African Dancers in Manchester

One of the joys of visiting English cities by boat is the ability to moor up and explore areas you would not normally visit. We rarely have the opportunity these days to just enjoy our cities like a tourist, but when one does there is usually something unexpected to discover.

When we moored up in Manchester recently we went to museums, art galleries, a concert and of course the shops. But in Piccadilly Gardens we found a group of African drummers and a sitar player performing with some dancers. A student from the Northern College of Music was also watching and he provided some commentary on their tuning and scales. It so was fascinating Steve couldn't resist taking a video clip.

Dancers and musicians from Gambia

Our North-West Cruise

It has now been over 10 days since we got back from our cruise. It was a memorable journey, particularly our trip down the Anderton Lift and our few days spent on the River Weaver. We will also remember how wet but beautiful it was on the Cauldon Canal.

It was also memorable for Steve meeting up with his Manchester cousins.

Jean and Frank navigating on the Bridgewater Canal

Reunion at Sale
Mike, Barbara, Jean, Maggie, & Steve

We have just worked out our travel log using Canalplan AC.

It gave us the following information:

Total distance was 408 miles, 1¾ flg and 254 locks. There were at least 14 moveable bridges; 53 small aqueducts or underbridges and 11 tunnels.

Made up of 284 miles of narrow canals; 83 miles of broad canals; 39 miles of large rivers; 195 narrow locks; 51 broad locks; 8 large locks.

The large river miles were on the Weaver, as were the eight large locks. These locks were, of course, operated by others but the rest we did. The 195 narrow locks were no real problem, except for the odd broken paddle and leaky gate, but as we got near home we were struck just how heavy the gates on the Buckby flight are. Sometime ago BW ran a study on the force required to open gates. We never saw the results but you can bet that Long Buckby must be somewhere close to the top of the list.

The planner said this would take 199 hours, or 33 days at 6 hours per day. We managed it in a total of five weeks, but some days we were on the move for over 8 hours and on other days, as in Manchester, we did very little.

Cement Shoes at Stoke Bruerne!

Hollywood legend has it that the Mafia disposed of their opponents by setting their feet in cement and throwing them into a lake or the sea. It appears that we may have a offshoot of the Cosa Nostra in Northants. Last week as we were going down the Stoke Bruerne flight, I pushed off our boat Albert from the wall of a lock pound and found that I was pushing against another pair shoes set into the wall. I presume that they are not attached to legs!

Cement shoes at Stoke Bruerne Locks

Interesting that they aren't actually a pair, but then I suppose lost shoes rarely do occur in pairs.

A few years ago when we visited Walney Island Nature Reserve one of the volunteers, who was always finding trainers washed up on the beach, offered the profound thought “I never find them in pairs – I wonder what happens to the other half?”.

Updating our posts

We have just been updating our blogs with images. Looking back we had some great days. If you want to see all the uploaded images you will have to go to "older posts".

To Yardley Gobion (May 7)

It was a windy day. The trip down to Blisworth was relatively uneventful although we did see a kingfisher by Gayton Junction. Raymond and Nutfield were moored up at the junction and Steve Miles was onboard.

Restored working boat Raymond

The journey through Blisworth Tunnel was very straightforward with no boats coming the other way. As we reached the end we began to notice people peering around the corner of the towpath to see how we were progressing. A small group of visitors we clustered around the portal. No doubt the sound of a boat approaching through the tunnel had intrigued them.

There were very few boats moored up at Stoke Bruerne so we were able to moor up close to the museum for lunch and enjoy the sunshine. As we entered to the top lock of the Stoke Bruerne flight our friend Shirley Emmins dashed across from the Boat Inn. She and her friend Jo were having a walk around Stoke Bruerne and had just finished their lunch. We gave them an introduction to locks and locking and gave them a trip on Albert along the Long Pound.

It remained windy all the way to Yardley Gobion and getting into Kingfisher Marina was challenging. We did manage to get Albert cleanly into her berth in a strong crosswind, but that was probably because nobody was watching. We were greeted home by Kingfisher’s permanent moorers Ralph and Betty. We then had the task of unpacking the boat.

It has been a memorable trip and Albert has performed well.

