Monday, 22 December 2014

Another Chapter In Our Boating Story

(Posted by Alan)

Well it has finally happened , after lots of false starts, and one persistently less than serious "seller".

We can now announce that our "new" (old) boat is "Large Northwich" "Flamingo", originally built for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company as their "Letchworth" by the same builder as "Sickle", (W J Yarwood & Sons), and in the same year, (1936).

As a result we are now transferring blogging operations to a new "Sickle" and "Flamingo" blog,  as the intention will be to sell "Chalice" as soon as we can get organised enough to do so.

So far that blog contains nothing about "Flamingo", but it is our intention that it will, as soon as we can find some time.

It can be found here.

Please update any bookmarks you may have that feference the "Sickle and Chalice" blog, to replace them with the "Sickle and Flamingo" one.  Thank you.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Storming a tunnel, then pausing for a boat viewing.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Friday 29th August. 

Not a lot to report, really.

If we are going North from, or returning South to, the home mooring for either boat then the Grand Union South of Norton Junction is the route involved.  As a consequene we normally travel the stretch we were on today many times a year.

Straight in for a very rapid passage of Blisworth tunnel.
What will always vary, though, is our rate of progress.  With a clear run, not stuck behind anyone, we can usually whip along quite fast.  However at other times rapid progress becomes impossible  This doesn't just apply in terms of catching up slower moving boats on the long lock-less pounds - it applies even more to passages through the lock flights, and even the long tunnels.

Today we wanted to make good progress, but had established that an historic boat that has now been on the open market a few weeks was still unsold.  It is normally in the area we would pass through, and as it might match sufficiently what we have been looking for for a while, I had arranged to view it as we passed through Blisworth.

In fact, on arrival at Blisworth a call to the owner established that it was after all still at Stoke Bruerne, and had not been moved North through the tunnel as they had planned. So, we set off again with both boats.

Now at this time of year, it is fairly unusual to get an unimpeded run through Blisworth tunnel, but as I approached there was a clear view through, with no other boat in it.  This is a situation to be exploited with "Sickle" - because of the "bow swings right when stopping" characteristic described in yesterday's posting, things can get interesting when you finally see past someone's blinding headlight that they are nowhere near their side of the tunnel, and hence you don't have room to pass.  But today nobody came in, and I could really ind the speed wheel right up.  Whilst this may sound a bit extreme, another advantage is "Sickle's" engine smokes less when worked harder, so you are less asphyxiated by fumes if you are not forced to go through a tunnel slowly.  I incidentally know how long I took, and frankly am doubtful of some of the more exorbitant claims I have seen from others about particularly fast timings - they certainly could not be achieved with "Sickle", and "Sickle" is a fairly brisk boat.

"It has fitted at least twice before", the owner tells us.
We stopped and easily found moorings for both boats in the "tunnel pound" at Stoke Bruerne.  The moorings here that are supposed to have been so problematic to find space in always seem to have more than ample space available.  We made arrangements to view the boat after a lunch at the boat - as the owner was working just a few days away, that worked well for all concerned.

We very much liked many of the elements of the boat we viewed - much of which would have worked well for us.  However quite a bit of it was in poorly neglected condition, (as we knew it would be), and to sort out properly looked a large and expensive project.  We took lots of pictures, and went away to think about it, and do a bit more research.

CRT might waste less electricity if they didn't run the back-pumps excessively.
A largely quick passage down the locks followed, although we were briefly delayed when someone tried to turn a 59' 6" boat below the second lock down, and got stuck.  Having turned "Chalice" at nearly ten feet shorter there recently, I was surprised near 60 foot was possible, but the owner assurred us he had managed it a couple of times previously, although the spot chosen had to be precise.  Anyway, on this occasion, he decided the audience saw too large, so we helped free him from his jammed position, and he moored up having not yet turned.

We have recently discovered that a spot a couple of bridges down from the locks provides a good overnight mooring, and, not wishing to press on longer, tied up there.

Weedon to Grafton Regis 
Miles:  13.4 (Chalice), 13.4 (Sickle), Locks: 7

Total Miles: 829.5, Locks: 527

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Thursday 28th August. 

