Thursday 29 July 2010

St. Martin's Moor(ing)

Here's a post I prepared earlier. Yesterday, in fact. Although I'm writing it today, about today's events, if that's clear. (Just in case we don't get a signal tomorrow.)

Yesterday (Wed 28th July) we left our mooring above Willeymoor Lock and did another fairly long day, tying up at St. Martin's Moor above New Marton Locks. 0730 to 1935 makes it a smidgen over a twelve hour cruise.

tied up at St. Martin's Moor

Grindley Brook

That's all for now - low battery.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Willeymoor Lock Tavern

Ha! A signal at last. Now, if the laptop's batteries will hold out for a bit, I'll post a picture or two.

OK, two.

Yesterday we left the Shady Oak at 0800 and didn't really stop until the Willeymoor Lock Tavern on the Llangollen Canal at 1855. To show that Shadow really is back on the cut, here is Jan steering it.

I'd never been in the Willeymoor Lock Tavern before. We had a good meal there, with the best chips we'd had all holiday. (The worst were at the Waterloo Arms in Abermule. When the Monty is fully restored go to the Abermule Hotel instead.) Those who have been to the WMT will know that it's chock-a-block with teapots. The gaudier the better, it seems.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

On the cut at last

Yesterday afternoon I had a phone call to say that Shadow was likely to be ready within the hour, so we could start our delayed holiday. Hooray! An hour wasn't much notice: we had to return from Chester to where we'd been staying with a friend, load the car, drive to Tattenhall Marina, and unload the car. And then we did a bit of car shuffling, so our friend could come on a short cruise with us to the Shady Oak pub and eat with us before driving home.

But before we untied the boat one of the engineers who had been working on it showed me the old, worn camshaft.

worn camshaft: most badly worn cam in centre of photo

Mark with camshaft

Monday 26 July 2010

In Chester, waiting ...

view from my bike on former railway line, now cycle route, between Connah's Quay and Chester

Shadow's engine is being worked on, delaying the start of what should have been a week's cruise. Over the last year or so it has been susceptible to overheating; a few months ago the head gasket was replaced but incorrectly. This seems to have obstructed oilways, such that now the camshaft is worn. So now a new camshaft is being fitted, and we're staying with a friend who lives conveniently near Chester (the boat is at Tattenhall).

Today we might go into the city, in the drizzle. Yesterday I cycled along a former railway line to Northgate Locks, and saw Towy at Tower Wharf.

Towy is a Fellows, Morton and Clayton tanker built in 1938. It sports a banner advertising two shares for sale, but the website appears to be down at the moment.

Top Thirty, 2010 Week 30

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1050 on Monday 26th July 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (=)

3 CanalPlanAC (+1)

4 - Forums (-1)

5 Granny Buttons (=)

6 (=)

7 Canal World Discussion Forums (+2)

8 boatshare (-1)

9 Retirement with No Problem (+1)

10 Towpath Treks (-2)

11 Jannock Website (=)

12 UKCanals Network (=)

13 (=)

14 Trafalgar Marine Services (=)

15 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (+2)

16 Water Explorer (-1)

17 Waterway Routes (-1)

18 Canal Shop Company (-)

19 CutConnect - keeping boaters in touch (+4)

20 Canal Photos (=)

21 WB Takey Tezey (-3)

22 nb Epiphany (-3)

23 Google Earth Canal Maps (-2)

24 Narrowboat Bones (+2)

25 Chertsey (-3)

26 NBNorthernPride (+1)

27 nb Lucky Duck (-3)

28 Derwent6 (+1)

29 CanalBoatingHolidays (-)

30 Baddie the Pirate (-2)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry into the top thirty; (=) denotes no change.

