Sunday 29 April 2012

Big Thanks To Sarah & Jim!

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

The mud says a lot about the weather!
We really had no choice that most of this weekend's boat moving would happen today - it was just unfortunate that the weather forecasts had long predicted a very wet windy day, with gale force gusting.  In reality I think the winds seldom reached the worst gust speeds that had been predicted, but the wind was bad enough enough to actually visibly be lifting water from the surface of the cut, and then propelling it straight at me!

Leaving the bottom lock of "the 21".
So as we looked at various forums, blogs and Facebook, where other boaters were declaring today very firmly a "don't even consider moving day", we knew we had a long lock flight to get through, and even then quite a few more miles to get to where we had to be.

So when Jim & Sarah from "Chertsey" & "Bakewell" actually volunteered to turn out on a squally, rather nasty, Sunday morning, and lock-wheel us up the Wolverhampton 21 locks, whilst slightly doubting their sanity, (we were already doubting our own!), we didn't actually protest too much!

Into a rhythm by now
In fact we couldn't even manage to be with them on time, as various things didn't go to plan, as we attempted to get away from our overnight mooring at Autherley, and through the shallow stop lock there.  The water point is hardly conveniently located, and the "Elsan" facility for toilet emptying that is in our canal guide no longer exists.  (Don't ask, but we had a VERY full toilet, and were relying on emptying it here!).

Sarah was already waiting at the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 locks when we arrived a bit late, and the ascent was quickly under way.  We hardly saw poor Jim until very near the top, as he was constantly setting up the locks ahead.

It's not all industrial dereliction.
It was wet enough, and slippery enough, that I certainly wasn't boating trying to set any records, although Cath and Sarah together were fairly slick at each lock, and I guess we wasted very little time at all.  Possibly had we not let the cabin range virtually go out, I might have been less distracted trying to revive it, although I think this was done almost entirely as locks filled, so probably didn't slow down progress.

Finished the flight, thanks to our very efficient helpers.
It actually appears we got through the 21 lock flight, (which involves boating 2 miles, as well as the locks themselves) in around 1 hour 50 minutes.  I have no idea if that is considered a "good time" or not, by those who regularly do these things fast, but given the weather, we all thought not a bad result.  Our enormous thanks to Jim and Sarah.  I have little doubt that Cath and I on our own would have taken more around the 3 hour mark, so this really made a huge difference to a difficult day.

Savouring the lack of weather in Coseley Tunnel.
That really only left, I guess, 6 or 7 miles of lock free canal to run, although this part of the BCN proved to be more litter strewn than I remember from previous passages, and we were regularly taking the boat out of gear as we went through the worst detritus, in an attempt not to foul the prop.  This was also one trip where the 360 yard Coseley tunnel provided some respite from the weather - there were a few drips in the tunnel, but it was positively dry compared to "outside".

At the Black Country Museum we could not find anybody who knew for certain where we should leave "Sickle", but it was quickly apparent that actually getting her inside the site itself, (which involves a large lifting bridge), was not going to happen - I'm guessing she will now stay on the visitor moorings there until next weekend.

The plan was to cycle to Tipton station, and to catch trains, (change at Wolverhampton), back to Penkridge, being the closest station to Stretton, where our car still was.  We thought we had fouled up, and left too late, but found Tipton station very quickly, and were lucky enough to catch the planned train on time.

This is the point at which our friends generosity kicked in again, as Jim turned out to collect us, (and our folding bikes) from Penkridge station, and to ferry us to Stretton.  We really can't thank him enough - although it is only about 5 miles, they are some horrible roads, the weather was still foul, and we were knackered, with a 120 mile drive still ahead of us.  "Bloomin' marvellous", Jim - Thanks!

And thanks too to Sarah, who kept the tea flowing, until we had warmed up in Bakewell's warm cabin.  In fact more "boater hospitality" was imminent, as "Hairy Neil" and "Starcross Jim" were due to go pubbing with Sarah & Jim.  Unfortunately joining in with that would have made us far too late, but we did stay around to see Neil arrive, and have a bit of chat before we had to go.  In practice we didn't arrive home until about 10:00 pm, by which time, I think it is fair to say we were exhausted - how much more exhausted we might have been if not for jim and Sarah, I shudder to think!