Working boats "Fenny", "Willow (and "Sickle") at Braunston Turn.
Popular though it undoubtedly is, I struggle to list the Northern Oxford amongst my favourite canals.  It does indeed have the opportunities for some pleasing interludes, and last night's rapid ascent of the three paired Hillmorton locks with two boats was such an interlude.  However there are many miles without locks, and often a lot of traffic, often involving slow moving boats, or boats in the hands of the inexperienced. 

Sharing locks again - ascending the Braunston flight.
Also lately it always seem to provoke some kind of "I'd rather it hadn't happened" moment.  Today, unfortunately was no different to that pattern.  After setting off with "Sickle" I encountered a number of meeting with boats at blind, or largely blind bridge holes.  "Sickle" can be challenging in such situations, because although she can pull up very smartly, her design actually makes stoppingin a straight line in shallow waters very difficult.  The direction the very large prop rotates will always result in the front end swinging left on a very quick stop, and it is very hard to compensate to stop this happening.  Of course if she usually swung to the right, it would cause far less problems, as that should be out of the path of approaching boats, rather than into their path!

Although Odin is swimming well he wears his life-jacket for locks.
So, there is always a balanced decision to me made about whether it is practical to fully stop, without the bow swinging across the cut, and into the path of oncoming boats, or whether it is better to try far less stopping, and to regain better control, and manoeuvre out of a tight situation.  Growing experience of this "difficult" boat has over the years meant I tend not to get it wrong very often.

Today, however, I got it wrong, and came through a bridge hole where I had sounded my Klaxon to find a boat largely stopped in the middle  but very close to where I was already committed to going.  I indicated my intention to go "wrong side" of him, knowing my bow would slew over as I tried to reduce speed further, and could still have recovered the situation, but he made no attempt to move, and hence I clipped him fairly firmly.

I knew it should not have happened, and wanted to apologise, and check no damage was done, but instead faced a tirade of abuse from the other steerer, who set off impatiently through the bridge, issuing a string of phrases based largely arount four letter words.  So if you are reading this sir, I still apologise, but your behaviour was completely uncalled for, and, in the unlikely event any damage was done, we have now missed the opportunity to discuss it calmly.

Did I mention I'm no great fan of the Northern Oxford?

"Nelson" lock at Braunston - both boats are taken in in parallel.
Anyway, on to even more familiar territory as we joined a busy Grand Union at Braunston Turn.  The Turn was particularly manic, with boats all over the place, and I was expecting one of the very delayed ascents of Braunston locks that we have come to accept almost as the norm   In practice things were not that bad, and our ascent of the locks relatively brisk.  This was of course our first foray back into double locks with both boats since we travelled up here many weeks ago, and the boats could now share locks, greatly reducing our workload.

David on "Chalice" leaves Braunston tunnel.
The passage through Braunston tunnel was also quite brisk - I steered "Sickle", and David took "Chalice" through, and I think we only passed one boat.  Long Buckby locks, (physically some of the harder Grand Union ones), were also navigated without too much difficulty.  The foot of Buckny locks, near Whilton, and several miles beyond, are not a pleasant overnight stay - the very noisy M1 ruins this stretch of canal.  So we pressed on to one of our preferred moorings - offside, high up on Weedon embankment.  Although the West Coast Main Line is right nearby here, it never seems intrusive, for some reason.  Once moored our friends James and Amy passed once more on "Willow".  Unlike us, they were heading for the Northampton Arm, and the Nene, so this was the last time we would see them on this trip.

Hillmorton to Weedon 
Miles:  16.7 (Chalice), 16.7 (Sickle), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 802.7, Locks: 520

A good day - and a "mini banter".

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Wednesday 27th August. 

A maybe slightly different view of Hawkesbury pump-house from most taken.
The run for home with two boats continued.  This is only being written up about a week and a half later, and although I have memories of fairly long boating days, the statistics don't actually seem to reflect it.

More standard view of this iconic place - Cath brings "Chalice" round 180 degrees.
Thinking back, though, I'm aware we did not start particularly early, and then needed to shuffle up to a water point at Hillmorton to refill Chalice's tank, which had taken a bit of a hammering at Alvecote, (we had had the whole family on board for a few days, and also offered showering facilities to others).  We also dispatched large amounts of waste, including the infamous "Duvet from Hell" that had graced "Sickle's" from deck since yesterday.

