Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 11: Review, 2005

Return to boat

Sue and Vic arranged a lift for us all back to Milton Keynes. Got the boat systems up and running and lit the fire. All seemed OK till I started the engine. The oil warning light did not go out. There was plenty of that nice fresh oil up in the rocker box so I was less worried. Fiddled with the wires on the panel and the light went out when the engine started again. It must have been a loose connection. The gales a few days later proved a problem for our diesel fire as it was blown out! "Don't need this."

Trying to slow down after Christmas is proving difficult due to picking up a virus back home, and the need to get past Ivinghoe Locks before BW close them. On the way we stop a few nights at Leighton Buzzard for Tesco and Homebase. Stocked up with food and got ourselves a pair of leather swivel easy chairs that we could easily fall asleep in! Walked up a row of residential boats and asked if any body wanted a settee bed. It went the next morning! Helped Sue and Vic chop up some more wood for their fire.

Boat show

We got past Ivinghoe and stopped near the bridge. A taxi was called to take us to Cheddington Station. The train took us to Euston where we went underground to Islington, then another train to Excel, and the new exhibition hall. Took just two hours to get there. Sue had the route worked out using Qjump on the Internet. Got there at 11 and stayed till 5. Saw Chris on the Moody boat display. The Inland Waterway display was popular because a canal side pub had been built there.

By all means go to see boats in a clinical situation, all bright and cheerful but not moving. While admiring the fit out think of the real environment you will be in. That big boat will be going up and down on the waves and leaning over in the wind. Most canal boats seem to stay in expensive marinas for months. When out and about you learn to respect the old canal system. You may have to share moorings with less than smart boats. You may even fall in the canal a few times! My advice to anyone looking to buy a boat is to hire one first to get a feel for boating in the real world.

Aylesbury arm

Travelled down through the 16 locks on the six mile arm off the Grand Union Canal. The locks are all narrow so we went either in first or after No Problem. The Tesco mooring provides a useful stop before the end but old boats and buildings did not encourage us to stay over night. Took two days to get to the end and were lucky to find space for our two boats, It seemed safe and secure among other boats. All the water we used goes into a river so is a loss to the Grand Union. When the arm was opened in 1844 it halved the price of coal in Aylesbury.

Off to see Ben

We need to work out how to get back home to see our second grand son BEN who arrived on the 7th January weighing in at 8 lb. 15 oz. Chris sent us a picture of Ben by Email. We found a local car hire company by going to the Yellow Pages web site. Sue and Vic kindly looked after cat and dog for a few days while we stayed with Mum again. Spent some quality time with Josh who is growing up fast and played with his new toys. Ben is a quiet and contented boy, sleeping most of the time. We all stood round him when he was awake and wetted his head with the Champaign Brod had provided. Ben looked as if he knew something special was going on.

Rushing south on the Grand Union, Grand Union canal pictures

We are back on our boat now heading up the hill out of Aylesbury. We will turn right on to the Grand Union Canal and head south to London. Various locks are being worked on and will be closed so we are trying to get through before they shut. Doing between three and fifteen lock miles every day during seven days to get from Aylesbury to Hemel Hempstead. One or two days were bitterly cold so we did not get far. Other days were bright and shiny so were able to make up distance lost.

Last Sunday was one of those bright clear days as we made our way up the Marsworth flight of seven locks. There were lots of people out enjoying the sun and watching our boats through the locks. The canal is deep and clear up on the summit pound going past the old Bulbourne Workshops where BW used to make lock gates.

Many summit pounds have tunnels to go through but this one has a deep cutting. Tree lined and sheltered from the wind. It is three and a half miles to the next lock at Cowroast, or Cow Rest, as it was once known. Where cattle pens were provided for drovers resting their herds between the Midlands and London, long before the canal was built.

Next day headed down seven locks into Berkhamsted where we stopped for lunch by the park. Another ten locks in two days got us to Chaulden on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. Progress slowed waiting for some ice to clear. Finally got past the locks in Hemel Hempstead, which were to be closed at the end of January. Been moving continuously for nine days and have now stopped for a while just past Watford at Cassiobury Park.

Slow down

We really have been lucky with the mild spring weather. No need to rush about now as we got past the locks before they closed. Time now to explore the parks here and the lakes at Moneyhill where there are a good variety of small shops. Had to take Molly to the vet there because she was showing signs of a phantom pregnancy after her first season. "Just give it more time," the vet said.

Both Moore 2 Life and No Problem are undergoing some internal improvements. Vic and Sue are working on their galley and we are adding a Dinette. Got all the wood and bits at Homebase in Hemel Hempstead. Tools and wood clutter up the space during the day and some time is spent clearing up before relaxing in the evening. We now have a Dinette, a bench seat and table that can convert to a four-foot bed. Molly the dog has taken such a keen interest in the proceedings I think she is my apprentice. Much more has been achieved in No Problem. Sue and Vic have transformed their galley with new worktops, a washing machine is to go in the bathroom and they have laid a wooden floor.

Uxbridge

Down a few more locks past a few lakes either side of the canal and found space for our two boats outside Denham Yacht Station. Strange name for a marina full of narrowboats! Wanted to get the diesel fire checked out by Jason the resident expert. He had never seen our type of chimney before and said it was too short. We have used an extension while stopped but it is too high for most bridges. So we now have a standard chimney with a rain hat on top. It is double skinned which keeps the flue gasses hot so it draws better and is not too long to go under bridges.

Much of the mooring space is taken up with lots of old boats. People are actually living on them when totally covered with a tarpaulin. Many boats have no licences displayed and look like floating sheds. This is a growing problem for BW who do not seem to be able to resolve it.

Parting company

Sue and Vic have guests on board and have turned north for a few days while we continue south. We found moorings at Cowley before the bridge and lock. The lock is the last one we will see all the way into London to Paddington. Cowley is in the London borough of Hillingdon and we have seen some red London buses already when we walked to the shops. We talked to a couple on a boat called Troy. They have just come out of London and suggested we may find more space down the Paddington Arm.

Left Cowley after taking on water and using the facilities. A skip was used to dispose of much unwanted material created during the refitting of two boats. A morning trip on a cold bright day got us to Bulls Bridge Junction. Passing many residential boats, floating sheds and caravans on the way. An industrial landscape with rubbish strewn all over the place. Had to stop once to clear the prop of a plastic bag.

Paddington canal pictures

After shopping at the surprisingly large Tesco Extra we turned left onto the Paddington Arm. This canal goes east across London north of the Thames. It is quite rural and after an hour we decide to stop. It was a bit shallow on the towpath side and a passing boater told us it was better on the other side. Another boat was there and the green field proved to be an exciting place for Molly. There was much screeching in the trees and Ann saw at least six green birds. They may have been small parrots. Learnt later that they are well known in the area.

Paddington basin

Left the green mooring and travelled east into the middle of London, 11 miles and no locks. The concrete jungle growing as we progressed. The first few miles were quite rural but then passed old and new industry. At Little Venice the canal opens up into a wide space where the Regents canal continues east from Little Venice to Limehouse on the Thames. There are many houseboats, trip boats, narrowboats and floating restaurants at Little Venice but nowhere to stop. The area is bright, shiny and clean in the winter sunshine. We turned right down to the newly opened Paddington Basin where we had been told of good safe moorings. Found our selves surrounded by tall steel and glass buildings and the wind seemed to concentrate to rock the boat. The wooden pontoons provided a secure mooring but there is no grass for Molly! Several trees though, grown in pots below the surface. At night all the lights came on and the footbridges were illuminated under foot. The pontoons had lights shining up from below. If only we could have plugged into just one of them. 60 Watts is all we need for our lights and TV!

We moved out of the basin, went west to Alperton and waited for Sue and Vic to arrive on No Problem. From here we can see Wembley Stadium being built in the distance. Just as far but south of the canal is Wormwood Scrubs. Would you believe that the Piccadilly underground railway runs over the canal this far out. Travelling together again we go back in to London and found moorings for our two boats in Paddington basin. Right next to and almost under St. Mary's Hospital.