Autherley Junction (Shropshire Union)
to Black Country Museum (Dudley No 1 Canal - Birmingham Canal Navigations)
Miles: 8.9, Locks: 22

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 236.7, Locks: 170

Saturday 28 April 2012

The Calm Before The Storm ?

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

This hasn't so much been a day about moving a boat very far - it was never planned to be much more than at least making a start at it!  "Sickle" has been safely lodged at Stretton for a couple of weeks, since Cath was due back at work, and the task for this weekend is to relocate her to the Black Country Living Museum.

Vista from "Sickle" - "Stanton", "Chertsey", "Bakewell" and "Plover"
It has however turned into a rather nice "social" day.  You get a lot of that on the canals - even former "grumpy old gits" like me seem  to end up with a social life, and our ever increasing boating activities mean an ever growing circle of friends, but often no absolute guarantees about who you will meet where, or when.

However  Sarah and Jim, normally base "Chertsey" and "Bakewell" exactly where "Sickle" has been lodging, so it was an obvious move to take a leisurely lunch with them, before we put in a few miles of boating.  However we could not have anticipated that Peter & Laura would be passing with the rather lovely "Stanton", so when they were persuaded to tie up alongside "Chertsey" and "Bakewell" we were starting to build a fairly impressive line up of historic boats, ("Sickle" herself being tied alongside the Josher motor "Plover").

"Stanton", "Chertsey"& "Bakewell" - "Sickle" beyond.
Sarah cooked us an excellent meal, supplemented by Jim's equally excellent home baked wholemeal bread, whereas our involvement extended to no more than providing the beers!

Eventually Cath pointed out that we were actually supposed to have been going somewhere today, and we did finally get going, once the boat crossing the aqueduct as we were waiting to turn "Sickle" around had made a fair attempt at bouncing off us, for no particular reason!

Initially we travelled the stretch we had done a few months back where we got a go at steering "Chertsey".  Back then there had been much discussion about Chertsey's performance, its propeller, how much ballast, etc, and was it performing OK?  Now, having tried the same bit in "Sickle" I conclude this really is a rather shallow bit of canal, and I was struggling to get from "Sickle", (a powerful boat), even the speeds we had managed with "Chertsey".  I conclude there probably isn't much wrong with Chertsey, and that this bit of the "Shroppie" is not the place to try out working boats for their performance - in fact, in power terms this is a case where "less is more".

Passing "Purton" another ex BW maintenance boat.
The canal has several considerable narrows, where I would not choose to try and pass a boat coming the other way with a boat of Sickle's draught.  At one of these we pulled up well before the "narrows" to allow another boat through, but (as is so often the case), they went into "slow crawl" mode, and by the time we needed to push forwards we were not in enough water to do so.  A fair amount of reversing back was required before we could find enough deep water to actually go in the right direction again.  This is not something we have often experienced with "Sickle", but at least it was sorted fairly quickly.

Not long before the "Shroppie" ends, a modern bridge has a narrowing before it, that contains stop gates, that could once have been used to isolate a length of the canal, (although not now - the gates are long since too poorly decayed).  It's not often we are brought to a complete stop by the shallowness of such a feature, but this one achieved it easily.  In such circumstances you can usually carry on, but only on absolute minimum power, so you crawl over, without the back end of the boat digging further into the silt.  Fortunately this was exactly what happened, but I conclude these final few miles of the "Shroppie" are some of the slowest boating we have yet done in "Sickle".  Last year in "Chalice" on the same stretch depth issues did not enter our though processes, (unless trying to moor against the infamous "Shroppie shelf" sides).

So what does tomorrow hold ?  Well we need to climb the well known "Wolverhampton 21" lock flight, (the clue is in the numeric part!). At the moment a cold wet day is forecast, but the worst "advertised" feature is gusting, and sometimes gale force winds.  Ah well - at least we are not in Chalice, which being high sided, and shallow draughted, can get blown all over the place.  "Sickle" is made of sterner stuff, and we proved a few weeks back that she will hold a straight line, when more modern boats are coming at you down the canal "on the diagonal".

Tomorrow should be OK then!

