Monday, 21 May 2012

Fact and fantasy

19th to 21st May 2012

Boaty bits and fairy tales, or when the diesel got polished and how Tattercoats found her prince

A long weekend in Cheshire beckoned – chance to tackle some jobs on Cleddau – and an opportunity to join the Cheshire One on a visit to the Spellbound Forest.

First to the boaty bits. If only there had been a tick list then the Captain could have smugly marked off as DONE:  

(1) replacing a hinge on the freezer compartment door

(2) locating and repairing breaks in the bilge pump wiring

(3) clearing out of water from beneath the engine

(4) wiring a speaker extension from the bedroom radio through to the bathroom

(5) moving coal, kindling and ash bin off the front deck to allow for summer sitting out (!)

(6) the application of de-rust paint to a few points on the engine hatch and cabin sides and retouching with red paint

(7) the application of de-rust paint to a few smudges on the handrails and roof edge and retouching with blue paint

(8) changing the filter on the drinking water tap


(9) the big one: organising the cleaning out of the diesel tank and its fuel content, a procedure known as fuel polishing.

Boatwif’s contribution, meanwhile, to this notional tick list was the cleaning of all windows, mirrors and portholes, inside and out, port side from the pontoon, starboard side via a creep along the gunnel, left hand on the handrail.

Readers, not only were jobs done but also a little cruising was achieved... Easy access to the diesel tank would be required for the diesel flushing episode on Monday but Cleddau’s usual mooring position is bow into the bank and stern towards the canal. Far better to turn the boat around – and so it was on Sunday that there was a little journey of about five miles up past Goyt Mill to Marple Junction where the Macclesfield and the Peak Forest Canals meet, just to turn the boat round of course, not to marvel at the swathes of forget-me-nots or sniff the wild garlic or dodge the drifting dandelion seed, nor to view extensions on High Lane’s houses or people gardening and, in one place, even sitting outside on garden chairs. It had not been our expectation to come across a half-sunken boat adrift across the canal nor to espy a beautiful barrel decorated in canal art style... As ever the towpath was busy, joggers jogging in a bunch and two troops of horses and riders out on a Sunday hack. “Well, this is Cheshire,” explained the Captain, needlessly, while on the water narrow boats and canoes were trying hard to keep apart.

So to the fuel polishing: from Swanley Bridge Marina (near Nantwich) on Monday afternoon came Roger and out of his little orange car he took pipes, containers and a double cylinder arrangement on a lawnmower-like frame. The process involves sucking out the fuel, separating the water and any (many!) deposits and then passing the diesel through successive filters in the cylinders until it is clean. The cylinders require electric power to suck and filter, so, in case no electricity is available, a small portable generator is brought along too. The water removed from Cleddau’s tank was like a muddy puddle or badly mixed gravy; over time the diesel gradually resumed a clearer appearance. Operation Fuel Polish was a three hour long procedure, done in warm sunshine and assisted by several mugs of tea!

Fairy tales:   a far cry from the practicalities of boat maintenance were the fairy tales depicted in Delamere Forest over the weekend. On Saturday morning there was an early downhill drive across Cheshire, down from the highlands of the east, across the Plain, over the River Weaver at Northwich (hey, we cruised under that bridge in April) and on towards Chester.  On a Delamere Forestry Commission site the Spellbound Forest had been established. Clues, props, musicians and actors were located along the forest paths. Gradually a story would be unravelled. Hence the Cheshire One and her “twin” (same day, same hospital) created characters, followed a prince, added fabric to Tattercoats’s  dress, danced at a ball, found sticks for their bundles of provisions, hid in an enormous magpie’s nest – and walked a fair distance up and down muddy forest paths! You’d turn a corner to find a table setting or a four poster bed or an array of sewing machines or a collection of bird cages – such huge effort had gone into the event the organisers, Wild Rumpus, deserve every success with future family arts events.

After such escapism in the forest a yearning grows - with clean windows, good radio reception in the bathroom and a clean fuel tank surely it must be nearly time for more escapism - by boat!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Crowded footpaths...

