Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

|Home|Book|Canals|Rivers|Places|Nature|Oddities|Work Boats|Boat Systems|Chas'life|

Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 16 : Improvements, 2010

Surviving

Many boaters are just keeping warm and safe in their boats during the unusually long spell of wintery weather. The temperature has been as low as minus twenty centigrade in some places and the canals have been frozen for nearly a month. There are many worse off than us with the usual supply boats stuck in the ice like the rest of us but life must go on.

After getting back to our boat we set about getting the systems up and running again. Turned the electric on, radiators on, light fire, water on, gas on, kettle on. While drinking that welcoming cup of tea we kept our coats on because it was colder inside than out! I then walked to the shops in Great Haywood to get milk, bread and some vegetables. Then we placed an order to Tesco for a full stock up delivery later. The van arrived next day direct to boat despite the icy conditions. Porridge most mornings keeps us warm inside during the first few cool hours before the sun comes up.

The bus to and from Stafford is running OK so we met our friends there for lunch in Wetherspoons, the building being a grand old cinema. Walking about town was just as tricky as on the towpath. A boat called Rock n Roll is nearby and we invited George and Carol for a drink on board and we discussed the various challenges set before us.

Winter chores

Our boat is moving again. Not forward or backward but just rocking side to side. The ice has let go and has been covered by a blanket of snow. The snow has all but gone now, leaving strange patterns on the surface. When it was covered in snow it looked like the rest of the land except that it was flat. We have read about people risking their lives by trying to walk across the canal or even throwing sticks on to the ice for their dogs. We cannot help ourselves talking about the conditions, a common enemy perhaps. Those of us that are wrinkly can recall previous cold winters like this one. We drove around with a spade, an old sack for grip under the wheels, a flask of tea or hot soup and clearing our own paths and pavements.

We cannot move the boat to the diesel pump so have done the hazardous deed and filled the diesel tank from a collection of containers. Had plenty of old cloth and detergent on hand to prevent spillage and a large funnel to guide the liquid into the small tank hole. We have been lucky with water as our hosepipe is just long enough to reach an unfrozen tap nearby. All the taps on the pontoons have been turned off while the temperature was below zero. Boaters have had the daily chore of fetching heavy gallons of water half way round the marina or down the towpath.

Most days we have walked out to visit other boaters on the frozen cut. Jo and Lesley from Caxton met us in the Cafe by Great Haywood lock. We all had a good natter about life and future plans. Another day we went to Rock n Roll in the marina.

It seems that our 70amp alternator has been having a hard time with the washing machine. The boat was built with the washing machine already installed so you would think that the electrical power system was designed to cope. Not so apparently. Most boaters have larger engines, higher output alternators or mains generators for their washing machines. We rely entirely on the domestic hot water provided by the engine for our washing. The trick is to turn down the temperature so the electric heaters are off after filling with hot water.

Two staying guests

Ann went off to Stafford on the bus and came back with Lucy and Meg. I went to meet them at the canal bridge with Molly. We all walked back through the snow-covered ground. Next day it rained in the morning so now we can see the green grass again. The sun is shining, the ice is turning to slush and the temperature has reached ten degrees centigrade for the first time since the middle of December. We took the girls out for a walk round Shugborough Park, which proved to be very wet and slippery in places.

Boater's community

The ice in the canal is looking like soft mud. Various objects are slowly sinking through creating small holes. No boats have been allowed to move about in the marina, as it is still solid ice. The wonderful community of boaters on the canal are about to move off in various directions, but not before Ann took the girls for a long walk with other dogs from Matilda Rose and Caxton.

It was some time last month that we booked in for some alterations and remedial work while at the marina. Work was due to start on Monday but there is a delay due to the ice. They seem to want to put boats in and out of the water before starting on us. Three men on a boat are now trying to move it but the part broken ice is still at least one inch thick! It is getting quite noisy inside with all the ice banging along the side. The ice has been pushed away and the water surface can ripple again.

So far so good

Work has been progressing all week now on our boat. We were so unhappy with the result of last year's alterations that we resolved to have them out and start again. But first an annoying leak had presented itself coming in from the enlarged sliding hatch. Much of the wood ceiling needed to be replaced. Some extra welding outside has successfully sealed the leak. We have always been considering how to improve the engine bay with more shelves and space for coats and now the engine controls are better placed.

Never tempt providence

I should never have said, "Some welding outside has successfully sealed the leak!" It rained enough next day to prove the statement wrong. Two steps forward and one back. If we were to dwell on the negative aspects of boating we could get depressed, but as it is there are far more positives to keep us motivated. It was all sorted later and we actually moved out with a full tank of diesel.

We had been in Great Haywood Marina since before Christmas so getting out was quite an event. Took on water at the junction and found a space for a few nights. Next day the patrol officer knocked on the boat asking when we are to move. "Only just got here," I said. "But you have been here since November according to my records" he said. "I've been stuck in ice in the marina since before Christmas" I explained. The patrol officers had not bothered to check while the boats were stuck in ice over the holidays. There is at least one boat with an overstay notice but most boaters have now moved elsewhere.

So we have moved away, out to Tixel Wide moorings where we found a few other boats. On the way the wind kept pushing us onto the shallow edge so it took some effort to keep going. Then we had to find a gap in the trees to see the satellite TV signal. While eating a late lunch we saw a Kingfisher catching his. "Now that made it all worthwhile."

Ice, snow and friends

While we were at Tixel the ice came and then it snowed. It is just a bit depressing when we lose our freedom to move about, not quite knowing when it will clear again. It is OK for a while so long as our water and diesel tanks have been topped up and we are within walking distance of the shops.

A few days later the ice cleared and No Problem arrived late in the day having come down Tixel lock and breaking some patchy ice on the way. By now we were all running out of supplies so placed an order with Tesco. It had warmed up by then and thankfully we were able to get to Great Haywood Junction in sunshine. We got water and loaded the supplies from Tesco, which had arrived as arranged on the magic Internet.

I was telling Vic about our problems with rain still getting past our sliding hatch. If the wind is in the right direction it blows the rain along the slider and under the hatch. One solution may be to grind a gulley across the side to redirect the water. Vic kindly offered the use of his grinder and I cut the groves. Now waiting for rain and wind to prove the solution but next day all we got was more ice.

Sue n Vic kindly invited us on board for the meal and we provided a 'Christmas' pudding that Ann had made. It was a late celebration together due to the coldest winter for many years. Our travel plans thwarted by ice and snow this year while last year it was the floods.

Power upgrade

Trevor at Adverc recommended a larger alternator and some Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries. This type has a longer cycle life and is low maintenance. I am told that the new spec with 600 Amp Hours of battery capacity and a 110 Amp alternator should meet our needs. My old batteries were showing their age after three and a half years having lost much of their capacity. One of the reasons given for our 70 Amp alternator failing was that it did not have enough output for the loads put on it. Adverc delivered the goodies to Great Haywood Marine Services and John installed it all.

We were so lucky to be able to get back out of the marina in between periods of ice and snow. Got to a mooring on the canal by four pm travelling through a blizzard! The batteries were full by then and we did not need to run the engine that evening as was previously usual. After eighteen hours of use the batteries were still reading 12.3Volts after supplying 67Amp Hours (824 Watt hours) of power. That is equivalent to just under a unit of mains power a day.

We have moved!, Trent & Mersey canal pictures

Great Haywood had become our comfort zone having stayed in the area for so long. It was a place with everything we needed, water, diesel, walks and bus trips and we had got to know many of the boaters there.

It was warm and sunny when we moved north on the Trent and Mersey canal. There was some ice, but moving boats had broken it up. We went through three locks and travelled six miles. The locks have bridges across them which saves having to walk all the way round. While the locks were relatively easy we had done enough by the end of our first journey of the year.

It is all very well having so much power stored in those new batteries. They gave us a whole day of use without having to run the engine. Now we have run out of hot water! While our fire is on there is always a kettle of hot water for use, it is just not on tap. While travelling with No Problem we share Sunday roasts together. In the afternoon we walked out round Burston and realised that it was still light at five o'clock. The local community are protesting about a possible wind farm being built in the area. If we do not invest in new power generators there will be a power shortage sooner or later.