Stretton Aqueduct to Autherley (Shropshire Union Canal)
Miles: 6.2, Locks: 0

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 227.8, Locks: 148

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Potted Histories

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Looking at Sarah's "Chertsey" Blog I note that she has tackled what seems to come up from time to time if you have an historic narrow boat - namely the need to provide a "potted history" to go on the entry form to an event, or some such similar thing.

Cath and I were discussing the other day that we really need a few of these of different lengths, to allow a quick "cut and paste" of a suitable one on to anything that requires it.

I was just about to think about starting to prepare something, when I recalled I had had to put something on the form for entering "Sickle" to the Black Country Living Museum - Tug Event on the weekend of 5th/6th/7th May.

Having looked at that, it's not after all a bad synopsis:

Name: "Sickle"

Length: 40 Feet
Draught: 3 feet
Construction: Riveted Steel

Date Built.: 1936 Boat Type: GUCCCo “Middle Northwich"
                  Converted 1942 to to Icebreaker/Tug


Built as 71’6” carrying boat for Grand Union Canal Carrying co in 1936, a motor boat from one of 8 pairs of “Middle Northwich” boats, built by W J Yarwoods – unusual because of rounded chines, and slightly vee-ed bottom.

In 1942 one of 4 such boats requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport for conversion to ice-breakers. Shortened to 40 feet, given heavily reinforced front end, and a massive 5 foot ice ram added.

On nationalisation of the waterways in 1948 became a tug on the maintenance fleet, and appears to have had its ice ram removed by 1957, (but when is unclear). Worked for British Waterways on the Southern Grand Union maintenance fleet, until condemned and very nearly scrapped in 2000.

Eventually rescued and restored to approximately 1960s condition, it has been with its current owners for less than a year. The powerful Lister HA3 air-cooled engine is one of the types it carried whilst on maintenance duties, and dates from 1963.

"Sickle" at work as a tug (Photo courtesy Matt Parrott).

Saturday 14 April 2012

A Very Short Boating Day - Wheaton Aston to Stretton Aqueduct

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

GUCCCo "Royalty" motor "Prince"
We had arranged to leave "Sickle" just a couple of miles further on, so the remainder of the boating part of this phase of Sickle's big adventure was soon over,  with just a single lock, and nothing of note other than several converted or part-converted ex Grand union canal Carrying Company narrow boats.  We saw butty to motor conversions "Rigal" and "Cetus", the latter on the move, as well as the massive Royalty motor "Prince" - and I think I have trouble stepping up on to Sickle's counter!

Approaching our final lock at Wheaton Aston.
To add to the working boat theme, we were to moor where our friends Sarah and Jim keep their "Big Woolwich" pair "Chertsey" and "Bakewell", and were instructed to breast alongside the immaculate ex Felllows Morton and Clayton motor boat "Plover".

We had not been sure whether Sarah and Jim would yet have returned with "Chertsey" from the Historic Boat Owners Club gathering at Droitwich, so it was a pleasure to find them back.

Passing "Cetus" - Once an unpowered butty boat.
From my perspective, the next (considerable) bit of the day is best glossed over,  We decided someone should get all the way back home by a combination of bicycle, and multiple trains, but the on-line train timetables were impenetrable, and unbelievably the Trainline, National Rail Enquiries and London Midland sites all yielded different information, both about times and prices - on the face of it it could have cost approaching £150, but should have been possible for only about £17, if sticking to slow trains.  The reality proved even less helpful as you tried to make an on-line booking - you can arrange to travel from the nearest station, Penkridge, or you could, if it were possible to pick tickets up there - which it isn't.

I did get home eventually, but the complications meant an extra hour spent at New Street, and by the time I arrived back, I was truly knackered, even though the run up the M1 and M^ had not been too bad!

However Cath had a meal ready on arrival, and I was told that we were on for a final pub trip!  I drove us, plus Sarah and Jim to a pub in Brewood.  We had seen a lot of friends on this trip, and it was icing on the cake to spend our final evening afloat in the company of some more.  Tomorrow we would have to drive home, and boating would sadly be over again for a couple of weeks.