Falklands Friend had dropped by for lunch and a long afternoon's catch up before heading south on her last weekend. A 20 hour flight via Ascension Island will get her back to work – and to midwinter. As she left she pushed two packages towards us, one a Brunel booklet for Cleddau's on-board library, the other a collection of walks cards for Cambridgeshire and East Midlands. So it was that in perfect walking weather on Saturday Boatwif and the Captain met a boat at one Nene lock and drank thermos tea beside another!

Castle Ashby was the start point of the 6.5 mile circular walk which was to meet the Nene at Cogenhoe Lock and follow the Nene Way towpath along until Whiston Lock. The walk's first section was along a pavement, opposite gentle estate parkland.  Road traffic was slight but oncoming walkers frequent. A woman in football gear; a man in clerical collar; two soldiers; several youths; a Dutch serviceman. What was it about? Where were they going? "It's a 42 kilometre walk," one person offered. The Captain and Boatwif were none the wiser...

 Down through the hamlet of Chadstone, up onto the ridge, past a field of oil seed rape, where, in long views across an empty landscape, the only movements were the gentle drift of clouds and the soft flutter of a gorgeously patterned butterfly.

Across a narrow lane: here a Japanese walker was struggling to find his route... On towards a spinney, descending to a footbridge over a babbling brook.  But then there were more walkers, eager to overtake: two Dutch sailors; a foursome, the lead and back walkers bearing Austrian flags; some Danish soldiers; more walkers, singly, in pairs, a dog needing a drink. "It's the Waendel Walk," explained someone, "42 kilometres..."  (A thought enters the mind:  42 kilometres - that's just over 26 miles... they're all walking a marathon!) Red arrows pointed their way. Down the steep Jerusalem steps pounded the pair who had started five hours before, all walkers heading for Cogenhoe. By now the Captain's words were ready: "We're not part of you, we're only out for a country stroll."

At Cogenhoe the routes diverged, Waendelers striding west along a village loop, the Cleddau crew heading towards the river. And there it was, the holiday park of neat static caravans, the millstream behind the lock – and the cows. Cleddau had passed through here twice in 2010, bound to and from the Bedford River Festival, had moored twice on the meadow of curious cows. Despite high river levels a boat was rising in the lock, its crew under instruction for RYA qualification. A windlass wielder flashed a blue passport, a Skipper's Licence; with this, he said, he commanded a 1940s Humber barge, a trip boat out from Beverley but today was about gaining his narrow boat stripes... The boat made its exit from the lock, the windlass wielders closed the top gates and then the bottom guillotine gate was raised, as is required on the Nene. Still the river waters, running downstream from the sodden Midlands,  surged over the top gates.

A mile further was walked, along the Nene Way, the river besides us, running fast. Memories stirred of gusty winds on a sunny day blowing across the open meadows, pinning Cleddau  against the offside bushes. At Whiston Lock lunch was eaten while more Waendeler walkers pounded or plodded past, by then only six miles left of their routes. We turned up to the ridge, heading for Whiston Church, a building of mellow stone which looks out across the broad Nene Valley. The tiny village was quiet, its church wide open to visitors. On our route took us, over the metal rungs in the churchyard wall, through fields and into a lane back to Castle Ashby. Three soldiers, each bearing weighty packs on their backs pounded towards us. And there, at the top of the last hill, in Castle Ashby, was a checkpoint, where from 10 am onwards water and food had been dispensed to the Waendel road walkers. "Yes, people come from all over the world for these walks," said the checkpoint steward. "Doing it for years, they have."

The last stretch of a varied walk returned us to the car just a few hundred yards from Castle Ashby House. Back home a quick Google explained all: a  Wellingborough-based walking festival now in its 33rd year, walk routes over a variety of terrains and distances!