To Weedon (May 6)

It was windy and bright as we left Hillmorton. At the top of the lock flight we found NB Towcester preparing to leave. They moved off just before we left the lock and we followed them to Barby Wharf where they stopped to make one of their coal deliveries.

Working boat Towcester mooring up to make a coal delivery

In the process we passed another Albert. Ten years ago we used to see this Albert around Blisworth.

Another NB Albert

We followed a Napton hire boat all the way to Braunston. They turned into Braunston Marina for services and we went onto the lock flight. As we entered the bottom lock we note that NB Moriaty was out of the water being blacked.

It was quiet on the flight and we went up alone although we met some boats coming down towards the top and a pair of boats behind caught us up. The landslide by the tunnel still obstructs the entrance. We wonder when BW will manage to get it fixed. I gather it will take significant resources and this may take some time. We met three boats coming through the tunnel. The last had an annoying pencil beam light, but far worse was the million candle power hand-held lamp wielded by the steerer. He managed to blind Steve just at the critical moment and we managed to put a scratch along Albert’s gunwale. Luckily it is not a bad scratch, but fixing it is a job we could do without. Why do some boaters need to wave a lamp around in the tunnel? It might be “fun” to see some of the structures and interesting brickwork but it doesn’t help steering.

We passed the new towpath repairs between the tunnel and Norton Junction. It looks a good job. At Norton we met up with NB Chamille and went down the Buckby Flight with them. At Lock 8 only one upper gate was in action. It looked like the balance beam had been split. It was slow going down the flight because we followed a pair of single-handed boats and we also met some very slow crews coming up.

Descending the Buckby Flight

We moored up for the night by the bridge at Weedon. We hadn’t moored there for some time. We decided to eat at the Crossroads Hotel but when we arrived at the Watling Street entrance it looked closed with no lights, empty hanging baskets, missing letters on the pub sign, and the main door closed. However, there was a sign indicating that you could get into the building from the rear. Going round to the car park entrance we were relieved to find that it was in fact open and it was business as usual. We had a good meal but it struck us that they are not making the most of the site. At one time it was a very inviting establishment. Don’t they want passing trade?

To Hillmorton (May 5)

Today the weather improved although it took until the evening until we saw sunshine. With only Sutton Stop Lock to negotiate, it was a day of putting on the miles to make sure we get home on schedule. Yesterday Steve spent the afternoon examining the gardens at Amington, today he spent the morning looking at the amazing variety of allotments in Nuneaton. Just how many canalside allotments are there in Nuneaton? There appear to be hundreds. (Answers on a postcard to ..)

A relic from the past near Hartshill

We contemplated pausing for lunch at Sutton Stop but decided to press on, particularly since there are not any convenient moorings around Hawkesbury Junction.

Police facility - Hawkesbury Junction

At Stretton Stop we stopped briefly for milk and let NB Golden Valley come past. Just before Newbold Tunnel, by the junction with the disused Newbold Arm, we passed another Albert on her home moorings. We have moored here overnight twice.

Another Albert, Newbold

Newbold Tunnel Illuminations

Maggie decided to walk the towpath near Rugby. A young lad was trying to impress his even younger friends with his mini motorbike. They were being reasonably careful but they disappeared after Steve photographed them. Towpaths are certainly not appropriate places for motorbikes but I suppose we should be grateful that at least they were not on the roads.

Mini Motorbike, Rugby

We finally moored up for the night after nine hours boating just below Hillmorton Locks. A few moments ago, (8:30) working boat Towcester loaded with coal and skippered by Julia Cook, passed us and gave us a cheery wave. We are getting close to home.

To Hartshill (May 4)

Today was a typical English Bank Holiday, cold, windy and damp. We left Hopwas in light rain and stopped off at Fazeley Junction to pick up water. Another boat was already picking up water so we breasted-up and waited. As we waited, three Sea Otters arrived to empty “elsans” making it quite a busy spot.

We went up Glascote Locks in brighter weather and then stopped for lunch near Alvercote Priory. The afternoon was drier and we had a reasonably good journey up the eleven locks of the Atherstone flight although most needed filling, and they fill slowly. Half way up the flight we had a confusing period waiting for boat to come down the flight. They turned into Baddesley Wharf so we had to close up the lock we had left ready for them.

It was very quiet near the flight with no walkers, joggers or cyclists. Maybe the residents of Atherstone were all indoors watching TV. Under grey skies, we continued to Hartshill and moored up just short of the village. Low level GPRS again tonight.

