Monday, August 31, 2009
So new year is of course a time of resolutions, and mine include not procrastinating (again) and writing 500 words a day of the book I have promised to deliver in just over a year's time.
This is going to be a very busy and full year. Not only is there the book; there is also the Chertsey project, and the connected domestic projects of selling the house we are living in, and converting another building that I own, an old forge, into cottages for us and for each son. And in the case of number one son, his partner and - may as well admit this now - forthcoming offspring (me a grandparent? Nooooooooo!)
So it is going to be a very momentous and no doubt challenging year, after a few years of, to be honest, coasting and enjoying the easy life. So wish me a happy new year, and let's see where we are in September 2010.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
I think this will have been the longest trip we have done in terms of miles - I haven't checked yet but it seems likely, as this is the first time we have cruised almost constantly for the whole month, rather than stopping as we did at Cropredy last year and St Ives in 2007, for a week or so. I can say we traversed more or less 284 locks (including ones we didn't work ourselves, and counting ones we went through twice twice), and had the engine running for around 197 hours. This is actually fewer hours than last year, if we count the additional days, post holiday, getting back to Ramsey, but about the same for the month itself. This includes starting from Ramsey though, whereas this time we started from Cowroast. Most of the waterway covered was new to us, with only the final leg having been done before.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Now, does anyone know how to untwist long ropes?
Friday, August 28, 2009
Yes, here we are. After 27 days of travelling, and lots of changes of plan, we have wound up back at Industry Narrowboats, which feels shockingly like home, ready for Warrior to act as base and support vessel for the work on Chertsey which will be carried out here. I've booked tickets to go home by train on Monday, and in the meantime I have 300 feet of bunting to make...
Day 26, 27th August
Rugeley to Otherton
For some reason I couldn't sign into Blogger last night, which was rather frustrating as I had a 3G signal and you might have got a photo of me siting cross legged on a redundant bollard. I think that was the most exciting thing that happened all day; we made our merry way up the Staffs and Worcs, chatting in friendly fashion with various others along the way; the weather was nicer than forecast, and that's about it really; the moment has passed. So on to today....
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The housing market may still be in the doldrums, but the big Woolwich market seems to have been picking up recently. Two that have been on the market for a long time have both recently sold - Bristol, which I was looking at for a long time myself, and, today I discovered, Hawkesbury, which was priced somewhat out of my league. Saw the latter this afternoon at Fradley Junction (what joy it is to be travelling in the opposite direction from the masses for a change) and had a chat with the steerer. Well, that was the high spot of the day really. It's been a pleasant day, apart from the rain; nice travelling.
We stopped off at Kings Bromley for a pumpout and some gas, and about ten minutes after we left, I went to pump some more diesel up into the day tank, only to find that it ran out when it was about three quarters full. So we pulled in and dipped the main tank, and sure enough, only about three inches - which is basically all sludge clearance, it's not actually usable. We've got so used to not using any diesel, we were still thinking, oh well, we only got some a couple of weeks ago, but when I got the log book out and checked, it transpired that we'd done 99 hours since last filling up with 118 litres. I make that about 1.2 litres an hour, which given that we've been beasting up and down the Trent, is actually more economical than we expected. What we've got in the day tank should be plenty to get us to Great Haywood where we can get some more, it's just so funny that we didn't actually think of it while we were at Kings Bromley this afternoon. At least with the day tank you get a bit of grace.
Tonight we have stopped at Rugeley. I had to go to Morrisons to get a birthday card for my mum, and I couldn't pay for it at the kiosk, oh no, I had to queue up for ten minutes at a till with it. Then we wondered around for a bit looking for a post box, and savoured the delights of the town. Well, I have to say it is one of the grimmest places I have ever been to; a sort of antithesis of Newark. The meanest, nastiest sixties and later buildings; bleak pedestrianisation; loads of sort of half finished projects, like planters made of artfully arranged bits of wood, but then left to be colonised by weeds or even in one case left empty as a litter bin. The few surviving nice buildings just throw this all into sharper relief. There was however a shop selling nuts and bolts and rivets, which I may have to drag Jim away from in the morning - he was muttering something about a Whitworth socket set - but I have to say that it didn't look like it was planning to open any time soon, although when it does I am sure there will be a man in a brown overall behind the counter, with a stubby pencil behind his ear. There was also a charity shop for a local children's hospice called 'Acorns'. Surely I can't be the only person to spot what a crassly insensitive name this is for such an institution?
There was a thing in the paper today about how the majority of people in the west - and east - Midlands would rather live somewhere else - a higher proportion than anywhere else in the country (it was something like 83%) and I thought surely not... but that was before I had been into Rugeley. Perhaps they only asked people here, and didn't ask anyone in Newark.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Thought Shardlow was a bit overrated. Five (or six) pubs and one shop, and one or two nice buildings but very little really in the way of historical or indeed any other interest. So it was off bright and early this morning, as it's all getting a bit busy now, but I think I like it much better that way. Joyce and its crew caught up with us and we shared the double locks before they stopped for lunch.
For the first time, Jim got to yell at someone for over-enthusiastically opening a gate paddle way, way too soon - and it wasn't the poor Canaltime bod as we all so predictably assumed, but someone with a very smart boat but little idea of what to do with it. No harm done though.
I then had an encounter in which I thought of the apposite reply far too late - waiting for the next lock, just out from the bank, and the gates open to reveal a monster community boat (Serenade of Loughborough, if they have any shame), which paused just outside the gates to reload with numerous children and a dog, and then stayed paused, making no attempt to get past us (that is us on Warrior and Joyce), so that eventually we had to squeeze around them while they sat stock still. As I passed, I pointed out that there was loads of room for him to have gone around us... 'Not with a four foot draft I'm not going there', he replied. To which the obvious answer is 'Do you really think a fourteen foot wide boat with a four foot draft is really a suitable craft for this waterway?', or in an earlier (but not early enough) version, 'Well stay on the bloody Soar then.' Heaven knows what he would have done if there had been boats moored where he had to pass us.
Ah well. Today we have also met some really nice people, including bloggers Harnser and CWF's Smelly and Bagpuss, who called out to us as we went through Burton. I have also seen some super boats including Clover and Fazeley, Sickle, and Hadley, which is moored right near where we have tied up tonight.