It was only a short hop past a new marina at Aston near that lock with a mile post that indicates Shardlow 46 one way and Preston Brook 46 the other. Found moorings either side of bridge 90 and waited for Mr Tesco man to deliver our order. It duly arrived and got put away thankfully before it rained.

Cruising north

Our next stop was at Stone. History tells us that it was here that Josiah Wedgewood met James Brindley to plan the creation of a canal to run north south for 46 miles either way. So much of the pottery was being broken on the roads that water transport was considered.

We had not moved long enough to fill those batteries but it felt good to make some progress on a sunny day. It got cold over night and we woke to find ice on the canal but were not trapped by it. Took on water and continued up the hill to stop at Barlaston near the Wedgewood factory. We had done the tour back in 2005 when we last passed this way. Many of the bridges on the way were a bit low so had to keep pulling our cover down to get under them while it snowed. That trip was more substantial having done seven locks and three miles. Many of the locks were deep and heavy to open but at least the batteries were full by the time we stopped.

Next day we continued through Stoke on Trent and its industrial wasteland of the potteries. Sad to see so many derelict building and old bottle kilns, some of which have been destroyed since we past this way. The bridges were so low on the way through that we even removed the chimney to get under one. We stopped to consume soup made by Vic on No Problem and then picked up a plastic bag round the prop as we moved off. It was extremely cold putting a forearm in to pull the bag off. Eventually got to Westport Lake in the afternoon when it snowed. On the way we had passed at least one factory working but believe that even Middleport is under threat of closure.

As we were passing through Prince Charles and Camilla were looking at the Staffordshire Gold Hoard to be seen at the Potteries Museum. Huge crowds and cold conditions put us off having a look ourselves.

The Tunnel

We walked round Westport Lake early in warm sunshine after an overnight snowfall and saw pieces of old pottery on the shoreline looking like seashells. There were a few water birds about like ducks, moorhens, coots, tufted ducks, geese, swans and others. We set off to our appointment with British Waterways to travel through the two mile Harecastle Tunnel. It opens at just after eleven but a boat that went earlier was able to pass through. We then had to wait an hour for two working boats to come through from the other end! The old tunnel had sunk in the middle so much of our roof furniture was removed. At one point we had to squat down to avoid hitting our heads. After about forty-five minutes we emerged at the other end. It was a bit noisy with the ventilation fans on full blast and it was just pitch-black looking back.

The water at the northern end was red with iron that coated many of the following locks. Some of the locks were doubles so we made good progress with our two boats. In two days we had got down to Hassal Green, having done eighteen locks in over eight miles. We have earnt our Sunday roast!

The Cheshire locks

Since leaving Harecastle tunnel we have gone down heartbreak hill heading for Middlewich. A total of thirty-one locks in only twelve miles taking three days to do it. Many of the locks were about 10 feet deep so the hill got us down about 300 feet. So far we have been very lucky to be able to keep going despite this prolonged winter. The days were usually warm dry and sunny when we moved. The water tap at Wheelock was not frozen so we topped up our tank there. We woke up to another day with ice on the cut and grey skies. It proved hard to get ourselves going, on down the hill through yet more locks to the bottom.

We noticed that another factory has turned to dust; Bisto gravy is no more next to British Salt. We got diesel at Kings Lock chandlery, a well-stocked shop worth a look in. They allowed me to make my own declaration and charged 65 pence a litre for heating and 1.10 a litre for moving. Then we went down three more locks to the visitor moorings. Before falling asleep after all that effort we paid a visit to friends on a boat called Seyella. Thanks Geoff and Margaret for the chat, tea and cake. Then we crashed out after getting fish and chips from the shop not far from the canal. Next day our good friends Sue and Vic on No Problem followed Seyella heading yet further north while we stayed to do some shopping.

Drifting

We are to stay a while drifting about between Anderton, Barbridge and Wixhall with very few locks but plenty of miles to explore. That is on the Trent and Mersey, Shropshire Union and even the Llangollen.

Our grateful thanks go to our friends Sue and Vic for travelling with us over that hill. As Sue has said in her blog, we have known them for many years and if it was not for the ice in Banbury some years ago I would not have got on the Internet to write this blog or even create our web site.

After Tesco man delivered the goodies we set off in the afternoon and managed to do about four miles after going down that big lock. Heading for Anderton but stopped at Whatcroft where we found Geoff and Margaret in Seyella. Next day we followed them for five miles to Anderton. There we found new facilities so topped up our water tank after using our washing machine on the way. We turned round here by the marina and found our mooring for the weekend. We had a refreshing cup of tea on Seyella before setting off to see that boat lift and take a walk round the parkland with Geoff in the late afternoon.

Salt

We stayed for a long weekend. Seyella was not far away so we spent some time with Geoff and Margaret exploring the surrounding countryside. There are many paths through the Silver Birch woods and down along the river Weaver. We were almost encouraged to take the boat down on the lift but decided it could wait till later. Salt is an abundant raw material round here first discovered by the Romans. At one time much of the salt was transported up and down the river Weaver and up on to the Trent and Mersey canal. Salt is a molecule made from the two elements sodium and chloride. A few factories are busy processing the raw material to make Baking Powder, Caustic Soda and toothpaste to name but a few products.

Keeping Britain tidy

Canals do need respect and support. We have filled no less than six plastic bags with assorted rubbish. It was all strewn over half a mile of the towpath. Glass bottles, cans, plastic bottles and bags so disgusting and untidy we just could not leave it lying there. "Very public spirited of you" said walkers as they passed by. "Well there are plenty of bottles and cans which had contained the spirit!" we said. On the way back to Middlewich we could have filled several more black bags! We knew that there was a recycle centre near bridge 173 on the T and M, which is where we got rid of all those bottles and cans. In our younger days you would get pocket money for returning bottles.

Planning public transport

Geography is a subject to get to grips with. We need to know where roads, places, bus routes and railways are in relation to the canals. Our canal maps concentrate on canals and do not often show what may well be a useful station for bus or train. Get hold of a road map to find that canals and railways are almost invisible! The Internet is very helpful in finding the detail to get from one place to another.

Sometimes just moving the boat to a different location will make a land journey so much easier. Two bus trips, two train journeys and a taxi could change to just one bus and a train to get from a to b. If we need to leave the boat it is best in a marina where it will be safe but not all marinas have temporary short-term moorings. Getting away in the winter is more difficult when more boats stay in marinas!

Turn on to the Shropshire Union, Shropshire, Middlewich canal pictures

Well the Middlewich branch really, but not yet! It was quite tricky being a tight turn under the low Wardle Bridge. We are on the Wardle Canal first, which is a boat length to the lock, the shortest canal on the system. Up a couple of locks then about four miles to Church Minshull where we found the Visitor Moorings provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Trust. They ensure that the grass is cut and the moorings are deep enough. Many of the moorings even have picnic tables and barbeque sites. Only forty-eight hours to stay but the canal is usually shallow at the edges anywhere else!

We went for a walk:
Up and down the sloping path,
We walked the Weaver Way,
To find a posting box,
And sent our mail away.
Chas

But sadly Church Minshull is not much with narrow busy lanes, the traffic rushing by despite the narrow river bridge. After just one night we moved on past the new Aqueduct Marina and up Minshull lock. We had to pass the next Visitor Moorings because the trees prevented Sky reception. Had to move on and stop on a shallow edge beyond the trees. While staying a few days, I got around to painting the lower sides of the boat. Just enough to cover up the winter scars!

New lights

We got to Venetian Marina and booked a mooring for the boat in April. Got some diesel and found the other facility some distance from the boat. They do not have a water tap here so we will have to go another mile to Barbridge. The chandlery here had some LED light units on offer. I was assured that they were regulated so would be ok in the boat on the 12 to 15 volt supply. They were MR11 units that directly replaced the halogen lamps as found in some nice switched brass lights. We tried one and found the light similar to our twin florescent units. No chance for us to relax for now we have two jobs to get on with! Fit those lights and paint the other side of the boat.

Somewhere on the branch

We have got the jobs done, new lamps for old. Anyone want some old lamps? A few days got us back to Middlewich this time to get more water and provisions for the next week. Ann is to go home to see the grand children while I look after Molly and myself. A taxi to Crewe and two trains getting Ann down south. I will have plenty to occupy my mind trying to update and improve our web site. Plenty of boats are moving up and down, some fast and some slow. Last Sunday we had a good roast lunch at the Venetian Cafe. Some repair work is going on at Bridge 11 and I wondered if the same is happening down on the Oxford canal.

