Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Friendliness of Folk

Tuesday 31st May
From Stone (Trent & Mersey Canal) to Tixall Wide (Staffs & Worcs Canal)

    Generally folk are very friendly and helpful.  Our neighbour at home has reacted to our concern that milk may have inadvertently been left in the fridge with a
Milk removed - you could have made cheese e-mail response. This morning Cleddau drew up in front of the chandlery in Stone and while the Captain disappeared to do unspeakable sanitation and rubbish disposal duties Boatwif was dispatched into the shop - with a list. Nan (that's twelve year old Kane's Nan) was in charge, although she was busy working out VAT returns on diesel sales. Kane could not have been more helpful, identifying our items quickly, advising against expensive goods, answering the phone and even manning the till. As we waited for the next lock he whizzed past us on his bike, waving a cheery hello.

    Boatwif's intentions to operate locks today were continually thwarted by kindly boaters, all intent on helping out and speeding us on our way. Below Stone's Bottom Lock a long line of boats was moored by the towpath. Friendly waves and remarks bemoaning yesterday's rain were commonplace. On Cleddau purred, into an increasingly pastoral landscape. There was time to gaze at a new marina, to observe the midpoint between Preston Brook, the canal's northern end and Shardlow, its southern end, time to wonder why cows' horns seem to grow in such different ways, one poor creature looking as if her horns would soon pierce her cud-chewing jaws. We were cruising in the Trent Valley, the river somewhere to our right.  For a while it seemed that all the pretty brick-built bridges were positioned on awkward corners. We approached Weston upon Trent, which from the canal seems a sublimely pretty village. There's a church spire, a pond, well cared for farm buildings, signs for a pub, some good-looking new housing, a little boatyard and the gentle rise of hills a couple of miles away.  About a mile after the village comes Weston Lock. We tied up, waited our turn and moved into the lock.  As earlier on other folk were about, two boats drawn up below waiting to use the lock. Bidden back onto our boat we cruised out of the open lockgates, both crew on the back deck.  An almighty BANG! seared through the air: power was lost; steerage was lost.  Out of control the boat sallied drunkenly towards the second of the waiting boats, Cleddau now a helpless bumper boat. The bump, when it came, was, however, less than that received in Stoke yesterday.  Ropes flew, all hands rushed to pull her in. Talk of River and Canal Rescue Services. A decade and a half ago, on the Lower Avon, a similar single ominous sound had signalled terminal demise... The stomach churns, the pound signs spin.

    But first establish the problem:
    Start engine in neutral. Procedure OK.
    Gently engage gear - engine stalls.
    Note tiny flex in prop shaft before stall.
    Conclusion: prop is jammed.
    Up with the engine boards.
    Off with the weed hatch.
    Check engine is turned off, keys out of ignition.

    The Captain, flat on the deck, groped in the prop cavity. There was the guilty party, a large, a long, a rounded piece of wood.  Up he dragged it, a complete fence post, as used thereabouts to tape off horse paddocks.  Photos show all!

    A half-hour lost, photographic evidence gathered, a strange conversation with a passing walker about good and bad fairies, we resumed the cruise.  One more lock, one more encounter with a helpful boater, he with his own travel woes to tell. Then a triumph, an easy approach to the watering point at Great Heywood, never before known; now a turn to the west and shortly a mooring spot on glorious Tixall Wide.  This is a boater's destination, an expanse of water, walks nearby on the Shugborough Estate and appetising goodies at the Great Heywood farm shop.

    Final report: lost last night were our two mooring pin markers, fluorescent tennis balls. The friendly boater moored behind reported that a small child took one, a dog another, not very friendly acts...?! However, no great financial loss for both balls had been found, not purchased, then recycled for our own very peculiar purposes!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Bumper and dodgem boats

Monday 30th May
From Stoke-on-Trent to Stone, Staffordshire

    Rain did not halt play today. The Captain springs to life at the sound of an alarm clock, ready to follow whatever the day's plan is.  He is soon vocal, indeed articulate, posing questions, seeking opinions. This morning he offered to debate with Boatwif the full pros and cons of sticking to the plan, that is, a prompt departure so as to reach Stone by early afternoon or a delayed start by a number of hours until after the rains had passed through.  Boatwif could turn the arguments within her head but in no way verbalise a  response.  Hence it was, that at just after 0730, the Captain made a decision, the engine was started and the boat began its watery way through the rest of Stoke-on-Trent.

