Thursday 30 June 2016

Pigeons galore

We had another look round Whitchurch this morning. I spent a long time in the antiques centre in the old Baptist chapel. I didn't buy anything. Back at the boat we set towards Ellesmere. We didn't get very far, though, as I spotted that the boat that had been moored in front of us was sporting a BCF sticker. We carried on reversing to the winding hole, winded and reversed back to our original mooring. We chatted to Graham and Pat of Rambling Rose and invited them on Jubilee for coffee. Graham told us some very funny stories of things which had happened to him in his former working life. It was good to meet you both.

Graham, Jan, Pat
When we did get going we encountered a couple of showers, but nothing as heavy as we have now become used to this summer.

On the way was this barn with lots of pigeons.

The sign reads "Canal Side Lofts"

This reminds me. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we saw two trailers of racing pigeon cages. I don't know if Canal Side Lofts house racing pigeons.

We reached Ellesmere at about 1930 and squeezed into a 55' 6" space in the arm. (Jubilee is 55' long.) A local tipped us off about the Red Lion as being the place to eat. He was right; we had a good meal there. Excellent chips.

There seems to be just about enough signal for me to blog, so here it is.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Measuring lock use at Grindley Brook

More rain today. I forgot to mention yesterday that I lit the fire in the evening, and I wasn't the only one. As we had suggested to David that he might like to join us at Whitchurch we set off in the rain. There was a lot of water coming down the canal as seen here at Grindley Brook.

Some lock entries were interesting!

At this lock, Grindley Brook No. 5, was what appeared to be a bird box on a short post.

But closer inspection revealed it to house a counter, presumably measuring lock use.

Close-up of the counter.

We were able to go straight up the staircase; the lockies said that it had been quiet up to that point. The staircase locks are well kept, with plenty of flowers. The rain had even stopped by this stage.

We went through New Mills Lift Bridge to the winding hole - I didn't fancy attempting the sharp left to the Whitchurch Arm in the strong wind - winded and entered the arm, tying up at the end. Look: blue sky!

We had tea, then walked into the town along the line of the canal. Earlier, during the rain, we stopped at Willeymoor Lock Tavern for an early hot lunch.

Unlike last night at Wrenbury we have a signal here at Whitchurch, but some future blog posts might be delayed. We'll see how good the Three coverage is as we get nearer Wales.

The fire was not lit tonight, but I was on the verge of lighting it this morning. It would be nice if the weather could turn a bit more summery.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Obstruction removed from lock gate; new word

We set off from the Barbridge Arms reasonably early and soon came to Hurleston Junction. There was no-one waiting for the locks so we were able to go straight up. We had assistance from Mrs Cheshire Cat boats up the flight of four locks.

At Bridge 12 we stopped for an early lunch, then moved on up the Baddiley Locks. At the top we stopped - and then the rain came. Not very heavy, but persistent. A hire boat tried to come up the Baddiley No. 1 Lock but couldn't shut the top gate to empty the lock. The crew tried shifting the obstruction with a cabin shaft, but it wouldn't budge. When we realised what was going on I brought my Sea Searcher as the object had sounded metallic. Sure enough, when I lowered the magnet, it caught a large piece of something. After a couple of attempts I managed to drag it away from the cill back above the top gate to the bank, then I lifted out what looks like some sort of an oil drum with a handle attached to it.*
Perhaps it was a seat on the back end of a boat. Anyway, with the obstruction removed the gate could close and the lock worked normally. The crew were very grateful - their delay of 20 minutes or so could easily have been a lot more if they'd had to call CRT out.

In the early evening the rain eased off and we moved another mile to Wrenbury, where we tied up for the night. We walked into the village and saw a couple of strange sights.

This roadside hedge was covered with green netting for 50 yards or so for no apparent reason.

The other oddity was a child's posh pedal go-kart on its side on the grass verge. The chain had come off and there was a large broken concrete slab on the chain. No photo, sorry.