Wheaton Aston
Miles: 1.8, Locks: 1

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 221.6, Locks: 148

Friday 13 April 2012

Back on the canal System's "Roman Road" - Adderley to Wheaton Aston

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

same location as last picture, but a very different look.
I awoke early, and found a heavy frost outside - beautiful, but not necessarily welcome when the unheated engine room is what doubles as a loo!  By mooring at the top of the Adderley flight we had left urselves few locks, but quite a lot of miles still to cover.

Very distinctive approach to Tyrley Bottom lock.
In fact there isn't any great separation between the Audlem and the Adderley flights that we locked though yesterday, and the five lock Tyrley flight that we reached quite quickly.  This is a very distinctive flight, as the bottom of it is approached through a narrow cutting, with muddy tow-paths.  If, you pass someone when approaching the lock you need to be careful about where this manoeuvre is carried out, particularly on a deep draughted boat like "Sickle".  Fortunately a boat that had just exited the bottom lock pulled over in to one of the slightly wider bits, and waited - probably easiest and fastest for both boats, but not everybody thinks things like this through logically.  The approaches to this lock are shallow at the edges, and sometimes very strong outflows from the bye washes that enter just below the locks can catch you out too.

Waiting in bottom lock for friend's boat coming down in next.
With Sickle, which is at least the full 7 feet wide, rather than the typical 6 ft 10 ins beam of modern leisure boats, the angle of approach also becomes critical, if if is not to bump violently between the two lock walls - people seemed genuinely surprised how tightly Sickle fits some of the locks, with almost no margin either side.

Tyrley top lock has very attractive buildings.
As Cath went to set locks ahead, she found a boat coming down, which proved to be a friend that had attended the banter, single-handing back north.  A quick pause to chat, but setting off again before we held anyone up.

Probaly the most photographed bridge on the Shroppie
Once clear of Tyrley there is only one full lock on the Shropshire Union, (with a further shallow stop lock where it ends at Autherley Junction), so you then get into lots of largely lock-less miles, often on long straight stretches, sometimes on impressive high embankments, but at others in dank rock lined cuttings.  I do like my boating to be broken iup by locks, so, however impressive it is, I do get slightly numbed by this bit of the Shroppie, (but note that some love it, simply because of the lock free miles!).

Cowley Tunnel - Short, but hewn through solid rock.
We had planned to stop at Norbury Wharf.  We have only ever put one fill of diesel into Sickle's ample tanks, and it was time for another, as Norbury's price is usually quite keen, (though seldom fully matching the prices at Turner's, further on at Wheaton Aston).  I was quite surprised how much diesel we still had, but also as to how much we put in.  Suffice it to say we didn't fill it, but the bill was big enough.  We had looked forward to showers in the BW facilities block at Norbury, and they proved to be adequate, but not brilliant.  The mess that welled up as I tried to flush the Gents toilet was a different story, however - all rather disgusting, frankly.

We received an invite to stop at Norbury, as other historic boaters were planning a pub session later, but Cath was, (quite rightly), starting to panic about all that was required to get us home, and her ready to be back to her job, so we had to refuse.

Instead we pressed on to Wheaton Aston - mooring on the Shropshire Union is often difficult, due to the construction of the canal near the banks, (the presence of the so called "Shroppie Shelf").  By mooring in the recognised mooring spots in the town, you are more likely to be against the bank, and often rings are provided, avoiding the need to hammer stakes into sometimes unsuitable ground.

Adderley Top Lock to Wheaton Aston
Miles: 21.8, Locks:5

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 219.8, Locks: 147

Thursday 12 April 2012

Wanna Fight? Fisticuffs on the Audlem Flight

(Boat Sickle - posted by Cath)

As we worked up the Audlem flight I noticed a couple of youngish lads, perhaps 11 or 12 years old walking up and down the flight. They closed gates for people, and were magnet fishing in some of the lock aprons. They seemed well-behaved and pleasant boys.
There is a longish pound before the top two locks of the Audlem flight, and just as we got to it a small boat pulled out ahead of us. It had two elderly men on it, one steering, and the other working the locks.

I went up to the lock and helped them through the penultimate lock, the gentleman working the lock seemed nice enough, although a bit deaf. We then turned the lock and worked through it ourselves.