    The rain was of the steady, unrelenting, vertical variety. The Trent and Mersey heareabouts is wide and deep, depth being gained over the years from mining subsidence.  At about 0800 the engine noise as heard from inside the boat changed dramatically, the throttle pulled back into reverse.  The boat swung to the right, up to the bank, and then bang! Attacked (certainly hit, hard) by a hire boat, whose steerer had made no attempt to slow or reverse. From the back deck all that the Captain could observe was the name of the hire boat fleet - and that the bow fender was positioned on the front deck and not attached, as is its purpose, to the bow!  At the first lock, about 10 minutes later, an inspection was made, but thankfully there were no serious signs of damage.  But inside the fridge had moved within its space, the door was jammed until some judicious jiggling repositioned the appliance. Thank you Mr Bumper Boat...

    On and on it rained, through all of the eleven miles and eleven locks. There are five deep locks all fairly close together in Stoke, mostly screened from warehousing or old factories by wire mesh fencing and trees.  But the bottle kilns are a distinctive sight. On the outskirts of the city a tall steel plaque on the towpath signals the Britannia Stadium, home to Stoke City FC. (And just now the re-tuned Radio 4 -  a story perhaps for another day - announces that Swansea City is to be promoted to the Premier League, which brings back a Monkton Moment which occurred when drawing towards Macclesfield on Saturday.
" A Welsh boat?" said a man from the towpath.
"Yes, Pembrokeshire," was Boatwif's reply from the front deck.
From the woman accompanying him came a squeal of pleasure: "Oh, and I'm from Swan-sea". Hear the accent!)

    After Stoke the canal has a rural feel, although signs of old industry are still apparent. At Trentham modern housing is close to the canal, the gardens varied, many with decks or verandas from which to appreciate their waterside setting.  Willows hang well out over the water, and steerers struggle to avoid boats moored on the offside while wet fronds skim their heads or stroke their faces.  At Bridge 104 there was another potential bumper boat episode. From the south the bridge approaches a blind right hand bend.  From the north the view is a little better.  The approaching boat, unaware of oncoming traffic, had its own problem to contend with - an escapee terrier determined to chase the ducks, which took off in low and noisy flypast. Its female owner, clad in indoor clothes and sandals, jumped off the boat in full scold mode just as the boats closed on each other. The episode ended as dodgems, but only  just. Even the bridge escaped a battering!

   In due course we followed a single hander boater down the four Measham Locks, Cleddau crew by then sustained by hot "Cuppasoups". Soon  afterwards we came into Stone. At Top Lock Boatwif watched amused as a boater, in steady rain, soaped up his boat, offside, stern and then nearside. Was the rain to be his rinse water...?

    A mooring was found in Stone, time then for an afternoon stroll into the town. Canalside buildings are cherished or transformed. There are far fewer closed shops than elsewhere, but many restaurants. It seems a thriving place. A hairdressing salon caught the eye, called "Set in Stone": the mind somehow sees concrete block (very permanent) curls...  The bottom lock at Stone sits right beside The Star, favourite pork scratchings place of author Terry Darlington's boat-despising whippet. ( Try reading Narrow boat to Carccassonne). The Star's menu boards for humans certainly looked interesting.  And why else is Stone famous? A friend revealed last week, that via his British Telecom training, he learned that Stone is famed for its regular thick clouds. It's certainly true, the Cleddau crew didn't dodge 'em here!