Edgeware road

Despite the bitterly cold wind we venture forth to Edgware Road. Suddenly we are in the thick of it. Police waving us across because the traffic lights are not working! We found the noisy traffic and crowds of people a complete contrast to our quiet calm life on the canal. Got back just before a snow storm which thankfully did not last very long.

London Zoo

Set off on our return journey, but first past the zoo. Turn into the Regents canal from Little Venice and cruise past more pretty houseboats and narrowboats. A deep cutting then goes through the short Maida Hill tunnel. Past the grand houses of St. Johns Wood and we see the Snowdon Aviary. The birds inside were less grand than the structure. The zoo gardens along the bank of the canal look very drab and in need of a makeover. Not many animals to be seen. Turned at Primrose Hill to see it all again. The canal is cut quite deep and we could not see across Regents Park.

Time to explore

Going south on the Grand Union Canal past Leighton Buzzard we have been discovering new places to see and stop at. So now we can make plans to stop perhaps longer at our favourite places. No need to rush, as most of the locks are now open. Only a few just before Leighton Buzzard remain closed but they will open later in March.

We have managed to get up as far as Watford on sunny but cold days. Passing many miles of residential boats at Uxbridge and Rickmansworth. Got some diesel at the local boat yard and stopped for the night. Woke in the morning to find snow laying its white carpet and ice had formed a flat hard surface on the canal.

Cassiobury Park

As the ice started to melt we pushed on up through the next lock crackling through the thin ice on the way. Got up the next lock as we were expecting another delivery from Tesco there. We all rushed about packing it all into both boats when it arrived. Then moved up to the park through more ice and went for a walk through the trees. It was quite pleasant in the late sunshine, as the days are noticeably getting longer. Stayed two nights here but then woke to more ice and could not move till midday.

"I wonder if any of you know where Ovaltine was made." We passed the old egg farm and factory at Kings Langley after going under the M25. The factory was being demolished. Perhaps the roar of traffic stopped the hens laying their eggs! One of the original Ovaltine narrowboats called Albert is being kept in excellent condition at Rickmansworth.

Water loss

It had to happen one day. Most locks on this canal are left open as boaters leave them. It then only takes one paddle to be left slightly open and overnight water escapes and the level drops.

We first noticed a problem when the TV picture went off. The aerial had turned round as the boat started to lean over. It was dark, about nine, when it happened. Things got worse. Cupboards opened and the contents started falling out. The water level had gone down a foot. That is a lot of water being a mile between locks. By the time we had loosened off the ropes the boat was almost grounded. It was hard work trying to push the boats off the mud.

A man rushed by from another boat heading for the lock half a mile away. He returned and reported that three paddles were up. He had managed to drop two but without a lock handle he could not drop the third due to the water pressure. So Ann and Sue went off in the dark with a torch and a windie. Water had been flooding over the edge below the lock and the pumping station was working flat out pushing the water back up. By now the boats were starting to shift as the water level came back up. We moored along side No Problem with a plank out to keep away from the edge.

Bullbourne

From Berkhamsted the canal climes up the Chiltern Hills to the summit level at Cowroast through six locks. Before a pump was installed there were long lines of working boats waiting to cross over due to lack of water. Three miles northwest gets us to Bullbourne in company with a roman road and a railway. Robert Stevenson had built the railway cutting back in 1834. I may have seen some remains of the broad gauge track covered in grass. Found a space near the 19th century workshops where BW made lock gates.

A canal branches off here heading for Wendover several miles away. This Easter it is to be officially opened to boats and walkers. Ann and Sue spent a whole day walking to the village of Wendover and back along the canal. A pumping station at Tring pumps up four million gallons of water from Wiltstone reservoir to keep the summit level full of water. Two large lakes were created to store water for the canal, are now a nature reserve.

Milton Keynes

On the way we stopped at Willen Lake and saw much activity that weekend. An Amusement Park called Gulliver Land was in full swing with all the rides actively throwing people in the air! Down on the lake water skiers were being pulled round on a motorised wire loop. No noisy boats. Most of them staying on the board and enjoyed the trip. But some sank in the water as they jerked off at the start!

Another nice place to stop was at Great Lindford. Met up with Sue and Vic and enjoyed Sunday lunch in the Nags Head. Good value food. We toasted our good fortune and wished each other happy cruising as in a few days we will part company for the summer.

Blisworth Tunnel

We all headed for Stoke Bruerne and paid a visit to the newly arranged museum. We moored near the tunnel and the public stared in our windows as if we were part of the exhibits! "Oh look people live in there," "Oh look a lovely cat," "Mum, they got a telly." We soon moved on through the 3057 yard tunnel, one of the longest on the canal system that was opened 200 years ago in 1805. In 1984 it was reopened after a major restoration.

Separation

When we moved up to the Northampton Arm we said good-bye to our friends on No Problem. They are heading down the hill past Northampton and on to the River Nene. We have spent Easter at the top and will head on to Braunston later. Getting on with building two small cupboards in the galley.

When we left to get water at Gayton Junction there were frequent boats passing on the Grand Union Canal. The two-week holiday has been a popular time for the hire boaters despite the early date. "The mild weather has bought them out." There are no locks for ten miles to Whilton. On the way is one of our favourite villages, Bugbrooke. There, a Millennium Garden is worth a look on the way to the shop.

Got our diesel at Whilton Marina despite the high price of 45p/litre. Would have waited to get it from Ivor on his boat at Braunston but a boater told us he had gone up to Rugby. We waited in the wide lock for another boat seen approaching. There are seven locks to do and it helps if you go up in pairs with the extra crew. It is much quicker and it saves water. On our way up we wondered why several hire boaters came down one by one within sight of each other. "Must like hard work?" Next day we moved through the tunnel and down to Braunston.

Braunston blacking

Before leaving for our winter trip to London and back we had booked a slipping at Braunston Boats by the bottom lock. On our return we asked about when to bring the boat up. As the forecast was rain on Monday and the slip was empty the boat was pulled out a day early. A tractor and trolley did the job as we watched from shore. Inside the TV had been put safely on the bed and other items put on the floor. The bottom of the boat is normally two feet under the water but now it is almost that far above ground!

The great advantage here is that we are provided with a platform and steps to get on and off the boat. It was strange being on a boat that did not sway. It just bounced slightly in the middle! By the end of the day the sides had been pressure washed and one coat of bitumen applied. Much of the original blacking came off in the wash as it had been applied on loose mill scale. This being a new boat and the first time out of water since the survey a year ago. The next day Justin painted the second coat and a day later we were back in the water.

The assembly that drives the prop has been quite noisy lately and I have had to tighten bolts on the flexi drive. While out of the water the nylon flexi drive was replaced by a better rubber one. The engineer noticed that the stern tube was loose and tightened it up. Justin told me that it was most unusual as he had only seen that problem once before.

British cars?

Must make a comment here. The British company Rover was sold to BMW back in 1994 and then given back to a group of managers for 10. The inefficient work force each produced 16 cars a year. By comparison the Nissan company workforce in this country produced 320 each. The government tried to get China interested but they smelt a rat. While working out a deal, the Chinese were given access to all the intellectual property of Rover. In other words all the design and build information. Will the next British car now be made in China?

Nesting and a mouse

While at Marston Doles Ann has been watching two Moorhens helping each other hatch eggs on their nest. They swap over several times during the day. The one in the water is looking for food to give to the bird on the nest. The nest has been built on thin branches and reeds about two feet above the water. Passing boats make waves but the nest is OK.

Moved on to Bridge 130 where that radio mast is. Molly was very interested in her bag of dried food out front. Ann put her hand in to get a titbit for her. There inside was a field mouse! Do hope it is the only stowaway and has not been there too long! The mouse was released into the hedge and disappeared.

Government support

We are cheered by the news that the government has reinstated the grant to BW that was lost last year. This had caused BW to drastically cut back on staff resulting in low morale and an uncertain future. During the election campaign it has been revealed that some MPs have a poor regard of the canal system and its users and even believe it is in decline! How wrong can they be? You have only to read boating magazines to see how many restorations, improvements and marina's have happened in recent years. The opposition party have plans to sell off BW owned property to pay for a reduction in civil servants. They had previously praised BW for investing in property to increase income but they had made a loss.