David takes "Sickle" into Newbold tunnel - Cath follows on "Chalice"
Once you are through the iconic stop lock at Hawkesbury, (known as "Sutton Stop" to boatmen), the early reaches of the Northern Oxford are not that attractive, but quickly give way to a far more rural setting, spoiled at times only by busy roads alongside, or motorways crossing high above.  Also for many miles the West Coast main line of the railway closely shadows the canal - the Pendolinos and heavy frieght are not really obtrusive when on the move, but can affect where you might choose to moor overnight.

James and Amy on "Willow" - a boat I once went to view in the 1970s!
We have decided already that when moving both boats together we need to exert a discipline of actually making proper lunch stops, and to not try simply boating right through the day.  I knew that if I could I would like to stop at "Stretton Stop" near Brinklow, as there is both quite a good chandlery at Rose Narrowboats, and I wanted to stroll down the Brinklow Arm to chat to the folks at Brinklow Boats.  In fact by Stretton on "Sickle" I had got some distance ahead of Cath and David on "Chalice", but managed to get moored up - albeit several feet from the bank.

Synchronized locking - both boats in bottom Hillmorton paired locks.
The chandlery at Rose Narrow Boats finally yielded the 20W-50 oil that few other people now seem to stock, and I was able to find Simon Wain at Brinklow Boats who gave me some idea about what steelwork on a certain old boat might cost, if we decided we had any interest in it.  So Stretton had proved to be a good choice of stopping point.

Synchronized locking - moving between bottom and middle lock pairs.
Next stopping point was Newbold, as I had some very urgent mail that needed posting, if it was not going to cost me money.  I wasn't quite sure whether we would be in time, but found eventually that the Post Office is located in the small supermarket there, and was still open.  So not only did I manage my posting, but we had the bonus of being able to top up some essential supplies.


Synchronized locking - now heading from middle to top locks.
Throughout the day we were leap-frogging with our friends James and Amy on their converted "Severner" working boat "Willow", and they came past us whilst tied up at Newbold.  They tied up short of Hillmorton locks, which we decided to carry on through, but apperaed with windlasses to help work us up the three pairs of locks there at great speed. 

Progress slowed, as we catch boat in front of us.
We had already arranged to meet another forum friend at the Old Royal Oak pub that lies just beyond Hillmorton locks, so James and Amy said they would also be along later for a "mini banter".  I was surprised to find that the Old Royal Oak is a "Hungry Horse" pub, with a "2 for 1" deal type of menu, so our expectations were not that high.  In practice there was a good vegetarian choice, the beers well presented, an area where Odin was allowed inside, and the staff were polite and helpful - don't always judge a book by its covers.  A pleasant evening with friends, and Odin got led away at one tage and apparently had great fun with a new dog friend that lives on a boat nearby.

Old bloke paired with old boat.
A good day!

Hawkesbury to Hillmorton
Miles:  16.5 (Chalice), 16.5 (Sickle), Locks:8

Total Miles: 769.3, Locks:507

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Back to two boats in single locks - and the duvet from hell.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan  / Cath)
Very retrospective post for Tuesday 26th August. 

Waiting at Atherstone after we had caught up slower boats.
We were well positioned to start off up Atherstone locks in the morning, but, as we were just getting going, a number of other boats wishing to do the same turned up.

It is good to not be behind other boats, although not as much of an advantage as you might assume when working two boats together, because after you have been through a lock with one, it is inevitably left full, and hence needs to be emptied before you can go through with the second boat.  This may be achieved simply by emptying the lock again, if no boat is coming the other way, or, if one is, letting that pass through the lock, leaving it ready a it does.

Hartshill depot - full of character but sadly neglected looking.
The problem is that with only 3 crew on two boats, only one of whom (David!) feels confident to take large leaps, it is very easy to end up with the boats separated, and hence not easy for the third person (David!) to assist both steerers.  At Atherstone, many people stop part way up the flight, often overnight, so it is a fair guarantee that even if you are first boats in at the bottom, you will encounter others casting off ahead of you as you move up - these may well end up between the two boats you are trying to keep together.  This is compounded by people stopping for, and restarting again, after making shopping stops, or using the water point that is mid-flight.

Former working boatman Top Lapworth passes on "Nutfield"
Considering the volume of boats trying to move up the locks, we did remarkably well, often assisted by a crew behind that knew what they were doing, but to stop David trying to assist at locks that were not next t each other, and hence covering far too much towpath too many times, I had a couple of times to pull over to let boats thatr had started up between "Sickle" passing a spot, and "Chalice" doing the same come past.  It really didn't affect the overall timing much, and kept things a bit saner for us.