Monday, August 24, 2009
If you look at that four-way junction where the Trent meets the Soar, we're now on the fourth bit of it. We came down the Soar, up the Erewash and back; up the Trent and back, and are now finally on the Trent and Mesrey, on the 'homeward' leg of the journey. We've travelled the other end of the T&M, but this is new territory.
Back on the main canal system, I noticed a couple of changes immediately. Firstly, the boats are nicer. No more gin palaces, some old working boats at last (today I saw Bletchley and Argus (didn't know they came this far), a Cowburn and Cowpar boat (which I think was Swallow but to my shame can't quite remember for certain), and Slough, to add to my sticker album, complete with funnel. Even the modern boats have a far greater preponderance of nice ones.
The other thing is that the people are friendly and interested. In the hour or two after we stopped, three people started chatting with us, asking about the boat and talking about theirs. While people on the Trent were by and large perfectly polite and pleasant, there was none of that real friendliness and enthusiasm.
However, I did like the Trent better than any other river yet (in which we include the Thames, Nene, Great Ouse and last and least, Soar). Don't really know why. Friendly BW lockkeepers; lots of good facilities, plentiful and easy mooring all helped. Plus a general absence of riverside residential development, the remnants of industry, and the fact that the sun shone most of the time, even if the wind also blew for most of it.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
We've decided that the next point of interest will be Shardlow, and are looking forward to getting there tomorrow. We left Newark for the second time late this morning after a lazy wander around the town again, and continued up the Trent in warm sunshine offset by invigoratingly high winds, blowing spray right through the front hatches and into the boat. Undaunted, I was sitting out there, waiting for that sublime moment when the wind drops and you feel the full warmth of the sun. It didn't happen today though.
Another thing that's really good if you tune into it is when you're moving a heavy lock gate - one that's just on the boundary of your ability. You put every nerve and sinew into it, all straining to their fullest extent, and just in the moment when you think you will have to give up in frustration, something yields; not suddenly, very subtly, but unmistakably, and you just go with it.
Having had a plastic boat, and being very fond of it, I would never disparage them per se - although I do use the term Tupperware as a handy shorthand, I don't necessarily intend anything pejoritive by it. But there is in my eyes a great gulf between getting out and having fun in a cheap plastic boat, and posing around acting superior in a ridiculously expensive one. And I haven't been able to help noticing on the Trent, the resemblance between GRP boats and dodgem cars, in the way the bounce and spin around. No, give me something with a bit of bottom any day.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Day 21, Keadby to Newark
As I write this sitting on the foredeck, once more beneath the gloriously illuminated walls of Newark Castle, it seems a long time since the alarm went off at 5.45 this morning. We went into the lock at 6.30, and said goodbye to Severn as the waited to come out after us. They were planning to stop off at Torksey, but the lockkeeper told us that as it was a high spring tide we should have no trouble getting all the way to Cromwell, and he was right; the six and a quarter hour journey was uneventful but the time flew by and layers of clothing gradually came off as the day warmed up.
Having got safely to Cromwell lock, we continued on to Newark, and are once again tied up on the wall below the town lock, albeit a little further back this time. I've been into town and got a new stapler and a new SD card for the camera as the old one is nearlt full. In the past I've downloaded photos as I've gone along but this time have decided to leave them all until we get home.
After a nice long chat with the people tied up in front of us (even though they have got a bowthruster) we got our glad rags on (well, I did go to Primark in Doncaster) and went off the the Fox and Crown again. It definitely seems to be my kind of pub. They had London Pride on tonight and boring git that I am, that's what I had, but they pulled it through a sparkler and it turned it into a completely different drink. But - and this is the good bit - I said, If I were to have another one, in a few minutes.... and the barman said, 'Sparkler off?' So I had another pint on the strength of that. We also ate, and once again the food was good; and I found a box of games and struggled to remember the rules of the version of dominoes that we learnt at Floods Ferry. I think I cracked the main points eventually - it's a version of fives and threes, and you score points for whatever multiple of five or three the pips at each end add up to (so 6=2, 5=1, 12=4, 18=6 and 15=8 because you count it for fives and threes). Then they had a band on, which was a bit loud and they weren't very good, so we came back, and in the distance can hear a party going on on the trip boat.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Day 20, Doncaster to Keadby
I realised in the middle of the night that with the Shroppie impassable at Shebdon, there really was no way of getting to Stretton without retracing our steps up the Trent. That plan pushed the available time to its limit; anything else just wouldn't work. So having resolved to come back via the Trent and T&M, we thought Sheffield might be back on the cards, if we could get there and back (from Doncaster) within five days. Another call was made to Tinsley. Yes, we could still go up on Saturday, but we wouldn't be able to come back until Wednesday. By now I was starting to crave simplicity anyway, and resigned to giving it a miss, but so many people have said that the Tinsley lockies are just downright awkward that I am determined to get there one day! It was also suggested that once there they make you stay to keep you in the basin paying £5 a night. I could not comment of course, not having been there myself. It's a shame; I would have loved to have seen the basin, but I shall get there eventually.
Having finally ruled Sheffield out, we spent a happy morning shopping in Doncaster on market day. This is the brilliant thing about northern towns; markets and above all, market halls. It makes me think just how impoverished we are in some ways down south - or at least in Newhaven, where you can hardly buy anything now. I wonder if there will be any shops left by the time we get back. I bought some plastic coated table cloth material and yards and yards of cotton tape (I said I wanted 100 yards and the woman just gave me everything she had. For £2.50!) as I have promised to make bunting for Tarporley to wear at the Angel Festival, which is very shortly after I am due to get back. It was all going rather well until the Tesco value stapler broke. Yes, I would have got the heavy duty one, but there weren't any staples; the cheap one came with staples, but as they were crap it didn't really make any difference.