To Hopwas (May 3)

The weather had changed overnight. Although the new day was dry, it was windy and the temperature had significantly dropped. It was a little difficult leaving our moorings, because overnight Albert had gone aground (penalty of having 30 inches draught), but also because of the wind. We reached Colwich Lock about 9:30 and found that the ground paddle on the top gates was out of action. Given the density of boat traffic through this section, this probably caused delays later in the day. There was quite a lot of northbound boat traffic but little going our way.

When we reached the “opened-out” Armitage Tunnel a boat was coming south so we paused. In reply to the usual “anybody behind”, he replied “not for at least 100 yards”. Well that might have been true but when we got out of the narrow section, there were at least four boats waiting for us. One hire boat appeared to have particular trouble because of the moored boats by the Plum Pudding inn.

We passed the Armitage Shanks Sanitary Ware factory and then headed into the country. Although it was cold and windy at least the sun was shining. Knowing the difficulties that can occur at Fradley Junction over busy periods such as bank holidays we pressed on. Fradley was indeed busy, but not as busy as in August. It did however live up to expectations when a local resident at Shade House Lock had an argument with a boater who had not moved up on the lock moorings and in the wind had caused a hire boat to be blown across the canal. “Bad boatmanship” was among the words exchanged. To which the comment “get a life” was used in response. We have to admit that the local resident was correct and there was not much consideration being shown. However, the root cause of the problem is the paucity of the lock waiting area and the number of boats permanently moored close to the locks. Still it all adds to “life’s rich tapestry” as somebody is alleged to have said.

We turned into the Coventry Canal and found that we could not take on water without blocking the navigation because two boats had moored on both water points and the crews were not onboard. Perhaps they were in the pub oblivious of the problem, or perhaps they could not care less.

We had a pleasant trip through Streethay, Huddlesford and Whittington and moored up by Tamhorn Park Bridge near Hopwas.

Streethay Wharf

We went for a walk up the wooded hill into the Hopwas military area in the evening sunshine. Maggie had to be convinced that the red flags were not flying. The views over the Trent valley were impressive and the visibility was good. Later on the wind dropped and the canal became like a mirror. It will be cold tonight. Our coal fire is on.

Moonlight at Hopwas

Tonight the light on our O2 dongle is not showing green as it has for the past week, indicating the lowest level of GPRS, but tonight is showing lilac; the second level of connection - EDGE. There are two more levels before we get to HSUPA. I must admit that tonight our internet connection is quicker, but it is not very quick and even downloading emails is too slow. So once again no images. We have quite a backlog now.

Note images were added later.

To Great Haywood (May 2)

After a good night’s sleep outside the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston, we woke at around 7:00 and Steve murmured, “that sounds just like a hot-air balloon burner”. Peering through the curtains we found that it was. Before we left our moorings seven balloons had crossed over us from the direction of Trentham and landed somewhere near Barlaston Hall. One even appeared to attempt a landing in the field next to the canal but discovered that there were power lines across the centre.

The weather was warm and sunny. We got to Meadford flight just before another boat that followed us down the flight into Stone. Maggie chatting to one of the crew, proffered the thought “It’s going to be nice day” “Yes” he said, “I’ve brought my shorts with me!” “Some people wear shorts all year round, like our postman but I think he just likes to show off his legs.”Maggie replied. “ As it happens,” he replied, “We’re all postmen on this boat-but we don’t walk the streets, we drive 20 tonnes of mail around in big red lorries.” By the time we reached the next lock, he had indeed got his shorts on. “And a fine pair of legs he had too!” said Maggie.

Roger Fuller's Boatyard at Stone

Joules Brewery Building, Stone

When we arrived in Stone, it was far busier than when we passed through in March. After stopping for water below the bottom lock, the only mooring we could manage was breasting up alongside the Postmen. When we reached the town centre, we realised one reason for the congestion. The monthly Farmers’ Market was being held in the main street. The place was buzzing. There was almost a carnival atmosphere with the stall-holders’ good-natured banter over a wonderful array of produce; bread and cakes, farm- produced meat and cheese, a whole stall of various mushrooms, plants, and much more. Who could resist? As we were entertaining our friends Anne & Edward Winter aboard Albert that evening, we returned to the boat heavily laden.