There are 116 entries altogether; Halfie is at number 45.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Limekiln and a wedding

Yesterday was our last morning in the cottage. When we'd loaded the car we went to the Heritage Centre at Llanymynech so I could have a look at the Hoffman Limekiln. It was amazing! Huge! Nothing like any limekiln I'd seen before, this was designed to be in continuous operation, with the crushed limestone surrounded by a ring of fire. Men would sweat away in what must have been horrendous working conditions.

This gives a very description of the kiln and surrounding tramways, inclined planes and canal wharves in 1984, before the area was "restored" and turned into a "heritage area".

Ally and Ben had gone on to Holywell to the wedding of Catrin and Ben. They'd been invited to the whole shooting match, whereas Jan and I were going just to the wedding service in the church.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Glan Hafren Bridge 148 to Newtown (successful attempt)

After being in bed for 17 hours I got up at 0700 and felt much better. To test my head we went for a walk up the road "just to the top" ... which turned into a three mile trek. Yes, I really was better. So we drove to Abermule where we chose the wrong pub in which to have lunch, then we walked up to the "Second Ironbridge constructed in the county of Montgomery 1852". From there Jan set off along the towpath towards Newtown, and I cycled back to where I'd had to give up the day before. Then I played catch-up along the towpath. But I kept stopping to take photos, so it wasn't until almost Newtown itself that we were reunited.

approaching Newtown. Route of canal now a path

A short post today as time has crept up, and Ally and Ben have arrived to stay the night.

Friday 23 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Garthmyl to Newtown (first attempt)

Bridge 140, Montgomery Canal

Yesterday we started on what should have been the final leg of our walk along the Montgomery Canal. We drove to just beyond Garthmyl, unloaded the bike, and set off along the towpath. But we'd gone only a couple of miles when I started to feel unwell. After a bit it was clear that I wasn't going to improve quickly, so at Glanhafren Bridge 148 I cycled back to get the car, and we returned to the cottage. I went straight to bed with a headache and a high temperature, and stayed there until 7.00 this morning.

I'm glad to report that I'm feeling better now. Perhaps I might even be able to eat something today!

Oi! Give me back my hat!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Weshpool to Garthmyl

the Montgomery Canal at Garthmyl

Tuesday was a bit of a washout. It rained on and off all day: the ons were deluges. So we drove to Oswestry and dodged the showers there. We I bought beer in Aldi; we had lunch in Buffers, the restaurant at the (Cambrian Railway) station; I shopped in Wilkinson's and climbed the castle mound - and then we returned to the cottage, where it rained heavily - very heavily - all night. In the morning the car was covered in bits from the sycamore tree it was parked under.

Wednesday, on the other hand, was much drier. We continued our walk along the Montgomery Canal, starting in Welshpool, which is where we started on Monday but going in the opposite direction. Yesterday we left the car in Welshpool and I pushed or rode my bike.

After a mile or so, when I'd taken five photos, my camera said its internal memory was full. Why was it saying that? Because I'd left the memory card in the slot in the laptop back at the cottage. Oops! A walk along a "new" stretch of canal without being able to take photos was unthinkable, so it was a case either of driving the eight miles back to the cottage to retrieve the memory card, or buying a new one in Welshpool. First, though, I had to cycle back to the town, leaving Jan doing the crossword. I opted for the new card, and ended up buying a 2GB SD card (£9.99) from an independent shop.

Here's Jan waiting for me (as you can see, I've just arrived back).

This stretch of the canal is particularly beautiful, with views across the Severn valley to the east, and closer hills to the west.

Brithdir Lock

We stopped for lunch at the Horseshoes pub at Brithdir. I had a very good "minty lamb pie" with loads of new potatoes and veg; Jan had a prawn-filled jacket potato.

A couple of miles further on was Berriew, which we detoured from the towpath to explore. Berriew is full of chocolate box black-and-white timber framed houses; we were just about ready for a cream tea in one of them.

To regain the towpath we passed under Berriew Aqueduct, which also goes over the River Rhiew. The river was fast-flowing and muddy brown after the previous night's rain.