And Alice Lapworth in charge of "Raymond".
I thought the whole thing took a long while, (it is not helped by just how slowly most of these locks fill), but from reports by friends who came up an hour or two later, we actually got off quite lightly!

We desperately needed a major shopping stop, and although it is a long walk to Sainsburys at Nuneaton, it was our best choice.  It is amazing how much harder it is to walk at least a half mile back with full bags, versus carrying them to the store empty!.

In the struggle "man versus duvet" we finally start to win.
We were aware that the "Friends of Raymond" boats, "Nutfield" and "Raymond" were a few boats behind us at Atherstone locks, but they didn't pass us at Nuneaton until we had done our shop.  I have no idea if other "Friends" were on the boat, but the boats appeared to be in the sole control of former working boaters Tom Lapworth, and sister-in-law Alice Lapworth, (widow of Les Lapworth).  I have no idea exactly how old Tom and Alice are, but I thought it rather wonderful to watch.

Cath captures David and me at work on Sickle, whilst hanging on to Chalice.
Shortly after restarting "Sickle's" engine died very dramatically, leaving us heading at bridge hole, and needing some fairly enthusiastic fending off to hang on to chimneys and fittings.  The prop was clearly very badly fouled, and we were going nowhere.  We were not in a good place to deal with it, as firmly submerged debris, including obvious shopping trollies that we could not pull out were stopping us getting the majority of the boat to the bank.  Every time David and I got to the point we were ready to have another go at working on the problem, a boat seemed to approach from one direction or the other, and we had to spend ages pulling "Sickle" out of their path, then setting it up again afterwards.

Probably beyond further use as bedding.
Initially I thought the large layers of fibrous material completely obscuring and jamming the prop might be some kind of padded clothing, but it soon became obvious it was far larger.  However trying to rip it off with the cabin shaft was ineffective, as was lying face down towards the water, and trying to hack through with craft knives or a freezer saw.  I began to think someone would have to go into the water, when David finally started to unravel enough to see it was clearly a duvet.  even so, we could not free it, and the propshaft would only turn small amounts, either of which wound it back in again.  Finally, after maybe an hour and a half, David triumphantly oulled most of it off, still largely (and rather remarkably) a single item.  We reckon it was a "double" but not a "king size".

"Large Northwich" "Slough" - one of the more "got at" "Town" class boats.
I think by this stage we had all had about enough, (including Caty who had largely just hung on to "Chalice" for as long as it took, and tried to keep Odin occupied), but we decided that as the objective had been to try and get a good day's boating in that we would still press on to Hawkesbury.  By then nobody was in a mood for finding the best moorings amongst the very limited space still available there, and "Sickle" was moored in an available gap, whereas "Chalice" was stopped some way before the regular mooring spaces.  Thank goodness we had only found the "duvet from hell" - I think a proper sprung mattress would have been beyond our capabilities to deal with!

Atherstone Bottom Lock to Hawkesbury
Miles:  12.8 (Chalice), 12.8 (Sickle), Locks: 22

Total Miles: 736.3, Locks: 499

Friday, 5 September 2014

Starting the run for home.

(Boat Sickle & Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Monday 25th August. 

This was the final day of the event at Alvecote,  but is usually the case, some boats had already started to slip away.

Our son Michael had been with us for most of the weekend, but now needed to leave and return home.  The weather was not predicted as being great, but Michael was very keen to take Odin, who he had not seen for some weeks, for another decent walk before he left us.  Retracing some of a walk Cath and he had already done, we finally found lakes that looked fine for Odin to take a swim in.  He has not really had the chance since his dice with death, so we were initially a bit cautious - we need not have been!  Odin quickly proved that he was more than equal to a good swim, and, much like the time he had really first learned, was very obviously building up his distances, as he relearned exactly what was possible.  Soon he was retrieving sticks thrown a long way away, but still doing a few deliberate unnecessary detours for practice, before finally bringing them back to us.  Cath and I had seen him swim very competently before his illness - being a "Lab" he is a natural.  However this had been on another canal holiday, and Michael had not been there - so this was in fact the first time Michael had seen him at play in this way.  It is fantastic to see a dog that so nearly died now behaving exactly as if nothing bad ever happened - it so nearly ended very differently, and I'm not sure oating would ever have been quite the same had it done so.