There are apparently 32,000 boats registered with the boat safety scheme. 107 of them were considered dangerous and 66 accidents were reported in 2004. 11% of them involved Liquid Petroleum Gas and 13% caused by arson! So gas on boats is not so dangerous as the people!

Spring n summer

There are sheep and lambs in the fields, all enjoying the fresh spring grass. The ducks have started producing their young. Little fluffy balls bobbing about on the waves as we pass. Even seen Moorhens and Coots nesting in the bushes above the water. The trees are slowly turning green again and some fields are turning liberal yellow with flowering rape. No reds or blues as yet! We have replaced our spring bulbs with summer plants. Dark blue Lobelia, yellow and orange Marigolds, white Alyssum, mixed pansies and a blue Platycodon.

Banbury Cross

At Banbury we took Molly to the Vet to be spayed, a twenty-minute walk across town past the famous cross and a statue of the fine lady on a horse. We were amused to see a small frog sitting there by the horses hoof. The original cross was removed in 1602 and replaced in the 19 th century.

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross,
To meet a fine lady on a white horse,
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

Next day we collected Molly and managed to carry her back to the boat. We rested at the Cross and admired the rather fine statue of that horse. Molly spent a quiet day in her bed. Then we went back to have her checked and the plaster dressing removed. Have arranged to remove the stitches at Rugby.

Moving north

While taking on water we noticed many people watching a boat through Banbury Lock. Then suddenly a short heavy shower of hailstones and the public all ran for cover while we got on with going up through the lock. We were pleased not to have an audience as we head north. Managed to do eight locks and seven miles on this cold windy day and got past Cropredy.

There are ten miles of level canal between Claydon and Marston Doles on the Oxford Canal. But only five miles between the two places! Such is the way the canal follows the contours with many bends and turns. It is very shallow making the boat slow and unresponsive. The water is always brown with churned up sediment. This is the summit level and I wonder where all the water is coming from. We had passed the reservoir but no water was being fed from it. At Marston Doles we head down the locks to Napton.

Stopped near Nimrod Bridge 108 and fed the baby ducks. Then on passed the new marina at Wigrams turn. Now filling up with boats and getting landscaped with fresh grass. Seems to be no shortage of boats and owners willing to pay the price.

Spring is in the air so we gave the boat a good clean through. Kept the engine running to provide power for the vacuum cleaner. Many years ago we were advised to loose anything on board not used during the previous year. It is surprising how much can go to various charity shops.

North Oxford canal, Oxford canal pictures

Then we moved on to Braunston. A well-known place for boaters as it is the centre of a canal crossing which goes northwest, north east, south west and south east from here. Got fresh water and disposed of our rubbish while Ann went shopping in the village at the store and butcher. There are not many independent butchers around these days and this one is excellent. Making meat pies, sausages and burgers and good cuts of meat. Also sells bread and vegetables from local growers.

We head on down the locks at Hillmorton. The Bistro here is worth a visit for Sunday roast. Next stop, Clifton. Were lucky to find our mooring where we are protected by bushes and trees from the golf course. Saw the fox in the field opposite again. Together with long horn cattle and rabbits. Molly had the stitches removed at the local vet. Some boaters are passing too fast, a growing problem in the moving season. Sadly the poor little ducklings and baby moorhens are getting swamped by the wash. Ann was upset to see several dead chicks in the water.

We moved on to Brownsover, the Rugby mooring and had successfully managed to place an order with Tesco using the Internet, saving us having to carry all the heavy goods ourselves. The driver found us and was very willing to bring the order to the boat, despite the fact that his van was too tall to clear the barrier into the car park.

Coventry canal, Coventry canal pictures

We are moving at least ten lock miles a day now, usually three or four hours a day and stopping mid afternoon. Passed both Atherstone and Polesworth without stopping at either on the Coventry Canal. There is a lock keeper at Atherstone who looks after the flight of 11 locks all the way down to Bradley Green. About two miles of mown grass looking neat and tidy like a well-kept garden. It is a bit unusual to see such a keen keeper so we praised him for his effort.

A Green Life?

What chance for the green world? When we started camping under canvas it was the minimal way of life that made it different. Boating is only a few steps in that direction from a dwelling; we have survived and enjoy the out door life. Seems that others are not accepting the minimum when on holiday. The canals are filling up with moving boats, as the days get warmer. Problem is that they rush about and require lots of power to exist. Engines are being run out of hours, which is unsociable. BW request that engines be run between eight am and eight pm. It is no wonder that moorings near houses are becoming restricted.

Tixel wide

We had turned left at the top end of the Coventry, travelled on the Trent and Mersey past Rugeley and turned left at Great Haywood. Stopped a few days at Tixel Wide. Close to an area of outstanding natural beauty called Cannock Chase, once the Norman hunting grounds known as the Kings Forest of Cannock. It proved to be an excellent place to observe the wild life from our mobile hide. Seen a few ducks, moorhens, coots and swans. One grebe spotted bobbing in and out of the water, sadly not so many as last year. Ducks are silly creatures, Canada Geese form family groups, Swans are strongly territorial, Grebes and Cormorants are singular, and Moorhens and Coots are shy.

Many boaters are out and about this holiday week and there are queues at locks as we follow the river Trent to Weston, three miles and a couple of locks in sunshine. The canal has been dredged, the evidence being a large field of drying mud. Weston is a small village in Staffordshire with a shop / Post Office and a church. Competing in the best kept village competition it is a clean, tidy and pretty place. Sadly the traffic is quite noisy. Free-range chickens roam by the canal and their eggs are for sale with lovely dark yellow yolks inside. Next day it rained so we stayed put and watched the holiday boaters passing in their shorts!

Stone, Trent and Mersey canal pictures

Despite an early shower we set off for Stone a few miles and locks further northwest. The rain had stopped when we saw a boat ahead stuck in the shallows. Suggested he reverse off but he did not go far enough and got stuck again. We tried to pull the boat back with a rope but in the end managed to pull the bow off sideways. Stone was full of long-term moorings two years ago. Now there are visitor moorings above and below the locks so we were able to explore the town shops. A boat yard however still fully occupies the mooring in the centre and has a good chandlery.

We have decided to turn round here because an order placed at Tamworth needs to be collected soon. We had to go up three locks and a mile out of town to a new turning point further away than expected. There are many smart new houses at the northern end of town and some good moorings past the boatyard and Stone Brewery. All three locks are at least ten feet deep with a queue of boats waiting. It is Friday and the holiday boaters are in a hurry to return to base. Have not known a day like it. Started off in light drizzle, then hot sunshine, a very heavy down pour followed by sunshine again. We put on our waterproofs but the holiday boaters remained in shorts and sandals! Eventually found a quiet spot two miles out of town having done four miles and eight locks.

One way street, almost

The length of Trent and Mersey canal between Rugeley and Handacre is mainly narrow and slow going. Some parts are only wide enough for one boat. Thankfully we did not meet another head on which is surprising because we met one at most bridges. Apart from trees and bushes creating blind spots many of the new road bridges have been built at an angle to the canal so they too have created permanent blind spots. British Waterways are attempting to cut back the trees and bushes but still have a lot to do.

Commercial traffic ?

The government have suggested that the waterways should become more commercial. Some of the wide canals and rivers may be able to cope but the lack of investment since the railways took over means that it will take a long time to achieve. Perhaps the railways could take more off the roads. The commercial boats are far deeper in the water than the average pleasure boat. So the much needed dredging will have to be addressed.

Many user groups such as bikers, walkers, fishermen and boaters are increasingly using the canals for recreation these days. It is a natural environment now and is very relaxing for hard working people to enjoy. Commercialisation will destroy all this. The canals were not built for fast motorised boats and is suffering from wash damage. Some holidaymakers are showing a lack of respect these days. "We are on holiday so must drink as much as possible and get as far as possible." They seem to rush along even when passing moored boats. Presumably they have not experienced mooring pins being pulled out or had their boat lurch backwards and forwards when a fast boat passes them.