On arriving at the final lock of the flight I was staggered to see the lock wheeler of the boat ahead of us (let's call him Gentleman J) being forcibly held into the hawthorn hedge by another elderly man (let's call him Scottish Gentleman). He had blood trickling from various cuts on his face, and from a split lip. Gentleman J and Scottish Gentleman were shouting loudly at each other, and Gentleman J was refusing to hand over his windlass, which was clutched to his chest. There was also an elderly lady who was speaking animately on her mobile phone - plus the two young boys I had noticed earlier.

I took this to be some kind of disagreement about who should be working the lock, but no.

I have to be honest - I heard all of what had actually happened from Scottish Gentleman, Elderly lady and the two lads, but Gentleman J was there the whole time that they were telling me this, and he did not contradict them.

At the top of the flight is a cake stall outside the old lock cottage, you can buy home made brownies, cupcakes, flapjacks, etc. There is also a plate with some small samples on it. It turned out that the two boys were staying on a boat, moored above the locks - which is owned by one of the lad's grandparents (Scottish Gentleman and Elderly Lady). The boys had just bought some brownies at the cake stall, and the proprietor had said, "try a sample". The grandson said, "I'll take some cake", which he did.

Gentleman J then shouted, "you thieving little bastard!", grabbed the boy by the throat, flung him to the ground, banging the back of his head, and putting his windlass around the boy's throat to hold him down. Not surprisingly, Scottish Gentleman, the boy's grandfather, took offence at this, and the two elderly men ended up in a tussle, where Gentleman J ended up in the hedge, with a bloodied face.  Both of them shouting insults at each other.

Granny had been on the phone to the police, who couldn't then find where this remote location was, but Gentleman J sat quietly on the back of his boat waiting for them to arrive, while refusing any first aid to his cuts.  It did appear that he had genuinely thought that the boy was stealing a sample of cake, but what staggered me was the total over-reaction to this.

As a first aider I checked the boy, his face and neck were scratched and somewhat bruised. His head hurt, but I didn't think that he was concussed. I told the grandfather what symptoms to watch out for, and we went on our way.

A Good Day - Well Mostly! - Church Minshull to Adderley

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

No delays at "Minshull Lock" this time.
It was only last August that we last passed along the Middlewich Branch, back to the "Shroppie", but the differences this time went far further than we were just using "Sickle" instead of "Chalice".  Really our last trip on this arm, and on the first locks after that, was memorable for a reason I would prefer to forget - the queueing.  Last time we had hoped the worst was over when we finally made it through Wardle lock at  Middlewich, but we in fact hit far worse at Minshull lock, which took in excess of 2 hours to get though, both because of "sheer weight of traffic", and because many of the crews involved took a very long while to work their boat through.

However no such problems today - Minshull lock was the first, and we worked straight through it.  We continued to bounce or slide through many of the bridge holes though, (they are shallow!), and suffered some hold ups after an initially approaching boat did a U-turn ahead of us, and then travelled ahead of us somewhat slower than Sickle likes to go.  However before long we had turned off the arm, and were heading South down the "Shroppie" main line, (I'll let Cath tell you how the turn went, if she wants to, otherwise we'll not mention it!).

Nor any delays at Hack Green
Cath has been rather distressed on this trip, our first since the loss of Charlie the dog, as the reminders of having him with us on a similar route just last summer are all too frequent.  I had to follow a boat for some distance with an enthusiastic Cocker running from side to side to enjoy the view.  The dog was hardly a "ringer" for Charlie, but "running from side to side to admire the view" was very much a Charlie thing, and I also found happy memories flooding back, but obviously also accompanied by the sadness that we no longer have him.  The strange thing, of course, is this trip would probably not have happened if we still had him - we never really did work out how we could fit him, as well as us in Sickle's back cabin!

Powering past the strong weir flows on Shroppie locks
Our first locks on the Shropshire Union, at Hack Green, had also seen us queuing last year, but again no delays this time - athough I'll swear the live-aboard boat moving slowly through the locks the other way did exactly the same on our last passage!