We really should have taken some more pictures, but somehow failed to.

We couldn't resist the lure of the Samuel Barlow one more time, so had a final family meal there before Michael set off for home.

We ourselves left far too late in the day to reasonably tackle the Atherstone locks, (all 11 of which we would need to work twice), so instead went just the few miles to the start of the flight, ready to go up the locks the following morning.  It is the best place to stop anyway - although there is what appears to be very good moorings in the long pound two locks up from the bottom, there have been significant problems with levels dropping there overnight on our recent visits, and we did not wish to find "Sickle" grounded on the bottom, unable to be easily moved the next morning.

Alvecote Marina to Atherstone Bottom Lock
Miles:  5.0 (Chalice), 5 .0 (Sickle), Locks: 0

Total Miles: 710.7, Locks: 477

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Alvecote Hisoric Boat Festival - Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th August

(Boats Chalice/ & Sickle - posted by Alan)

This post just as a place-holder, until I can assemble some suitable photos, and (maybe) videos.

At Alvecote Marina

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Final approach to Alvecote for the Festival.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Very retrospective post for Friday 22nd August. 

OK, OK - so as we got around to "Festival Time", the blogging process finally fell apart!  No excuses really, other than once we had both boats back together, there was much to keep us occupied, and, (when moving again with both), no chance of getting any Internet stuff done except in evenings.

It seems we also lost the ability to take many pictures, as from this point on the cameras seemed to have yielded far less to select from, although, to be fair, we are struggling with battery problems in two of the cameras we regularly use.  (Don't you just love modern technology - the cameras still work fine, but the rechargeable batteries no longer do, and replacement "clone"  batteries seem to not be much use at all).

Anyway, for completeness, and our own records, we will try to remember what happened up to two weeks ago.

As reported "yesterday" Huddlesford has established itself as a good overnight mooring for us, and I am much taken by the pub, where the landlord is very friendly, (and offers you the choice of a beer in a "jug", rather than a straight glass, which I still prefer).

"Hampstead" slips gently past before our boating day begins.
We hadn't got far to go today, but before we were moving, some of the "historics" were, and coming past before we set off.  As a result we leapfrogged with some throughout the day.  "Hampstead" had a fair "load" of I'm not quite sure what, (it was under tarpaulins), and was hence moving quite slowly.  It was interesting to see what happened as we were waved past in quite shallow waters, but in the end overtaking was relatively easily achieved.

As we now knew "Sickle" had been delivered to Alvecote for us, we were quite relaxed on time, so chose to make a deliberate stop to fully empty toitets and waste bins, and to fully fill the frest water tank, so we would be well set up for spenging several days at Alvecote with "Chalice" not moving.

Probably the only other thing to note is that although we found a convenient towpath slot on arrival, it was opposite where all the winding of boats would take place repeatedly throughout the weekend.  Even the manoeuvrings going on on the day before the event were enough to convince us we were to vulnerable to getting hit. so when a friend moved their boat away from a space somewhat further up, we grabbed the opportunity to take it.  It had the added bonus of giving us just about the shortest walk we could have to the pub from "Chalice" - result!

Huddlesford Junction to Alvecote Marina (Coventry canal)
Miles:  11.0 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 2

Total Miles: 700.7, Locks: 477

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A sense of deja vu?

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan & Cath jointly)
Post for Thursday 21st August. 

"Ling" (which has since just gone through Huddlesford in the dark just after ten).
There has been a feeling of going over old ground today. We have been through Great Heywood Junction three times over the last 5 or so weeks. Once, on the way up to Audlem with both boats, a second time with Sickle taking it back to Alvecote, and finally, today, taking Chalice through on our way to Alvecote. It is exactly three weeks to the day since we brought Sickle down the detached portion of the Coventry canal, and we are now doing the same with Chalice. We have covered a huge amount of ground in the last three weeks.

The big event to come is the Boat and Beer festival at Alvecote, but we have a strong sense of being towards the end of our holiday, although it will actually be a while before we can get both boats back to their moorings. We are starting to plan for the things that need to happen once we get back home.