To make sure I didn't miss any of the canal I cycled back to the bridge we'd accessed the village from, before catching up with Jan again. It was on this back-track that I got a phone call to say that Shadow's engine needed some urgent work (a new camshaft), and that we wouldn't be able to use the boat until Tuesday at the earliest. Oh dear. We were hoping to go straight to the boat from the cottage. Fortunately Jan's college friend Jane is able to put us up in the interim.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Welshpool to Bryn Mawr

Welshpool Town Lock

Sunday's walk, from Maesbury Marsh to the cottage at Bryn Mawr, was a mere 7 miles. On Monday we were dropped off in Welshpool for a walk back to the cottage. When we eventally go there my GPS told us we'd done 11.4 miles, at an overall average speed - i.e. including stops - of 1.8 mph. I'd seen that there were two pubs on our route, the Powis Arms at Pool Quay and the Horseshoe Inn at Arddleen. Just in case, by some remote chance, neither of these establishments was open, we bought some emergency rations at Morrison's next to the lock in Welshpool before setting off.

We were blessed with excellent walking weather: sunny, warm but not too hot, dry with a light breeze. The photo above shows two appropriately named narrowboats, fitted out for giving trips to disabled people: Heulwen II and Heulwen I. (Heulwen is Welsh for sunshine.)

The towpath was rather more overgrown than the previous day's section. Here Jan does battle with brambles and nettles. Both of us suffered a few bites from bloodsucking insects, and had some rather itchy legs the next day. On two occasions we caught the little blighters at it. Grrr.

As well as the glorious weather we enjoyed glorious views. This is Rodney's Pillar on Breidden Hill across the Severn Valley. And the unusual top paddle gear on this part of the canal. It will be wonderful to cruise here when restoration is complete.

Oh, and we had to eat our emergency rations. Neither the Powis Arms nor the Horseshoe Inn was open. We diverted from our route to Four Crosses as well, but the first pub there was shut too. At that stage we were only a mile and a half from the cottage, so we abandoned thoughts of eating out en route. We'd already consumed our rations anyway. In the evening a takeaway curry from the Curry Hut in Llanymynech took away our rumbling tummies.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Maesbury Marsh to Vyrnwy Aqueduct (part 2)

OK. It's going to be much too indigestible to relate every footstep, every bridge, lock and aqueduct of our exploration of the Monty. So this is what I'm going to do: I'm going to summarise in a few words what we've done each day, bung in a couple of photos, and that will be that. At some later date, of course, when I'm at home with nothing else to write about, I'll probably revisit our walk and make a few more posts out of it, but I will try not to bore you with too much detail at this stage.

I did promise yesterday something about the Vyrnwy Aqueduct and its donation of canal water to the Severn Vyrnwy. Towards the end of Sunday's walk we encountered this stone structure, and, in the spirit of Captain Ahab, I got down to river level to take some photos. I was particularly keen to find out where the sound of falling water was coming from.

It was from this arch.

Water from the canal is leaking through the stonework. I could hear similar leakages from another arch. Is this nothing to worry about, or will the aqueduct be drained and sealed?

Monday 19 July 2010

Montgomery Canal walk: Maesbury Marsh to Vyrnwy Aqueduct (part 1)

Navigation Inn, Maesbury Marsh

After the excitement(!) of our boat meeting we drove to a cottage Jan had booked near Llanymynech. First, though, we stopped off at Aldi in Hillmorton for some cashew nuts and beer; and called in on our friend Amanda in Newbold-on-Avon so that Jan could return a borrowed gown (she'd needed it for Speech Day).

Then it was off along the A5 almost all the way to our destination, just south of Oswestry. I've been reading L. T. C. Rolt's biography of Thomas Telford, and I wanted to drive along his Holyhead Road. Yes, the M6 would have been quicker, but you don't see much from a motorway; and driving through towns and villages is much more interesting. I tend not to drive terribly fast anyway, so the time difference between the two routes is not that great.

