Sunday 23 December 2007

Happy Christmas!

Norwich City Hall at Christmas

Yes, I know I'm a couple of days early, but there's a chance I might be too busy to post for a bit. And anyway, we all wish each other Happy Christmas early if we're not going to see them before the actual day, don't we? So a Happy Christmas to all my readers, and I'll continue with the log of the nine week megacruise later.

Saturday 22 December 2007

An evening to remember

Nine week cruise - day 10 - 11th July 2005

Oakgrove to Bugsworth

Isn't that Tracy Island on the hillside above the Peak Forest Canal?

reversing out of one arm of Bugsworth Basin

Got up at 0730 and under way at 0820. Hot and sunny today. Through Royal Oak swingbridge into very pleasant countryside. We stopped at Bollington Wharf at 1100 for diesel and the butcher's. Got going again at 1155.

a boat for son Andrew (Zebedee)

We stopped for half an hour at Marple Junction for a look round and turned right onto the upper Peak Forest Canal. My notes for the time say that we stopped at Bugsworth Basin for tea at 1930 and then moored finally at Bugsworth at 2045. So what did we do in the meantime? Oh yes, I suppose we must have eaten tea and then moved to a different part of the basin for the night.

Here we met Bruce Coleman of NB Boston and his friends Alan and Ann and joined with them in an impromptu folk music session by the boats. I played along as well as I could on my descant recorder. David got the whisky out and we shared it, handing round the closest we could find to whisky tumblers: egg cups. This was one of the most memorable evenings of the whole trip. If our schedule had allowed, I think we'd have spent another day here. But I'd booked a passage through Standedge Tunnel, and I didn't want to miss that.

10.5 hours
22 miles 1 furlong
0 locks

84.5 h; 180 m 2 f; 75 l

Friday 21 December 2007

Mow Cop in the heat

Nine week cruise - day 9 - Sunday 10th July 2005

Harding's Wood to Oakgrove

on Mow Cop

0705 got up; 0810 under way. Moored by Bridge 85 so we could walk up the hill. We had our fair share of rain on this holiday, but today was one of the hottest. We'd run low of drinking water while we were on Mow Cop. Jan spotted a woman gardening in the nearby village, so she got her water bottle refilled. Fantastic weather, but too much of a heat haze for long distance views.

Set off again at 1215 and made our way up Bosley locks, reaching the top lock at 1700 where we watered up. By 1745 we were on our way again.

At 1820 we moored at Bridge 50 and had a towpath barbecue.

7.0 hours
12 miles 1 furlong
13 locks

74.0 h; 158 m 1 f; 75 l

Norwich, where I work

The Forum: home of the Millennium Library, Pizza Express, Origins and BBC East

St. Peter Mancroft church as viewed from the newsroom

Every winter an ice rink is built on Millennium Plain between The Forum and St. Peter Mancroft

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Losing Harecastle Tunnel

Nine week cruise - day 8 Saturday 09/07/05
Weston-upon-Trent to Hardings Wood

Tree surgery on the T and M

Up at 0555 and off at 0645. Continued north on the Trent and Mersey, and met Jan at Etruria at 1500. She'd driven from Norwich, having now broken up from school. Embarked upon a bout of car shuffling: I drove from Etruria and looked for the south portal of Harecastle Tunnel. It's a lot easier finding it by boat! I eventually found it and parked up. Met the boat and just made the last passage through the tunnel at 1615. On the other side I cycled back over the hill to the car and then drove to Scholar Green where I left it in a residential cul-de-sac. I hoped it would be OK for a couple of weeks. Then I cycled back to the boat.

At 2000 we moored just past the Hall Green Branch on the Macclesfield Canal just north-west of Hardings Wood Junction. Now we're on unexplored territory and looking forward to Bugsworth and Standedge.

10.8 hours
21 miles 2 furlongs
16 locks

67.0 h; 146 m 0 f; 62 l

Monday 17 December 2007

Nine week cruise - day 7 - Friday 08/07/05 Generator chickens

Fradley to Weston-upon-Trent

0650 Up. 0805 Set off. 0830 Stopped at Woodend Lock as BW were replacing a paddle in a bottom gate. I got off at Handsacre for provisions. David picked me up at 1005 outside the Armitage Shanks factory. At 1110 we moored at Rugeley to go and have a look at the town.