Head north again

Having got our order back at Tamworth we are now heading north again. Each year requires a general plan to explore favourite canals and discover new ones. We want to get through Stoke on Trent to turn off on to the Caldon Canal. Many boaters have encouraged us to go see it. It is only fifteen miles to Froghall at the end but there are seventeen locks, the summit being 484 feet above sea level.

Just south of Stone is Aston Lock with a milepost indicating Shardlow 46, Preston 46 that means that we are half way from each end of the Trent and Mersey. Stone claims to be the birthplace of the Trent and Mersey and has a 14th century public house by Star Lock. A fine old brewery stands at the waters edge here. The River Trent runs just south west of the town eventually reaching Burton on Trent where yet another brewery uses its waters.

The Josiah Wedgwood experience

We moored by bridge 104 on the Trent and Mersey and walked to the Visitor Centre and factory complex near Barlaston. When we left we had learnt and seen a lot about making artistic pottery. Back in the 1930s the old factory at Stoke on Trent was being undermined by the coal industry and eventually flooded by the canal. This new factory started production in 1940. We watched as girls applied white relief to blue jugs, automatic robot arms sticking handles to mugs and lumps of clay being transformed into plates by machine.

Josiah was apprenticed to a potter and became an outstanding scientist, artist and engineer. He invented many revolutionary processes. One was to accurately measure the very high temperatures in the ovens. After many experiments he created green glaze. His creamware was later called Queen's Ware after he sold a full service to Catherine 11 of Russia in 1773. He also encouraged the building of canals, which he used to great advantage.

Passing Stoke on Trent

Stoke is one of those places which has turned its back on the canal. The railway certainly has very low bridges and a new road development has created a horrible temporary corrugated iron tunnel. Not even wide enough for two boats and you cannot see through it due to a bend in the middle! The canal was diverted back in 1970 to enable the construction of the A500. Further road works now being carried out will enable the canal to return to its original route and that tunnel will be removed. We had to remove the TV aerials and flowers to get under several bridges with only nine inches clearance. Up five deep locks to Etruria where Wedgwood started producing pottery.

Caldon canal, Caldon canal pictures

Turned sharp right onto the Caldon Canal at Etruria. This canal was built in 1779 to bring limestone and coal down to the potteries. It climes up through nine locks to reach 484 ft. above sea level at Stockton Brook. At Hazelhurst it goes down through eight locks for six miles to reach Froghall. The navigable canal is now fifteen miles but a railway replaced a further fifteen miles to Uttoxeter in 1845. A branch joins the canal at Hazelhurst and continues at the same level to Leek where it picks up water from the Rudyard reservoir. The entire canal became unnavigable by the early 1960s. Two new road bridges were so low as to force us to stop and remove every thing off the roof again. Another new bridge further on had been built with sufficient clearance, presumably since the canal was reopened.

We stopped for the weekend at Fine Feathers, a smallholding with exotic animals, where we consumed an all day breakfast. Many of the farm animals were free range but the ostriches and emus were in large pens.

Leek branch

Continued round onto the Leek Branch and stopped with two other boats at the Hazelhurst aqueduct. This canal crosses a narrow valley with a railway and the Caldon Canal passing under it. Next day got away first and arrived at the end near Leek, lucky to find a space as several boats were here already. The scenery was dramatic with the short winding canal clinging to the hillside through woods and past fields with stonewalling. The canal went through a short stone tunnel to reach the end. We walked in the cool drizzle along the feeder that brings water down from Rudyard Lake.

Trouble at the locks

Set off down the locks at Cheddleton only to find no water in the pound below. A boat below was busy filling the bottom lock by letting water through the top lock. Eventually they came up and we went down but another boat coming up took the lock below and nearly emptied the pound again. It is a common courtesy not to take a lock when it is ready for another boat going the other way. The lower lock gate was leaking badly which had allowed the pound to empty in the first place.

Remoteness

Down at Consall Forge we are on the river Churnet between two locks. Now out of touch as the phones, TV and radio could not find a signal, except Classic FM which has never let us down. Trees in this lovely valley surround us. There is a lot of industrial archaeology near canals. At Consall Forge there is a huge Lime Kiln. The industrial revolution needed coal and lime. Here coal and limestone were heated in kilns to produce quick lime. This was mixed with water to produce the safer slack lime and was transported by boat on the canals. Lime was used as fertiliser in farming and as cement in the building trade.

The canal turned into a one-way street past the station that overhangs the waterway! Ann walked ahead with Molly to warn me of on coming boats. It is just possible to pass if the trees and bushes are not too thick. Down the lock and eventually reach Froghall moorings and turn. Just round the corner a very low tunnel prevents most boats reaching the brand new facilities and empty basin. Bit like putting a square peg in a round hole. Despite being unable to get many boats through the tunnel, the Canal Trust have plans to extend the canal to Uttoxeter. It would follow the line of the old railway. But the local council has permitted the water company to lay a new sewer pipe along that route!

We asked about local shops but there are none. So we have discovered this canal. It proved to be quiet and peaceful and we had come prepared with a full fridge and well stocked up with food. Thankfully our tank of diesel is nowhere near empty but one bottle of gas is!

Steam Trains

A railway built to take trade away from the canal, now restored to working order, travels between Froghall and Cheddleton. We got on at Consall Station and enjoyed a nostalgic return trip in a corridor coach. The train stopped at Cheddleton for twenty minutes, long enough to get off and discover that the canal was not far away.

Back up and out of the valley

We are heading back up out of the Churnet valley past the limekilns at Consall Forge having carefully negotiated the low bridge by the railway station. Many people were watching from the pub on the hill. Up through two locks at Cheddleton and stop by the old flint mill where James Brindley may have served as a Mill Wright.

Continue through the widening valley, under Hazelhurst Aqueduct where the Leek branch goes over, and up three locks to reach the summit again. The flat plain as we approach Endon is a sharp contrast to the deep valley. Stopped at Park Lane Bridge and placed our order to Tesco through the Internet. The phone signal is now strong and reliable. Next day the van arrived and we were fully stocked up again. That evening we had another of those all day breakfasts at Fine Feathers. Got some more gas as well. Caldon Chandlery operates there and got me a new oil filter for my engine.

Licence to cost more ?

We have news that BW is proposing to increase our licence by 140%. Over a thousand boaters may be affected by this unwelcome news and protest campaigns during the summer months made them drop the proposal. Many boaters were upset by BWs attitude. The money they spent creating the proposal could have been better spent on the canal system or more effort made to remove persistent non-payers.

Low bridges

Two very low bridges were scraped under, to reach the locks taking us down to the junction of the Caldon Canal with the Trent and Mersey. We looked round the Bone and Flint Mill Museum. Built for Jesse Shirley in 1857 to supply ground bone and flint for the pottery industry. The mill at Cheddleton was water powered but here a beam steam engine provides the power. Fred Dibner opened the museum some time ago. A modern factory took over the grinding in 1972.

Harecastle tunnel, Trent and Mersey canal pictures

Back on the Trent and Mersey we set off next day and stopped at Westport Lake Park where super new moorings were inviting. Took a good walk round the huge lake with plenty of wild birds to see. Picked up broken crockery like shells on the seashore!

We are not far to the tunnel where we had just missed an opening. An hour later we were the first and only boat to go north through the two-mile (2926yards) tunnel. The canal water turned red from the iron deposits underground. We could see the other end as the doors closed behind us and huge fans blew air through. The noisy wind caused a fine mist to form and it was like going through a fog in a black hole. The old tunnel had sunk in the middle so head clearance was limited. Out the other end into the sunshine again. Boats only go through one way at a time under the strict control of a Tunnel keeper at each end. After scraping under those very low bridges on the Caldon Canal this was easy.

The Macclesfield, Macclesfield canal pictures

It was back in 2002 that we first came up this canal and we had forgotten how pretty it was. The Cheshire countryside is all hills and valleys. Providing grand views as the canal crosses a valley. The bridges are all made of large blocks of stone, as are the twelve locks at Bosley. Much of the canal is lined with trees. Having got up the locks we are now 518 feet above sea level. We passed the old Hovis mill at Macclesfield and got to Fourlane Ends.

