Festival and Honours at Stoke Bruerne

Over the weekend Stoke Bruerne held a Family Festival. It was therefore fitting that on the Saturday it was announced that David Blagrove, Chairman of the Friends of the Canal Museum, long-time resident of Stoke, renowned waterways enthusiast and author, had received an MBE. Richard Parry, Chief Executive of CRT, was at the festival to offer congratulations.
David Blagrove being congratulated on his MBE by Richard Parry, CRT Chief Executive

David making a short speech of thanks

It must be rare for the recipient of an honour to be congratulated on the day of the official announcement at a public event right outside his own house ( well just across the canal).

I was at the Festival taking heritage interpretation tours around the locks with a fellow volunteer. The weather was sunny but we didn't avoid getting wet. For a Saturday there was a a good attendance. Between walks I had a chance meeting with Adam and Adrian from NB Briar Rose and had a chat about boat painting. 

Ryan Dimmock with Southern Cross and butty at Stoke Top Lock
(note the flag flying!)

For a "family-fun" event, and not a boat gathering, the display of working boats was very good. Among the boats  there was the butty Ilford complete with a load of bulk coal and a lock-wheeling bike. I liked the washing although I suspect it would have got wet. I gather the coal came from along the Ashby Canal as part of the launch of a new restoration project. The last time we saw Ilford she was crossing Tixall Wide.

Butty Ilford and Motor Aquarius complete with bulk coal, washing and bike

Working boat Owl was there with its magnificent Kelvin slowly turning over at tick-over.

A gleaming Kelvin motor

There was also quite a lot of interest in the model boats that were racing around outside the museum. They do look realistic! 

High-speed lifeboat at Stoke Bruerne
(model of course)

Cliveden & Cookham

Cliveden House from the Thames

On Saturday we had arranged to meet up with our family in Teddington and selected the National Trust property at Cliveden as it is both convenient for travelling and a good place for a family day out. All week the forecast for had shown Saturday to be the worst for weather and as the week progressed Met Office warnings were in place for heavy rain showers. On Saturday morning heavy rain was forecast for the South-East with lighter rain and showers in the afternoon with eventually some sunny periods for the afternoon.

The morning forecast was entirely accurate. Our journey down from Northamptonshire to Cliveden was miserable with the M40 particularly difficult with lots of standing water, spray and low visibility. However, just as we got to Marlow the clouds lightened and by the time we got into the gardens at Cliveden it was sunny.  There were very people around, because of the forecast, and even the very popular cafe was far from busy.

The grandchildren had a great time in the gardens, although the big attraction - the giant slide - was out of action because of the weather ("still wet" although it did dry out). They particularly enjoyed the maze.

The National Trust run boat trips along the Thames at Cliveden so this opportunity couldn't be missed, particularly since the reach below Cliveden is very pretty and there are spectacular views of the house which we have seen passing this way on Albert. Two trips were on offer. We chose the family trip which was in an electric launch. The 50 minute cruise was up to one of the Cookham Lock weirs via a bywater, then downstream to just above Boulters Lock and finally back to the jetty below the house. The weather was glorious and the river was fairly quiet, presumably because of the morning deluge. The last time we passed along the river here it was Spring but even with the trees in full summer leaf the views of Cliveden House above the river were wonderful (see above). There was still quite a stream on the river after the recent periods of rain and red & yellow boards.

Weir at Cookham

A National Trust launch

Spring Cottage which was famously let to Stephen Ward

Amelia watching the boat skipper at work

In the late afternoon, after the family had departed for home, Maggie and I drove into Cookham and walked along the Thames Path through the common land that fringes the river. There were a number of boats moored up, some with crews on deck enjoying the sunshine. We have moored here with Albert on more that one occasion - it is a great mooring.

Boats moored at Cookham Reach

Cookham Reach

The one aspect that has changed since we last visited here is the new flood gates on a number of properties, presumably a response to the devastating floods earlier in the year. They certainly look substantial.

Flood gate on a Thames-side property.

We managed to finish the day with a meal at The Ferry, which is alongside the Blue Bridge.

The Blue Bridge at Cookham

Weedon Royal Ordinance Depot

On Tuesday, as part of a regular walking group, I went for an eight mile circular walk around Weedon, Everdon and Stowe Nine Churches. We started and finished the walk at the Plume of Feathers in Weedon Bec. Some of our group expressed interest in the Georgian barracks so a group of us walked up the hill to the gatehouse where an arm of the Grand Junction once entered the depot. It was this site that was to serve as a refuge for George III should the Napoleonic Wars take a turn for the worse. It was constructed around the same time that Blisworth Tunnel was being completed.