Anyway, the A5 takes you over, under or past lots of canals: the Ashby Canal near Sketchley (is that where the dry cleaning firm started?); the Coventry Canal at Atherstone; the Coventry again at Tamworth (I took the Tamworth Bypass by mistake, and missed out on Fazeley); the Anglesey Branch at Brownhills; the Cannock Extension Canal at Norton Canes; the Hatherton Canal near Four Crosses; the Staff and Worcs at Gailey; the Shroppie (overhead) at Telford's iron trunk Stretton Aqueduct ... and then the trail goes cold until the Severn is crossed at Shrewsbury, and, off the A5 now, (finally) the Montgomery Canal at Four Crosses.

The cottage we're staying in is a converted cow byre, and is very good. As part of the package the owners promise to drive you to a destination so you can do a one-way walk back. A great service! We took advantage of this yesterday, and were dropped off at the Navigation Inn at Maesbury Marsh so we could walk along the Montgomery Canal back to the cottage. After Sunday lunch at the pub - and a fantastic pint of Station Bitter from the Stonehouse Brewery - we set off down the towpath. After a few minutes we reached Gronwen Bridge 82, the current limit of navigation for boats on the northern connected section of this canal. This is where we cruised to on Shadow in October last year. Now we were on new territory.

new lift bridge

the canal is dry beyond this point

there's evidence of restoration work in many places

Carreghofa Top Lock, restored in 1982

More to come, including pictures of a leaky Vyrnwy Aqueduct.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Ex-Ownerships boat Shadow joins BCBM

I joined most of the other members of the Shadow syndicate yesterday at the Old Royal Oak by the Oxford Canal in Hillmorton.

We had a long but productive meeting, starting shortly after 1100 (before the pub had even opened) and finishing at about half past five. The main issue, that of the three "missing" shares which were owned by OwnerShips before it collapsed, we were told, had been resolved. The three shares had been acquired, and effectively dissolved. This means that those who had held a twelfth share now own a ninth share; and owners of what was a half share now own an eighteenth of the boat. We were assured by the owner who was telling us this that it was all completely legally watertight.

Shadow at Loughborough Wharf in 2009

I have to say that this came as a surprise to everyone and was universally welcomed. Of course, it means that all the costs of running the boat are now split between fewer people, but we all get more weeks afloat.

We discussed how we were going to operate as a syndicate: whether to self-manage, or go with a shared ownership management company. We agreed that we'd joined OwnerShips in the first place because we wanted someone else to have the hassle of looking after the boat, so we dropped the self-managing option. We considered three management companies: ABCBM; BCBM; and Ownashare Cruising Ltd.

ABCBM is the boat management arm of what used to be Alvechurch Boat Centre. They had made a very competitive bid, offering to manage our boat for just £250 per share annually provided we moor at one of their marinas (£350 if we were to moor elsewhere), and promising 5% discount on all diesel, pumpout and parts. The first management fee would cover until the end of 2011.

BC Boat Management Ltd. was set up by Andrew Barton and John Cunliffe in the wake of the collapse of Challenger Syndicates. Their fee was more, at £400 per share, but people seemed to be impressed with the professionalism of the brochure and what was promised. Andrew Cooley and Carole Briese came to give us a presentation of what they could do for us. Andrew Cooley was OwnerShips's local manager at attenhall Marina and has been managing Shadow since the demise of OS.

Ownashare Cruising Ltd. is the company which is rising from the ashes of OwnerShips.

We swiftly dismissed the latter option. We were smarting too much from the enormous losses we'd all sustained. We'd added up our collective losses: they came to over £22,000. Thanks OCL, but no thanks. So it was between ABCBM and BCBM. I played devil's advocate, putting forward the case for ABCBM, but we plumped unanimously for BCBM. The fact that Andrew Cooley knew our boat so well weighed heavily in his favour. Andrew and Carole left (celebrating, no doubt) and we went through the BCBM syndicate agreement and discussed moving the boat further south for next year.