We had a lovely surprise today coming out of Thorne lock - we saw the Leeds and Liverpool short boat Severn. Then a few lift bridges later, Jim left out BW key behind after helping me with a particularly recalcitrant road gate, and by the time he'd been back for it, Severn had caught us up, with Rick and Barny on board. We spent the afternoon swapping places in a convoy of two, taking it in turn to do the bridges, and are now both here at Keadby, where we should start being locked through at about six thirty tomorrow morning. We have had a lovely look over Severn, and seen practical ways of living just under cloths and making the most of basic facilities. That really does appeal to me, as long as I can keep warm enough.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Day 19, Doncaster to Sprotbrough lock and, er, back to Doncaster
Last night we made a decision. We had thought that it might be a good idea to take Warrior to Stretton (on the Shroppie) to use as a base while working on Chertsey. We thought that to achieve this, we would go back down the Trent and via the Trent and Mersey. But looking at the time we had available, and consulting Canalplan, I made the case that we could just about achieve the same destination within the alloted time if we went via the Aire and Calder, Calder and Hebble, Rochdale, Bridgewater, T&M, and Middlewich Branch*, and thus avoid retracing our steps, and take in some of the waterways we originally planned to visit. This will be very tight for time though.
So, we set off for Sheffield this morning, and at Sprotbrough lock, met a woman who reminded us that we needed to book our passage up the Tinsley flight. So we rang the lock keeper, who seemed very unimpressed by the idea that anyone might want to use his locks, and said he couldn't possibly fit us in until Saturday. Having hoped to go up this afternoon, this was a bit of a blow to our plans. Jim had already been expressing doubts about the Sheffield detour, and this was the final straw that made me also reluctantly give up on the idea of this fine city which I have never yet visited. We turned round and came back through the two locks we'd just been down, including the very large Doncaster lock, in which you can see Warrior looking lost in the photo. Yes, that really is a lock. Operating the upstream end involves standing with a railway bridge about a foot above your head. When we got back to Doncaster, we met up with a boat we'd come through Keadby with (and also met on the Chesterfield) and they said that when they'd phoned to book passage up Tinsley, the keeper had effectively said 'What do you want to do that for?' And people wonder why Sheffield Basin is empty.
*Having just taken notice of the postings on Canalworld about a stoppage on the Shroppie at Shebdon, I think I'd better think it out again, again..... Ashton, Peak Forest?
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Day 18, West Stockwith to Doncaster
This does feel exotic. On a lovely secure visitor mooring and about to hit one or two of the numerous CAMRA-recommended pubs of Doncaster.
Today we had a bit of adventure at last, viz getting into Keadby lock. West Stockwith was a doddle compared to this. We were locked through West Stockwith at 0840, and after a couple more hours of fairly featureless but increasingly muddy Trent, were approaching where Keadby Lock should have been. We'd been warned that the entrance is sometimes obscured by coasters, but this wasn't the problem - looking through the binoculars I could see a big, painted 'KEADBY LOCK' on the wall, and a rather sweet art deco style lock building, but where was the bloody entrance? Out of sight round a hairpin bend was the answer. Now, I know you are meant to turn and approach from downstream, and Jim had tried to check with the lock keeper, who hadn't replied, but the guy at West Stockwith had said it wasn't always necessary. Anyway, in what I suspect was an agony of indecision, we turned, with hindsight, too soon to approach upstream, but too late to try and go straight in. I was hiding inside looking through the porthole, hoping that the entrance would approach faster than the wall. I thought we were going to make it, but we hit the wall pretty hard, occasioning much breaking of crockery (it could have been worse, a lot of it landed on the sofa) and another of my treasured stolen glasses (Directors this time). Did you know that pub glasses are now made of safety glass, to stop people being 'glassed', so when you smash one it really does look like a car crash. We also lost a windlass off the roof and dislodged the front fender, but the people already in the lock had their own tales of breakages too, and the lockkeeper at West Stockwith did say everyone ballses it up. I think with a bit of practice we might get the hang of it.
After Keadby we were on the Sheffield asnd South Yorkshire Navigations, an agglommeration of waterways which today included the Stainforth and Keadby Canal and the River Don. These are big and wide, and have numerous large swing and lift bridges, and big locks - some of which are electric (most of the bridges are). The weather has been windy, which has been a bit of a nuisance, but not uncomfortable because of the marvellous hot sun.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Because I forgot about Boundary Lock, 41a, an extra one. Anyway, today I did the remaining eleven, and tonight we are back at West Stockwith, ready to go through in the morning, down to Keadby (watch out for coasters around Keadby lock, apparently!) and then on to Sheffield.
This morning, up on the lock mooring where we spent the night (ahem) all the mud had settled and the water was really clear, all three feet of it, and glinting on the bottom I could see mother-of-pearl, like the abalone shells we used to buy on Guernsey when I was a child, and roughly the same size - about four inches long. I had read about giant mussels on this waterway but had hardly believed it, but here it seemed was the evidence - and I didn't have a shrimping net to try and fish it out. After much deliberation about the various possibilities of the colander, the handbowl and a jug, I settled on lashing a small saucepan to the cabin shaft with duck tape, and pretty much to my surprise, managed to scoop it out with this. It is far more fragile than an abalone or even an ordinary marine mussel, but it is beautiful. Flushed with success, I also managed to get a double shell too.
We have just been to the Waterside Inn at West Stockwith, and the food was perfectly decent, although niot cheap, but my pint of B|lack Sheep was definitely a bit iffy and the landlord simply wouldn't accept the fact, saying it was a new barrell and no one else had complained. So they lost points for that. The customer is always right; as least it is when it's me.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I think that's a record for me, 34 locks in a day. Looking back through the log, I find that I used not to record these things quite so straightforwardly, but I don't think I've been anywhere it's possible to do that. Where might it be, theoretically, I wonder... That's counting the doubles and trebles as twos and threes, and we did have some help, from a splendid chap called Trevor, a lengthsman in all but name (because of course they don't actually employ lengthsmen any more), with flowing beard and hair and (whisper it) no lifejacket, but I did have a hand in every one, and I also walked from Thorpe locks to Worksop (and quite a few bits of the way back again), although I was disappointed to discover that this was only about four and a half miles; it seemed a lot further.
The weather has been lovely again today. I don't know why people are complaining about it, other than because of having had their hopes raised unrealistically, because this is the fourth year we've been boating in the first half of August, and this is by far the least rain we have had.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Day 15, Rhodesia to Kiveton Park
Today we tackled the final 27 locks, from number 47 to number 20, which brought us to the summit level and the limit of navigation of the Chesterfield Canal, blocked by the collapsed Norwood Tunnel, about half a mile from here, but with a navigable section on the far side accessible to trailable boats.