So thanks to Falklands Friend Boatwif and the Captain had enjoyed a glorious new walk (of rather less than 42 kilometres) - and watched a boat going through a lock!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A walk up a rare Incline

Cleddau is moored far from home but on Saturday Boatwif and the Captain were craving boats and a breezy walk. Why not Foxton Locks then, was the thought.  Years before becoming boat owners there had been an expedition into rural Leicestershire in pursuit of a country walk – and the spectacle of dinky locks, side ponds and an odd little museum had proved a magical surprise. Time and again we have returned – to walk, to gongoozle and twice to cruise on Cleddau, on a through route to Leicester, Nottingham and Lincoln.

An accident on the M1 caused a long cross-country diversion, through a gently rolling landscape of acid yellow fields, stone-built villages and graceful church spires. Once a coach was off-loading passengers, the ladies clutching hands to their heads to retain wedding hats while taking dainty steps around the puddles towards the church. Black clouds rolled overhead, periodically leaking short and sharp showers. Wrapped up well against the chill wind we strolled the few hundred yards from the car park to the top of the locks. Now some informative notices have been placed beside the towpath – but at Foxton when there is boat action one's attention is always drawn to the locks.

One boat up; another up; another up; one down; another down; two more up... The locks, ten in all, are arranged in two groups of five "staircase locks", where each lock chamber opens directly into the next one. Watching boats make their way up or down the flight becomes compulsive viewing. Questions are asked of the steerers while eyes stalk the windlass-wielders: will they get the paddles in the right order...

"Red 'afore white and you'll be alright

White before red and you'll wish you were dead!" 

goes the lock keeper's rhyme.

The ground paddles are unusually placed, at each lock one near the top gates and one halfway along the lock side. To distinguish them those which fill the locks from the side ponds are painted red and those which empty a lock are painted white. The side ponds act as reservoirs besides the locks: about half the water from emptied locks goes in and half the water needed for filling locks is drawn out, so each lock cycle uses half only of a lockful of water.

And as gongoozlers make their way down the pristine towpath (observing perhaps, as we did yesterday, the lock-keeper pushing his lawnmower, windlass tucked into his belt) their eyes will take in the side ponds and the squat brick building on the other side of the flight.

At the bottom of the hill changes were remarked upon: a boat shed now another food-serving pub, a BW key operated footbridge across the canal and a large car park catering for pub visitors and customers for the various trip boats. But round the corner, on the short canal arm, lies another change. Here work parties have cleared the scrub and tree growth on the steep slope where for eleven years (1900 –1911) the Foxton Inclined Plane hauled boats up and down the hillside in water-filled caissons. We walked up the steep slope where once two huge metal tanks, each carrying  two narrow boats, would move the boats between the two canal levels, thus by-passing the queues at the lock flight. At the top of the slope brick foundations and some metal rail indicate the line the caissons took and a huge metal barge is positioned to show where the boats would rejoin the canal's upper level. But how did it all work?

The squat brick building (now the Inclined Plane Museum) had been the boiler house which provided the 25 horse power (18.6kW) of energy for a steam driven winch to raise and lower the caissons. On top of the building's flat roof used to be a superstructure which contained the winding gear and the operator's viewing position. Yet another marvellous engineering design created by the late Victorians.

The Foxton Incline Boat Lift is the only Lift Incline to have been built in the UK although others exist in continental Europe. This is a wonderfully inspirational place to visit, whether as a boater or as a person curious about our waterway past.  Since 2005 Heritage Lottery money has helped with the preservation and interpretation of the site.  In the Museum a figure of £12 million and a time scale of "after the recession and after the Olympics" were mentioned if the target to restore the Lift is ever to be achieved…

A pub lunch and then a (dry) flat stroll beside the canal took us some distance towards Market Harborough. The canal is a section of the Grand Union Leicester Line: there may be movement restrictions due to the drought further along but boats were on the move - day boats, Canaltime hire boats and locally moored boaters out for a holiday weekend.  Then one final surprise: in this quintessentially quiet rolling English countryside lies an unexpected foreign visitor, all the way from Peru had come nb Paddington Bear! And, just for the record, had Cleddau been descending this boat lift she and her crew could have discovered from the viewpoint that they were only 130 locks and 60 hours from their April destination, the Anderton Boat Lift…