Here we met a couple living on their boat and had got in touch through the Internet. "Now I know you are not supposed to meet people on the Internet but Mike and Liz are OK." They have a boat called Snecklifter and two dogs. One is a Jack Russell called Molly! The two Mollies got on so well together that they both disappeared in to Snecklifter. We were given a cup of tea and later went to the local pub. It is great when you meet such friendly boaters. By the weekend we had moved on a few miles to Higher Pointon. A marina and a mile of moored boats line the canal. We stay here for a quiet but damp weekend.

Another county and canal, Peak Forest canal pictures

Moved on slowly past those boats through the county of Cheshire for a few miles to reach Marple. Now we are in Derbyshire, and join the Peak Forest Canal. Turn southeast and follow the River Goyt with its wonderful views across the valley. After lifting and swinging several bridges we reach Bugsworth Basin. We were here in 2002 and could not get the boat in because it was empty. Now full of water after British Waterways found a leak and made it all water tight. Last weekend it was full of boats but now there is plenty of room.

The basin is a scheduled ancient monument and an industrial archaeological site. The site comprising several basins and arms was opened in 1776. Limestone was bought down from the Peak District and burnt in several kilns here. By the 1880s the industry had grown into a major complex of basins, arms and wharfs and become one of the largest and busiest inland ports in this country. Coal was bought in and lime taken out in narrow boats down the Peak Forest Canal. Now it is a wonderful site for over 20 boats to moor and boaters to enjoy the view. The stone bridges, walls and old rail sleepers providing interest.

A tree has fallen

After a few days enjoying the scene in Derbyshire we left. Further on a man ran round a bend was waving frantically. "Stop here, there's a tree down," he cried. Sure enough just round the bend was a queue of four boats. Two lovely huge willows had fallen across the canal and the branches were blocking the towpath as well. A Black Prince hire boat was first in line and had called BW. They had also rung the hire company to say they may be back late. They only had two days to get back to Stoke on Trent, a full 48 lock miles away. We enjoy travelling at about ten lock miles a day. So they will be pushing it. The canals are better seen at the slower pace. The men from BW had cleared enough to pass by late afternoon and all the boats moved off very quickly. We stayed the night.

Locking down

Back on the Macclesfield canal we stopped at High Lane. Shops and a surgery are here so we booked in as Temporary Patients and got checked over. We are ok with the treatment we are getting so on we go feeling good. So on then to Gurnett for the night. Then after getting filled up with water went down the twelve locks at Bosley. It is getting busy now with at least ten boats coming up; so most locks were ready for us with a boat coming out. Grand views across the valley as we leave the foothills of the Pennines.

After a night at the lower level we continued to the end of the Macclesfield and stopped in the rusty red water of the Trent and Mersey. Now a long stretch with loads of locks between Stoke on Trent and Middlewich with thirty-two locks in twelve miles. There are several small places to pick up supplies on the way down. It is still busy with boaters coming up and helping at the locks. These are single locks that come in pairs. But often one of the pair has been left derelict. Some of the lock gates have been repainted but others have been put out of use. It seems that BW are not spending our money effectively.

Boats and moorings

There are people who invest their money in boats. New narrowboats are being produced at a high rate. The only problem is that the supply of moorings is not keeping up with the demand. BW and public enterprise are creating many new marinas but finding suitable places off the cut and getting planning permission takes time. Some boaters like us are able to travel around the canal system and don't need a mooring.

There are also people looking for cheap second hand boats to live on. They cannot afford to buy a house these days. BW and private landowners provide moorings on the cut. Some boats are taking up space on the canal that do not display a licence. BW is not really doing enough to control this growing situation. According to a BW document "It is the local planning authority's decision as to whether it serves an enforcement notice." "BW is not usually concerned as to whether a boat is being used as a residence".

Barbridge junction, Shropshire Union canal pictures

Here the Midlewich branch ends at a 'T' junction with the Shropshire Union. We approached slowly with Ann at the bow checking for boats. There are two at the water point on the left and two more passing them. One is trying to overtake and the other wants to turn into the branch where we are coming from. "Where are you going?" he asked gruffly. Ann pointed left and we slowly and carefully moved across their bow. Ann jumped off on the right bank. We had to come out of the narrow junction before they could go in! There is just enough room now to pass in silence. So on to the Shroppie going slowly past moored boats with large gaps between them. We found a place to stop further on.

A ghost

At the top of the Adderley Locks and past bridge 66 we entered Brownhills Wood. It was so thick the suns rays found their way past the branches producing an eerie feel. It felt cooler in the shade. A lonely fisherman sat there on the towpath. Ann and Molly passed by the man who spoke but she did not hear the words. Somebody was cutting the grass using a noisy machine. He was dressed in protective mask and goggles so all you could see was his glowing eyes. Which one of them was the ghost that is known to haunt these woods? I wondered. As I passed the fisherman I asked if he had ever seen the ghost. I heard his reply as the grass cutter had passed on. "It is too noisy for ghosts" he said.

Market Drayton

We approached from the north and stopped on the five-day moorings before Lords Bridge. Don't quite understand why BW invites boaters to moor at their Visitor Moorings only to find they are not deep enough! Next day we walked into town to enjoy the market day. Fruit and veg in abundance. Ann got a new bag.

Back at the boat we set about placing an order to Tesco on the Internet. The first thing you need is a local postcode so we used Ted's Boat Yard, which we happened to know. Then go to Street Map to find a suitable road for the delivery. Pity you then cannot find a more suitable postcode. Our instructions for the driver enabled him to find us from Stoke on Trent without resorting to a phone call.

Our friends John and Sue invited us to their house for a cup of tea and a chat. They told us that Ted's Boat Yard is to close. Shame because their diesel was only 38.5p! Apparently they cannot afford the rent since it has been increased. A caf and canal ware shop has already left. There are plans for a new housing estate and a Boat Share operation is moving in.

Tyrley locks

The locks south of town take the canal up a deep cutting through rocks. It would have been hard work chipping away all that rock with hammer and chisel back in the 1840s. The cutting is now covered with huge trees that are clinging to the rocky edge. The canal continues for two miles through a narrow tree covered cutting till it reaches Cheswardine. We continued to Shebdon Embankment where we met John and Jean on Omega. They are heading north to Preston Brook in Cheshire. Next day we got to Gnosall in light drizzle and stopped. We had intended to go further but it remained damp most of the day.

We are moving southeast down the almost straight and flat Shroppie. There is only one lock at Wheaton Aston and 25 miles since the last back at Tyrley. There seems to be more boats gathering at Wheaton Aston. The local garage sells cheap diesel for boats and it takes an age to get past them all slowly as we do. The boats are on both sides of the relatively wide canal and the owners on the private side are busy constructing landing stages with their boats tied to the trees. Some of the boats are unkempt, covered in leaves and green with algae. Many with no name or licence displayed. We turned left to go north on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Soon passing through the narrows. The canal here is a narrow channel cut into the rock base. Several passing places enabled at least three boats to pass as we went through.

August rush

Moving boats are waking us up in the early hours. We stopped at Penkridge for lunch and several boats rushed past. Set off and joined the queue at the first of two locks. Much help provided by young energetic students from the boat behind. We had done our daily quota of ten lock miles that day so tried to moor opposite the prefab houses but grounded on a mud bank. A local resident suggested moving back as it is always shallow there. "So why don't BW dredge it," I wondered. There is only half a mile to the next lock so the water level rose and fell many times as boats passed through that evening causing our boat to lean over.

Next day we got to Baswich, near Stafford and stopped again for lunch under the shade of a tree. It was another hot day and we went on later to Tixel wide where we were very lucky to find a space. Unfortunately a tree prevented Sky reception. We are in need of water so set off to fill up at the junction with the Trent and Mersey canal. Left early thinking of the many boats heading north to the Boat Festival but found the water point free. Ann went off to get the post while I got on with filling the tank. The two locks in and beyond Great Haywood were very busy with a queue of four boats going down with us. Counted twelve coming up at the next lock. The last in that queue would be waiting at least two hours to get through! We continued to the aqueduct over the river Trent just before Rugeley.

