Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Amazing Disappearing Bicycle

Nine week cruise - day 60 - Tuesday 30th August 2005

Snarestone to Ansty

Another early start got us under way at 0645, heading back down the Ashby Canal towards the Coventry Canal. It was a lovely sunny morning. David was on the tiller, I was shaving in the bathroom. Suddenly a great clattering noise started over my head, quickly followed by the engine going full astern. The overhead noise had stopped, and so had the boat. I rushed to the stern, and found David frantically throwing his Sea Searcher into the canal. He had been temporarily dazzled by the low sun, and had not spotted a low overhanging branch. Said branch had plucked his new bicycle from the roof and deposited it into the cut, whereupon it disappeared without trace. But it was OK, as he knew exactly where it had gone in. And, anyway, surely the notorious shallowness of this canal would easily reveal its victim. So David fished, under the offending tree, and found ... nothing. I prodded around with the boathook with a matching lack of success. Nothing resembling a human-powered two-wheeler came to light. But this was impossible! We were fishing, and poking around, under the very tree which had swept the bicycle to its watery fate. Where was it? Well, we gradually widened our search, and, eventually, a good boat length in front of the place where it must have gone in, my boathook struck the bike. We hauled it up, and wondered how it could possibly have got where it did. The bike survived its dip, but David got a wet bottom for a few days while the saddle was drying out.

There is a postscript to this story. At Marston Junction, where we turned left onto the Coventry Canal, I was on the tiller. Bit of a tight turn, and overhanging trees on the opposite bank. Was I going to repeat David's mistake and get something caught up? No, of course not. So how was it, then, that Jan, looking out of a window as I made the turn, spotted David's bike lock dangling from a hawthorn branch? Yes, somehow the trees had had it in for bicycles and ancillary items. With a bit of reversing I managed to grab the lock, and any smugness that I might have had immediately after the bicycle went in (it wouldn't have happened on MY watch, oh no) evaporated.

But that was later in the day. At 1045 we stopped at Market Bosworth. Jan went to do some shopping, and I changed the oil and filter. Not recorded, but I seem to recall that old plastic milk containers were used for the old oil. Under way again at 1200.

At 1320 we stopped at Sutton Wharf for water and showers. Passed Stoke Golding wharf at 1505.

The next entry in the boat log was the bike lock incident (if Jan hadn't glanced out of the window at just the right moment it would have been a case of the Amazing Disappearing Bike Lock as well).

Not far past Hawkesbury Junction, where we turned left onto the Oxford Canal at 1920, we stopped to assist Clubline hire boat "Barbara". The crew said their engine had suddenly stopped, and, on restarting, would stop again as soon as they tried to put it into gear. I pointed out to them that their stern rope ran tightly over the stern and under the boat, Yes, they'd managed to get it wrapped round the prop. We lent them a Stanley knife and a hacksaw, but didn't want to delay our progress, so I got off with my bike and waited for them to finish cutting the rope free. Then I cycled along the towpath - surely the worst condition one in the country - to catch up with our boat.

At 2015ish (it was dark), at the end of a day packed with incident, we moored at Ansty Bridge 14.

Friday, 28 March 2008

To the very end of the Ashby

Nine week cruise - day 59 - Monday 29th August 2005

Hartshill to Snarestone

Under way at 0715. At 0910 we turned onto the Ashby Canal - new territory. An hour later David and I cycled from Bridge 9 to have a look at St. Botolph's church. Stopped at the boatyard at Stoke Goldington Wharf to buy oil as the 150 hour service is coming up. The oil was decanted from a large container into one of our empty oil containers (but what will we put the old oil in? Milk containers?) The oil cost £11 (I guess we had five litres, but I suppose it might even have been an old-fashioned gallon. Would that have been possible?)

While we watered up I cycled to Market Bosworth to have a quick look round. Back on board we stopped a bit further on to have a look at some of the historic boats which had moored for the Ashby Canal festival. I bought a small "Buckby" can to paint (£7.95).

lunchtime on the Ashby Canal

About five miles before the end of the canal Jan decided she hadn't been getting enough exercise, so she got off and walked the rest of the way. Along the route she started to get a painful foot, but we didn't see each other until Snarestone.