It's a funny feeling, being on a canal so recently restored - part of the final section was completed in 1998; there is a sign lower down, but some of the works up here look more recent still. The mooring we are on looks brand new. The locks we travelled today are effectively one flight, including two double and two triple staircases. From lock 41a to 20 took us three and a quarter hours, which flew by. The locks are all narrow, new and well maintained. The pounds however are like fishponds: shallow and full of weed. Pondweed at that, among other sorts. Not enough to stop us though; the harbinger of doom who said we wouldn't make it was wrong. A few pounds were down, with ominously dry bywashes, but most were at their normal - albeit shallow - level. But we know Bath has been up here, so were ever hopeful (despite one lock very helpfully being labelled as not passable by boats of over 6'10 1/2" beam). It is very green, and very pretty, marred only by the recent building of some obscenely ugly houses. If you brave Worksop Town lock - quite possibly the nastiest I have yet encountered - it is pure loveliness all the way.
After the final lock there is a mile or so of summit before the final winding hole, just before (or after, depending on perspective) which is a very spiffing 24 hour mooring, and this section does feel like going into the unknown, or the past, or something. Shaded cutting (at last! No more weed) with high walls sprouting ferns, through three more bridges ending with the extraordinary Dog Kennel Bridge, and then the final winding hole, with a sort of waterfall pouring into it. We tried reversing on after winding, but it became too shallow almost immediately. I walked up later and it really did look abandoned; full of weed and sporting some very large fish. The bricked up tunnel portal is just visible through the willow herb and other plant life. Then I walked the other way, into Kiveton Park, which had the feeling of a ghost town, although admittedly I didn't go into the town itself, but walked along between the railway and the canal, past and over the foundations and concrete floors of demolished buildings. The mine - I can hardly believe that we are in coal mining territory, but we have been for some time - only closed in 1990. The recentness of it somehow makes it seem all the more sad.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I must admit that I have struggled with The Road to Wigan Pier. Disappointingly, it is far less readable than any I have read of Orwell's other writing - rambling, repetitive and dogmatic - although his descriptions of the sort of bearded, vegetarian, sandal-wearing, fruit juice drinking types that get socialism a bad name are amusing. He appears to have in in particularly strongly for fruit juice. I have not yet abandoned the work; I think there isn't far to get to the end, but it is very dry going. All is not lost however, for my massive tome - a jumble sale Book Club Associates compendium of Orwell's non-fiction and journalism, is as thick as the height of the back slide runner, so by placing it adjacent I can spread the weight and thus make a far more comfortable seat for resting my legs while steering. I do however have to look lively for low bridges and sharp left hand bends, which necessitate leaping down again. On the plus side, I can now operate the throttle with my knee.
On the travelling front also, the road to Wigan Pier has been all but abandoned. Having been seduced by the siren calls of the Chesterfield, there is no way we will have time now to get that far. The Chesterfield is worth it though, and not just for getting the Head of Navigation plaque (I collected a form at the Retford and Worksop Boat Club (visitors are welcome to moor but MUST consult the caretaker or a member of the committee first) this morning while filling up with water. The thing with these new restorations is that they are generally well provisioned with facilities - I haven't seen so many showers since the Huddersfield.
We put in a long day today - would have been twelve hours if we hadn't stopped in Retford (godawful place) for a paper and stayed for tea and buns). The canal is still shallow and weedy, but so far still eminently passable, and there seems to be plenty of water here at least - we have stopped just outside a settlement called Rhodesia - Nicholsons doesn't explain why - although who knows what it will be like when we start going up the serious locks tomorrow. A man we passed this morning mournfully told us that drawing 2'6" we wouldn't make it - but we will plug on and see.
The canal mainly runs through very rural surroundings, mostly farmland. If any industry grew up along its banks there is little sign of it now. Mainly rural. I nearly spoiled the image with a photo of Worksop Town lock, but the ones I took fail to capture its grimness - the graffiti, broken glass, blank walls, rubbish and dead pigeons. Now that's what I call a canal! I am beginning to mistrust Nicholsons, which paints a rather benign image of Worksop, which had enticed us to consider tying up there. One look was enough to tell us that it wasn't really our kind of town. I really don't mind a bit of urban, but dead pigeons are a grittiness too far. So we plodded on, and here we are. The water is not your ordinary canal brown, like tea, but a deep mahogany, the colour of gravy.
Another feature of this canal is a wide variety of paddle gear, and an even wider selection of anti-vandal devices, the worst of which involves undoing a padlock inside a metal box in order to remove the box. I must say other boaters have been extremely assiduous in replacing them. My 'doh!' moment of the day came near the end, when I struggled to unlock the lock only then to realise the the accompanying paddle gear had actually been removed. Today's carefully selected photo shows one of the nicest sorts of paddle gear. It is mostly well maintained, but some of the gates are heavy, even in the narrow locks. Better get some rest now - tomorrow promises 25 locks; 21 of them within a mile and a half, and when we get to the top we have to turn around and come back down again.
Friday, August 14, 2009
And the Chesterfield Canal isn't.
Day 13, Cromwell Lock (River Trent) to Clayworth (Chesterfield Canal)
Another day of contrasts. Up at five thirty, in a chilly grey morning, all ready to go through Cromwell Lock at six twenty two precisely (as if it would take us precisely six hours to get to West Stockwith). As it happened, we could have started at least an hour later; we were going deliberately slowly, and still arrived early, but it was still fine, and Jim made a lovely entrance into West Stockwith lock without touching the sides. We managed to spin it out to over five hours; five hours of chill grey morning most of which I spent sitting on the foredeck in a folding chair, wrapped in many layers and with a blanket over my knees (well, who was watching, apart from a few fishermen). There was a little bit of industry, and a lot of birds, but mostly just river, wide and slow and not (as yet) very scary. You could tell the tide was going down by the increasingly revealed mud, but that was about all. Thanks to the Trent Boating Association charts kindly lent to us by Dave and Izzy, we were able (again, so far... touching wood here) to avoid running aground, and, thanks to Jim's new toy, his VHF radio (and thanks to me reading the instructions on replacing the batteries...) we were able to keep in touch with the lock keepers and it was all a very calm and well ordered experience. The West Stockwith lock keeper even alerted us that a gravel barge was on its way, so we were able to see one without being thrown into a tizz by it. Of all the essential kit they tell you you need for the river, and rivers in general, they never mention binoculars. I find these (purchased in Boots by my father circa 1973) invaluable for spotting mooring sites and particularly for reading signs and notices before it is too late - BW do have a tendency to scrimp on type size, but the EA are, if anything, even worse. You could even use them to look at wildlife, if that's what you're into.