I have heard a new word being used a few times on the radio in the last few days: "resile". New to me, anyhow. It's not in the boat's - old (1946!) Pocket Oxford - dictionary and I wasn't been able to work it out from the context, despite guessing its connection to "resilience". However Google reveals it to mean "to abandon a position or course of action".

This is being posted rather late in the day - the next day - as we've been in a mobile internet-free zone.

*It was actually the shell of a 1950s/60s Creda Debonair spin dryer - identified by a lockie at Grindley Brook the next day as he took it to the skip for me!

Monday 27 June 2016


As promised, and a day later than originally planned, we moved on up the Middlewich Branch today. It was tempting to stop on the 48 hour moorings with the superb views over Winsford Top Flash but we pushed on to Barbridge, where we tied up on the pub moorings (The Barbridge Inn). We treated ourselves to a meal in the pub; slightly on the pricey side, but very good food. One black mark for trying to overcharge me by a pound, but it was all sorted with apologies from them.

The Jolly Tar, where we have eaten in the past, seems to have been demolished. All that remains is the pub sign on its pole.

This is Minshull Lock towering above us, where we joined a queue of two. At Stanthorne Lock we were fourth in line. (At Cholmondeston Lock (pron. Chumston?) we went straight in.)

Approaching Barbridge Junction we saw a small flock of what looked like swallows on a cabin cruiser. Fledglings, perhaps.

Onto the LLangollen Canal tomorrow. Wales, here we come!

Sunday 26 June 2016

We remained (in Middlewich)

At Malkin's Bank on the T&M is a pair of locks where the offside lock has some curiously rusty paddle gear.

The metalwork furthest from the camera has been painted black, as usual, but the three others have been left untreated. I seem to remember this from the last time we came this way, two years ago, I think. Did the paint run out?

We had originally intended to move on up the Middlewich Branch today, but after going to church this morning, and hearing about a service based on the EU referendum result in the evening, we decided to stay and go to it. We were glad we did, as it was very good. It wasn't in the church building, but in the "Church@28" house opposite. The leader did a thorough summing up of what led to the referendum and went through some analysis of how the country voted. He used clear graphics on the screen and did a job worthy of any TV programme. The rest of the evening included an interview with the chaplain of Crewe Alexandra Football Club, again, very interesting.

We'll definitely move on tomorrow, keeping an ear on the news as we do so. Surely Jeremy Corbyn can't survive as leader of the Labour party much longer? And what will George Osborne say tomorrow morning to steady the markets? Interesting times.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Sinking workboat?

We have stayed put in Middlewich today, giving ourselves a "day off". The high street was closed to traffic as it was given over to a "makers' fair", with lots of craft and food stalls. We weren't tempted. In the afternoon I cycled to Lidl in the sunshine and got a surprise when I glanced out of the window after being in there only five minutes. It was raining hard. By the time I'd paid for my purchase it had stopped.

We had the leftover curry from last night for tea. Why is it that curries lose their heat the next day? Mine had chopped fresh green chilli - plenty of bite yesterday but not noticeable today.

I took no photos today, so here are a couple from earlier. From the 20th, in fact, at Trentham, I think it was.

A work boat looks in danger of sinking, possibly as a result of all the rain we've had. You might just be able to see the water in the boat.

Hmm. Thinking about it, I should probably have told CRT. Bit late now. Actually, there's still a good few inches of freeboard, so perhaps it looks worse than it is.

Tomorrow we'll go to church in the town, then probably move up the Middlewich Branch. Depending on showers.

Friday 24 June 2016


We finished off the Cheshire Locks today without getting too wet. Soon after setting off we came across a motor and butty preparing to come up. The butty is Tewkesbury; I didn't get the name of the motor.

At the golf course at Malkin's Bank they were flying the flag. The EU flag.

I guess the golf club isn't too impressed with the result of the EU referendum. I was shocked - along with many others, I'm sure - when I heard the news; how can the UK stay together now?

Further on was this sad sight.