At 1830 we moored at the current terminus of the canal just beyond Snarestone Tunnel. In the canal society's tent, appropriately, was some Measham ware. John and David cycled via Measham to Moira to look at the restored bit of canal.

Selling back to the shop

Nine week cruise - day 58 - Sunday 28th August 2005

Fradley to Hartshill

Under way at 0730, Ate filled North Staffordshire Oatcakes for lunch. Watered up at Fazeley. Called in to Canal Crafts on the Coventry Canal, where we had stopped on the "outward" leg of our cruise, seven weeks and an age ago. David sold the man four (fished) windlasses and a piling hook for £9.

At 2005 we moored at the Anchor Inn, Hartshill on the Coventry Canal. David concocted his famous pasta bake. Trying not to let the fact that there's only one week of the cruise left sink in.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


Nine week cruise - day 57 - Saturday 27th August 2005

Stone to Fradley

geese on the T&M

Another early start - up at 0550 and under way at 0610 - this really is the very best time to be boating. Everything is so quiet and still, and I'm sure you see more wildlife. It was geese this morning, hordes of them. The photos were taken (by David, as always) at about 0830, and I'm fairly sure it was just south of Aston Lock. That's Tigger on the bow, by the way. One of us found him somewhere, and so he became our figurehead.

David discovered that portable CD players break when dropped on the deck. We had just passed Rugeley, so he cycled back to look for a Dixons to replace it, but there was no Dixons.

At Shugborough we collected lots of fircones to use as firelighters. Incidentally, I'm still (2008) using them as firelighters in the barbecue: a pyramid of four, charcoal placed round and over, ignite, and your mother's brother is called Robert. (Actually, I haven't yet had a BBQ this year, but there are still fir(e)cones left, in case the weather improves.) Jan shopped at Little Haywood general stores.

The Swan, Fradley Junction

At about 2000 we moored at Fradley Junction. Ate on board: cottage pie, followed by apple pie and custard.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Stone Star

Nine week cruise - day 56 - Friday 26th August 2005

Etruria to Stone

John was up at 0710. Moved Shadow to the water point, watered up, and moved it to the marina at 0850. By about 1050 we were all back on board Lee Swallow ready for the journey back to Bletchley. We set off down the Stoke locks. At Trentham we moored for lunch, then, at Earls Road, Penny, Jemima, Florence, Fergus and Alison departed. Under way again at 1500ish.

Six miles further on, we moored for the night in Stone, by Stone Boatbuilders. Jan made spaghetti carbonara for us all. At about 2100 we went to the town centre and shopped in Somerfield. David and I went to the Star pub.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Back to Etruria

Nine week cruise - day 55 - Thursday 25th August 2005

Bosley top lock to Etruria

Set off down the flight in bright sunshine, but black clouds soon came, and lots of rain fell. I and Jan led in Shadow and got to the bottom in two hours, Jan steering and me lockwheeling. Lee Swallow took three quarters of an hour longer.

in Lock 7 on the Bosley flight

We tied up at the bottom of the flight for a bit too long, as it was then a rush to get to Harecastle Tunnel in time to be allowed through. We got there at 1610, ten minutes after the last guaranteed passage. Fortunately the tunnel keeper waved us through.

Penny steering Lee Swallow

At about 1800 we arrived back at Etruria for John to wash Shadow and clean the brasses ready for the next owners.

Enjoyed a takeaway curry as our evening meal.

Bosley Locks (again)

Nine week cruise - day 54 - Wednesday 24th August 2005

Ramsdell Hall to Bosley top lock via Royal Oak swing bridge

Up at 0740. It had rained during the night. Got under way at 0805, Shadow leading. Rain continued in showers. As it was cold, David lit the fire.

Climbed the 12 Bosley locks. They looked completely different this time, 45 days since we were last here. Then it was gloriously hot and sunny, now cold and wet. Went past the Royal Oak swing bridge and Folly's Nook pub, and winded a mile or so further on. Then back to Bosley top lock where we moored for the night. I expect I've written more in Shadow's log, but that's not to hand, so you'll have to make do with this most boring of posts, I'm afraid. At least there is a photo today.