Tomorrow: to Tixall Wide

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Sunday 29th May
From just north of Congleton to Stoke-on-Trent
     "What was so wonderful about Wayne?" asked a friend last week, referring to the blog Cleddau on a test cruise. We were ecstatic about his ability to translate our bumbling ideas for a bathroom wall cabinet into a made-to-measure cupboard. See photo as evidence.  Last thing last night the camera was picked up to record the appearance of the front door and window customised bungs and screens, which are proving effective blackouts at night. But canal structures too have been "customised". At the bottom of the Macclesfield Canal, at Kidsgrove, the canal crosses the Trent and Mersey Canal  on a fine stone aqueduct; from it you can just see the start of the Cheshire Locks, which in pairs, (pairs due to the amount of industrial traffic) lower the canal down Heartbreak Hill towards Sandbach and Northwich.  If you are inclined to marvel at motorways swooping over each other then you would marvel at this too.

    Just after the aqueduct Cleddau cruised past Flirty Gertie; you cannot help but smile at such a delightful name.  Then comes the end of the Macc; a sharp right turn (and a single long hoot of the horn) was needed.  Within a few hundred metres we were at the northern portal of the Harecastle Tunnel. Here the water has its characteristic orange colouring (sorry, more orange than red) caused by the ironstone leaching through the tunnel rock.  These days boats are checked into and out of the tunnel by tunnel keepers, a convoy of up to eight boats at a time in one direction only.  Create as much light inside the boat as possible and keep the curtains open is the advice.  Once all lights were switched on Boatwif reported for duty on the back deck.  We were number three in a convoy of five. The nav lights used for the Bedford River Festival last year provided light at the the stern. But additionally the Captain had dug out a small clamp spotlight. What a difference it made - to see the neat tunnel brickwork, notice the stalactite formations, observe the rich colours seeping from the roof, and even read, somewhere in mid-tunnel, the Hull University Rag Week sign sprayed on the wall! The transit through takes about forty minutes, during which time taller beings need to be cautious about head height and deck crew should don waterproofs!

    Cleddau's overnight mooring is at Westport Park, in Stoke-on-Trent. Here now is a pleasant lake; once it was derelict and flooded mine workings.  Our neighbours are thirteen other boats and a huge flock of Canada geese jealously protecting their fluffy offspring. It has been a very blustery day and occasionally the mind has strayed back to events exactly a year ago.  Then Boatwif was dressed in smart togs for a niece's glorious wedding. As for today's fashion garb - light weight trousers, hip length T-shirt, topped by button-through fleece cardigan and accessorised by winter weight waterproof jacket, fleece-lined mountain cap and SealSkinz action gloves, an outfit customised for breezy boating!

    [Footnote: Webmeister Techno Son-in-Law is again providing map locations: should the text not match the location it's because he is camping in Ketchup (see Puddles, Paddles - Persistence, 10th September, 2010) in the Cotswolds  and is therefore using mobile gadgets.  He has sent a text to say that the tall white flowers pictured yesterday at Dane-in-Shaw Pasture were indeed ox-eyed daisies.] 

Tomorrow to Stone.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Tick. Tick. Tick. And Tickover...

Saturday 28th May

    Boatwif and the Captain were home for all of five days, five days only to make the final preparations for Departure Day for the 2011 Summer Cruise.

    If in panic, make a list.  The beauty of a list is that tasks completed can be ticked off, thus giving the ticker something of a sense of preparedness, or at least, of progress. The This Week list had 17 items, all but two related to the upcoming boat trip. Some of the tasks were "collections".  All that careful measuring and negotiating was a nail-biting business. Would, for instance, the galley blinds be ready in time? Last week's Relief Crew had had to make do with cardboard pieces in the galley and front door windows, some pieces, as it were, ventilated by air circles (as found in fruit boxes), sufficiently big to allow sunlight at dawn to stream through.  By Wednesday afternoon the blinds were ready. TICK on the list. Then there had been the problem of screening the front doors and side windows.  At the grand cost of £9 we had had foam cut to size for the side window bungs. (TICK on a previous list.) But the foam needed covering - and the door windows are too shallow for a foam solution. A search via the internet and Thompson's directory turned up someone prepared to use our previous curtain fabric and to stiffen the door window screens with pelmeting material, task completed in eight days. TICK. Then there was the cratch (technical term for the protective canvas over the front deck, in desperate need of renewal).  A Kempston upholsterer took that job on, finishing at midnight on Wednesday. Big TICK Friday afternoon then to discover that all the above items fitted - marvellous millimetre triumphs!