We tied up in Middlewich above Wardle Lock after topping up with diesel at King's Lock. For tea we got a takeaway from the Indian/Bangladeshi just along from Tesco Express. I think it's called something like the Middlewich Balti Takeaway. They give you a nice coffee - with cream - while you're waiting. When I got our order back to the boat we found a few extras: poppadoms, chutneys and a garlic naan. The portions were vast - we have more left over than we ate! That's tomorrow's lunch sorted.

Thursday 23 June 2016

No mobile phone signal in Harecastle Tunnel

And why should there be, you ask? We all know that mobile phone signals struggle to penetrate buildings and boats sometimes, let alone hills and tunnels. But since the death of a boater in Harecastle Tunnel a couple of years ago things were supposed to change. The waterways press reported that CRT was installing repeaters to enable emergency calls to be made from within the tunnel. The tunnel keeper on duty at the south end told us that, despite a successful initial trial, the technology has not worked. And then there is the question of what constitutes an emergency. The tunnel keepers have been told that a breakdown in the tunnel is not an emergency, and the system of blasts on the horn is to continue.

We left our mooring near the facilities at Etruria just after 0900 and stopped after a couple of hundred yards at the gas place (13kg for £19.43). At the tunnel we were 20 minutes too late for the convoy going our way, so we topped up with water and waited.

To add interest, Admiral class Effingham came along.

The young owner has had the boat only since the beginning of the year and has been working on fitting out the back cabin. The boat looks in very good condition; the owner is saving up for cloths. The gunnels look to have been made to take the blue fibreglass covers that other Admiral class and River class boats have, but the hoops and blue tops don't go together.

The tunnel is sporting a new profile gauge .

When the time came to go through we were the lead boat and did it in half an hour. We stopped just below the first lock to go to Tesco; I took the opportunity to cycle to Home Bargains. Then we made good progress down the locks, tying up for the night above Pierpoint Locks. Here Jan is steering into Lock 51.

Well, the polls have closed, we hope our postal votes arrived in time to be counted, and this time tomorrow we should know our relationship to the European Union. We shall not be listening to Jim Naughtie and Carolyn Quinn all night; tomorrow morning we should have a good idea of the result.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Narrowboat by L.S. Lowry

Our neighbours here outside the Etruria Industrial Museum (which never seems to be open) invited us for coffee this morning. The name of their boat, Gerty, came to them in a flash of Basil Brush-inspired - er - inspiration.

Apparently a catch phrase from the TV show was "Dirty Gerty from number 30". The only one I can remember is "Boom, boom!". We discovered we had a few things in common; Robert and Wendy had lived in Norfolk and Wendy and Jan had friends/acquaintances in common.

As they went off up the Caldon we walked into Hanley, the "city" centre. (Is Stoke-on-Trent a city? Can it be a city if it has no cathedral? Or is it a city because the town city council says it is?

The first thing we found was the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. And the first thing I came across there was a corner devoted to L.S. Lowry. I have a fondness for his paintings having been to Salford University; among the dozen or so works exhibited was one apparently depicting a narrowboat.

There it is, on the right. The 1938 painting is The Coal Barge.

We traipsed round endless collections of pottery and then went downstairs to the café, where I was pleased to find that they did oatcakes. Two filled oatcakes for £3.10 I thought was very reasonable. I can recommend the cheese and bacon.

I'm very glad the museum's oatcakes were so tasty, as walking on we came across a café, Peter's Tavern in Piccadilly, doing what seem like amazing value cooked breakfasts.

If the photo is still a little small I'll transcribe it for you. For £1.99 you get 2 x toast, sausage, bacon, egg and beans. A pound more will buy you the regular breakfast: 2 x toast, egg, cheese, 2 x sausage, 2 x bacon, hash brown, beans and egg (yes, it does say "egg" twice). And for a fiver you could attempt the "Hungry man's breakfast" consisting of 4 x toast, 2 x egg, cheese, 3 x sausage, 3 x bacon, hash brown, beans and tomato.

Perhaps next time!