Home alone

I have been looking after Molly and myself for a week now. The bird feeders have been refilled a few times as the birds seem extra hungry at this time of year! Fat balls, peanuts and seed all going fast. There are four or five birdies seen at any one time as I sit and watch while reading.

Been getting up early with the sun but what does it matter. The clocks go forwards soon. Moving time does not change the fact that the days are getting longer. It just resets our time to nature's time. Molly does not let me forget to take her out for a walk twice a day. We go one way or the other down the towpath to a bridge and back.

We move again, Llangollen canal pictures

Now that Ann has returned to me we got our water at Barbridge Junction after turning left on to the Shropshire Union. Then it was only a few miles to the junction with the Llangollen. The Ellesmere Canal for that is what it was known when first built before going on to Llangollen. The facilities at the top of Hurlseton locks were not available due to major works beefing up the canal edges.

The canal is unique because it transports water from the river Dee in Wales all forty-five miles to the reservoir at Hurleston. The flow is quite noticeable especially at the narrow bridge holes where it slows the boat down. The byways at the locks allow the flow to pass when the locks are closed. By the time we had gone up a few locks dark clouds were threatening so we moored near bridge 12 only three miles in, set up the satellite dish and got in before it rained.

The next day was a wash out so we stayed in. Watching TV, reading books and listening to the radio or music on CD's. It got cold and the rain turned to snow for a while and the wind blew. What a difference a day makes. We woke to some sunshine and moved on to Wrenbury where we walked across a field past the Church and found the shop and Post Office still going strong. Posted our letters, got bread n milk and returned to the boat. Ever since getting on this canal our Internet connection with TMobile was failing us. Only now that we have got nearer to Whitchurch has the signal returned. For those first few days we felt quite out of touch.

The Shropshire Union Canal Society for the benefit of all users is still enhancing the canal. This includes the provision of seats and picnic tables as well as rings to tie to at visitor moorings making it one of the user-friendliest canals within the inland waterways. Should British Waterways tap into the volunteers of Canal Trusts to help improve the system and provide local knowledge and support?

Busy Easter

We had stopped below Grindley Brook locks during the Easter weekend as many high-speed boaters rushed to join the queue at the locks. They do not seem to realise that the large wash they make not only rocks moored boats but also damages the bank and kills the poor little ducklings. "Perhaps that is why we have seen any yet." Not really surprising that there have been so many breaches of the bank on this popular canal. So it was three boats up and three down as we watched on the sunny Saturday under the control of two lock keepers.

When we went up on Tuesday we were on our own with the lock keeper thankful for something to do. Once at the top we filled with water, used the facilities and dumped rubbish. Then set off for Whitchurch. Once past the swing bridge it was a sharp turn left so was easier to turn further on and then back down the short canal towards town. There was plenty of space here for us visitors. Plans to extend the canal further into town seem to be on hold. Then it was off to rediscover the shops in town some way up the hill towards the church. We found a good butcher and hardware shops willing to take our money for their goodies. Back at the boat we saw that the moorings were now full. During the evening there was some disturbance and we discovered that our flag had been removed from the roof. We suspect a couple of boys off the boat behind.

Next day Ann went off through the park to Tesco, thankfully not so far up the hill. I went later after the many visiting boats had left and helped bring the food back. We then moved out and headed back to Grindley Brook stopping at the top for the night. In the morning the lock keepers were well busy as we joined the queue to go down. This time more boats going down than up and we managed to do twelve lock miles in sunshine to stop just short of Wrenbury.

Sunny warm days

We spent a few days painting bits of boat, patching up the roof with undercoat and red topcoat on the handrail. Even after the second coat it looked patchy but at least it is brighter and glossy, just not happy with it after so much effort.

We moved on to Wrenbury for bread and milk at the store in the village. A boat was following close behind itching to pass but with a lock ahead we would be first! The bottom gates had been left open and paddles up by some lazy boater ahead of us. So it just took us a bit longer to get through, no help from the boater behind as they had stopped for lunch. Arrived at the automatic lift bridge to discover it was being repaired. A loose key switch we were told. The boat behind caught us up. "When the bridge is fixed we will let you through," I said. Before the bridge was up they were alongside going by first! Then another boater was backing out of the boat yard as I was passing through the bridge. He was on the phone and nearly hit our back end. As it was he went forwards in a rush and his propeller chucked water all over our stern so I had to shout at him. I guess he was trying to take advantage of the bridge being up. Tough, Ann lowered it to let the build up of traffic go over. So yes, attitudes have changed over the years especially during the spring and summer months.

Ann's special birthday

We left the boat at Venetian Marina on the Shropshire Union canal near Crewe. A taxi took us to the station and two trains got us down to Southampton. We stayed a few days with Chris, Tracy and the boys. Then it was off to the party where a lifetime of friends and family all met us at a hotel in the New Forest at Lyndhurst. Our thanks go to Chris who organised the music and Tracy who baked a tasty cake and did the decorations. It was great to have our guests in one place so we could chat to them all. We even managed a few dances with some of them. Even Sue and Vic were there from No Problem. So I got to dance with Sue as well!

Going up to Market, Shropshire Union canal pictures

Once back on the boat and Mr Tesco had delivered the goodies we were off. The Audlem flight of locks is a pain, testing our resolve at boating that can be a challenge at times. What with something rattling the prop, muddy edges and rocks at lock landings we found them all. Then there are those by weirs chucking water across the canal completely destroying the careful aim getting into the lock. So it was crash bang wallop as the boat went in. Then there were many boaters coming down two at a time taking locks from those going up. Really should be one up and one down at each lock and helping each other, which is far more enjoyable. Boaters coming up behind us were helping but getting the same treatment.

We stopped for lunch before tackling the Adderley flight. On the way up we met Mike Edwards on a boat called Sarah Kate known to our friends Terry and Myra. Next day we got water opposite the Betton Mill. That building and wharf is now empty and unused. Several boating companies have come and gone but it seems British Waterways wants too much for the lease and annual rent, so much for British Waterways making money from property.

It was a calm sunny day as we proceeded up the Tyrley locks on our own, mostly empty and in our favour, such a contrast from the previous day.

Meeting friends

We wanted to catch up with No Problem before going our separate ways in the summer months. We got going early and two days later we found them at Wheaton Aston with flags up on St. George's day. Sue and Vic invited us on board for one of those famed Sunday roasts and Ann provided the apple crumble.

The Shropshire Union is a bit of a boating motorway, heading north south so it was not long before we got to its southern end at Autherly junction near Wolverhampton. An early morning walk with Ann and Molly found Addersley junction and the Wolverhampton flight of locks heading up to Birmingham. A government supported scheme is employing young people to clean up and paint all the locks which are now looking smart and inviting. We plan to explore the Birmingham Canal Navigations next year.

We moved off heading for Great Haywood and waved goodbye to Sue and Vic as they set off for Stourport. We managed to get to Penkridge, got our post and went to the market. Got some plants for our roof boxes and met Rose and Ray from Maddy Rose. Back on our boat and approaching the lock we were surprised to see Les on Valerie coming up. He was with family and had also been to the market!

We stopped at Teddesley boat yard where we found Maddy Rose having an engine replaced. The boat yard owner was being very helpful in trying to sort out major problems with the old engine but finally decided it was terminal. Both Ray and Rose had been quite stressed about the situation. It had been a threat to their way of life on board after so many good years. The new engine was installed and running while we offered tea and sympathy. Next day we continued on our journey leaving our friends feeling better.

Hanging around

Ann has gone off to see the grand kids Josh and Ben. A taxi got her to Stafford because the busses were not running on the bank holiday. Thankfully some trains were. One warm sunny day was good for varnishing the boat hook pole. It had been suffering from the long cold winter on the roof. I got back into the habit of walking out with Molly twice a day. Jim and Joy on a boat called Losgunna offered to take her one afternoon and she just went with them! A fella on a boat called Just the Job told me that he read our blog and was pleased with his new AGM batteries, purchased after reading about ours. He was heading for Penkridge. Once again I remembered to cook for myself and feed the dog occasionally.