Wood End lock - one of the scenic ones.
The locks are dotted around, apart from a couple at Fradley they are mostly some distance apart – certainly none of the flights that have been a feature of the last few days.  None-the-less our recent experience is that there is often a queue of boats even for the single locks.  We were lucky at Great Heywood, waiting very little, but there was a stack of boats queued to come the other way.  However, exactly as on our last trip, at Colwick lock the queue was mostly the way we were going.  People were not terribly efficient in trying to work quickly, but the entertainment started with a very smoky boat two ahead of ours, where (presumably) husband and wife were not doing very well, and increasingly being openly abusive to each other.  This came to a head at the foot of the locks where "Mrs Smoky Boat's" attempts with thrashing the engine with tiller pointed the wrong way meant "Mr Smoky Boat" couldn't get back on, and she set off without him, as they continued to swear at each other.  Come on the canals, and enjoy a truly relaxing holiday! We were glad we were planning to make a shopping stop in Rugeley, and might not have to witness them at further locks!

Even dogs have to be patient at locks!
Cath took a long look at the state of our clothing and decided that if she could get a big wash done today, then we would probably be OK until we get home – so it became a major washday, despite the fact that the weather over the next couple of days will not be particularly good for drying. We certainly don't want to be doing washing over the Alvecote festival weekend. We've now got washing pegged up and on racks all over the boat. Hopefully this will be mostly dry by the time that our son Michael comes to stay over the bank holiday weekend.

A further similarity to our last passage was that we eventually arrived at Fradley, (a very obvious over-nighting point), much earlier than we really needed to stop.  Last time, with Sickle, we had pressed forward to Huddlesford, and enjoyed a visit to "The Plough Inn" which had been very welcoming.  We now regarded this as a good stopping point, so did the same today.  As a result this post has been jointly written by us both, but as their free wi-fi seems no better than Alan's non-functioning Smart Phone, it may not get actually posted for a while.  

Correction:  Pub wi-fi finally gave a log in - we may have success after all!

Weston on Trent (Trent & Mersey) to Huddlesford Junction (Coventry canal)
Miles:  20.6 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 7

Total Miles: 689.7, Locks: 475

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Sheer weight of traffic", but an excellent meal to end a long day.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Post for Wednesday 20th August.

Queuing for the first lock, with the delightful ex ice-breaker
Finally after our fairly hectic last three weeks we found ourselves in the happy situation of only still needing three longish days to reach Alvecote for the historic boat event this weekend, and actually having three days to do it in.  We had by now successfully negotiated anything that needed a booking, or, like Harecastle tunnel yesterday, requires you to be in time to guarantee a passage that day.

We spent the night at Westport lake, which in my view is easily the top spot anywhere in the area below the tunnel, and onward through to Etruria.  It is often packed out, but overnight there had been unusually few boats there.

A better view of this unusual and immaculate boat.
Our objective now was just to make best possible progress each day, without flogging ourselves to death.  However any hope that we would progress quickly through the first flight of locks commencing at Etruria was quickly dashed when we turned up to find four or five boats already queuing waiting for that lock.  The situation was exacerbated by the fact that it is a deep lock, and we were told one top paddle was out of action, making the re-filling for each new boat to go down very slow.  In fact the steerer of the boat ahead of us chose to check this "fact", and both paddles actually appeared to be in fine fettle.  Once the misinformation was corrected, progress through that lock at least became a lot quicker.

A bridge in the undemanding Meaford lock flight
However it quickly became apparent that we were not going to get anywhere very fast, as two single handed boats were ahead, who were attempting to help each other work each lock twice, before moving on to the next.  Here we deployed our secret weapon, David, getting him not to set locks for us, but for boats ahead of us, and this eased the slow progress considerably.  However at every lock there was still at least one boat waiting as we arrived, so our overall rate of progress remained no more than half what it would have been with nobody else ahead.

Typical of the new estates that line the canal around here.
Whilst we had waited for the first lock, a delightfully unusual boat had emerged from the Caldon, and turned and joined the lock queue immediately behind us.  The hull was clearly that of a horse drawn  ice-breaker, but the top a delightful hardwood construction unrelated to the boat's original use.  Chatting to the owners they belived its build to probably be circa 1900, and that it was used on the Oxford canal, but had no other firm information on its origins.  We loved it, and it clearly moved very well, as each time we joined a new lock queue, it usually arrived fairly proptly behind us, before we had access to the next lock.

The congestion eased by the four Meaford locks, and almost completely by the locks at Stone, where some very enthusiastic CRT volunteers worked us through the first couple of locks.  Cath did a quick shop whilst I failed yet again to buy the oil I'm after in yet another chandlers, and dealt with the toilet and rubbish.  David and I then worked on until Cath rejoined us.