So at noon we exited West Stockwith and were on the Chesterfield Canal. At first this was stunningly clear, and I could see lots of fish. But it wasn't long before it became quite muddy, and it is very shallow. Going is exceedingly slow. Surprisingly there are quite a few boats on here, hopefully not all nosing their way up to the dead end. I'm not complaining about the shallowness mind; only too aware that only a matter of decades ago this canal was derelict; even fifteen years ago, when the guide - again lent by Dave and Izzy - was published, it stopped a good way and a great many locks short of where it does now. However, as we are determined to get to the end - which is now the Norwood Tunnel - we may have to revise our plans for the rest of trip. I will not relinquish Sheffield, but after that we may be very pushed for time.
Shall we have a random photo tonight? I will compile a nice album when I get home, but for tonight we have.... Hmm. Piling with mysterious cables protruding. It took long enough to upload - I'm not changing it now!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
We finally tore ourselves away from Newark at three o'clock this afternoon - although not without a bundle of estate agents' details. Who knows; we could be back. We started this morning with a walk around the castle gardens while hardly anyone else was about. Very impressed by the lack of graffiti generally - although we did spot some name carved into the stone with dates in the 1940s, and one, beautifully cut, from the nineteenth century. Most importantly, unlike many castles, it didn't smell of wee. There was also a refreshing absence of safety fencing, both on the castle and along the riverfront.
Then we hit the shops again, and took a long walk around the town, going right out to check out Newark Northgate station which is on the East Coast mainline - I used to come through on the way to Huddersfield. Then back to the market square where today it was antiques and second hand tots. One stall stood out, selling what I believe the man called 'railway-ana' (wince). Lots of lovely tempting cast iron signs, and a wonderful selection of lamps, which the man told us all about. Of course I ended up buying one - our first real souvenir of this trip. It's a copper and brass signal lamp, from the 1950s, from British Rail Midland region, he told me. I liked the date (I'm thinking Chertsey here of course, not that I've ever heard of anyone having a signal lamp on a boat, but if you got hold of one, well, you'd use it, wouldn't you?), and I liked that fact that it was highly polishable, and that it didn't have any holes in the bottom. Apparently it would run for a fortnight on a tankful of oil - and its big square bottom makes it reassuringly stable.
So then it was off to Wilko's to get some lamp oil. We had two bottles on the boat from when we experimented with the other oil lamps (terrifying), but naturally I had insisted on taking them home. Wilko's didn't have any, but I thought Boyes would be bound to. Couldn't find it on the shelf, so I asked the checkout lady, Do you sell lamp oil? She considered for a very long time before asking, For what sort of lamp? I had to think long and hard about how to reply to this, but in the end couldn't better 'An oil lamp.' 'No,' was the answer. So we got back to the boat and I polished it and we put some diesel in it, and it has been burning away nicely for hours now; only a little flame, because it smokes if I turn it up any higher, but I am looking forward to seeing what it looks like in the dark. Ah, simple pleasures.
Can't stay up very late though as we have an early start in the morning. Having dragged ourselves away from Newark, we haven't come very far. Through just the one lock, Newark Nether, and then into Kings Marina for a top up of diesel and a pumpout - and a bonus surprise sighting of Victoria (but I didn't take a photo this time!), then on to Cromwell Lock, where we await the tide in the morning. If we go through at 06.22, we should arrive at West Stockwith in time for the flood tide, which will make it much easier to get into the lock, and thus onto the Chesterfield Canal - and the next adventure.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Warrior and Newark Castle
Day 11, Gunthorpe to Newark
I think we may well have found Britain's nicest town. I almost feel I should keep it to myself before everyone comes rushing to live here. I know I occasionally rave about nice places we've come across, and think yes, it would be good to live here - but Newark beats them all. River, fantastic buildings, including a castle on the river bank opposite which we are currently tied up; no sixties-fication; a great selection of real shops, and hardly any empty ones, including lots of good charity shops, in streets not a precinct. Nice houses and not expensive. Friendly people.... And not full of itself either.
We left Gunthorpe this morning in a heavy drizzle, and only went through three locks, all manned by friendly BW people. Jim gave the engine a really good run (he claimed we didn't have long to get the water heated up), and one woman on a broadbeam which we overtook and met again in the next lock said, 'That little boat of yours doesn't half shift!' Bu the time we came through Newark Town Lock three hours later the sun was coming out and we set off to explore - on what was to become a shopping frenzy. First to a school outfitters and outdoor gear shop, where we each got new waterproofs, and Jim got some new waterproof trousers from the £1 bargain bin, and some new work shoes and boating trousers. Then to the provisions shop for triple smoked bacon. A small local chain called Boyes is like a super eccentric Wilko's, with added haberdashery, and we got some bowls, mugs (sadly my Kent and East Sussex WRG mug got broken yesterday) and woolly socks. Various charity shops yielded a super silk dress, Monsoon blouse and completely mad trousers, all for me of course. Then we found ourselves in the Fox and Crown, accidentally stumbling into a CAMRA super-pub. We didn't have time to see it all and will have to go back in the morning.
This evening we went for supper with Dave and Izzy, and were given four plaques that are very probably Chertsey's; two of them definitely are - the IWA rally at Guildford on the Wey in 1970, and the opening of the Upper Avon in 1974. The other two - Black Country Museum 1981 and HNBOC Christmas gathering at Fradley in 1973 probably are by a process of elimination, but we don't as yet have positive sightings of Chertsey at either of these. I have also seen my first two photos of the boat; one from Waterways World only last year when it formed part of a reader's scrapbook question, and one forwarded to me by Izzy of it on the Wey in the year of that rally. Piecing together these little bits of history is going to be a fascinating and never ending process.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Day 10, Gallows Lock (Erewash Canal) to Gunthorpe Lock (River Trent)
OK, you are going to get a pretty random photo tonight. The process of posting photos with the netbook (aka the Baby Computer) is complex. I don't like to download the pics onto the netbook because it files them in a system I don't understand; I'd sooner wait til we get home and sort them out on the big computer. So I have been taking the card out of the camera and sticking it in the side of the netbook. This works fine for looking at the photos, but the photo-looking programme (PhotoMaster) doesn't show their index numbers except when you're looking at the tiny thumbnails; I cannot find a way to make it display when looking at the big picture. So to select the picture I find it easiest to go through them on the camera and note the number I want to use. I did that tonight, took the card out, and have now forgotten what it was,. So let's see what we get.
