggy meadows" I think that this has a rather nice ring to it and suggets that the area has always been wet and muddy.

There are few clues on the ground about the route followed by the southern section of  the canal, but maps show us that it then clung to the eastern bank before passing under Stoney Lane Bridge, now a mere hump in the road, and then on into Langley Mill passing under a predecessor of todays A610 bridge.

 Stoneyford Bridge - as it was

We walked along the canal path to Boat Lane before crossing the valley on an old steel mining bridge, and then skirted the eastern fields to reach Stoney Lane. This route can be very muddy and is best tackled in dry periods or after a hard frost. From Stoney Lane we struggled along a narrow track beside the A610 and found the river bridge which can be walked under unless the river is in spate. There is then a small path along the southern side of the road till you reach Pear Tree Farm, where a bridge gives access to the path along western valley side, next to the railway lline. 

Erewash Meadows Nature Reserve

This circular route offers fine views over the various lakes and marshes. If you like bird watching this is a great place to visit. Just imagine the pleasure of mooring your boat beside these nature reserves and watching the thousands of migratory birds come and go right in front of your windows. It will be Slimbridge all over again.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cromford Canal below Ironville

The continuing walk along the Cromford Canal
Ironville and Erewash Meadows
February 2010

We left the Cromford Canal mid way down the flight of which Ironville stands at the head.

Abandoned lock keepers cottage, Ironville

With the last lock chamber comes an abandoned lock keepers house, now reduced to a skeletal shell surrounded in rusting scaffold and with a chimney emerging from an non existant roof.

At the bottom of the locks there is what appears to be a winding hole, but a closer inspection reveals a lock width side arm with a bridge over the entrance. As the river backs onto this short stub I can only conclude that this was a dry dock / overflow which could be drained into the river. I may be wrong, but the signs certainly point in that direction.

View from the dry dock, Cromford Canal

There conclusion of the locks marks the end of the well maintained path which then circles back into the village through the playing fields. However, the towpath continues, narrower and wetter, but most certainly passable either on foot or on a bike. The canal is maintained at full depth along this section, cascading over a 12" waterfall mid way along, presumably installed to take account of subsidence in the area.

Erewash Meadow Nature Reserve
Eventually this attractive stretch comes to an end, passing under what was a substantial railway bridge and emerging into - nothing. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, the canal line vanishes under what is now referred to as Erewash Meadows nature reserve. The truth will almost certainly involve the old enemy, the coal mines. From here on the walley is pock marked with flashes, shallow lakes caused by the land subsiding into the old collapsing mines beneath.

Tilly in a reflective mood

But all is not lost, the actual line of the canal is clearly marked out with fences on either side, just waiting for the excavators to come along and dig out the ditch. More of that in a future post.