Penny steering Lee Swallow on the way back to Bosley Locks

One boat better than two

Nine week cruise - day 53 - Tuesday 23rd August 2005

Etruria to Ramsdell Hall

At 0800 we moved to the water point at the services and watered up. Used the shower too. David and I cycled round the city centre, stopping off at a pottery, a car showroom, and BBC Radio Stoke for a staff newspaper. And we'd tried so hard to cut ourselves off from the world of work, well, I had anyway. Back to the boat for touching up some paintwork. Looks much better now.

At 1315 we picked up Shadow from the marina and went in convoy to and through Harecastle Tunnel. At 1630 we moored by Kidsgrove station and met Penny, Jemima, Florence, Fergus and Alison. David took the car back to the marina and cycled back; meanwhile Jan and Alison shopped at Tesco.

By 1800ish we were under way again. We turned left onto the Macclesfield Canal, over the T&M via Poole Aqueduct, and moored half an hour past the stop lock. Had spag bol on board Shadow. I decided that it was a lot easier being captain of one boat rather than the two I was now responsible for. This was especially the case when working through narrow locks (wide locks would have been a breeze).

Photos return tomorrow.

Grass and sausage meat

Nine week cruise - day 52 - Monday 22nd August 2005

Cheddleton Heath to Etruria via Leek

Up at 0700; under way at 0720. Our aim today: to get to the end of the Leek Branch. This was to be rather easier than yesterday's end-of-navigation at Froghall. Leek Tunnel has rather more headroom than Froghall Tunnel. We winded at the recommended spot and reversed to the very end of the canal. Here we tied up and walked to Morrison's to stock up. One item we bought was a pack of North Staffordshire Oatcakes - delicious with all sorts of savoury or sweet fillings. Back to the boat and under way again at 0900.

With not far to go before Etruria Mike stopped to talk to and photograph a man on the towpath who was pulling up grass and stuffing it into sausages in his hand. This, he explained, was to feed the birds. I'll have to ask Mike for copies of his photos.

At 1630 we tied up outside Festival Park Marina in Stoke-on-Trent and said goodbye to Mike and Fearghal. David got some more supplies from Morrison's. At 2000 we lifted the lift bridge and moved into the marina, where Shadow, our shared ownership boat, was moored. Oops! We should have checked beforehand that that would have been OK. The grumpy marina man asked us what we were doing there and made it clear we weren't welcome. So we moved back to Etruria Services. We'd just started eating our lamb chops.

No photos today, I'm sorry to say. What had David been up to?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Froghall Tunnel

Nine week cruise - day 51 - Sunday 21st August 2005

Consall Forge to Cheddleton Heath via Froghall

water point, Consall Forge Lime Kilns

London Bridge

Got up late, at 0800. Under way at 0820 but stopped a few minutes later at the water point at the foot of the lime kilns. The water pressure here was very high, too fierce for our hose, so we had to give up. The water would have provided useful extra ballast to help us through the tunnel. This was to be another exciting part of our trip, with a pioneering feel. The guage suggested we wouldn't fit through the notoriously low tunnel: the bare roof of the boat pushed the plastic flaps out of the way. Was the guage being overly cautious? If we didn't fit through the tunnel would we be able to wind? We approached gingerly, and crept in, crew positioned front and back for fending purposes. Now we cut the engine so we could guide ourselves through, "handing" the boat along (well, there was no room to leg it). We took our time, getting crew not needed for propulsion to walk to whichever part of the boat needed trimming, and ... we made it! The tunnel might have been only 76 yards long, but we felt as though we'd accomplished one of our finest achievements of the cruise. It didn't matter that there was only a stone's throw of canal the other side - we'd got through. Actually the other side was interesting: a small basin (in which we moored at 1135); an ice cream kiosk; and a brand new set of moorings, opened just two weeks previously. We were one of the very first boats to go down the restored lock of the Uttoxeter branch, and wind by the pontoon moorings. Our schedule didn't allow for much more than a quick scramble (by foot) into the undergrowth following the line of the Uttoxeter branch for a bit. Some serious restoration required here! As we locked back up to the main line we got talking to some people who'd taken a great interest in our venture. When we invited them to join us as ballast they jumped at the chance. Our passage back through the tunnel was much easier this time. We'd watered up and filled the shower bath with water, plus we had three extra passengers, so we had plenty of headroom. Our guests stayed with us until Consall Forge, happy to drink our beer and our tea!