Fradley junction, Coventry canal pictures

From Rugeley we passed Armitage through two miles of narrow canal with Ann walking up front with Molly looking out for approaching boats. There are passing places but caution is required due to many blind bends. Several boats managed to pass. Stopped at the end of the top lock landing before the junction for the night. Some boats were still coming up after nine pm that evening and the lock landing became full of moored boats.

Set off after breakfast and went down as boats had started coming up. Only three locks to the junction but many boats were queuing to come up. The junction by the Swan pub is always cluttered with boats waiting to go up the locks or just moored there. Squeezed through and turned right on to the Coventry canal. After five miles going south we found a spot just north of Whittington to moor for a quiet weekend.

Later in the afternoon Maria Jessie went by. Ann recognised it as one of the boats that write a Blog on the Internet. They are on their way to the boat gathering at Preston Brook near the Manchester Ship canal. The workboats Nuneaton and Brighton passed by after getting stuck on a mud bank. I wonder how many more times they get stuck due to the lack of depth. These old boats were designed with a draught of 4 foot 3 inches when fully loaded.

A life saved

Ann went fishing and landed a wood pigeon. It was a young bird seen floating on the water with its head on its back. Dried it out in the sunshine on a nest of dry grass. Seemed to recover enough to crawl into the shade of the hedge for a while. Later getting up onto a fence where it stayed all night. It was still there in the morning rain preening itself and looking lively. Then after our breakfast it took off and flew away. We had been quite concerned then relieved when it went.

Atherstone locks

As we approached, a queue of boats formed to go up. There are eleven locks spread over one and a half miles. At the time no boats were coming down so every lock had to be emptied to go up. At about half way up boats were met coming down thus not wasting water. However one boat had stopped for lunch much to the annoyance to those coming up because the lock gate had been left open for them! Ideally a boat goes down with a lock full of water in to the next lock. The delay caused a queue of boats to form. There is really no advantage because each lock can only take one boat up or down. It is a bit like getting grid locked in traffic on the roads. Thankfully there was enough water coming down to keep all the boats afloat in that short pound! We eventually got to the top in four hours and luckily it was a nice sunny day. When locking up or down you get to know many people.

Painted roses

When we arrived at Hartshill we met Margery on Watermouse who paints roses on canal ware. We have had a water container called a Buckby Can for many years and it needed repainting. Some months earlier we had rubbed it down and applied several coats of paint. It is now the same colour as our boat. Margery spent several days covering it with roses and daises. Even the name of our boat is now painted on it. All the daisies have a little red mark where the fairies kissed them.

We are doing our bit to cut down the towpath vegetation. British Waterways have a Veg Pledge but are not keeping up with the rapid growth. So it seems that the only way to get off the boat and tie up without getting stung is to cut it back our selves.

Back to 'rush about'

We left the boat at Springwood Haven and hired a car from Research Garage Group at Hinkley. They came to fetch us from the marina. The Peugeot 307 with four doors did us proud, a diesel doing 53 mpg. We were away for two weeks and did 780 miles in the car feeding it with about 80 of fuel. Car technology is taking over some functions that the driver does. The lights come on when driving through short tunnels or in the dark. Windows close and the mirrors fold in when the doors are locked! What it does not do is ensure you are not exceeding the speed limit. The traffic and navigating on the roads was difficult to get used to.

Grand children

Ben was christened at a church in the New Forest. It was a pleasant gathering at the church and in the hall after the event to see the family again after many months away. We were able to visit the children many times during our stay and took them both to the forest. Then it was Josh's birthday. We dressed up as Pirate Jim and Rosie Lee! All the children came as pirates with an assortment of swords, dress and makeup. The village hall was filled with activities for the little pirates. Large rubber dingy and cardboard boxes provided the boats for them to capture. They all just ran around letting off steam before sitting down at the table to eat sandwiches sausages and cake. Other organised games including passing the parcel finished off the day.

Medicals

We are now using our postal address to register with a new surgery. Got checked at the surgery and were able to renew our repeat prescriptions. The repeats can be sent for by return of post to the nearest Post Office. Even found a Dentist to fix an aching tooth. The local NHS dentist was unable to oblige but a private one did the job the same day.

Chawton house

The House is open to the public about once a year having been restored over the last ten years. This Manor House is now a Library and one of the worlds leading centres for the study of the lives and works of women writing in English before 1830. Jane Austen lived in a cottage in the village. While her brother owned the manor. We paid a visit and had a picnic on the estate.

Return to boat

Three hours on the road got us all, including Mum, back to the boat. The car hire company came and took the car away on a tow truck. After filling our tank with diesel at 55 pence a litre we were off to our first stop for the night just a mile away. The satellite signal provided a picture to watch then later we converted the table into a bed for Mum who had a comfortable night.

Next day we passed through Nuneaton where boaters were warning us about a car in the canal! Three policemen were seen by the upside down car with only the boot and two wheels showing. At this time they had no idea if a driver was inside! We continued on past the well-kept gardens before reaching Hawkesbury. We all then walked to the junction where the Oxford Canal joins the Coventry. Watched as many boats made the turn and operated the lock on a warm sunny afternoon.

Then we did that ourselves having joined the queue. We spent another lovely day travelling south on the Oxford canal to Ansty. Mum sat at the bow and saw a flock of swans land in front of the boat. It was quite a spectacle even from where I was at the back. After lunch we continued to Stretton Stop where we purchased goodies in the Rose Narrowboat chandlery. Moving on to Bridge 34 for the night near All Oaks Wood.

Boat traffic, Oxford canal pictures

It is still quite busy with boaters moving early at eight in the morning. Last night one went by in the dark! I am sure they should not do that. We set off about 10 with boats in front and behind. This being the last day travelling with Mum we wanted to get a meal out. The Bell and Barge got our vote as we arrived at Brownsover about half past eleven. At the Harvester we get a bowl of salad to enjoy and all enjoyed our choice of meal followed by coffee.

It was a warm sunny afternoon so decided to relax in the park by the boat. Entertainment provided by various boats and boaters passing through. Next morning we got the bus to Rugby Station and Mum caught a super duper new train that got her to Coventry in 10 minutes. Half an hour later she got the Virgin train to Winchester and was home before two pm.

Bus to Daventry

When we reached Braunston we took the bus to Daventry where we searched for a dentist. There were several to try, one private, but settled for the one in the high street, as they were able to take on new NHS patients. Quite relieved, as I needed some treatment soon. This is the first time we have registered with a dentist since starting our adventures on the canal system. The medical system works provided you have an address you can give them.

We consider Braunston to be our homeport, as we seem to return here after our summer excursions. Spent the day walking round and spotted some changes. The old post office building has gone. It was an extension from a fine house whose front has now been fully revealed. The old garden wall that contained a post box is also gone. The Post Office moved into the store and now a new post box has been planted outside.

Friends

We had met several people on our travels this year and found that some of them had also returned. Dave and Georgina on Drift came in for a coffee and chat. Rachael was also seen having first met up at Bugsworth Basin, near Whaley Bridge. Next day we decided to move up the locks and through the tunnel and wait the arrival of our friends Vic and Sue on No Problem. They are returning to BW waters and we met them half way up the Buckby flight. Plenty of space at Norton Jn. and we all went to the pub for a celebration drink. Next day we escorted them through Braunston Tunnel. Luckily for Sue no boats were coming the other way. This after all is not the easiest of tunnels to go through especially if you have not seen a tunnel for some time.

Two boats together

Well for a while we plan to travel together again, No Problem and Moore 2 Life. Sue and Vic want to get to Great Haywood and we have a dentist appointment back at Daventry. So at some point we will turn to return.

All set off after shopping up at Braunston, the butcher providing good meat, pies and veg. Eventually got to Hillmorton and enjoyed an excellent Sunday roast at the Lock Shop Bistro. Sue and Vic had been looking forward to this treat for some time. There are still many boats moving through the locks in October on a sunny Monday. Stopped at Brownsover near Tesco before mooring for the night at Newbold.