Whether or not I like a particular waterway seems to be influenced, to an extent I wasn't previously aware of, by the weather. I don't as a rule like rivers much, and wasn't really looking forward to the Trent, but so far in today's sunshine, it has been most enjoyable. It helps that it has been a day of variety, starting this morning back on the Erewash, where I steered so that Jim could obtain the full work-out benefit of operating the locks. Whatever the fine white dust is that had settled all over the water, giving it a strange reflective haze, and all over the boat, had also, by the end of the morning, covered me as well.
We emerged from Trent Lock back onto the river, and this time turned left to head downstream to the North. I unexpectedly got a bonus canal, the Nottingham and Beeston - that I had only previously thought of as the Beeston Cut and as part of the Trent. But no, suddenly we were back on a city centre canal, and it was really nice, past an imposing (if somewhat plain) building with British Waterways emblazoned in its brickwork against the sky, closely followed by a Fellows Morton and Clayton warehouse.
Back on the Trent was another stunning derelict warehouse, a brutalist concrete beauty, bearing the legend Nottingham Corporation Warehouse 1930. Then we came to the first big, manned, Trent lock - lovely. The second one we had all to ourselves. All we have to do is throw a few ropes! Tomorrow we press on to Newark where we are meeting up with Dave and Izzy again. They are going to lend us their tide tables (though I have already looked them up on the net), and after that the fun will really start when we hit Cromwell Lock and the tidal part of the river.
Toight against our better judgement, but fancying chips, we went and ate at the Unicorn Hotel, a Martsons chain pub. It was grim. I had steak 'n' ale pie (are they really all lovingly made, as claimed, with each brewery's own ale? I can't help but doubt it somehow). The pastry was tough, the meat stringy, and the reconstituted chips were, somehow, mysteriously, cold. On top of that we ate the entire meal (or rather, I left must of mine) with the previous customer's dirty plates on the table. If they had come and asked, as they usually do, if 'everything is all right', I would have told them this. However, they clearly didn't dare. I know Craig will say we should have gone to Tom Brown's, Egon Ronay noted gastropub. And do you know what? We probably should. Either that or stayed in with last night's lentil curry.
The random photo is the approach to Holme Lock, the first biggie
Monday, August 10, 2009
We got off to a slow start, this drizzly morning, starting with being shown around the site by another very longstanding member of the ECP&DA. We started in the beautifully restored toll office, and Mick tolk us far more than we could take in about the Erewash, Cromford and Nottingham Canals. Then we went right up to the end of the navigation where the association is working on the link to a new basin - it was like seeing the next phase of history in the making. We also purchased a souvenir Erewash guide, and our end of navigation plaque.
Then we had a trip to Lidl - my first. Jim said I had to come because I would hate it, but I loved it. It was clean, and above all quiet - no piped music or constant advertising videos. The displays weren't oppressive either and I liked the honesty of the slogan Lidl Is Cheaper! What you can actually buy is a bit random of course, but I was delighted to get a new shower hose to take home and a pair of shorts for Jim (despite bringing the entire contents of his wardrobe, apparently he doesn't have enough shorts). Plus I just loved looking at all the strange and foreign things I could have bought if I had wanted to. Got a litre bucket of yogurt on the basis that even if it wasn't very nice (it was though!), £1.49 wasn't a bad price for a paint kettle. Plus lots of decent beers at four bottles for £5, so the drinks cabinet is now restocked.
So we didn't start the engine until two o'clock, and by the time we had got water it was half past when we left and raining in earnest. Still, we bravely slogged on for three hours and polished off eight locks before stopping just in time to see it start tipping down; the the sun came out for a bit.
Following our encounter with the Flood Officer on the Soar the other day, I am beginning to detect a trend in BW's attitude. I was reading (online) the Waterscape guide to the Trent. One of the things it lists as essential equipment is VHF radio. Then it says that if you haven't got VHF, a mobile phone will do. But goes on to say that you should be aware that there may not be network coverage. So do you bloody need it or don't you? It seems their attitude when asked, is it safe to do x, or is it permitted to do y, is to just sort of shrug and say, I dunno, what do you think? Worse than useless, really.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Day 8, Sandiacre to Langley Mill
This morning we shopped at the Co-op and polished the brass before setting off, as we had a date later with Dave and Izzy, owners of Bath and organisers of the sale of Chertsey. We met them as we approached the penultimate lock on our way up the Erewash, and they came with us all the way up to the Great Northern basin, where we are now tied up, looking very diminutive, to Bath. Dave and Izzy are longstanding stalwarts of the Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association, and showed us many things that the Association has achieved over the years, including a restored Nottingham Canal Company toll office as well as lots more vital but less visible maintenance. Then they took us for a nice Indian meal, for which their inside knowledge of this town was greatly appreciated.
There was much excitement when Jim read in Nicholsons that the Association produces a plaque for those who have navigated to this point on the canal, and we are hoping that someone will appear in the morning to whom we can apply for one; also a guide - even post hoc, it should be very interesting. I have found this a fascinating and really enjoyable canal - so if you like the sort of things I like, it's highly recommended.
The trip so far has been a good physical workout, and I think I am starting to see results around the waistline; plus a goodly selection of insect bites. I wonder whether we don't have insects at home, or whether we do but they don't bite, or whether they do bite but I've become immune to them. Certainly I only seem to get bitten when I stray to foreign parts. I suppose here I should be reading Lawrence rather than Orwell... although in fact I haven't had much time for reading at all these last few days.
On Dave and Izzy's recommendation, we are going to visit the Chesterfield Canal before proceeding with the rest of our planned expedition. They have lent us a guide. They have also lent us (Jim?) a set of Trent charts. The necessity for this is making me quite nervous....