At about 1430 we got going again and had bacon sarnies for lunch while cruising.

We stopped again at 1705 at Haywood Lock to have a look at Shugborough Park.

At 2005 we moored at Weston-upon-Trent and dined on board (one of David's famous Pasta Bakes). In the morning we were awoken by what sounded like a generator trying (and failing) to start. It took a little while to work out that what we were hearing were chickens just the other side of the towpath hedge. Still, it meant that we were on our way again reasonably early the next morning.

7.0 hours
15 miles 7 furlongs
5 locks

56.2h; 124m 6f; 46l

Sunday 16 December 2007

Nine week cruise - day 6 - Thursday 07/07/05 Bad news from London

Polesworth to Fradley Junction

Under way at 0755 (must have had a lie in!) Daughter Alison phoned during the morning to tell us about the terrorist attack on London. It became the talking point of the cut. We stopped at the Canal Craft shed to buy postcards, a windlass and a painted watering can. The windlass was an unnecessary purchase as we found a few with our Sea Searchers later on: indeed, David actually sold some windlasses back to Mr. Canal Craft the next time we passed his shed. If I remember correctly the man's grandson painted the various cans and ornaments for pocket money.

At 1405 we paused for half an hour outside Streethay Wharf to watch (and for me to film) a boat being lifted out of the water.

At Fradley we turned left onto the Trent and Mersey Canal and moored up at 1640 just above the locks. Fradley Junction was busy: many boats were moored breasted up. David and I cycled to Alrewas and had a look round the church graveyard.

8.0 hours
16 miles 7 furlongs
4 locks

49.2h; 108m 7f; 41l

Friday 14 December 2007

Not all Volvos are bricks

Here's my car. It's a 1969 Volvo 131, known (but not officially in this country) as an Amazon. I've had this one for about five years. It replaced a maroon 1968 131 which had suffered too much rusting to be worth while restoring. This one is in much better condition, although, as you can see, it needs a bit of TLC. By the way, that's my son's old BMW 5-series in the background (any offers?); a corner of our (more brick-like) 240; and, reflected, our daughter's Clio (still awaiting repair).

Nine week cruise - day 5 - Wednesday 06/07/05 Cathedral breakfast

Coventry to Polesworth

London to host the 2012 Olympics! Jubilation short-lived: see tomorrow's post.

Got up at 0635. Well, I did, anyway. We'd seen a poster yesterday at Coventry Cathedral advertising breakfast following an early service, so at 0730 we turned up. The service was held "in the round" in a chapel on the north side of the cathedral; the breakfast was in a basement room - I wouldn't call it a crypt - and consisted of bread rolls, home-made marmalade, and tea. We talked to our neighbours and had a good time.

Returning to the boat we passed a Royal Mail sorting office where there seemed to be a walk-out. Writing this two and a half years after the event I seem to recall it was actually a fire alarm or something - perhaps David can remember.

At 0925 we set off from the basin. We stopped at Valley Cruises chandlery for a metre of hose (£1.60) to try to improve the method of filling the water tank. We eventually connected the spiral hose which came with the boat to the tank's vent with a short length of narrow-bore hose. Now filling up is done by connecting the other end of the spiral hose to the tap and removing the "proper" cap from the tank for ventilation. This has made an amazing difference: we can now fill up at a normal rate.

At 2020 we moored at Polesworth and ate at the Cafe Spice Indian restaurant. I had a good chicken chat starter, and a not quite so good meat jalfrezi. This was to be a rare occurrence - eating out, that is - David being keen to live slightly more frugally and eat on board most of the time. This worked out reasonably well: we kept ourselves provisioned up which meant we could do more hours by not worrying too much about coinciding with a pub when we moored up for the night. We did get through supplies of bottled beer rather quickly, though!