As I said, a productive meeting, and I now find I own a little bit more of the boat than I did. That means more weeks (good) and more money to find (bad), but (obviously) not as much money as a whole boat would consume.

I think my boat search is on hold for a bit.

(edited to add photos and correct a typo)

Top Thirty, 2010 Week 29

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1125 on Sunday 18th July 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

2 Pennine Waterways (=)

3 - Forums (=)

4 CanalPlanAC (=)

5 Granny Buttons (=)

6 (=)

7 boatshare (=)

8 Towpath Treks (+2)

9 Canal World Discussion Forums (-1)

10 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

11 Jannock Website (=)

12 UKCanals Network (+1)

13 (+1)

14 Trafalgar Marine Services (-2)

15 Water Explorer (+2)

16 Waterway Routes (+2)

17 Narrowboat Gypsy Rover (-2)

18 WB Takey Tezey (+3)

19 nb Epiphany (=)

20 Canal Photos (+3)

21 Google Earth Canal Maps (-1)

22 Chertsey (=)

23 CutConnect - keeping boaters in touch (-7)

24 nb Lucky Duck (+4)

25 Narrowboat Caxton (-)

26 Narrowboat Bones (-1)

27 NBNorthernPride (=)

28 Baddie the Pirate (+1)

29 Derwent6 (-3)

30 Working Boat Hadar (-)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry into the top thirty; (=) denotes no change.

There are 117 entries altogether; Halfie is at number 38.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Solar panels



in between (installation by Lee and Ben from Norfolk Solar)

The panels should provide all the hot water we need throughout most of the year. All I have to do now is plumb the panels up to the hot water cylinder, with a pump, expansion vessel and control unit. All the hard stuff is now done.

Friday 16 July 2010

Taking gravel by night on the Thames

Last night I listened to an episode of London Nights which travelled with a gravel barge on its journey - by night - from Fingringhoe on the Colne to Deptford Creek via the Thames. The Bert Prior carries 250 tons.

I've transcribed the first bit to give a flavour.

(Narrator) For over a hundred years a company called J J Prior has been bringing sand and gravel right up the Thames into London from a quarry at a place called Fingringhoe on the River Colne in Essex. On a warm summer's afternoon the vessel Bert Prior starts out on a 12 hour trip to Deptford, where she will dock just before dawn. The crew consists of the Master, Dave Heikel; Dave Godwin, the mate; and John Hooley, a young deckhand. And on this trip they are joined by our reporter Julian May.

(Actuality) Right, what we're doin' now, John an' I, we're slidin' the hatch boards over to cover the cargo. Once it's hatched over we will sheet it, the sheets chocked down with wooden wedges, an' it has straps across, to stop any ingress of seawater. When you're carryin' 250 ton of cargo you don't need to top it up with seawater!

The half-hour programme was fascinating, and included poetry by Mario Petrucci. Listen again (or for the first time), but do so in the next seven days.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Painting windlasses

I bought a tin of "Hammerite equivalent" today and made a start on painting some windlasses. For comparison there's a "before" windlass behind the three I've painted.

It's much quicker slapping on a coat of "Hammer Finish" than trying to decorate with canal art-looking embellishments.

Incidentally, this is one of the first photos I published on my blog, in 2007. I took it with the built-in camera on the iMac. I've only just noticed that the top of my head almost exactly follows the angle of the windlass!

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Sainsbury Centre shines out in UEA's concrete jungle

Any visitor to the University of East Anglia can't fail to be struck by the concreteness of the campus. Most of it was built in the early 1960s. The architect was Denys Lasdun, who also designed London's National Theatre. He intended that no building should be more than five minutes' walk from any other.

In 1978 the Sainsbury Centre (above), designed by Norman Foster, opened. More than 30 years on it still looks modern, whereas the concrete ziggurats (below) look shabby.