Travelling with friends on board

Our friends Terry and Myra had hired a car and bought Ann back with them to stay on board for a while. It was quite late in the day when they arrived after such a long journey. Once all the kit was thrown on board we all went off to the Clifford Arms for a welcome drink and meal that evening. Next day we set off early heading down the locks to Rugeley where we all went to stock up with food for our journey. Winter almost arrived again as we progressed south so we stopped at Handsacre.

A new routine

With four people on board boat we adopt a different way of life. Skipper and crew take turns at the tiller and operate locks as we travel on the canals. The navigator has worked out where to stop each day and so far we have kept to the schedule with time to spare to stop when it rains. It was a grey cold wet day on Saturday so that was our first stopping day. The girls made a roast lunch and the oven heat kept us warm. Then we got out Ann's birthday present, a jigsaw puzzle, to pass the time together. When we had done some of that we played a game of Mah Jongg.

The Sunday was a different day. It was sunny with no wind and we enjoyed travelling the Coventry canal. We had gone through Whittington and seen the well kept gardens and was approaching Hopwas when we recognised a boat coming round a bend. How convenient to find the visitor moorings clear as we met Mo and Vanessa on Balmaha so both boats were able to stop by School Bridge. It was a good meeting of friends and bloggers enjoying a chat and coffee on Balmaha's deck. We continued on our way to stop at the next mooring and watch the motor racing from Spain.

Changing times

It would appear that the United Kingdom had not been a truly democratic society. What is united about it anyway? How was it that the previous Prime Minister was not elected by the people or his own party? The British people have cast their vote, at least just over 60% of them anyway, the nation has decided. The party with the most votes or is it MP's must form a government. But they must join forces with the party that had the least votes or MP's because they do not have a majority on their own! The people who had voted for the previous Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) now find that he has resigned! But we now at least have an elected Prime Minister (David Campbell).

Fab four on the Coventry, Coventry canal pictures

It was way back in the previous century that the four of us had a fabulous time getting a narrowboat from Bugbrooke to Newbury. Now Terry, Myra, Chas and Ann are travelling on the Coventry canal. It is well served by towns and villages for supplies. Property along the canal has well kept gardens to admire and there are plenty of quiet places to stop with a hard edge and cut grass. The waterway meanders round the contours of the land and round the edges of towns.

When we had got to Polesworth we stopped for a while and did some shopping. It was just a walk across the playing fields and the river Anker to get there. All very clean, tidy and freshly painted the shops were doing quite well. Warm sunny days have changed to cold grey days.

We continued up the hill to Atherstone with a boat in front and some coming down. The boat in front stopped short of the top lock having picked up some barbed wire wrapped round the prop. "What was that doing in the canal?" Because it was an old boat with no weed hatch, a boat hook was needed to pull the wire off. The lock keeper came down to help and one man was in the water with cutters, all hapening while we passed and went up to get water.

We spent a few hours walking round the Historic Town Trail with thirty features of interest. The town is known for its hat making industry in the 1930s but with the Roman Watling Street passing through it clearly has a longer history dating from Anglo Saxon times.

Two skippers and crew

When our friends are driving it gave us a chance to travel up front at the bow. They have not been on the canals for a while and are spotting the changes. Pubs have closed, residential buildings have appeared, some moorings have less boats and Nuneaton was a bit cleaner. The Coventry canal seemed less busy. Now we are on the Oxford canal and the grass has been cut! A boat called Relane was seen at Ansty so a quick chat with Reg was possible as we passed slowly by. The first ten miles or so seem to take forever, as it is less interesting.

Oxford canal pictures

We stopped at All Oaks Wood having noticed the super new towpath through there. "Certainly needed doing because most of it had been washed away." Our friends were amazed to see the developments at Brownsover near Rugby as we squeezed by. There are boats moored on both sides here and just enough room to pass. As we approached the bottleneck several boats moved out at the same time. With four people on board it is surprising how quickly the water gets used. We got more water at Hillmorton before heading up past the busy Bistro serving tea and cake.

Sudden summer days

Enjoy it while it lasts, hot and sunny. We had got to Braunston and stayed a day to organise some work on the boat for later and the girls stocked up with food. That hot Friday we moved up the wide locks with several boats going up and down, mostly two by two. We enjoyed the social atmosphere chatting with the owners as we went up with Terry, Myra and Ann working the locks. One boat was new being delivered to Crick for sale. Then we spotted many improvements on the approach to the tunnel. Much dredging and at last a firm dry towpath.

Despite all the boats coming down the locks we did not see a single boat in the tunnel to pass. There are several bends in this old tunnel built in 1794. There is a need to move slowly through in order to get safely by the bends, some of which have sharp edges which can do some damage to the boat. It is of course very dark inside and all you have is a front light to show the way.

Going north, Grand Union canal pictures

A few miles on from the tunnel we turned left onto the Leicester branch of the Grand Union. Very different with trees either side but shallow soft edges. We eventually stopped just short of the Watford locks very near to the busy M1 service station. "I wonder if those travellers know that a quiet waterway is so close." We soon got the white sheets hung outside the windows to help keep it cool inside. What a change from only a week ago.

Got away early, almost before breakfast and approached the lock flight. Terry went ahead to get permission from the lock keeper to proceed. The locks are close together and called a staircase, have red and white paddles and so long as you operate red before white you'll be all right. "White before red and you're dead," the lock keeper told us. The special routine ensures that water from one lock goes directly into the next. There were no other boats waiting so we were at the top in less than half an hour. We then stopped for a few days just short of Crick tunnel and put the sheets out again.

We intended to walk to the tunnel and back but had only gone through a bridge and round the bend when we spotted a familiar boat. There was Del and Al on board Derwent 6, known to us due to the Internet and blog writing. They kindly invited us in for coffee and a chat about our adventures. Next day they came to us for cool drinks. When we went through the tunnel it proved to be cool and damp as usual despite the hot weather. Got water at the other end, found a mooring and went shopping in Crick.

The Crick Boat Show

We arrived at our pre booked mooring on Friday while it was bright and sunny. There are many boats already here but not as yet in their correct places. We are quite close to the temporary footbridge that provides access to the show site. There is no mooring warden to be seen so it was left to the boaters to organise themselves. At least our boat names are on posts where we should be. We learnt later that British Waterways should have had a warden in charge. A boater's community soon builds up and we get to know our neighbours. One boater who should have been on the outside of us was in fact in the wrong place further away so we got to our empty space. A different boat is now alongside. It is just as well because the one that should be alongside had a noisy generator running and a naughty old dog, or was that the owner!

The show opened on Saturday while it rained. We walked over the bridge and showed our tickets and security wrist straps. There was some confusion with the ticket man saying we should enter at the other gate. But when we told him we had a mooring he let us through. Much of the morning was spent exploring the site and finding interesting things to see. A very large marquee soon filled up with people when it rained. Our free show guide listed all the exhibitors but lacked a layout plan for the marquee so it was a case of walking round the whole lot.

Sunday was better with sunshine but windy. I watched Tony Brookes at the RCR tent describing diesel fuel systems. Several engines were there to get hands on. Having cleaned out the fuel filter and bled the system the engine was started. This resulted in clouds of black smoke inside the tent and many spectators retreated! Meanwhile Ann was watching men making rope fenders and listening to their stories of traditional rope work found on working boats. It seems that the fancy rope work all had a purpose and not just decoration. For instance the dolly hanging from the tiller pin is a safety device. When tying up at a mooring your head is below the tiller pin. You would feel the dolly before hitting the pin with your head. A number of old working boats were there, including the steamboats President and Laplander.

Join the queue

Our friends Terry and Myra left in the morning by hire car. Now we have to get back our normal routine but feeling lonely at times.

It is inevitable after the show that we all leave in a convoy. The steamboat President was half an hour in front of us with several other boats besides. Going through Crick tunnel was a bit scary because of all the mist left behind. "I could not see in front or behind, it was just blackness." Once through the tunnel we joined the queue at the locks. Three boats came up while the hours ticked by slowly. We had time to sit and relax with a few sandwiches. It is raining and we are tucked under the noisy M1 motorway near Watford services. Once we had got into the first lock it did not take long getting down and all the way to Norton Junction. Next day we filled up our water tank and moved the boat on down to Braunston. Many other boaters following in warm sunshine now.