We wandered around the town/city some more, then I remembered that the museum was supposed to have a Spitfire in it. We discovered it hiding on the ground floor, with an effigy of the man who designed the aeroplane, Reginald Mitchell.

Why does a museum in Stoke-on-Trent have a second world war Spitfire? Mr. Mitchell came from Stoke-on-Trent.

Back to the boat for a welcome cup of tea, then a bit of a relax while it rained. When it stopped I thought it would be good to move on to Westport Lake, but then we remembered that we hadn't got the new gas bottle from the cheap canalside place here. So we stayed put and had tea. I cycled to Lidl in Boothen, only about a mile and a half away.

We'll get cracking tomorrow, having now "done" Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. (Town centre-wise I think I'd have to say I prefer NuL to SoT.) Through Harecastle Tunnel and down a few locks - that's the recipe for tomorrow.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

A flurry of historic boats at Stoke-on-Trent

It suddenly got very busy outside our boat this morning. At least five historic boats appeared, having come through Harecastle Tunnel in convoy, and started queueing for the locks. First was Nutfield (without Raymond), followed by Sudbury and Stanton.

Here is Sudbury, whose owners have had the boat only since Christmas.

Here is Stanton, with Sudbury in front and Nutfield just visible in front of Sudbury.

Then came Nuneaton and Brighton, newly painted but with no signwriting as yet.

I couldn't help them down the locks as we had to go to the post office to see if our postal votes had arrived. At 1145 they hadn't, so we walked on into Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre to have a look round. We had coffee/hot chocolate at the Wetherspoon's.

Back at the post office they still hadn't had their delivery so we returned to the boat for lunch. At 1450 Jan phoned the post office ... and they had an envelope for us! Exciting! We hot-footed it back and claimed our post, which Ally and Ben had sent us. Among other things it contained our voting packs and our new two-together railcard. We marked our crosses and posted the ballots back to the council.

At last! They should be delivered in time to be counted. If the vote is as close as some predict I want to be the one with the casting vote, as it were! (Actually, do I really want that responsibility? No, I know it's not really like that!)

We did some shopping at the big Tesco and had a barbecue. Later we invited Robert and Wendy from Gerty, moored next to us, for drinks. They had been to the New Vic theatre to see a play about Martin Luther King. That's two more boaty friends made. It turned out that Wendy had made the small knitted owl that we bought at Crick for Josiah; Wendy helped Jan with some knittery and promised her some wool when we go round for coffee in the morning ...

Oh - forgot to say - we moved onto the Caldon Canal to use the facilities and find a better mooring, which is how we ended up next to Gerty.

Monday 20 June 2016

A Holy Inadequate pub in Stoke-on-Trent

The rain was forecast to stop at 1100. At 1045 it seemed to have done so, so we set off. After a very short time the rain restarted and got heavier and heavier. Under a bridge at Trentham I took the opportunity to put on my overtrousers and wellingtons. Thus waterproofed we carried on ... and the rain stopped straight away. I kept covered up, though, and was glad I did as the rain gradually picked up again. We tied up just above Etruria Junction and had lunch. Then the rain stopped and we recce'd Basford Post Office, just over the "border" in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where we hope to pick up our postal votes tomorrow.

On the way there we saw some interesting things. First, a pub with an inferiority complex?

"The Holy Inadequate" (sic)

And a stainless steel sculpture, "Privilege" by Denis O'Connor.

From the hill we saw a colourful building towards the city centre. Later in the evening we found ourselves walking past it, One Smithfield, fronted by a delightful wild flower meadow.

Well, probably not that wild. And not really a meadow.

We were on our way to the Jaflong curry house in Hanley where we enjoyed their Monday special: a "three course meal" for £8.95. The courses were poppadom; starter and balti with pilau rice or naan. It was very good value and very tasty.

We took the scenic route back along the Caldon Canal, just down the hill past the Emma Bridgewater pottery, from where I took this photo.