Continuing north we then stop at Hawkesbury Junction. Where the Oxford and Coventry canal meet. Sue and Ann plus two dogs have been enjoying long walks together, sometimes returning just before dark. The fire is lit in the evenings to keep the autumn chill out.

Turning at Hartshill should give us time to get back to Braunston without rushing. Hopefully getting through Nuneaton with less bother. On the way through we passed some floating chairs and a settee! The propeller picked up a shopping bag complete with zip that took time to clear through the weed hatch. Last time through there was an upside down car with the police wondering if the driver was still inside!

October traffic

What a great month, dry and mild. The boat hire companies are still busy. While we travel south through the Hillmorton Locks we join a queue of about five boats going up and one or two coming down. Stopped at the top about four and set up the satellite dish as several boats passed and even later in the dark. Later when we were down south of Braunston, the boats were almost nose to tail. There are still many boats coming and going. A few miles further on at Napton Junction a new marina has opened. The Black Prince hire boats are based there. Three other marinas within a mile of the junction already exist so that junction has become very busy at weekends in particular.

Keeping in touch

Living in a narrowboat on the canal system can be a solitary existence. Mobile phones and Internet access using a computer have become essential tools now to keep in touch. We write a diary of events for the general public to read on the Internet called a Blog. We now have a short list other boaters who write blogs. Reading them enables as to track their movements around the canal system. Occasionally we realise that one is nearby so we look out for them. This year we have seen several bloggers and exchanged greetings. Some times we have been able to take a picture of the boat as it passes. Comments can be entered into the blog by anybody and sometimes further contact is made by email.

Braunston

We have settled in and around our homeport for a while. We need to return to the dentist next week and Ann can get a flu jab in November. So we drift off on the south Oxford Canal and stop by Flecknoe Farm and discovered that Hobo was here. Bob and Jane with their friend Rose from Australia. She has been over here for several years touring the country with her dog Tara in her own boat. Then along came Barbara who plays the Accordion with a group called Braunston Pickle. While I was painting the lower part of the boat Barbara started playing folk music. Rose normally plays a violin in an orchestra but was able to join in as well.

While at Braunston we placed an order with Tesco to be delivered at Willington. We used Street Map and Post Code on the Internet to find the location with a convenient car park just by the canal to pull off the road. Delivery arranged in the morning next day. The drivers are getting better at finding boats on canals and the van arrived at ten. Time then to put it all away before the expected arrival of family with grand children.

Family visit

Getting away with two small children and the traffic meant that they all arrived at about midday. Inside, the boat was transformed into a nursery with toys, travel cot and baggage. The cot is quite large but fitted conveniently in the cabin by the back door. Josh and Ben have both been here before but Josh being older now remembers previous visits. Pictures of his recent pirate party were instantly recognised. He explored the boat while Ben quietly crawled about looking at the contents of the toy box and bookcase.

After cups of tea and coffee and a bite to eat we set off north towards Rugby, only four miles to the next turn but a new stretch for them. Having turned, a mooring was found by bridge 75. The skipper had some quality time with his grand children while Chris and Tracy went off to the local pub to have some quality time of their own. Ann bathed the children before we read them stories and put them to bed.

Admiral Nelson, Trafalgar day

The Braunston Pickle is to play at the local pub. So we head back to Braunston. The pub is called Admiral Nelson. Known locally as 'nelly'. We walked up the two locks on the Grand Union Canal and into the pub. There we were faced with a dressed up interior, signal flags all over the ceiling and the bar staff wearing eye patches and hats. A special brew was on offer called Eye Patch. Ann had a rum and coke. The Braunston Pickle consisting of three players were setting up next to a table of locals dressed as wenches and crew. A tough looking gent complete with black beard, scars and scabbard was quite capable of repelling boarders. We found a seat and table behind the fireplace wall and enjoyed the scene and atmosphere. The group started playing at about half eight. The pub was full of noisy people so later we moved round to hear the music. They were playing guitars, piano accordions and squeezeboxes without the aid of amplifiers. Many others joined in with penny whistles, tambourine and spoons.

Blogger friends

When we were down the south Oxford canal between bridge 102 and 103 At Last stopped by. We have known John and Militza since we first left our boat in Springwood Haven on the Coventry canal. They, a young couple semi retired, came to see inside our boat. We talked about our adventures during the year over a cup of tea. They enjoy cycling and walking a lot. Their pride and joy, the boat, is powered by a Gardner diesel. A slow running engine reconditioned by Tony and Paul Redshaw.

We had moved to just north of Braunston and were chatting to Sue on the net. She told us that Liberty Belle was heading our way and had been in conversation with Angela on board. Angela does a Blog, which we read occasionally. Next day Trevor and Angela arrived and stopped just to meet us on their way to Braunston to get a job done on the boat. Next time we saw them was down the south Oxford at Wolfhamcote on a very windy evening. Helped Angela with her computer setup.

Boater's socks

After the meeting we moved north to find a turn so we could get back to Braunston later. The clocks had just been turned back and we did not realise how late it was. Only five miles later and the sun had gone below the horizon. We were very lucky to find that single mooring by bridge 75 empty. It had got dark and cold by the time we got inside, below 10c in fact at five o'clock. Lit the fire and set up the sat dish. During the evening we were obliged to put our socks over the bottoms of our trousers because of the cold floor.

Meeting with old friends

I mean that we have known Terry and Myra for a long time, not that they are old! They had sold their boat over a year ago and had just taken possession of a shorter boat. Met them on the way down the Braunston locks and celebrated in the Admiral Nelson pub. Next day we all went early to Daventry intending to go on the bus. It passes at quarter to the hour but apparently not at quarter to nine. It had passed through at eight thirty! Phoned for a taxi, which arrived in ten minutes but stopped just outside the town due to a puncture! We went off to join a queue at the medical centre for Ann's flu jab. Back out in fifteen minutes all done. Got some veggies at the market and winter pansies before all returning on the bus. Spent the next few days in each other's boats and visiting Bob and Jane who we all knew.

We are on our way at last

We have spent some time in and around Braunston for one reason or another. The lock at the top of the Oxford Canal is to close for a week at the end of the month so we need to get away. We met up with Terry and Myra and had a meal together on our boat. Then John and Jean came up to check on their moored boat in Braunston. Gave them a cup of tea and chatted before we got some diesel from Mel Batchelor. It was mid afternoon when we headed north and got to Willoughby before it rained and got dark.

We had seen the lights installed in Newbold tunnel some time ago and wondered why. The tunnel is so short it was hardly worth illuminating. Braunston tunnel could do with lights especially where it turns corners! We passed through in November when they were on and felt silly with our tunnel light on as well. Looked like we were passing through a rainbow with ribbons of multi coloured light. Public money can always be better spent. It was meant to attract visitors as the towpath goes through but the tunnel is well north of Rugby and there was nobody about.

Power loss

We all take it for granted when it is always there. Power that is. Run the engine each day and there it is stored in those batteries for use in the evenings. The warning buzzer sounded in the evening and I rushed to switch off the engine. The red light indicated that the alternator had suddenly failed. Lifted the board to let smoke out! Run the engine again to see sparks inside the alternator!

I do not like things that go wrong, it is a threat to our boating life. We felt vulnerable even though we were only four miles from the nearest boat yard. Good job we were not in mid ocean! We had caught up with Terry and Myra again and Terry came round for moral support. Myra also came round to keep warm on our boat. It was Sunday evening so no point ringing for help. However our son Chris gave some advice on the phone. Terry agreed and also suggested how to charge the batteries using our start battery alternator. Yes, thankfully we have two alternators. There was enough charge in the batteries to last the evening but we had to limit ourselves to one light and no TV to ensure that the fridge kept going! It was a particularly cold night and time slowed down. Our friends Terry and Myra on Juno had set course for home.

The next day after an unsettled night we set about rearranging the battery wiring and removed the drive belt from the dead alternator. This enabled the engine to be run without the sparks! A call for help to Rose Narrow Boats was answered. "Yes we can help, when you get here ask for Wayne," they said. An hour later we were there and the alternator was removed for inspection. Wayne told us that the stator insulation had failed. He rang Beta for a replacement and they agreed to replace it, as the alternator was less than two years old. Another long night with one light as the electrician had gone home without providing us with landline power as promised.