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Day 7, Barrow upon Soar to Sandiacre
We stopped at Barrow with the Soar on red, and a red light showing at Barrow deep lock. Naively we had assumed that this was an unbreachable injunction against proceeding further, but were told this morning that it has the same advisory status as the less technologically advanced level marker boards. So we bravely set off, only to pause again at Bishops Mill Lock, simply because lots of other people had. Someone gave us the number of the BW 'flood officer', and Jim rang him, and reported back that we could go, and indeed, so did lots of others. Oh yes, and we stopped in Loughborough for a paper. Then we stopped again at Zouch Lock to take stock, and remove some rather impressive polyester webbing from the prop, before deciding again to proceed (with caution, of course) along with out new companions, intrepid hire boaters. As we sailed towards Zouch, however, we encountered a Waterways chap. At first I thought he must be an impostor, as he wasn't wearing a lifejacket, but apparently not. 'The river's still in flood', he said, somewhat gnomically, I thought. Mmm, I said, are we OK for Zouch? (thinking that the lock might be closed to passage). 'The river's still in flood', he repeated. We rang the flood officer, I said. 'That's me' he replied. Well, I don't know exactly what he said to Jim, but it definitely wasn't 'DON'T'. And yet here he was, semi ticking us off, yet still not prepared to say that we shouldn't. It's all very well taking responsibility for oneself, and I am naturally all in favour of it, but it does depend upon having reliable information and advice from those in the know. I wish they would either come right out and forbid navigation, if it's dangerous, or else not tell people off for trying.
Anyway, we completed our passage of the Soar without any distressing incidents, crashes, sinkings etc, and emerged onto the vast Trent (which isn't in flood) and straight across onto the Erewash Canal. Well, this is my kind of canal. There are disused buildings whose beauty makes me cry. We are tied up tonight in Sandiacre, which is not terribly salubrious, but in front of the most stunningly beautiful vast Victorian lace mill, very nicely converted into flats. A similar building I photographed earlier, frozen at a moment in the process of dereliction (who knows, maybe one day restoration, but less likely now.). Another one in the process of being demolished. If I come back this way again, it won't be here.
A word about the locks, so far. You need a handcuff key for them (haven't used that since the Huddersfield), but frankly I don't know why they bother, because even once you've unlocked them, the ground paddles are utterly, utterly immovable.
Had a fantastic signal last night, only to discover that Google wasn't talking to me. So yesterday's adventures will of necessity be compressed somewhat. Our travels took us through Leicester - well, I can only think of two things it's famous for, and I did rack my brains. After steering all day on Thursday, my legs were killing me. I tried sitting on the roof for a bit, and now I have a bruised bum as well, to add to the standard lock-gate bruised coccyx. Don't waste any sympathy on me, I love it. Never fear, the legs will toughen up; it's just that I don't do standing, as a rule. Anyway, today (i.e. yesterday) I did not-steering, i.e. working locks, making tea and sitting down. Twenty locks were accomplished, at a slow and steady pace, and we found ourselves at some mysterious point on the River Soar, which was of course in flood, as we had as always brought the rain with us. Most of that is for another day (which I will write in a few minutes).
Leicester is actually not all that bad; certainly it didn't seem anything like as rough as we had been led by many to believe. And the sun did finally come out while we were there, and has stayed out since. We tied up in Barrow after a long day, and went looking for a pub to have supper. The first one we came to, the Navigation, had big TVs and a rather uninspiring menu (this is Craig's fault for taking us to gastropubs). So we went on to the Soar Bridge, which is in the Good Beer Guide (a publication the value of which I am beginning to doubt). But they had stopped serving food at eight (on a Friday night! Truly we are in the sticks, or perhaps, being up north, they only have tea). So finally we tried some establishment that appeared to have been built to cater for the local caravan site. Whilst we were waiting forever to be served, a pair of children careened around the bar shrieking at the tops of their voices, so we decided to take our custom elsewhere. Back to the Navigation, in fact, only to discover that they stopped serving food at half past eight. So it was back to Warrior for beans on toast and a pat on the back for ourselves for not spending thirty quid on food we wouldn't have enjoyed anyway.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Funny day today. We set off early, full of high hopes of putting in the hours and getting to the far side of Leicester, but it wasn't to be. We're not usually ones to heed tales of bandits etc, but had heard quite a few warnings about Leicester (having been there in the past by train on a few occasions, it didn't seem too bad) so were going to aim not to stop there (having been there a few times etc etc, there doesn't seem much to stop for).
So, we set off before eight, nice sunshine. But I have been rather taken aback by the locks. A relentless string of them, not nice and narrow, but big and heavy and hard going. By the time we got to Kilsby Bridge (which one local had told us was the last 'safe' place to stop; it is certainly the first lock you need a BW key for), it had clouded over, and then it started to pour with rain. Normally of course we wouldn't let a little thing like a monsoon put us off, but I was feeling unaccountably knackered (not quite back into the swing of things, clearly), and it was clear that we were not going to make it to the other side of Leicester, particularly as there were at least another thirteen locks in the way, so we allowed ourselves the luxury of stopping because of the rain, and put our feet up. This is supposed to be a holiday after all - the serious boating it yet to come.
In anticipation of our destination, I have been reading The Road to Wigan Pier, in an enormous anthology of Orwell's non-fiction which I, unaccountably, had not previously got round to reading. I've already polished off Down and Out in Paris and London, and Wigan Pier is even better. Whatever he writes about, reading Orwell is always a pleasure. In a way, his two best known novels, being both works of fantasy, to a degree, are to my ming less enjoyable than his lesser known, more mundane fiction. It is the mundanity he captures so well, the grinding hopelessness of poverty, both of money and of aspiration, in A Clergyman's Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. The same sense is there in the non-fiction; the sordid hopeless lives lived by people who are not inherently sordid, but ground into that state by circumstance. No, thank goodness, things are not so bad today in material terms, but the feeling must be the same, only numbed by daytime TV rather than cheap cinema. Reading about the conditions in which thousands of working people lived in northern towns in the thirties does bring home to one that hard as it was, boating life was not nearly so bad as the conditions endured by factory workers and miners.