The rain had cleared the air; the evening was still and the sun shone. I think I would like to explore the city centre tomorrow; despite having passed through by boat many times we don't really know Stoke-on-Trent at all. First, though, we need to return to the post office to see if we do, after all, have a chance to vote in the EU referendum.

Sunday 19 June 2016

What is this strange chimney in Stone?

On my way back from Christchurch in Stone this morning I noticed a chimney with large circular holes in it towards the top.

A quick internet search yielded nothing useful; does anyone know what it is?

I forgot to mention yesterday how high the Trent was at Shugborough. This is the packhorse bridge; I was in danger of getting wet feet taking this photo. The ground was boggy and there was other evidence of the water level having been even higher.

We moved on to Barlaston, checking out the canalside Plume of Feathers for a meal but deciding to eat on board instead. The pub's offering was a limited menu for Fathers' Day.

This afternoon it rained. I thought we'd had enough of the stuff in the last few days to last the summer, but apparently not.

FMC Dove, with shiny brasses, came past earlier.

Stoke-on-Trent tomorrow, where we will make a last-ditch attempt to locate our missing postal votes. Curiously, Ally and Ben seem to have received Jan's ballot papers despite them already having been sent elsewhere. Must be a duplicate. We really don't know what's going on, but there's a chance Jan, at least, could get to vote in the referendum.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Do cows' feet get hot?

Having waited long enough at Rugeley for our postal votes not to materialise, we did a last bit of shopping and moved on at last. The next stop was an hour away at The Taft, home of Peter and Julie. They very kindly invited us to join them for lunch, which we did. When we left we tooktheir work-away help Isla (sp?) with us up to Great Haywood. She had not been on a narrowboat before.

At Hoo Mill Lock it was back to just the two of us.

A little further on some cattle were demonstrating the shallowness of the canal.

We tied up in Stone; contemplated the Crown of India for a curry and ended up in the Wetherspoon's for a mixed grill. It was still daylight when we returned to the boat, and we had spotted one 48 hour mooring above Star Lock so we came up through the lock and nabbed it. This will be more convenient for church in the morning (the service is at 0915 - ouch!).

Friday 17 June 2016

The grave matter of Springwood Haven; bilge pump replaced

As we were coming along the Coventry Canal a week ago I was surprised to see a gravestone by the water's edge.

Only it wasn't a gravestone. It was a sign advertising Sringwood Haven, the boatyard a little further on.

I suppose it worked in that it got my attention, but it does seem rather morbid.

In other news, our postal votes still have not turned up in Rugeley. We're getting concerned that we'll miss out on having our say about Europe. We couldn't even go home to vote if we wanted to, as once a postal vote has been issued you cannot vote in person.

And I have succeeded in replacing the bilge pump. I took the opportunity to clean the dusty, rusty dirty bottom of the sump and give it a dose of Fertan. The new pump has a different method of detecting water than the old one. The original pump has an integral mechanical float switch. The replacement, a Rule-Mate RM750A, has "state-of-the-art water sensing technology". This probably means an electronic switch - hall effect? - and a relay. I expect it draws a small amount of current all the time now, which the old one didn't. And that's from the engine battery. Oh well. No photo as I didn't think of it until after I'd replaced the deck boards.

And finally ... it didn't rain today! It tried, at about 1700, but it came to nothing. It got a bit chilly this evening, so much so that a neighbouring boat has lit its stove! Too warm on Jubilee for that.

I really hope our votes appear tomorrow. We've "done" Rugeley now and want to move on.

Thursday 16 June 2016

20 mile round trip (by cycle) to get bilge pump

On a recent trip home to mow the grass etc. I discovered that the car's radiator had sprung a leak. Not a catastrophic, empty-out-all-the-coolant-in-one-go leak, but a leak big enough to drain the reservoir overnight and for the engine to run at slightly higher than normal temperature.