entering Froghall Tunnel (east portal) (where am I going?)

slowly does it

out we pop

a spot of bow hauling

After climbing the three Hazelhurst Locks we turned left onto the Leek Branch, and moored about a mile beyond the aqueduct.

Fearghal charms the electric snake with that old "bottle on finger" trick

basking in glory ... or something

The unfriendliest pub?

Nine week cruise - day 50 - Saturday 20th August 2005

Etruria to Consall Forge

bottle kilns, Milton(?)

by the Caldon Canal

Up at 0600 and started up the Caldon Canal. Stopped for lunch at the Travellers' Rest, Stanley, where the service was VERY quick. Good value roast dinners were £3.95 each. Locked down the Hazelhurst Locks to keep on the main line, and passed under the Hazelhurst Aqueduct. Stopped for a quick one at the Holly Bush just beyond the aqueduct. The pub was busy, and I remember thinking that it hadn't really lived up to expectations. Too good for its own, er, good?


Moored up for the evening at Consall Forge (forgot to note the time). Went to the extraordinary Black Lion pub. Behind the bar was an extremely grumpy old man; all over the place were notices forbidding this and ordering that: NO CHILDREN; RETURN GLASSES; TOILETS FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY etc. Mr. Grumpy shut up shop at 2240 - and this was a Saturday night! As soon as the last people left he bolted the door, leaving us sitting outside feeling somewhat unwelcome.

grabbed shot of the spooky steam train at Consall Forge

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The O'Reillys join

Nine week cruise - day 49 - Friday 19th August 2005

Malkin's Bank to Etruria

bottle kiln, Stoke on Trent

Up at 0700 and under way fifteen minutes later. Through Harecastle Tunnel at 1430, evidently narrowly avoiding being blown up (Waterscape stoppage alert has this today (20th March 2008): "Following the discovery of what appears to be an unexploded Second World War bomb at the South Portal of Harecastle Tunnel, the canal will be closed for periods during Good Friday while it is made safe." Interesting that it's closed only for "periods" - presumably it's possible to go through the tunnel and past the "unsafe" bomb during the other times).*

At 1630 we reached Festival Park Marina, where our shared ownership boat, Shadow, is moored. Shopped at Morrison's. At 2030 David's friend from home, Mike, arrived with his son Fearghal. We moved the boat to Etruria Services and moored for the night.

Mike and Fearghal prepare to sample boat food

can't think why the steps have been moved

* Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons reports that the "bomb" was, in fact, an empty gas canister. Phew!

Jan returns

Nine week cruise - day 48 - Thursday 18th August 2005

Barbridge to Malkin's Bank

sunrise on the Middlewich Branch

0600 John up; 0620 under way. Beautiful morning. Dieseled up at King's Lock in Middlewich - 183 litres @ 41p/litre. Also bought a metre of fender chain and two shackles to improve the hang of the bow fender.

Middlewich, the salt of the earth

Stopped for lunch at Crow's Nest Bridge (sandwiches), and then on to Elton Moss Bridge. This was the nearest point to Sandbach Station where we were to meet Jan off the 1649 train. Walking up the hill we came across a lovely old workshop. Can't find any photos of it, though. Didn't you take any, David?

the kitchen towel - can you see which end hung inside the cupboard?

Jan's train was on time, and we were back on board and under way at 1715. At 1915 we moored just past the winding hole at Malkin's Bank for tea and bed.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

A big hit (but not in the pub)

Nine week cruise - day 47 - Wednesday 17th August 2005

Chester to Barbridge

Tower Wharf (?), Chester

Shock! David is up before John! (0700; 0705) David went off to walk the walls and John, having done the walls on a recent visit to Chester, had a quick look in the city centre and then got the boat moving. Up Northgate Locks single handed, and then stopped at Iceland/Tesco for supplies.