Approaching another Audlem lock.
By the fifteen lock Audlem flight, I thought we were getting into a rhythm, with Cath constantly going ahead to set-up the locks, (nearly all against us), as I followed up with "Sickle".  A piece of advice - never assume it will continue to go well!  A large crew on a boat behind were slowly catching us, as I was finding it difficult to close up top gates behind me,  I can't do big jumps since I broke my pelvis, so I have to know I can just get easily back on to the boat - quite tricky on Sickle, as it's counter is deeper than most modern leisure boats, so it can be a big step up, if water levels are high, relative to tow-path.  The crew behind had a lock wheeler ahead, but they showed no enthusiasm for closing my "exit gate", even though we would all have been quicker if they had.  At one lock I struggled repeatedly to get Sickle where I could step off and do what was required, but they just watched me struggle.  Having managed to shut the gate, however, Sickle got drawn on to one of the offside weirs, which takes heavy flows of water around the locks.  This was part of the problem in the first place, and we were well and truly stuck, until finally hauled off by a rope stretched right across the cut.  Clearly my error, but when I suggested to their lock wheeler they might close the gates after me, they said they were going to be reducing to less crew, and not sure they could.  In practice they never did catch up, and the rest of the flight passed smoothly.

Tame sheep at lock-side.
To try and regain time, we decided to also press on through the subsequent 5 lock flight at Adderley.  By now we were back in a rhythm, and this went well, other than the treacherously muddy and slippery state of the tow-path made it hard for Cath to stay on the lock-wheeling bike.

I wouldn't mind living where we moored up!
With quite a lot of locks worked, and miles covered, we realised we had already done very nearly 200 miles.

Church Minshull to Adderley Top Lock
Miles: 17.5, Locks: 24

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 198.0, Locks: 142

Wednesday 11 April 2012

All Kinds of Weather, Plentiful Hairdressers & Meeting an Old Friend - Thurlwood to Church Minshull

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Typical lock exit - chimneys need to be considered!
Despite best intentions, my (now fading) memory is that we did not make a particularly prompt departure from Thurlwood on this morning.  For certain some other boats set off before us, including the couple on the small boat we had been working closely with yesterday.  We knew however that previous delays had left us somewhere short of where we might have been by now, but two new complications had crept in.

Firstly I had negotiated to buy a painted water can, which couldn't easily be got to me, but which it might just be possible that someone could deliver.  Secondly a friend and former work colleague, now based up near Wilmslow, had been tracking our progress on Facebook, and wondered if it might be possible to come and meet us.  Middlewich would be our most Northerly point before turning off the Tent and Mersey to head back South West, and would be closest to anyone we might meet, but really we needed to press on further, taking us away from them.

The "joys" of canal boating.
But long before then, the weather kicked in.  We had seen sunshine, rain, even hints of snow, but were unprepared for the huge crack of thunder, and (particularly), a hail-storm in which we were pelted by hailstones bigger than the size of typical peas.  The hail struck our cold hands and really stung, and quickly boat and lock-sides became dangerous skating rinks.  I could have cried, but found myself laughing more or less uncontrollably!  Fortunately it was short lived. and by the next lock we were swabbing down the boat, trying to reduce the slip hazard on the "patio area".

Most of the hail and ice cleared off.
The locks thin out towards Middlewich, (you have by the end come down through 31 from Harecastle), and frankly the approach to Middlewich, flanked by a loud noisy road, in uninspiring, (that's the charitable version of it!).  When here last summer we had joined large queues to turn onto the branch of the Shropshire Union that takes you back to the "Shroppie" main-line. but today, we were able to turn straight away, to be the next boat into the deep uphill lock that commences this canal.  The lock cottage here used to be occupied by a lady called Maureen Shaw, who although we never met her, had a strong reputation as an ex working boater for wanting to see "her" lock worked correctly.  Sadly Maureen has died recently, but I was perhaps fortunate she was no longer "overseeing" things at Wardle lock.  After a textbook turn from the T&M under a low bridge into the arm, we had kept the boat out of trouble whilst this fierce lock empties for you to go in.  We then ascended, avoiding problems with the strong "pull" if you wind paddles too fast.  Feeling fully in control, I let Cath go off shopping, only needing to get the boat from the lock, and then find a temporary mooring.  Unfortunately, whilst dropping paddles, the boat drifted from the lock apron, and, with my dodgy hip, I didn't feel like leaping for Sickle's (very high) counter.  So I watched "Sickle" go without me.  I had to sprint along and warn an approaching boat that "nobody is on board", then cross my fingers that she would drift my way, and I could regain control.  Fortunately she cooperated, but I hardly think Maureen would have approved!