Well deck mods

We had been to see Dave Thomas before going up to Crick and asked him to make some well deck lockers. The well deck is at the front of the boat above the water tank. The deck is about five feet square and we had wooden boxes and a small chest of draws to store paint tins, tools and mooring equipment. Over the years we accumulated more stuff that really needs sorting out as it is overflowing the containers. It was never tidy and we could not sit out there.

Although Dave and Barry are strictly metal workers engaged in building a new boat they set to and spent two days on our boat. They even managed to make the wooden tops for us. So now we have steel lockers with wooden tops that act as seats and storage. Most boats have similar facilities. We elected to do the painting so we could get away before the weekend. While we were by the wharf we got Tesco to deliver goodies and saw no less than three boats being craned into the water almost over our heads!

Americans 'over here', Oxford canal pictures

Not a planned meeting, it just happened. We had moved south of Braunston when Sue rang. They were not far away so we moved on after doing some painting. First stop was to see Bob and Jane on Hobo. They are normally in the marina and had popped out for the weekend. The table and chairs were out on the towpath when we found No Problem. Must get one more coat of paint on before a cup of tea out in the sunshine.

Our blog readers from America had come over again and have hired a narrowboat. Did they just happen to see us and stop, or was it pre arranged? We had no idea they were here. It was the first time for quite a while that we had seen Sue and Vic, yet here we are again all together meeting blog readers! I was in the galley washing up. "Yes I do that most times". I heard my name being called from a passing boat. "Is that Chas?" called Ken Averil. Ken and Mary Lou and family stopped by to say hi. "Good to see you guys," said I. It seems that canal blog writers have influenced them to come over and experience our country way of life. May they enjoy their discovery of the Oxford Canal. It was Ken who has read about our life on our website and encouraged me to continue writing. Next day Sue and Vic were on their way again but not before our first well deck tea party.

Time to paint

I have time to put a few more coats on those well deck lockers and sort out some of their contents. Then we moved to Calcutt just for a change of view but as the phone and Internet signal was unreliable we moved again next day. Then we popped in to Wigrams marina for diesel as we knew they allow us to declare our use for travelling. Diesel for moving the boat has extra tax so we are required to work out what percentage to claim. Then the supplier has to work out how much to charge! It is just too much trouble for some like Braunston Marina who force you to pay the higher rate.

The bloke who filled our tank recognised the name of our boat and told us that More To Life was for sale here. That was our previous boat so we just had to get the key and have a look inside. It was really sad to see her in such a state. Unloved and empty for a year apparently. Ann has been polishing the outside of our boat but now she is suffering from a repetitive strain injury so I have taken Molly for a walk and cooked dinner.

Visitors and flowers

It was breakfast in bed for Ann after a bad night. A cold chiropractic pad helps to reduce the pain of a torn muscle. Way back when we started boating at Newbury Phil and Deborah kept their boat Four Miles On in the same marina as ours. They have two weeks off work, managed to get all the way to Braunston and are now on their way back. Good to see them both again when they stopped for tea and a chat.

Summer has returned again and our garden of flowers is looking good on the roof. The weekenders are out and about and more often than not two boats are passing our mooring in either direction quite frequently. Every now and then we have a sort out of boat contents. In the navy it was called Captains rounds. If we have not used it for a year it must be disposed of. An attempt to sell some of it at the Crick show was not very successful so it will be in the bin soon where boaters can take their pick.

Recovery

After several days over the weekend of worry, pain and loss of sleep we managed to get Ann to see a Chiropractor. Several options had been considered but the best one was to go to Banbury where we had been before. A phone call secured an appointment the same day and we got on the bus from Braunston. It was a long bumpy trip taking well over the hour exploring the countryside on the way! By the time we had walked up to the Cross and beyond we had had enough of it and resolved to get a taxi back.

Marc remembered us when we met again and soon got to work with his healing hands. Apparently several muscles linking shoulder with backbone and ribs had gone into spasm. Half an hour later Ann was relieved of pain, only a dull ache remained. Now it is a case of more rest and ice pack treatment to complete the recovery. The taxi got us back to the boat comfortably in less than an hour so it was worth all that expense.

Blacking at Braunston

Once a year we arrange to have the boat pulled out of the water at Braunston Boats Ltd. "You know, the yard at the bottom lock." This is an opportunity to inspect the bits normally below the water line. While being pulled up the slope on a trolley the stern dips down in the water. As a precaution the exhaust pipe from the engine and diesel heater have a bung inserted to prevent water getting in. We are about a month later this year and a lot of weed had grown on the sides. It is good food for ducks and swans that had been waking us up in the morning with their pecking.

By the end of the day the sides had been pressure washed and the first coat of black pitch had been applied. It had been quite cold in the mornings and we were in the habit of switching on the radiators. But we forgot the bung and the boiler turned itself off automatically. Thankfully we were able to restart it a few minutes later after taking the bung out. All was well after clouds of white smoke had blown out! New anodes were welded on this time after five years. Then a second coat of blacking was applied.

Getting away from Braunston

We were soon back in the water and heading for the marina. A bus ride all the way to Banbury and a train to see family was our first get away. Quite a lot was achieved and several days later we were back on board. Ann popped up to the shops while I filled the water tank and emptied our travel bags. Ann has almost completely recovered from those strained muscles and thanks to all those who contacted her.

Braunston Historic Boat Gathering was gaining pace and we were lucky to get out before events really got going. As we left the marina another boat arrived to fill the space. Braunston was full of boats so we went out to Willoughby where we stopped at a shady spot for the weekend.

I find it quite sad to read the stoppage reports. The Caen Hill lock flight is still closed due to a boat strike that destroyed a lock gate. Canals do need more respect and support from boaters, public and government. The summer months bring out all sorts to enjoy the waterways but they seem to lack respect for the system and other boaters for that matter. Some are just petty criminals when the towpath telegraph report items missing off boat roofs.

Fourty 4 years and counting, Oxford canal pictures

We got to the top of Hillmorton locks and walked down to find Gypsy Rover and saw Derek and Dot who offered a cool drink at the end of a hot day. We had a good long chat about their future back in New Zealand. When we returned to our boat we found Reg and Elaine on Relaine. It was our forty-fourth anniversary next day and they offered to look after Molly while we had lunch at the Bistro.

Improvements and two runs

The old Perspex windows in the front cratch had gone cloudy over the years. Dave Bassett has now replaced it with clear toughened glass. Ann has gone home to run for life round Southampton Common. She walked the five km in fifty-five minutes with a crowd of likeminded people and collected money for charity.

The other run was by seven Star Class historic boats from London to Atherstone. They removed 100 tons of gravel that had been dumped in Paddington basin in order to support the canal edge while a new building was constructed. The gravel and all building material had come in by lorry through London. The building then cut off access by road so the boats were used. It was an exercise to prove that it is still possible to move cargo by boat thus greatly reducing the carbon footprint. The loaded boats are at least three feet deep in the water and often ran aground in the shallow waterway. They had left London on Monday and passed through Braunston on Saturday.

On the move, Oxford canal pictures

It must be a year ago since we have been down the Oxford heading for Banbury. We went up all the locks at Napton with many boats coming down and helping us with open gates. It is a testament to the over 200 year old system design that it still works despite a certain lack of maintenance. At least one lock gate had a broken balance beam and several locks were damaged under water. Despite the recent lack of rain there is enough water at the summit to get through to Clayton. We had stopped at the top for one night before going down the other side. Then it rained!

Historic boat pictures

I have been sorting loads of pictures of historic boats. Many were taken at Braunston this year and last during the boat gatherings. Thanks to the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club and their list that helped me to sort our pictures.

Through and south of Banbury

We passed through Banbury and after getting water progressed to the Tramway moorings. These are much improved with a hard edge, more popular now with more boats and still a fourteen day mooring, which is good for shopping at the local supermarket. We plan to stay a bit longer than usual here. In the past we hired cars to go home and now we get on a train because they are safer, less stressful and more economical. The station is only ten minutes walk from here and an hourly service gets us south.