Topped up with 20 litres of diesel at Beeston (45p/litre) and showered at Calveley Services.

a big hit

For some reason we have been putting beer bottle tops on the narrow window ledges. Well. they were just the right size! If we hit something a bit hard, some of these fall off. We can guage the severity of the impact by the number of bottle tops thrown onto the floor. The photo above shows the result of a reasonably noteworthy collision. The log fails to record who was steering at the time.

At 2045 we moored at Barbridge Junction, having turned left onto the Middlewich Branch. We ate at the Barbridge Inn (John had steak and ale pie; David had gammon steak. Both OK). We took part in the pub quiz for the fee of 50p per participant. We did terribly, scoring 10 out of 40. We didn't come bottom, though: the wooden spoon was taken by the team who scored just 4. (Phew!)

Duck weed

Nine week cruise - day 46 - Tuesday 16th August 2005

Tattenhall to Chester via Ellesmere Port

John got up at 0630 and got the boat under way at 0705. Continuing north we passed lots of moored boats on the offside, meaning we had to crawl along for about a mile. Seemed to take for ever.

I wonder why this paddle leaks

approaching Chester

At 1140 we descended the Northgate Locks in Chester. The bottom gate was very leaky: to get through we had to let more water in from the top lock. These were the locks I always looked out for when travelling by train to and from Salford as a student. They appeared so exciting, hewn out of rock, and here I was at last going through them. Excellent!

rounding the castle

We cracked on towards Ellesmere Port and encountered mases of bright green duck weed covering the whole canal from Bridge 138 northwards. This didn't seem to slow us down too much, but the stern fender stayed green for a long time! To prevent the duck weed entering the basin complex at Ellesmere Port, and creating a hazard for visitors to the Boat Museum, a boom had been placed at a bridge hole. This was removed for us by a BW man and we went through. The hazard was that people might mistake the duck weed for grass, and start to walk on the canal.

approaching Ellesmere Port

a leaky lock

John and gongoozlers

the duck weed boom doesn't seem to have worked

tied up in the basin at Ellesmere Port (ours is the one on the right)

Locking down two narrow locks into the lower basin, we tied up and looked round the museum. It was very good - we needed more time there. But our punishing schedule, imposed by me in order to cover as much of the system as possible in our nine weeks, meant that we had to get going. After a quick look at the Manchester Ship Canal we went back up the locks at 1630, and set off south from Ellesmere Port.

At 2030 we tied up by the water point at Tower Wharf in Chester. When we had filled up we moved forward to clear the water point. Got fish and chips from the local chippie. The end of a really good day's cruising.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Mo at Wardle Lock Cottage

Nine week cruise - day 45 - Monday 15th August 2005

Broken Cross to Tattenhall

John got up at 0510 and got under way ten minutes later. It was foggy weather, especially at the flashes on the T&M. At 0645 we passed Shadow, our OwnerShips boat, moored between bridges 177 and 176. Passed through Middlewich Locks. We ate a fry-up on the move. We turned right onto the Wardle Lock Branch and chatted to Mo who lives at the lock cottage. She was telling us that she used to be a boatwoman working a tar boat. John mentioned that he was up at a quarter-past-five this morning, to which Mo responded: "That's not oop! One o'clock is oop. We used to get oop at one o'clock."

At Barbridge Junction we turned right on the Shroppie main line, and at 2000 we moored near Tattenhall at bridge 113. The plan was to eat at the Poacher's Pocket - but we found it had closed six months previously. Had a Tesco lasagne on board.