Fortunately the car is a Volvo 240 and everything is easily accessible. Three Jubilee clips for the hoses (and one small pull-off hose); two bolts and two screws. Unfortunately all my tools were on the boat. Fortunately that is not quite true. I found a couple of screwdrivers and a socket set. I located a replacement radiator in Ipswich at Brookhouse Volvo and I wanted to be sure that all bolts etc. would come undone. At home, therefore, I undid and retightened everything except the two screws holding the plastic cowl to the radiator.

With assistance from a friend I hacksawed and chiselled the screws off, and found replacements. In Ipswich all went swimmingly (as the old coolant poured out ...) and the new rad dropped in a treat. Only problem: one of the securing bolts sheared off as I turned it. (I'd loosened it but not enough.)

At Writtle Jan's dad helped me drill out the bolt and provided another bolt to help secure the rad. This bolt was smaller than the original as, having drilled through the damaged bolt I couldn't remove the remnants from the captive nut into which it had been, er, bolted. We couldn't find a suitable nut for this new bolt, but at my parents' in Shenfield my dad provided a nut and bolt which did the trick.

We got back to the boat at 1500; Jan went to the post office in Rugeley to see if our postal votes had arrived while I cycled to the Penkridge branch of Midland Chandlers for a bilge pump. I had more success than Jan. Our postal votes STILL haven't arrived, despite having been forwarded a week ago.

My cycle ride was mostly enjoyable. After losing my way a little trying to find Penkridge Bank, a road leading through Cannock Chase, I got back on track and began the steady climb through the forest. Having reached the summit at last I relished the downhill run - until encountering a large amount of surface water on the road. This was nothing compared with the return leg; a sudden downpour led to the A513 being more like a river in places. I got wet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I chose a different route after picking up the bilge pump. This took me through the village of Brocton. If you're ever in the area the village shop is worth a detour. At the time, having already cycled about 14 miles, I was pretty hungry. The sign outside the shop advertised hot sandwiches - I screeched to a halt. Unfortunately the "chef" had clocked off and there were no hot sandwiches. But the coffee machine (£1 a cup) was tempting so I grabbed a £2 chocolate cake and asked for a coffee. Another but: the coffee machine was on a timer (why?) and had no power. Neither had the microwave oven. No problem, said the friendly shopkeeper man. He went round the back, boiled up a kettle and provided me with the best cup of instant coffee I've had for a long time. While talking to him as I drank the coffee I found out that he remembered the days of horse-drawn boats with their cargoes of coal from the Cannock pits, and talked about the canals of his youth which are now housing estates.

Suitably refreshed I set off from Brocton for Rugeley via the aforementioned A513. Before reaching the main road the heavens opened. I was able to shelter from the heaviest of the rain under several large trees (it's all right, there was no lightning about). Rain water flowed down my side of the road, as I have said. Somehow I avoided getting drenched by passing traffic, but my feet still got soaked. My route took me past the Shugborough estate - it was slightly weird seeing it from a non-canal perspective.

I have waffled on long enough. Tomorrow, if I can dodge the showers, I ought to fit the new bilge pump. I went for another 750 gallons per hour machine, the same as the old one. And I hope our votes will have arrived at the post office.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Many boats celebrating 80 years

The Grand Union Canal Carrying Company had many boats built for it in the mid 1930s. Which means that those boats are celebrating their 80th birthdays around now. Aldgate had the balloons and bunting out at Hillmorton.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

"Welcome to Braunston" ... as you leave

When we were in Braunston recently I was surprised to see a banner on Butcher's Bridge welcoming visitors to the village.

What's wrong with that, I hear you ask? Well, to read the banner you will have already passed Braunston Turn, the Boathouse pub, the A45 bridge which gives access to the church and the village, an Elsan point, the Stop House with water point and rubbish skips, Braunston Marina and most of the visitor moorings.

Just saying.

Monday 13 June 2016

Ash hazard?

Along the 48 hour moorings in Braunston are these signs declaring that ash is harmful and shouldn't be dumped in the hedgerow.

I don't tip ash into the canal, of course, but it's news to me that it's environmentally unfriendly. I would dig it into my garden at home, so what's the harm to a hedge? As long as it is cold, naturally.