    Other items on the This Week list were of the TO FIND type.  Garage was searched, to no avail, for the bungee cord stock (essential for securing the cratch), found yesterday, on the boat, in a logical place. Likewise, hand-towels. Where were they? How could they not be with the bath towels? A thorough search mission was mounted at home of the airing cupboard and in the secret underbed spaces; the Captain was ordered aloft (well, up the ladder, into the loft), but no success.   Then, curiously, they appeared yesterday, on the boat, again in a fairly logical space!  Although there were numerous successes on the This Week list, perhaps Boatwif should confess to one failure. To do: make Boat Cakes. Done on Monday - TICK. Remember to take them out of the freezer to bring to the boat (reminder list posted in the kitchen)...? Err, No!

So the cruising started at 0900 on Saturday. First a slow turning around, perfectly managed, despite the wind.  Then a topping up of diesel. All was going well. Then, at Adlington, a boat swam out in front of us, and slowly, oh, so slowly, we followed it for two long hours, past Clarence Mill and then Adelphi Mill in Bollington, past the occasional snake bridge, the engine just on tickover, or so it seemed, until on the Hurdsfield side of Macclesfield its steerer pulled in by a meadow and beckoned us past. Doing 1200 revs per minute he was doing, perhaps he was slowing us up...? The Captain is doing his best now to stay ahead of Mr 1200 RPM: goodness, what if he were heading for Sharpness as well?!

     Down the Bosley Twelve we came (118 feet drop) in about an hour and three quarters, a good time since most of the locks needed filling before we could use them. These locks are glorious: massive limestone blocks form the lock facings, neat bridges allow access across the tail of each lock, although the winding gear is sometimes stiff.   The views around are splendid, ever-changing: cows and sheep in fields alongside while ahead, ever-present looms the Cloud, a bulky brooding hillside.

    Cleddau's first overnight mooring is at a favourite spot, just north of Congleton, the aqueduct which ovelooks the Biddulph Valley and the railway viaduct. Below is a  wonderful walk into Dane-in-Shaw Pasture, a Site of Special Scaientific Interest. Earlier the canal banks were marked by fresh ferns, flag irises, butter burr, buttercups, cow parsley and once, a solitary foxglove. The abundance of colour and of greenery indicates regular rainfall here, unlike home territory in the parched south east. Time then for a stroll down into the pasture (to warm up after the long lock steering stint). Flowers abound: some sort of tall daisies, small plum-coloured blooms, spring fresh green reeds on a pond...

    Tomorrow, however, may be far less colourful: the Harecastle Tunnel must be tackled, it's long and dark inside, as you might expect, although the waters outside are always distinctly RED.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cleddau on a test cruise

Tuesday 17th May - Friday 20th May

Techno Son-in-Law and Physicist Friend had campaigned to do a third annual spring cruise to Bugsworth. Diaries and calendars, i-phones and gizmos were consulted, dates agreed and time booked off work. Then a complication: frustration over the lack of close-to-hand storage space for toothbrushes had mounted. A call to Bourne Boats: any chance of an over-the-basin cupboard and shelf before the summer cruise? A date was given: deliver boat to Kerridge by 0900 on Wednesday 18th. So, an evening drive from Beds on Tuesday, arrival at 2150, departure from Poynton at 0640 on Wednesday.

At 0845 on Wednesday we tied up at Kerridge. WW and DD jumped aboard. This was to be a precisely-customised, mirror-fronted cupboard, bottom shelf for hair mousse and items of similar height, middle shelf for shampoos and sun lotions, the top for tablet packages. Measurements taken, we were banished.

With walking boots, poles and waterproofs we towpath-trudged the six miles back to the car, first in mizzle and drizzle, later in serious showers.

Spring cruise day dawned on Thursday and out we bowled to Kerridge, regular crew plus the relief crew. Wonderful Wayne and Dark-eyed Daniel had done a stunning job; meanwhile Trusty Tim had changed the short-spouted basin tap for a longer version. Cleddau set off, northbound up the canal, under the command (and hopefully the control) of Techno Son-in-Law.

"So you think you can trust him then?" ventured Wonderful Wayne.  Only time would tell...