No interesting pictures today, but I have uploaded the right one for yesterday.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Day 4, Crick to Foxton
After yesterday's exertions we had a lie in this morning, and didn't set off until eleven. The day started damp and miserable again, and we weren't fully able to appreciate the delights of the very green, rather overgrown Leicester Section. Midway through the afternoon, however, the sun finally came out, while we were waiting in the queue for Foxton Locks. What lovely locks they are. I steered - not that much steering was required - and it was a lovely experience. We were last through again, just as we were at Watford, and had to go along to the next bridge to find somewhere to tie up.
Later we made our way back to have a look at the inclined plane - a shame we'll have to give the museum a miss, but it doesn't open until ten. We bypassed the big Foxton Locks pub, and were heading back to the boat when, passing Bridge 61 (another pub) I was struck by how welcoming it was - there was a sign inviting people to bring their own food to barbecue, as long as they bought drinks from the pub - what a contrast to the negative attitude we saw last night and surely better business - so we decided to pop in. It was a lovely, old fashioned place smelling of woodsmoke, the service was nice and friendly and we were able to buy bread and milk there too. We even got chatting to some local people.
I am rueing somewhat the bargain cocoa butter lotion I bought in Tescos and have applied to my person for the first time tonight. I now seem to smell of a combination of cheap chocolate and old dog.
Day 3, Tuesday August 4th, Stoke Bruerne to Crick
Of course. We were lucky to get two days of reasonable weather, and already going to Braunston in June is starting to look like the best holiday move of the year.
Nonetheless, we put in eleven hours yesterday, not counting a stop for lunch, and polished off two tunnels as well as another sixteen locks. We have entered the terra incognita of the Leicester Section, and the high spot of the day for me was probably the Watford locks, where with the assistance of the very pleasant lockkeeper (especially - or perhaps because - we were the last customers of the day) I deployed side ponds for the first time. Ah, the joys of narrow locks after Buckby.
When we arrived in Crick it was raining in earnest, but having promised ourselves a pub dinner with chips we set off down a ghostly road to the Red Lion. Which wass very nice except for one thing - very nice friendly staff, decent food. reasonable choice of beer (don't bother with Adnam's Regatta though, it doesn't taste of anything) - but an incredibly bossy menu. 'We do not allow sharing of main meals'; side orders such as chips 'may not be ordered on their own'. Surely if an individual buys a meal it is up to them whether they wish to share it? I half expected (alongside the numerous 'no mobile phones' notices one saying 'Meals must be eaten all up before you can have dessert' (Perhaps they do; it did say 'the dessert menu will be brought to you after you have finished your main course'). So all in all a very nice pub, but I would be put off going there again by the bossy attitude.
Monday, August 03, 2009
Day 2, Leighton Buzzard to Stoke Bruerne
This is the kind of canal scenery I like best. Not nice neat new developments, now pretty countryside (though that's OK) but the inevitably transient scenes of abandonment. This is the former BR carriage works at Wolverton, a vast brick building with a timber and glass roof, decayed, colonised by buddleia, glass broken, timber rotted, but not, at least as far as you can see from the canal, vandalised or graffitied; just taken over by time and nature to create a new thing of beauty.
We did wait for those people at the next lock, in the end, and they were very pleased, but the karma channels were clearly not running very freely, as when we got to the second to top lock here at Stoke Bruerne another boat had appeared from nowhere and was in the lock just as we got to it, and refused to wait. To add insult etc (and give me an excuse for a good swear) they left the top gate open. In the meantime, we had got involved with pulling in and tying up a drifting boat (the second; we had one yesterday at Tring) - which we think the lock hoggers had probably pulled out in passing, and by the time that was done we'd been going for ten hours, the dinner was cooked, so we decided to stay down here, not knowing what the mooring situation would be at the top anyway.
Day 1 (Sunday August 2nd), Cowroast to Leighton Buzzard
After all my good intentions, I failerd to post last night, or Saturday night for that matter. On Saturday, at Cowroast, there was an excellent signal, but I discovered I'd left the USB lead at home, and furthermore, couldn't find the charger for the netbook. Number two son being in Venice, I phoned number onhe son, asked him to go round with his cat feeding key and root around in the study. He found the UBS lead easily enough, where I'd left it, plugged into the front of the computer, but he couldn't find the charger at home either. So I'm afraid, as this opportunity had to be grabbed, I sent him upstairs to steal number two son's charger. Sorry Sebastian. Hopefull when he gets back, with more time at his disposal, he will be able to find mine. Having got the bits, he took them round to the house of Alison and David, who spent the day with us yesterday (but I mustn't forget to mention first that we have a lovely evening at Cowroast with the Owls on Saturday before we left).
Yesterday (i.e. Sunday; day 1) was a lovely sunny day, and we polished off eighteen locks, and ate a nice lunch brought along by our guests, who drove up to Tring station, with the intention (fulfilled as far as I know) of getting the train back to there from Leighton. I now have a very red nose again. Oh well. We stopped for an afternoon drink at Grove lock, and arrived at Leighton, by the Tescos, at about six. And then discovered from the locals that there was no Vodafone signal whatsoever owing to some mishap befalling the aeriel.
We spent the night in a not very salubrious spot by an overflowing litter bin and benck frequented by people who drink Special Brew for breakfast, but I was only disturbed in the night by a ferocious cat fight. Jim on the other hand was disturbed by the cats, some Liverpool fans, and the ducks, both quacking and pecking. We come all this way to get away from the bloody seagulls, only to be kept awake by nocturnal ducks instead. When we got up they were all sound asleep.
We dashed round Tescos (I'm afraid I like big Tescos. I know that makes me a bad person, but I still get excited by all the housewares) and left Leighton Buzzard at nine. We hope to get to Stoke Bruerne by tonight but are now in a dilemma. At the first lock, an elderly couple waited for us, to the extent of stopping and refilling the lock when they saw us coming. We are now honour bound to wait for them - or are we? They are very, very slow...
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Got an email from one of the Tarporley guys yesterday with a couple of photos of Little Boots (yes, I had even heard of her!) recording a video on Tarporley. Apparently it will be released on pockettvshow on YouTube in a couple of weeks, for all you fans out there. Woo, down with the young people.
And now we are off to Berkhamsted.