David appears not to have taken any photographs today. Shame.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Anderton Lift with the Adeys

Nine Week Cruise - day 44 - Sunday 14th August 2005

Middlewich to Broken Cross via Anderton and Vale Royal Locks

it looks a long way down

sharing the caisson

the weight of each caisson is taken by this hydraulic ram

Phil and John

John up at 0715; David up 15 minutes later (as usual). We went to the 0800 communion service at the parish church of St. Michael and All Angels, Middlewich. Then we provisioned up at Tesco's. Got under way at 0900 and arrived at Anderton at 1300. We'd pre-booked a lift passage for 1345. While we were waiting the Adeys arrived to join us for the day. Once down the lift we turned left to go upstream on the Weaver to Vale Royal locks. There we turned round and came back to the lift. While watering up I changed the oil and filter (at 3799 hours). (This is getting quicker every time). On the way to Broken Cross, where we moored at 2100, we finished making a shelf unit for the (outside) rear of the boat, under the instrument panel. This was to prove extremely useful for coffee/tea/beer/maps. Should have done it as soon as we found the raw materials at Fradley on day 6!

Lion Salt Works

Once moored David cooked his standard Pasta Bake. John ate his portion, that's John's, not Davids, and then finished off the remains of his curry from the previous day. Delicious!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Curious cows

Nine week cruise - day 43 - Saturday 13th August 2005

Wrenbury to Middlewich

Left mooring at 0930, David in charge, while John walked to Wrenbury Station to catch the 1007 train to Walkden. When I got there I found the left rear tyre was flat, so I changed it for the spare (in pouring rain). Toured the tyre repairers of Walkden but they'd all closed for the day. So I drove back to meet the boat at Barbridge Junction at 1400. Jan then drove home. Now it's back to the two brothers on board. Just onto the Middlewich Branch we stopped at Venetian Marine for David to buy his own Sea Searcher magnet.

the curious cows

At 2100 we moored just above Middlewich Big Lock. Spotted, and spoke to, Bob Wood from Silkwood ("Yay" comment from Alison!) After a Chinese takeaway for David and an Indian one for John, we checked out the Big Lock pub before going to bed.

Prees Branch

Nine week cruise - day 42 - Friday 12th August 2005

Ellesmere to Wrenbury

Left our mooring at 1000 after Penny, Jemima, Florence. Fergus and Alison left. Did the Prees branch. Found out later that the timelapse filming had failed: it had recorded continuously from 1000 and had hence filled the tape less than an hour later. This meant all of the Prees branch and Grindley Brook etc. was missed. We enjoyed it at the time, though!

At 2000 we moored at Wrenbury.

This must be the most boring post so far (all right, you needn't comment). Not even a photograph to liven things up a bit.

There was something in the water...

Nine week cruise - day 41 - Thursday 11th August 2005

LLangollen to Ellesmere

crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct for the fourth time

Jan was sick all night. When the water filter casing split, it evidently allowed some of the impurities collected over time to mix with the water, which Jan then drank. John got up at 0615 and we got going at 0645.

At Chirk we stopped for David to cycle to Barbridge to get his car and for John to get supplies from town. When John got back to the boat he found that the rear mooring pin had been pulled out by a speeding boat.

We stopped for water at Ellesmere, and met David who arrived with a new AquaFilta cartridge. We fitted it and watered up (again?) Had a shower on board and had a shave in the loo block. Changed the gas bottle. I didn't record the time of mooring here, but the engine hours for today were 9.2, so I would estimate 1700, allowing for an hour at Chirk.

The photo shows the camera I'd set up for my timelapse record of the trip. It's protected against rain by a muesli packet.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Nine day cruise - day 40 - Wednesday 10th August 2005


We stayed moored in the new basin at LLangollen (paid another fiver). Went to catch a bus to Betws-y-Coed but somehow missed it. Must have gone early. So John phoned Phil, a friend from Salford University, who picked us up and took us to Pen-y-Pass for an ascent of Mount Snowdon. In our party were Phil, Penny (Mrs Phil), John, David, Jemima and Florence. We went up the Pyg Track route and came down via the Miners' Track. It was great to climb Snowdon again, although no challenge as the paths are so well defined. Must have been at least ten years since the last time I was up there.

We got back to the boat at 2045 for a pork stew which Jan had cooked. Alison had arrived, having come by train and bus. That evening the water filter casing split, causing a small flood. Some crew complained that the water tasted funny.