9.3 hours
21 miles 4 furlongs
11 locks

Cumulative: 41.2h; 92m 0f; 37l

Nine week cruise - day 4 - Tuesday 05/07/05 David joins

Braunston to Coventry

0600 Got up. It's sunny ... but not for long. Under way at 0645. It really is the best time to be cruising: the water is still, the reflections perfect, and you're on your own. Passed under the M45 at 0800 and moored at Boughton Road Bridge 59 in Rugby where my brother David joined. He'd come up from London by train (down, I suppose that should be, but that doesn't seem right when travelling north) with his bike and a large kit bag with shoulder straps.

Had a look round Rugby by bike. Bicycles are indispensible when boating, and when there are two of you, and you each have a bike, it makes it easy to explore your surroundings, get supplies, go to the pub etc.

Got going again at 1215: David steering while I cooked a fry-up for lunch. It started to rain about now, and it was still raining when we moored in Coventry Basin at 1920.

10.9 hours
27 miles 7 furlongs
4 locks

Cumulative 31.9h; 70m 4f; 26l

Monday 10 December 2007

Nine week cruise - day 3 - Monday 04/07/05

On board NB Shadow near Gas Street Basin in Birmingham on 24/05/02 (no relevant pic of Lee Swallow to post for this entry)

Up at 0615. Well, no point lying in bed on my own when there's a lovely canal to cruise! Weather forecast promised rain. After setting up the timelapse camera on the roof I got going (0700). Tackled my first solo locks going up the Whilton and Buckby flights. Took my time, as per all the advice, and had no problems. No other boats going my way but I didn't mind. It would have almost spoilt the fun if I'd had help! It started to rain just as I entered Braunston Tunnel, but by the time I emerged the rain had stopped. Good timing, eh? Oh, why do you always meet a boat in the kinky section of the tunnel? Same reason you meet a boat in a bridgehole on a blind bend, I suppose. Down Braunston locks with another boat. Here I realise that there are so many details missing - such as: which boat? How do other people manage to record so much detail when they're cruising? How do they do it when it's pouring with rain?

At 1415 I moored just beyond Braunston Turn on the North Oxford canal. Cooked and ate brunch. Sent David a text message to the effect that I'd pick him up at Bridge 59 tomorrow. Then had a 20 minute snooze. Cycled to Willoughby and had a look round. Discovered that the Rose Inn is shut on Mondays. Cycled to the Admiral Nelson by the Braunston locks and had a pint of Abbot. Very good.

Back to the boat to do the washing up, then walked into Braunston village. Had Steak'n'Ale'n'Mushroom pie at the Old Plough for £7.95. OK.

Back to the boat again. It rained in the evening, but not heavily. And it hadn't rained on me while cruising.

6.3 hours
10 miles
7 furlongs
13 locks

21.0h; 42m 5f; 22l

Sunday 9 December 2007

Nine week cruise - day 2 - Sunday 03/07/05

Lee Swallow on the upper Peak Forest canal, 11th July 2007

Up early (a recurring theme) and at 0630 cycled back to Peartree Bridge to get the car. Then drove to Stoke Bruerne, parked up, and cycled back to the boat, arriving at 0830. We set off straight away, stopping at Great Linford for water. Discovered that the water tank was an extremely slow filler as there seemed to be a constriction in the pipe to the tank. Gave up when other boats arrived to use the water tap and carried on. Stopped at Cosgrove to continue watering. This was taking far too long: we solved the problem later. Went up Stoke Bruerne locks with "Calcutt C". Arrive at Stoke Bruerne at 1640. Jan got off and drove home, (she hadn't broken up from school yet) leaving me single handed. Yippee! I can still remember the excitement, the freedom, the exhilaration: I sang silly songs in Blisworth Tunnel! At 2115 I moored up at the Narrowboat pub, Weedon. That didn't work out too well - they stopped serving food at 2100. Oh well, a pint of Bombadier and back to the boat for on-board provisions. Now I feel like a true boater.