Wardle Lock - Before "Sickle" left without me.
By the time Cath got back we had not heard from either our potential water can supplier, nor my old friend, so we decided to press on, to lose no further time.  We were now on the Middlewich Branch of the "Shroppie", and I remembered even with Chalice, which is shallow draughted, ploughing through sludge in many of the very shallow  bridge-holes.  I knew Sickle would need to shift some mud, or ride over a bit of debris, and so it proved at many of the bridges - these are the shallowest we have yet taken her.  Progress wasn't too bad between them, however.

Just three of the excessive Middlewich "hairdresser count".
In the meantime my friend had got hold of me, and, yes, he really would like to drive the long trek from Wilmslow to meet up.  Church Minshull had, until quite recently, lost its pub, but "the Badger" is fairly recently reopened.   We knew from forum posts that eating there would be at the top end of pub prices, but decided to eat there anyway.  The food was however excellent, and the Mushroom Wellington made a welcome change from the typical vegetarian offerings elsewhere.  It was very good to see my friend again, and as well as much chat about old times, and what we do now, we compared notes extensively about living with Asperger's syndrome, as we both have children with this diagnosis.  I did feel a bit sorry knowing my friend had to get back to Wilmslow, then make an early start for work next day.  We had to go a few hundred yards to the boat, then carry on with a holiday next day!

Thurlwood to Church Minshull
Miles: 14.2, Locks: 21

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 180.5, Locks: 118

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Barlaston to Thurlwood with Unexpctedly Long wait for Tunnel Passage.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Gate paddles on the deep Stoke locks are quite impressive, from on the boat.
Having discovered a really quite good convenience store right by where we were moored, cath nipped back to get some essential supplies - particularly "essential" were some further bottles of the very palatable white wine I had bought at a discount price the night before!  Whilst I was getting "Sickle" ready to leave, Cath returned past the bridge to find a Black Prince hire boat that had chosen to padlock a stack of bikes to its rooif, and only just pulled up when they had realised it was not goiung under by no small margin.  sadly Cath's attempts to be discrete resulted in a blurred photo, but we chuckled that further down bikes were unlikely to get under, even if not piled one on another.  I suspect they spent a lot of time later carrying them off and on again at the lower bridges!

Lots of very low bridges, needing frequent chimney removal.
I always enjoy the climb into Stoke on Trent, and up past Etruria and beyond towards Harecastle Tunnel.  Although little of it can be described as "picturesque", just about enough survives in terms of old buildings to make it at least "interesting", although I prefer the "run down" to attempts to over restore the "old" and try and blend it into inappropriate new surroundings - two bottle kilns juxtaposed into a modern housing development seem such an example.  However I was pleased to see that near Stoke on Trent Boat-builders an old building that had been completely burnt out, and looked (to me) unlikely to survive, was getting refurbished with a new roof.

Canal and railwsay in very close proximity.
As we left Stoke on Trent for the run up to wait for a passage through Harecastle Tunnel, a boat emerged from a side marina straight across our bows, despite having a lady perched on the front, who could perhaps have warned its steerer that he was about to get broadsided by a heavy icebreaker/tug!  The steerer seemed to think he was going to then swing around in front of us, but sensibly decided not to, as carried on, just clearing his back end.  A good result, as they then decided they were going to go very slowly, and we quickly lost them.

Waiting at Harecastle Tunnel South end.
At Harecastle nobody else was yet waiting.  The tunnel keeper indicated three boats were already in the tunnel coming South, and we might enter in perhaps three quarters of an hour.  In fact no such luck, as two boats came out pretty much on time, but there was absolutely no sign of the third.  You could see right through the tunnel, but no obvious headlight or boat.  Phone calls between the keepers at each end confirmed three had gone in, so we waited..... and waited......  and WAITED!  Eventually a boat did emerge, with no working headlight, and apparently no attempt having been made to illuminate the tunnel any other way.  People were stood in the front doorway, effectively blocking any cabin lighting that might have provided a bit of forward illumination.  The boat was covered in the red slurry that you might expect to pick up if you had bounced off the walls.  There was a bit of further delay, while, I imagine, the tunnel keeper wsa "educating" those involved!  And the name of the boat ?  "Going Places" - not very fast today, though.