Woke in the morning to find the fridge still going despite the low charge state of the batteries. We moved the boat back to a power point that was now available. Plugged in and charged the batteries for a few hours. The new alternator arrived and Wayne fitted and tested it. Then gave some valuable advice on how to charge batteries correctly. It is better to run the engine in the morning for at least three to four hours in order to fully charge the batteries. Then there is no need to run it again in the evening. It is no good running for short periods of time during the day.

Wintery days, Coventry canal pictures

We were able now to get on up to the end of the Oxford Canal and on to the Coventry. Heading north to meet up with Sue and Vic again, who are now heading south. The plan is to meet at Hartshill. Both arrived within an hour of each other. The night time temperature dropped below zero and on the fourth day the canal water went smooth with ice. It had been quite mild until then; so warm in fact that one pair of ducks had produced ten chicks. They were eventually abandoned so the lock keeper at Atherstone kept the surviving eight in his bath!

We always have to be prepared for occasions when we cannot move. Water topped up, diesel in the tank, gas bottles replaced when empty and food in the cupboards. Never go past facilities without using them. It was back in the late 1960s that the canal trade was finally stopped by a long hard winter. We wait to see if this is to be the start of another.

Turned the boat round and after a few days in the ice we both move back south. Filled up with diesel at Springwood Haven and moved down through Nuneaton where yet another car had been tipped into the canal! Got past that and all the other rubbish to stop at a rather exposed spot by Gipsy Bridge and waited for a Tesco delivery. Access between road and canal here was far from ideal. Used our own trolleys to transport the goods to the boat on a cold wintry morning.

The Ashby canal, Ashby canal pictures

The Ashby canal has twenty-two miles with no locks. Turned left into the entrance under the bridge and through the disused lock trying not to hit the sides. A bit surprised to find thin broken ice in our path. Two boats passed us to leave the canal, which indicated that the canal was not yet frozen solid. It is here that we all intend to spend the winter months.

The Ashby de la Zouch Canal, to give its full name, was intended to go all the way from Nuneaton to Burton on Trent. It remained on the 300ft. contour line but only reached Moira. It was mainly used to transport coal from the mines at Ashby. It was these very mines that shortened the canal by undermining it. So now it does not even get to Measham. A brand new lock and basin has been built at Moira but is still not connected to the canal. The lost eight miles of the canal has yet to be re dug.

Ice n snow

Christmas is fast approaching and we are busy making and sending cards to friends and family. Some pictures taken down south on the Grand Union at Cowley when it was cold and frosty were used. We stopped a few days with Sue and Vic on No Problem at Baskerville, four and a half miles in to the Ashby Canal. Then At Last stopped by and John and Militza joined Sue and us on Moore 2 Life for coffee. Several boats had passed breaking up the ice as they went. The facilities provided by British Waterways on this canal are few and far between. Rubbish disposal is going to be a problem. We moved on a few miles to Hinckley to collect our post and send off most of our cards. It had been a bright warm day till then. It started to snow lightly but as we continued past the marina the sky turned very grey and it snowed so hard that the roof got covered. We could not stop because there were so many boats moored outside the marina. Eventually stopped on a bend before bridge 19. Took a while to warm up inside drying off coats, gloves and hats. Hope to take some pictures in the morning, as it was too dull this afternoon when we stopped.

Not moving

Still moored between bridge 17A and 19 just north of Hinckley. We had left No Problem behind and next day the ice prevented Sue and Vic moving the boat up to us. We were only two miles apart but next day they both walked up to visit us for tea and sandwiches. Vic did very well walking that distance and was very stiff the next day. Then No Problem managed to move up through a channel of broken ice made by a hire boat moving down earlier. Hire boat companies have been making the most of the relatively mild winter so far. Air pressure is very low making for unsettled stormy weather. But at least it is mild with no ice now. The girls have been out exploring the countryside and coming back with two dirty dogs. The hedge cutters have chewed the towpath up during these damp days. A dangerous job now as in places the path is a bit too narrow and the vehicle could slip towards the canal! We have contacted a coal / diesel supply boat which is expected to return here next week.

Fuel supply boat

Iain and Alison came up the Ashby with their coal and diesel supply boat Gosty Hill. Recently back in the water after having a new bottom fitted. Plying their trade on the Coventry Canal and coming up the Ashby when called. Their price is considerably cheaper than the local marina. Both boats, No Problem and Moore 2 Life need at least a hundred litres of diesel each. Then a few weeks later they came again to top us up. Next time will be in the New Year. They are having trouble getting the diesel to sell since the storage depot at Hemel Hempsted caught fire!

Christmas shopping

The village of Stoke Golding claims to be the birthplace of the Tudor reign. Crown hill is where Henry Tudor found his crown and became Henry VII in 1485. We were able to moor on the off side where we can gain access to the village. The Post Office was very busy with people and their Christmas mail.

Next day we went to Nuneaton to do some shopping, an interesting short trip through the countryside and villages in a small bus. We saw a statue of George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans in 1819. I wondered what she would have thought of this town now. Much changed since the loss of the coal mining industry.

A winter's day

The sun rose at about eight this morning and slowly made its way along the horizon not getting much higher than the trees before dipping down and setting at about four. The day was clear bright and warm as the girls went for their walk with the dogs through the countryside. The fire was allowed to go out to be cleaned and relit just as the temperature started to dip down with the sun. The girls returned with wet dogs having made them jump in the canal to get clean. As the boat warmed up inside we all enjoyed a hot cup of tea and the dogs dried off in front of the fire.

St. Nicholas

He was a fourth century bishop in Asia Minor and is buried, circa 346 AD, in his cathedral at Myra. He has become a patron saint to many categories of people over the years. He is honoured throughout the canals of Europe as the boat peoples special saint. In Britain he is known as Father Christmas while in America they refer to him as Santa Claus. In France he was called Papa Noel. The giving of presents results from the saint learning of a poor man who considered selling his three daughters. St. Nicholas visited the property anonymously and tossed a bag of gold through the window. It landed in a stocking hanging up to dry.

Christmas on the boat

We had moved up to get water on a mild sunny day. On the way back we stopped so that Sue n Vic could cut up some more wood for their fire. Then the temperature fell to zero and ice formed on the cut over night. So we were forced to stay put. Sue came round with another of her walk maps. "Come on Annie, we are off with the dogs to explore," Sue insisted. "Please get back before it gets dark," I pleaded. Vic and I are left behind to look after the boats and make our own sandwiches. Passing the time reading our favourite books. The girls returned just as the sun went below the horizon having checked out the map. Next day John and Jean arrived by car from Braunston in less than an hour, a full five days away by boat! Then Terry and Myra came to stay a few nights over Christmas. Good to see them again and we enjoyed their company during the festive period. Reminding each other of the first Christmas together on Nomad of Erehwon many years ago.

Off to the facilities

The day after our guests left it was a bit colder and had snowed overnight. Our water tank was half full and two cassettes needed emptying. There was a good possibility that more snow would fall so we decided to move up to Sutton Wharf. It may get colder later so left early. Ploughed through slushy ice in places along the canal and it did snow again. "Hope it does not get any worse because we want to get back to the mooring." Managed to turn and back up to the water tap by pushing the thin ice away. The tap was frozen so got the kettle off the stove and poured hot water over the pipe to melt a plug of ice. While the tank was filling I emptied the cassettes and Ann dumped the rubbish. The sun came out to make a cheerful warm run back with several boaters out moving up and down the canal as well. But by the time we had returned to our mooring the grey clouds blocked out the sun and it was snowing again.

Looking after others

Sue and Vic went home for Christmas and we had agreed to look after their boat. It had been difficult to get the boats safely into a marina as is usual at this time of year. We run the engine once or twice a day and put the radiators on for an hour. Had to light their fire after a day of snow. Two logs and some coal got the inside cosy and dry that evening.

Thank you for reading Chapter 11. Return to Book.