Stone Farmers Market

As we left Stone Steve said hello to Brian Holmes (In the Pink) from Narrowboat World. His boat is unmistakable.

The journey towards Great Haywood was uneventful except for meeting a father with his young son on a hire boat at Sandon Lock. As the boy did not yet have the strength to operate the lock mechanisms, he was learning to handle the boat in the lock. It was quite a touching scene.

Shugborough Hall from the Trent and Mersey Canal

We met up with Anne and Edward Winter just north of Haywood Junction. They came down from Sheffield to meet us and helped us through Haywood Lock, fitting into their usual roles when they come boating with us. They also came laden with gifts, mostly edible or potable. We had a convivial meal moored in front of Shugborough Hall in a re-enactment of another memorable meal when they were boating with us on Albert. On that occasion, it was warmer and we were able to eat on the bank, but it was much more difficult to find a mooring.

To Barlaston (May 1)

After yesterdays rain it was great to have a day when at least the morning was sunny. We left Denford at around nine o’clock and climbed Hazelhurst Locks in bright sunshine. Just as we got to the top of the flight a Black Knight hire boat came out of the Leek Arm. We followed them down the flight at Stockton Brook.

Caldon Canal, Hazelhurst Top Lock and the junction with Leek Branch

Swing bridge pivot obstruction, Caldon Canal

We moored up for lunch by the electrified lift bridge (11). As we went through Hanley we met two boats who had also just moored up for lunch. They were in the process of casting off but very kindly indicated that we should overtake. They then followed us down the Bedford Street Staircase. The weather remained sunny until we got to the Trent and Mersey main line at two o’clock when the clouds rolled over, the temperature dropped and it rained; another front.

At Etruria, we turned onto the Trent & Mersey mainline and under grey skies; we went down the Stoke flight. After the flight we went over what felt like a supermarket trolley; the joys of urban boating.

Incinerator, Stoke on Trent

We moored up for the evening at Barlaston just by the entrance to the Wedgewood factory. We moored here back in 1999 when we visited the factory. Then we were on our way back from Ellesmere Port.

Tomorrow evening we plan to meet up with Edward and Anne Winter, probably at Great Haywood.

Still only (very) slow GPRS. Maybe someday soon we will be able to upload images.

Images added later

To Denford (April 30)

We set for Froghall with cloudy skies but very soon it started raining hard and that pattern continued all day. In fact, from the point of view of the weather, it was a miserable day. We occasionally saw the sun but each time it was followed by a downpour. Our plan was to go to Froghall, and then return to Cheddleton, and meet up with Maggie’s brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Gail Cannon, who live in Matlock. However, it was clear that a journey to Froghall would be just too long, and in the rain, probably a bit too wet.

The descent of Hazelhurst Locks was delightful and we noted the Hollybush Inn at Denford as a possible venue to meet up with the Cannons.

Cheddleton Engine Shed

We appreciated how delightful the Churnet Valley could be, but in the rain, our appreciation was a little dulled. We lunched at Consall Forge and decided to turn there and then returned to Denford and the Hollybush Inn to meet up with the Cannons.

Squeezing under a low bridge on the Caldon Canal

We turned by weir close to the limestone kilns. It was not that easy although Pearson indicates that it is suitable for turning seventy-foot boats. In the process, we managed to break a shackle on the bow fender.

Consall Forge in the rain

The Black Lion, Consall Forge receiving deliveries in the rain
(There is no direct road access everything has to cross the railway line - see their web site)

On our return journey, we noted that two BW men were logging boat details to check for licence evasion. They were getting quite wet. We moored up outside the Hollybush just in time for the first bright spell of the day. A passer-by proffered the comment that we would not normally be able to moor outside if the weather was good.

The Hollybush Inn, Denford

The Hollybush turned out to be a fine pub and we had a good evening meal. Thursday is music night and they had a “group”. It was actually a duo and some backing tapes but they were very proficient. Earlier in the evening, it was amusing when two groups turned up to play – confusion over dates! The pub was full by the time we left at around ten (yes, we are lightweights). It is good to see a pub apparently flourishing in these difficult times for the licence trade. We will have to return to the Caldon in good weather and, next time, go all the way to Froghall.