I am usually careful not to condemn modern architecture as ugly, as all the old buildings we encounter on the canals were new once. But here the concrete was cracked and stained.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Another degree of success

Today Jan officially became a graduate of the University of East Anglia when she was awarded her MA in Advanced Educational Practice. Our daughter Ally, her husband Ben, and my parents came up to share the celebration.

The ceremony wasn't until 4.30 so we went to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and had lunch in the café there. (A bad experience, by the way. The menu was nothing like the sample on the website, most things were "off" despite our being there when they started serving "hot" food, my paté was runny. When, later, we found "Zest" at The Square we saw that that would have been much better.)

And here's a photo of Jan proudly holding her certificate. Her graduation was exactly one year since Ally's own graduation, despite the two of them having studied at the same time. MAs seem to be awarded a year later than BAs/BScs.

Monday 12 July 2010

Looking forward to Saturday, but there's a Shadow on the horizon

Looking forward to something usually implies an eager anticipation; a sense of excitement about the forthcoming event. In this case the event is the emergency meeting of fellow owners of Shadow, our narrowboat which until recently was administered by the now defunct OwnerShips Ltd. Here I'm using the term "looking forward" in the sense of "looking ahead", although it will be good to meet the other owners again. And some for the first time.

Shadow at Stockton Top Marina, November 2008

We have to decide whether to go with the reformed OwnerShips, now called Ownashare Cruising Ltd.; to sign up for another management company such as BCBM; to "go it alone" by becoming a self-managing group; or to disband and sell the boat.

The situation is complicated by the fact that, before it went bust, with debts according to some reckoning of up to £4 million, OwnerShips bought back three twelfth-shares from owners who wanted to sell. Now who owns these shares? The remaining owners have already seen the money they've put in the kitty for this year's boat costs evaporate: we've had to pay twice for things such as mooring fees and insurance. Our boat was particularly unfortunate in that there are, as I understand, outstanding unpaid bills of £5,000 to £7,000.

I've just been reading through some of the posts on the Boats and Canals discussion forum. I really don't know what's going to happen. Watch this space.

Sunday 11 July 2010

My ideal narrowboat

I've cruised in many different narrowboats over the years, and I've been gradually refining my ideas about what I want in my own boat, when (eventually) I get it.

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

One boat which made a big impression was Lee Swallow, a 58 footer in which David and I cruised for nine weeks in the summer of 2005. That had a rear galley and forward saloon, with Pullman-style dinette, bedroom and bathroom in between. It had a table which folded out from the front locker in the well deck. It had a cruiser-style rear deck, which was good for being sociable while steering. I liked the internal layout: the dinette meant there were always seats around a table, and the bedroom being "walk through" was never a problem.

Our shared ownership boat, Shadow, has a semi-trad stern, which looks better and still allows socialising at the blunt end, but has a rear bedroom and mid galley.

Shadow on the Staffs and Worcs

And then I looked at a boat with a "boatman's cabin" and engine room. Wow! I'd sacrifice social steering for the "trad" stern, especially if it came with a traditional-style back cabin and engine room. Forward of that would be a bedroom, bathroom, galley, dinette and saloon. Could I get all of that in 58 feet? I'll have to do some doodling...

No cratch. Don't like them. Tug-style looks good, but I know I'd never get all of the above and a long front deck in 58 feet. It has to be no longer than that as I'd want to be able to cruise the entire connected system.

It would have to have a stove (obviously) and gas for cooking (and possibly central heating). Not diesel heating though. Simple loo, not pumpout. Shower, not bath. Shadow has a waste-of-space corner bath. Impressive-looking, but I've never used it. If the boat has radiators I'd want to be able to pump hot water from the calorifier round them, without necessarily firing up the boiler. Shadow has this facility, which is very good at providing background heat in cold weather.

It's nice to dream ...