The portcullis and entrance into the depot

The depot buildings and canal
We visited the site before with some Aussie friends back in 2010 but on that occasion the gates were firmly closed. Since the site is now in private hands, and it was a weekday, the driveway gates were open. We took advantage of the gatekeeper's good nature(?) to view the site from the just inside the entrance. The size of the site is impressive even though it is now reduced in size. The excellent Subterranea Britanica web site has a lot of fascinating detail about the depot. It appears that the movement of gunpowder up the Grand Junction to Weedon was quite common.

Eastern gatehouse in 2010  

Toasting the Queen - Inland Waterways Bulletin 66

I recently bought a copy of the Inland Waterways Bulletin from 1962. I have got a couple of other early issues and find them to be fascinating insight into waterway's history; in particular how the we managed to move from a canal and river transport system being part of a nationalised industry, to today's charity run heritage organisation working in the leisure age.

In 1962 things looked dire for the waterways. The Conservative Government, with Ernest Marples as Minister of Transport, had just published a Transport Bill. Robert Aickman, as founder and Vice President of IWA, with characteristic forthrightness titled his leading article in the bulletin "DEFEAT". He bemoaned the fact that the Transport Bill "takes the principle of profit at all costs as far as it will go". An new Inland Waterways Authority  (note the likely initials) was to be established with the power to "make charges for their services and facilities ..... subject to such terms and conditions as they think fit". Aickman considered it to be "a charter to close the entire system". He reports in the leading article how the IWA had tried unsuccessfully to get the concept of "reasonable charges" incorporated in the Bill and he alludes to what government might have in store for the railways. I was wondering where this argument might be leading when I noticed over the page the infamous name Dr. Beeching and then the penny dropped! Aickman goes on to describe the Conservative fantasy of making every mile of transport "pay", pouring scorn on their ideas and promising that the Conservatives will have lost the support of those struggling to keep the waterways open. Aickman didn't hold back!

Problems on the Marple Aqueduct, 1962

Although the IWA at that time was very much involved with political lobbying at the highest level, and there is an extensive section reporting on canal restoration, the letters section of the Bulletin is entirely taken up with discussing protocol and manners at the Associations dinners. It appears that steps had be taken to "democratize" the Annual Dinner and that in a earlier bulletin this had been criticised. The argument appeared to revolve around making a separate charge for dinner and  for the wine so as to allow those that could not afford wine to opt out but still attend. The criticism appeared to be that you could not make a toast (particularly to the Monarch) without using wine! In Bulletin 66 several members with military backgrounds came to the defence of the Association by pointing out that toasting royalty with water frequently occurred in the Forces. By today's standards the argument appears somewhat arcane, if not a little silly. One of the correspondents, whilst supporting the argument for not including wine, nevertheless called on the Association to maintain standards and not reduce the Annual Dinner to "the level of a popular cafe". He pointed out that the formal Annual Dinner was in fact a lobbying opportunity which "can help the cause in Parliament". I think given the political situation at the time he may have had a point, but what a difference to the IWA Branch dinners of today.

Leek Basin, Caldon Canal, 1962  
(following abandonment in 1944)

There are some interesting reports in the Bulletin from around the country on the progress (or lack of it) in restoring canals such as the Ashton, Chesterfield and Caldon. A interesting short piece on drownings also caught my eye. It appears that those wishing for "disused" canals to be filled-in often quoted drownings as a reason: the Bulletin reports that the Ashton had been called a "Killer Canal" by the press. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents had reported that in 1960 there were 25 drownings on canals, between 20 and 30 on the Thames and 43 in public baths. A correspondent pointed out that most canal drownings were in disused navigations and that if the argument was about public safety then why not fill in the River Thames and close all public baths!

Sappers restoring the Stratford Canal

Return to Aston

On Sunday the weather was glorious. We left Tixall by winding, always good fun in the expanse of the wide.

Winding at Tixall Wide

At Great Haywood junction, as a portent of things to come, we found boats coming down the Staffs & Worcester and going past along the Trent & Mersey. As we passed Haywood marina the steerer of a boat going south said "there are a couple of boats ahead". The "couple" turned out to be half a dozen as we joined a queue of five at Hoo Mill lock. Still there are worst places to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Progress remained slow and we had to queue at Weston Lock where, although we lost one boat in the "convoy", we picked up another which had been moored up. As we waited to enter Weston Lock NB Harnser came south. It wasn't the blogger.

Heron in flight
We stopped for lunch just south of Sandon lock, with temperatures well into the twenties, and then made our way back to Aston Marina. There were lots of visitors enjoying the sunshine, taking refreshments on the deck or simply gongoozling. Our journey home by train went OK, at least there was a driver at Rugby - not like our last Sunday journey south. However, again at Rugby, the air conditioning compressor above our seats developed a dreadful noise and we had to move seats.

All in all a great short break.