After school on Friday Boatwif, the Captain and the Cheshire One headed north to the regular mooring. There she was, neatly tied up, on the right pontoon. "Want a brew?" enquired Techno-Son-in-Law. "The others have had one." And there on the boat was a party in progress. Comfortably seated were Techno's parents and their friends. Meetings and greetings! A "castanet dress" recently bought in Spain, presented to the Cheshire One by Big Granny!

Then for the debriefs. Relief crew had promised to work their passage. Physicist Friend had painstakingly varnished the new cupboard and shelf; Techno Son-in-Law had successfully fitted a magnetic catch to the upper airing cupboard door.

But what of the boat?

·         shower spacious and efficient (from the 6'2" one - a design triumph!)

·         all lighting and fittings working

·         galley spacious, easy to operate in

·         all galley equipment tested (oven temperature gauge possibly unreliable)

·         galley cupboards well-equipped and laid out

·         dinette cushions remain in position, in both seating and sleeping mode

·         diesel heating potentially noisy for late slumberers in the back cabin

Overall, a very positive thumbs up was awarded. Then, as a parting shot, Techno Son-in-Law suggested provision of another frying pan, just big enough for a single egg.

Does Boatwif ever eat fried eggs? More to the point, does the Captain, Chief Chef, ever provide them? Reader, the answer is - NO!

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Dawdle for a Dinner

Saturday 14th May

    The list of jobs to be done was long: second airing cupboard door to be fitted; first airing cupboard door to be varnished; exact measurements of the window panes in the front doors to be taken; cupboards to be reorganised following acquisition of some storage boxes; an audit of stuff hastily stored under the dinette weeks ago to be made...  Our arrival just before 5pm coincided with the outbreak of a seriously heavy rain shower and although unloading was aided by a large umbrella overall it was a very wet business.

     We had talked of eating at a local pub. "Oh no," advised the Cheshire Daughter, "well, they do food there, but pubby food - and there are Dogs  there".  Not entirely sure what that implied the Captain had a re-think. "Well there is the Miners' Arms at Lyme View."  Yes, we could negotiate the back lanes and maybe find it. But an easier, more direct route is via the towpath. A Eureka moment: go by boat! So, at 5.30pm Cleddau was untied from her moorings, winded (turned around, a precision manoeuvre assisted by calm conditions) and we sallied southbound towards our hoped-for dinner. Forty minutes later we were moored up at Adlington against a stretch of dry towpath, only a couple of minutes walk from a pub that is serious about serving food. The barman directed us to the top dining room ("Is that uphill?" wondered Boatwif). But the combination of the FA Cup Final and the Eurovision Song Contest seemed to have provided a run on the kitchen stores. A second choice starter was ordered; a different cut of steak had to be chosen but the food, once ordered, was swiftly delivered and in plentiful quantity.  

     A quiet night was spent opposite Lyme View Marina. As day dawned so did the realisation that boat work really did need to be done! Cleddau was turned and we headed northwards for all of half an hour. Behind us a heron screeched. From distant fields horses neighed ("Horse-fields," snorts Techno Son-in-Law, who has Views on land usage in these parts), and as we tied up at the Trading Post to refill the water tank a chorus of Canada geese greeted us. A good chat was had over mugs of tea with a fellow boater while watching the hosepipe. Watering completed Cleddau was steered across the canal to her pontoon at the moorings.  There were jobs to be done. The rain drizzled – but we were glad we'd had a little dawdle along the canal, after all, isn't that what boating is all about?


    Time for a footnote (or two). The north/south divide is very apparent up here, for fashionistas. Down south T-shirts and sandals abound, in Cheshire females are trudging around in denim jeans, high boots and faux fur trimmed jackets... maybe the lack of warmth and amount of moisture has something to do with it...?

    Green-minded Techno Son-in-Law has reported a recycling triumph. The cracked and rusty Morso solid fuel stove, late of nb Cleddau, more recently in residence in his garage, is to star at the Cheshire County Show, as a prop in a wood shed as part of Cheshire East's display... Now wasn't there a recent question on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time about keeping Dream Sheds cosy...?