Mum moved to a care home

My dear 91 year old mother had spent three weeks in a care home. "I did not like it one bit," she told me. While Ann stayed on the boat with Molly I went off on the train and stayed several days trying to rearrange Mum's way of life for a better future. With my brother's help we had arranged for care help to call every day but it had become more difficult to care for Mum even with people coming in each day. Thankfully Hampshire Adult Services are on the case and have found a Residential Care home for mum. My brother is on hand to help and has taken mum to see the place that has a room available. I have got back after a stressful and emotional time for both Mum and me.

Meeting by boat

Back together on the boat we moved slowly south. There is a smallholding by Nell Bridge lock where we found Bob and Jane on Hobo. We have known them since our early days on the Kennet and Avon canal. The little farm has pigs, sheep and hens. They sell free range sausages, eggs, pork chops, legs of lamb etc so is well worth a visit. They also sell pots of the Buffalo Ice cream from Napton! You can see the Buffalo when moving the boat up or down the Napton locks.

Another day we drifted on down to Aynho and beyond. It was at Aynho that we saw a boat called Bones and met Mortimer who writes for our boating magazine Canal Boat. We swapped places at the water point as she continued her journey north.

A bit out of touch and a few problems

When other commitments require more attention our activity on the canals and the Internet are affected. It is nice to know that there are people, friends and followers out there that we have got to know through our blog and also some that we just meet on the cut. Phones, emails and blogging are all means of communicating equally well but there is nothing quite like real people when you see them.

We moved on down to Lower Heyford and found that there was absolutely no phone signal here. Just three miles north we had a very strong and fast connection through Orange and T Mobile. Here we got a space, TV and radio so not all bad. Then Del and Al on Derwent 6 went by going north waving their arms and taking pictures! We had intended to catch a train back to Banbury but they are infrequent and we did not see one stop. We would need to be sure to get back the same day. Apparently the driver would stop if you were on the station at the right time so we were told later.

Found some expensive bread n milk, oil and filter at the boat yard. Oxford Narrowboats were very busy on their turn round day with lots of boats waiting for families to take them away for their holiday on the waterways. They are looking for an engineer so just hope that they all get back later with no problems. We walked into the village but it was very exclusive and quiet. No shop or Post Office here, just a pub.

It was a noisy night with that railway just over the hedge so we turned round next day and got water before heading north. A boat called No Problem arrived just as we had finished but it was not our friends. They had met Sue and Vic on the Kennet and Avon canal. Pity that there are really so many problems on that canal with many boaters reporting that the canal is falling apart with lack of maintenance and consequently lack of water due to leakage. Lack of rain does not help either. The latest problem is the actual closure of the Leeds and Liverpool canal due to lack of water we are told.

One more problem

We got past Aynho, crossed the river Cherwell that joins the canal, entered Nell Bridge Lock and stayed in there for a while! The bottom gate would not shut properly and the lock would not fill. So much water was gushing past the gate. We shut all the paddles, slowly descended and reopened the gate. An attempt to flush out the obstruction was made before Ann went round to the British Waterways yard that just happened to be nearby. By now many boats had joined a queue at both ends of the lock. Two men turned up with a very long handled rake and after several attempts managed to dislodge the obstruction. "It was probably a loose brick below the gate." We were then able to carry on to Banbury. After the weekend at least ten boats were assembling below Banbury lock, waiting to get through the lock or use the facilities. It is now the busy season and it was sad to see so many plastic bottles floating alongside the boats in the canal.

Procedures and actions

BW has been busy down in Banbury fixing up firm edges. At the Tramway it is finished. Boaters are there already but BW had spread fresh earth about and put grass seed down without rolling it flat! Now we have got deep footprints and muddy boots. Just when the grass is sprouting along come the cutters and squashed it all flat!

Just as we queued for the lock down came Mortimer Bones in her grey boat. A few days later we had reached the summit pound, got diesel at Fenny and stopped short of Marston Doles. We do not normally move on a Sunday and wonder why we did. We simply lost count of so many boats heading south. We took on water slowly just before heading down the locks towards Napton. All the boats coming up the locks seemed to want water! Even hire boaters just setting off from Wigrams Marina had already run out of water. We have stopped after the second lock down after being told of an event at Napton with loads of boats trying to get up the locks.

Rediscovery after 7 years, Grand Union canal pictures

The last time we were on the Western Grand Union we were going east from Kingswood Junction. Now we head west from Napton Junction. It was there that we met Rose and Ray on Maddy Rose. We shared tea and sandwiches over two days then went our separate ways, setting off down the Calcutt and Stockton flights. We were joined by Misty Lady to go down all those double locks. The skippers and crews were working well together as a team. There were several boats coming up leaving the locks for us to go down. It was sunny while we moved that morning but when we stopped at Long Itchington it rained. Despite the wetness we walked to the village shop for provisions. On our return to the boat we lit the fire to dry out. August is usually a wet month.

Next day we set off and did another nine locks with Misty Lady. It was a damp grey day as we travelled down towards Leamington Spa and found a mooring just past bridge 33 in open countryside and bid farewell to our travelling companions. It was sunny and warm as we continued our journey through the Spa town the next day. We noted on the way that the concrete towpath prevented the use of pins for mooring. There were however several bollards to tie to on the offside by Tesco where we stopped to shop. Eventually spent the night by Budbrooke Junction and saw Ernie on 10 Bob Note pass by.

We were not far from the start of the climb up the Hatton flight of twenty-one locks and were joined by another boat. Double width locks need two boats to make the going easy and it does save the water. It was at least dry and warm when we started off at ten. Three hours later we had reached the top, an average of ten minutes a lock! It would have been good to find visitor moorings at the top. There were plenty of car parks and gongooslers but the moorings were for permit holders. We were obliged to move on just when we needed a rest. Eventually found deep water and a low hedge so that we could see the satellite signal. Then it rained.

A voyage of discovery

Oh dear another breach, a loss of water on the Mon and Brec in Wales. Only a few years ago it was closed for the same reason and repaired at great cost. So many boats and holidaymakers are disrupted in their travels. The government have slashed support for the waterways again. BW's men in suits are being blamed for paying themselves loads of money without achieving much. It seems that they do not deserve so much for losing money on property.

Stratford canal pictures

We moved up to Kingswood Junction where the Grand Union kisses the Stratford. We are obliged to wait here as work is in progress to protect the bridge. The brick built bridge has suffered some severe damage by boats turning into the link. The workmen watched as a boat slowly bounced off the barrier. "Still not enough" one said as the barrier moved!

It was worth exploring the junction with its lock cottages and a triangle of waterway links. Several locks on the Stratford bring that canal up to and above the Grand Union level as it heads northwest to Birmingham. When we were there the Elsan facility was being unblocked. I remember seeing it blocked seven years ago! "Oh why can not BW fix the cause rather than the symptom?" The flushing water supply was just a trickle.

The local maps led us astray when we tried to find shops in Lapworth. We found they had moved down the road past the railway. At least the Post Office still exists in the wine shop but the other little shop did not have much more than bread and milk. If you are coming up this way on the Grand Union there is a much better shop and Post Office above the northern end of Shrewley tunnel.

We started late to go up the fifteen narrow locks of the Lapworth flight on the Stratford canal. It was mostly thickly lined with trees and having short pounds between the locks. A few boats were coming down and at one pound on a bend it was tricky manoeuvring past the other boat. It remained tree lined at the top and we began to wonder if we would be able to see the sky sat. However a gap was found albeit with the boat sitting on the mud. Four more locks were tackled next day.

Family concerns

We have been off the boat while some changes are made to our galley. We got a lift to Leamington Spa station and a train south. Mother has moved to a Nursing Home and we have been helping her settle in. Some furniture, pictures, TV and clothes transported from the house to the home. We are much happier now knowing that she is being well looked after by the caring staff.

Now it is a case of facing up to house clearance without loosing too much family stuff. Luckily my brother is able to help with this endeavour. The house has been valued and some furniture sorted for sale. Various visits from other family members have been arranged so stuff will be redistributed. The more we look the more we see and the task seems endless at this time. It is unlikely that we will ever stop over at that family home again so now we stay with our grand children and their parents. A very different lifestyle to that we are used to on the boat.

It was Josh's birthday during our stay and we watched as he opened presents. Our youngest grandson Ben had not been feeling well and was taken to hospital so we had a few late nights of anxiety. Having stayed an extra day we were happy to return to the boat knowing that there was nothing seriously wrong.