"Going Places" emerges maybe 40 minutes after those it started with!
Although first boat at the tunnel, another had now turned up.  By the rules, we should then have been second in, as our engine smokes a fair bit, and "smoky boats" are usually sent in last, because the big extractor fans suck air back towards the South end, and hence potentially, any exhaust smoke past following boats and steerers.  However the tunnel keeper decided as we were experienced with Harecastle, but the following crew had never been through,m that we might be quicker, and sent us in.  Result!

We probably qualify for tunnel keeps "smoky boat" tag!
Almost immediately, at the North end of the tunnel, you commence the long descent of what boatmen called the "Cheshire Locks", but which has since acquired the name "Heartbreak Hill".  However we planned to pause after only a couple of locks at "Red Bull" for showers and laundry.  Here we got only half a result though - the showers were much appreciated, but Cath was told the tumble drier was out of action.  What BW didn't admit, but we were subsequently told, is that it hasn't apparently worked for at least eight or nine months.  What is the point of advertising facilities we hoped to rely on, if there is no commitment to keep them working ?  The only viable compromise was to do some washing of a few small items in the sink there, then try and rig a way of drying stuff in our engine room.

Twinned locks (and bridges), and impressive skies.
We finished the day with a spirited descent of quite a few more of the Cheshire Locks, some of which, (but by no means all), are still twinned.  A couple were going down in a short modern boat, and without really agreeing it, we ended up with a co-operative arrangement where Cath was often setting locks ahead of them, (we had a bike out by now), but equally they were often drawing a paddle to refill a lock for us, before they carried on ahead.  It all worked very well.

Our improvised "drying room".

We decided as we had missed out on a pub the night before, we might like to go to one tonight, so stopped on very pleasant moorings at Thurlwood.  We could have carried on, but had already done a fair amount of locks, and the extended delay at Harecastle made this an obvious place to stop.

Barlaston to Thurlwood
Miles: 14.8, Locks: 18

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 165.4, Locks:97

Monday 9 April 2012

Tixall Wide to Barlaston, with Rain as the Main Theme.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Leaving Tixall Wide
We spent a very quiet night at Tixall Wide - a total contrast to the wild conditions when we were there 4 nights ago.

Unusual, but attractive, bridge
Once we reached Great Haywood junction, instead of turning right, and retracing our steps from the outward journey. we instead made a left turn to carry on further up the Trent and Mersey canal.

Heavy rain in Stone
The trip North from here starts gently, with periodic locks, and we were reminded that when we passed this way last year, we were initially following a dozen young men on a hire boat on a "stag" event, but when we subsequently passed their boat the next day, all we got to see were dozens of abandoned beer cans.  The distinguishing feature of today though was not a stag party, but the highly variable weather.  A lot of the day was spent in heavy rain, though mercifully not with the horrendous winds of a few days ago.

More rain.
The locks start to kick in more at Stone, where there is a flight of four, which for some reason the Nicholson's guide comments as being deeper than most on narrow canals, but which are certainly no more so than other locks further up this canal.  By Stone it was raining heavily, and, failing to find anywhere convenient to tie up, that didn't mean a long walk, a planned trip to replenish supplies was abandoned.

Still raining
Instead we pressed on, ascending the further four lock flight at Meaford, and stopping at Barlaston.  The plan here was to get a pub meal, but I had failed to concentrate on the time, so when we arrived in the pub at less than  ten past eight, they had already stopped serving food.

I'm running out of rain captions.....
In fact the pub looked very uninviting, with few customers and no atmosphere, so although Cath was initially disappointed at cooking after a hard wet day, we in fact enjoyed a good meal on the boat, supplemented by a quite decent bottle of wine I managed to pick up at a local convenience store, even though it was now well after 9:00 pm on a Bank Holiday.  The store, it seemed, wanted business rather more than the pub!

Tixall Wide to Barlaston
Miles: 14.1, Locks: 12

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 150.6, Locks: 79