11.7 hours
24 miles 6 furlongs
8 locks

14.7h; 31m 6f; 9l

Hubble, bubble, car in trouble

No, not my car (which is a 1969 Volvo Amazon, by the way) but my daughter's. She's had this Renault Clio 1.9 Diesel for a year and a half, but it's not been the best buy. The worst breakdown was on Boxing Day last year. Jan and I were just finishing the first course of Christmas lunch take two at my parents' house in Essex. The phone rang: it was Alison on the M11 with an overheated car. No seconds, a hasty pudding, and we had to go and rescue her. When we got there and put water in it mostly poured out straight away. Well, we got it going and drove in short hops back to Norfolk, stopping to let it cool down and refilling many times.

As I say, that was last year. We had the radiator replaced, and then a hose, and it seemed OK. Until, that is, a few weeks ago. Same overheating/loss of coolant. This time she'd got round to joining the breakdown scheme (and she was only three miles from home). The car's been sitting in our driveway since then, waiting for me to have a proper look at it. I chose a wet day (yesterday) to finally do something. I removed the thermostat and tested it in a saucepan of boiling water. Works fine. So I put it back - and nipped the gasket as I tightened the bolts. Water all over the place. Fortunately a spare gasket from my Amazon was exactly the right size, so that went on and all seemed OK. Now the explanation of the title of this entry: all the time the engine's running there's a load of bubbling in the expansion tank. I'm told that's a sign that the cylinder head gasket has blown, although there doesn't seem to be water in the oil, or oil in the water. Anyway, I managed to get the engine close to being warm, and, yes, water started flowing into the radiator. But now there's a hissing and spurting - there's water coming from a cunningly hidden hose buried behind the radiator (why is there no room to get at anything in a "modern" engine?). At which point I gave up - it was getting dark and I was wet and getting cold.

I really, really don't want to spend any more money on this car. It's certainly not worth getting the head gasket replaced, but I have come across steel seal on the web for £25 which I thought I'd try. There's a complicated sequence of running the engine, cooling for an hour, running the engine etc. to follow - and instruction to remove the injector of the cylinder which is causing the worst bubbling. But the extra leak when the engine gets hot needs fixing first - and I can't get at it. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!

Saturday 8 December 2007

The nine week cruise - day 1

Lee Swallow entering Bosley Lock 11, Macclesfield Canal 10th July 2005

To celebrate having survived 25 years at the BBC I took nine weeks off in the summer of 2005 in order to do some serious canal cruising. My brother David was himself coming up to 25 years at the Beeb, and so together we hired a 58 foot narrowboat with the aim of "doing" some of the wonders of the waterways. I'd booked a passage through Standedge Tunnel, so that was one. Others on the list were the Anderton Lift, Worsley and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

On Saturday 2nd July Jan and I boarded Lee Swallow at Willowbridge Marina on the Grand Union just south of Bletchley. David was to join us three days later. We set off at 1620 and headed south because that was the way the boat was facing. After winding we passed the marina at 1720 and tied up by the Peartree Bridge Inn in Milton Keynes. There was a bit of car shuffling to be done. I cycled back to Willowbridge and drove to Peartree Bridge. We ate in the carvery - good value, shame about the beer (the Bass tasted off). At 2125 we set off again to get away from the really loud live band playing in the pub. We wanted a peaceful first night! We found it just beyond Bridge 84.

Totals for the day:
3.0 hours
7 miles 0 furlongs
1 lock


Wow! No advance warning, no hint that it might happen ... but mortimerbones has added me to her blogroll! Thanks Bones - I'm honoured. Now I really will have to get on with the details of our megacruise and make this blog a bit more boaty.

Here's a pic to whet the appetite: Bridge 3 on the Middlewich Branch. 13th August 2005.

Sunday 2 December 2007

A year's supply of cake!

Yes, we are the proud recipients of a year's supply of cake. I bid for it at a recent auction of promises in aid of the parish church repair and development appeal. Now Barry and Sandra will bring us cakes at monthly intervals - twelve in all over a year. Yum yum! The first is ginger.

I also got a trip for two in a 1928 Bullnose Morris to a tea room and a photograph of Hethersett (where we live) from the 1890s. The car excursion will be taken in the spring when the weather's warmer (and, we hope, drier).