Our favourite boat fitter has done it again for us. A separate hob and high level oven has been installed, replacing that cooker that is now for sale. The main gain is much better access to the oven and what was a corner cupboard.

A short evening stroll then move the boat

It was sunny and calm so we took a stroll to get fish and chips at Hockley Heath. It was not long before we were sitting on a street bench watching the traffic while consuming the food from its paper wrapping. Our plan is to move on through Birmingham but we wait for the political conference to finish. The police are searching passing boats with dogs.

We set off on Thursday after using the facilities at the boat yard. Ten miles of the northern Stratford canal seemed to take an age to Kings Norton. Most of the canal is lined with trees on both sides and the prop kept getting clogged with the falling autumn leaves. We had been told that we were heading into bandit country so we did not stop on the way except with another boat at the water point. Then we saw policemen patrolling the towpath! After passing through the short Brandwood tunnel we found the curious old guillotine lock that is now permanently open. It was a stop lock where private canal companies would charge working boaters for moving cargo.

Going through Birmingham, Birmingham canal pictures

At the end of the Stratford we turned right onto the Worcester and Birmingham canal. This was a bit wider, lined with factories instead of trees and quite shallow in places. A railway follows the canal all the way into Birmingham. A mile further on we stopped at Bournville. Even the train station is painted purple. For it is here that Cadbury's chocolate is made. The secure visitor mooring on the off side provide space for two boats and was already occupied. So we were obliged to moor outside the security fence. That night we felt quite vulnerable as youths gathered nearby at two am, talking loudly with the f word in every sentence.

We walked into Bournville in the morning to see some of the huge new factories and original buildings from the 1900s. All the fences and street lamps were painted purple. We had the feeling that something was about to happen in the streets. The evening news reported that the new owners are to keep the Bournville production going. Good news indeed.

Back on the boat we set off for Birmingham and beyond. We are not city people and regard them as concrete jungles even though in reality there is more steel and glass than concrete. We took the direct route along the main line and were happy to find trees and grass once through the centre of Birmingham. After twelve flat miles we arrived at Factory locks which climb up to the Wolverhampton level.

The Black Country

A sharp left turn and a mile gets us to Dudley and the Black Country Museum with really secure moorings, boater facilities and the tunnel. The Black Country is a huge area of geological significance containing all the raw materials to set off the industrial revolution. Coal mining, iron and steel making, lime stone mines and lime kilns.

It was a very hard life for those who lived and worked during the 17th and 18th centuries. Women were employed making chains all day long often using their children to help. They went on strike because they could not even afford to feed themselves. They were the white slaves of England.

We walked down into a 1850s coal mine to experience the blackness and low ceilings. We were given hard hats and torches. A young boy was employed to open and shut ventilation doors but he was working in the dark because he was not worth a light. Ponies at this time were considered more valuable than children. If they were to fall into the canal it was the pony that got rescued first. When we were in that mine we thought about the trapped miners in Chilly. Thankfully they are now all rescued safely. There was plenty to see in the completely reconstructed village with many shops and even a 1920s cinema showing silent movies.

Then there was that tunnel with more than expected. It was the entrance to what was a huge underground mining industry digging out coal and lime. There are caverns and tunnels in many directions. Many more unseen below are now flooded. We went in with our hard hats by boat on a round trip. It was an education by commentary and audiovisual show seen and heard deep in the hillside. It was so good that we went in again the next day!

Been away on another planet

Taxi's, trains, cars and busses got us off the boat and away down south. We packed some bags and took the dog. Have we got all we need? Can we carry it all? We had moved to Great Haywood Marina and filled the diesel tank. The fridge had to be emptied, turned off and defrosted before we left.

There were several good reasons for going. Ann had a hospital appointment, more house clearing and sitting in for our grand children. Their parents could then get a night out with friends. We also paid visits to friends and family, walked in the forest and saw Despicable Me in 3D. Many items from the house were distributed among the family. That is a very hard thing to do with so much to consider. The family home was just a house now and up for sale.

While we were away our old cooker was sold. Amazingly we had met the buyer when at Dudley. We returned the hire car having done over 300 miles on a full tank of petrol. Enterprise took us to the station and on the way we saw that several cruise liners had arrived in Southampton. The train was packed with many people standing in the isles with their entire luggage. We were lucky to find our reserved seats were still available for our journey, but even we had our bags on our laps!

Once back at Stafford we got a taxi to take us back to Great Haywood Marina with a bit more luggage than we had left with! Just could not face moving the boat out so we paid for another night. Even then it took several days to get back into our boating routine.

Great Haywood is a wonderful little village where we have now booked appointments at the medical centre and the dentist. Restocked the fridge and enjoyed a few quiet meals together. It is late autumn now so we enjoyed a walk along the river with the sun shining through the golden leaves.

Move away for a while, Trent & Mersey canal pictures

With limited time on the moorings and the prospect of local fireworks at Shugborough Hall we moved away. Molly does get so upset with the bangs and whizzes that we have administered some calming herbal remedy that seems to work for her. We got all the way to Acton Trussel, turned and found a mooring before Deptmore Lock. The lock keepers house now belongs to the farmer and is being renovated. British Waterways have been selling off some of their property and their attempt to make money by running public houses near canals has in fact made a substantial loss.

We are in open countryside for the weekend where we put out the bird feeders but only a few birds found it. Despite the remoteness we did hear and see some fireworks in the distance. We celebrate the fact that an attempt to blow up the houses of parliament was prevented. It was quite cold and damp that weekend so we had the fire going most of the time. On Sunday we once again enjoyed our roast lunch with minted lamb and watched the racing on TV.

Monday was awful with wind and rain but we had to get back to Great Haywood for dental appointments, Tesco orders and post due on Tuesday. A few hours driving the boat dressed up in waterproofs proved to be purgatory by the time we arrived. Thank goodness for the mooring space found near the lock. Due to several low bridges we were not able to put up our Bimini, which would have protected us from the weather.

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not

It was a bit windy when we needed to move backwards to the water point where we pick up our Tesco order. We did not get all the way there. Luckily another space was available and a kind boater moved his boat forward to let us in. It then took two journeys to get all the bags over the junction bridge and on to the boat. Then it rained. We have had so much rain lately that the river Trent is well up and flowing fast here.

Road diesel

The red diesel fuel we are obliged to use in our boat tanks is usually gas oil with a red dye so we can pay less duty than that for road use. New EU regulations will require a change to road diesel with the red dye. Road diesel has less sulphur in it and it also has some bio content. Many boaters are concerned about the effects on their engines.

Ours is a Beta 38 and this is what Beta told me:-

As far as the engine is concerned, they have been developed for ultra low sulphur fuels, so that they comply with the stringent emission controls, both in Europe and America. The bio content has also been taken into account, as all the emission restrictions have been mapped out for the future in a timetable based on the fuel specification. So the engine is fully capable of running with this fuel.

The storage could be a problem as the bio content can lead to higher bacterial growth, and higher water absorption. I have been talking to a filter manufacturer who has developed a large capacity high water absorption filter system, and should have details shortly. I don't think that it is all doom and gloom, as the lower sulphur content reduces the need to use low quality non detergent oils we recommend now.

High quality oils that contain detergent tend to wash down the bores, thus picking up the fuel residue that builds up the sulphur content in the oil, this can produce a weak sulphuric acid that attacks the bearings. Don't forget that the fuel change is being done to lower harmful emissions. Kindest Regards, John Lusty, After sales, Beta

So it would seem we should consider changing the type of lubricating oil we use in our engines.

Topping up with essentials

We managed to back up to the water point the next day. Got more diesel and moved out to Tixel wide for a while. It is getting cooler now so we have the fire on longer. Our tank will soon need topping up every two weeks. One very windy night the fire went out and issued forth its smelly fumes. We woke up and turned off the supply. Several attempts to relight it next morning failed due to the windy conditions so we put the radiators on to get warm. Smoky oil is not at all pleasant and at least set off the smoke alarm. We wonder if oil fires are worth the hassle because they also produce a lot of flaky carbon deposits that need scraping out. If the truth were known a much taller chimney is required. But then we would not get under those bridges! We moved into Great Haywood after breakfast to get some shelter from the trees. The wind reduced a bit and we were able to light the fire again.

We have been on several bus trips into Stafford to do some Christmas shopping. Street decorations are now appearing to brighten the place up. Our friends Geoff and Margaret offered to look after Molly while we were away.

A need to move on

If we stay in one place too long we get itchy feet. We have done what we needed to do here and if we stay much longer the roots will grow. We have about a month to go somewhere and back before leaving at Christmas. It was one of those magic moments, a chance meeting of boaters at the watering hole. We had just backed up to the facility when Derwent 6 arrived. We both filled our tanks and gathered round cups of tea at the bow of M2L. Then the owners of Sanity Again stopped to say hello. So there we were Chas, Ann, Del, Al, Bruce and Sheila all in one place a moment before moving off in different directions.

We turned across the bow of Derwent 6 to get under the junction bridge and there was Geoff with his bag of shopping and Meg about to walk back to their mooring at Tixell. We stopped there as the best of the day had passed and we were eating lunch at two pm! We got away next day and did twelve lock miles to arrive at Park Gate for the weekend. It was a bit misty as we left but calm dry and warm during the trip.

The chimney

Geoff on Seyella had found some useful advice on the net suggesting that a tall chimney would help our diesel fire draw better. The recommended length of flue should be ten feet from the flame, which would mean four feet above the roof! We only have about 1 foot 6 inches so we can get under bridges. Many years ago I had made our chimney out of rolled up liners with Vic's help. The great advantage was a double skin to keep the gasses warm. That worked a treat most of the time. The down draft preventer as supplied with the boat was simply not enough and was not much good in strong winds.

Our chimney fitting is only three and a half inches diameter so non standard chimneys were hard to find. When at Crick we had asked to have one made but the maker was reluctant to help because it was an oil fire. So I have got a twenty-eight inch long liner that drops over the existing chimney. For use when we stop of course.

Cooking for Christmas

Ann has made a rich fruit cake baked in a square tin and will cover it with marzipan and icing. Homemade puddings are the other tradition in the family circle although not many get to stir the ingredients and make a wish these days. Made enough for three bowels wrapped up with grease proof paper and cloth and steamed overnight on the stove. The pudding is consumed at Christmas having been steamed, decorated with holly and burnt with hot flaming brandy. Brandy butter was the preferred topping.

For various reasons we find ourselves a long way from the family at a time when we feel we should be much closer. Meanwhile we will decorate the boat and enjoy meeting other boaters on our travels. It is getting colder in the evenings and there is a threat of icy conditions coming early this winter. We have stocked up while at Penkridge and moved on a bit to be near a diesel supply. Now is the time for porridge in the mornings and stew in the evening. Stew is slowly cooking on the stove.

Welcome company

Rock n Roll has stopped by. We exchanged stories of our travels since we saw them last. The ice has arrived and we cannot to go any further. Just up and down the lock to fill up with diesel. Gailey Marine let us have it at the zero rate as we were residential and not planning to move for a while. Otherwise it would have been at their commercial rate with the added duty. It got misty in the evening then in the morning we woke to see a thin layer of snow and the canal water had turned to slush. Water passing through the lock is keeping the thick ice away from our mooring. The sun cheers us up while the sky is clear and does its best to melt the ice while staying low in the sky. Bird feeders are hung on the hedge so several birdies are getting their breakfast.

Despite the threatening conditions we do seem to be able to make the best of it while living on our boat. Keeping in touch with other boaters by phone, email and blogging helps to pass the time and enables us to keep track of each other.

Staying put

Many other boaters are stuck in ice now and not moving. We did walk down past a few locks and found British Waterways operatives working hard dredging the canal. Somehow they had managed to break up the ice around their boats using the grab bucket. We just had to complement them both on their efforts. A small stream was still clear of ice and flowing into the canal where it eventually froze. Also where the water is flowing past Gailey lock there is a large stretch of clear water almost getting past our boats.

The cold weather has not stopped us getting out and we walked up the A5 Watling Street to the roundabout where we found Dobbies. It is one of those Garden Centres with much more. It is a virtual Santa's Grotto for adults at this time of year. Everything is there to satisfy those of us who want a material Christmas rather than a spiritual one. We have been keeping in touch with our friends not just by reading their blogs but also writing emails and making phone calls.

A trip to town

Carol, George, Ann and two dogs plus I all walked up the A5 to catch a bus to Penkridge. The market was open but several stalls were missing. Not surprising due to the conditions being sunny but icy under foot. Stafford Grammar School music department were playing Christmas Carols. We arranged to meet Geoff and Margaret on Seyella who provided homemade soup, mince pies and warming drinks. It was a wonderful gathering of friends during this cold winter. We then elected to walk the three miles back to Gailey because we realised we had just missed the bus. It took about an hour boat to boat. Thankfully it was not snowing or too windy. Most of the canal was frozen but with a few clear ponds under bridges where all the ducks have gathered.

Supplies

Next day Tesco managed to find us bringing our orders. The driver and helper were travelling together in the bad conditions as support for each other. Then we packed it all away. Meanwhile George had opened the lock gates and flushed out a slab of ice. It had warmed up during the day so the canal was clear behind us. Both Rock n Roll and Moore 2 Life backed up one by one to get diesel and water. One tap had frozen due to its lack of insulation. Thankfully there is another available for use. We left it dripping slowly so it would not freeze.

Back down at our mooring, just below the lock, the ice reformed as the temperature dropped again. "More porridge for breakfast please," Ann requested. It cooks well on top of the stove while we get up. Batteries are not so efficient when cold so are not giving up as much energy as normal. We find it best to charge them up twice a day while it remains cold.

Things to do and plans to make

There is just a promise that by the weekend it may get warmer if the wind changes. We have decided to do some washing and dry the clothes by the fire. By the end of the day it was dry. Perhaps later we can back up that lock again for more water and diesel. Done the Christmas cards and posted some when Ann and Carol took the bus to Stafford. More to go next time we get out.

Meanwhile the canal remains frozen and the British Waterways men doing the dredging told us there is no chance of moving any time soon. So we stay put and make new plans to go home. The marina we were going to is frozen with four inches of ice. A taxi can take us from here to Stafford for the train while George and Carol kindly look after the boat.

Beyond the call.....

George hired a car for the weekend and drove us all to Market Drayton to visit No Problem and our friends Sue and Vic. They were stuck in ice and could not get water. Despite the slightly warmer temperatures it was still very slippery under foot. In the boot of the car, two large water containers which George used to transport water from tap to boat several times to fill the No Problem tank.

It was great to see Sue and Vic again after spending the summer months apart. We all enjoyed bread rolls and homemade soup while discussing future plans, listening to Georges jokes and swapping Christmas cards. Ann had baked a cake so we all had some of that as well. It was an enjoyable meeting of friends separated by many more canal miles than road miles! We came away with a homemade pot of jam. Thanks S and V, was good to see you both during this bleak mid winter. And thanks to George for driving us there.

Moving events

For the third time we have been able to move the boat back up through the lock for services at Gayton. Both taps and the Elsan are in working condition while the warmth lasts. The boat yard has been breaking the ice every day so they can move their boats about for servicing. They provided our diesel, oil and filters for a service later. We know of other boaters elsewhere coping with their lot under difficult circumstances. Last we heard at Braunston, is not so well served because both Elsans were blocked!

Despite eight days of positive temperatures there is still plenty of thick ice about on the canals. But Geoff on Seyella felt confident to make a run for Gailey. It was a determined effort helped by us opening and closing four locks on the way. Boaters at Otherton were thankful for broken ice as now they could move to their services. The local Heron would also be pleased to be able to go fishing again! The threat of further low temperatures, snow and ice prompted the move and the fact that he needed diesel.

We can only look forward

The forecasted snow and ice has returned with a vengeance so we are pleased that our friends made it here when they did. Now all we hope is that we can get home for Christmas having to rely on road and rail transport with so many people on the move during uncertainty at this time. It is a white Christmas that we dream about but do not really need.

We can only make plans for next year and hope. Moving about and exploring is at the heart of it. Staying in one place for so long has proved that. We have achieved much of what we set out to do this year but wish that we could have gone to all those places we like in one year, which is of course impossible.

Thank you for reading Chapter 16. Return to Book.