Massive flower display at Weston - bigger and better each time we visit.

Our original hope was that we could get to Weston on Trent, but the slow progress earlier had seemed to make that unlikely.  Now, however, with most people now stopped for the day, we started to move much faster, and realised we could still be at Weston in good time.  A very good recovery, but a longish day to achieve it.

We went to the Saracen's Head for our evening meal, and I'm very glad we did.  Dog friendly, with the bar staff very people friendly, there was a good choice of "veggie" food.  It was probably the best pub meal we have had in the whole six weeks of this trip so far, obviously truly "home made", and no more expensive than the very average "out of the freezer" fodder we have been fed at other pubs.  Well done the Saracen's Head - hopefully non-veggie food equally good, but you would need to find out for yourselves.

Westport Lake to Weston on Trent (Trent & Mersey)
Miles:  18.9 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 16

Total Miles: 669.1, Locks: 468

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A number of things work firmly in our favour.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Post for Tuesday 19th August.

Boseley top lock
Our fairly challenging target throughout our big Northern adventure has always been to be back to Alvecote Marina on the Coventry canal in time for the big historic boat event there on the Bank Holiday weekend, (now only a few days away).  This was always going to be tight, and relied heavily on us not "breaking" the boat not breaking, or no relevant parts of the canal infrastructure breaking.

We failed the first test somewhat, initially only slightly, when Cath got sick for a day or so, but rather more so when my tumble from a bike resulted in the need for a hospital visit.

Boseley locks
So far though, the boat has behaved itself, touch wood, (well oak faced plywood actually!).

On the canal infrastructure side we have got lucky.  we missed by a few days closures of the Wigan flight due to inability to keep the pounds filled with water - we also missed a boat sinking incident elsewhere on the Leeds and Liverpool.  Now as we return to the Trent and Mersey, part of that is shut due to a lock problem, but mercifully on a stretch to the North of any part we need to use.

So, as you can see, if you set a reasonably tight timetable for a trip, there is always the possibility that something will stop you being able to achieve it.
The other thing we have had to plan around are anything with opening times, or where a booking is needed.  For example a booking is needed for a mid-week passage through Tuel Lane lock on the Rochdale, but equally something like the far more used Harecastle tunnel on the Trent and Mersey requires that you are there before a certain time to guarantee a passage that day. 

The attractive surroundings at Hall Green stop lock.
Finally, even in "normal operations" if you have to pass through a flight of locks, it is very hard to predict timings, as it heavily depends on who else is using them, and how efficient they are about it.  One person ahead with a "shiny boat" that doesn't want to rub any blacking off the hull, and will hence only part open the paddles can slow everybody else down massively.

Although trying to press on as far as we can do each day has been important, last night I wanted to meet with an old work colleague who lived nearby, and any of the places we might have pressed on to did not yield a decent pub, so we stopped somewhat earlier than usual, leaving us inevitably with some catching up to do today.

So how did all this map out in terms of progress today?  The answer is "it has been a good day", (other than the intermittent heavy rain showers we have regularly had to endure!).  We made good progress to the only significant locks of the day, the twelve downhill locks at Boseley.  These proved somewhat unusual compared to our recent lock experience in that every single gate and paddle worked exactly as it should.  They are a relative delight to work through and the scenery is stunning.

Waiting for a passage - North end of Harecastle tunnel.
What else went well?  Well a boat that pulled out in front of us, and then moved very slowly, soon spotted us behind, and waved us past, so no real delay there either.

What really mattered was would we reach the Northern end of Harecastle Tunnel in time to be allowed a passage through today.  It is a most uninviting place to spend a night, (indeed it is recommended not to do so), but we arrived there in plenty of time, well ahead of rough estimates I had made at the start of the day.

Further good news proved to be the passage though.  We were boat two out of a total of three, and I always hate a slow passage following other boats, as it is much easier to be in full control with a bit of speed on.  Fortunately the boat in front understood this, and held us up not at all, but I estimate the one following was going so slowly that by the time we left the South end, he was no more than half way through.  It's a bit of a nightmare to be behind someone like this!

Westport lake.
And the day yielded yet one further good result.  "Sickle" is still at Grendon dock, some miles past Alvecote, where the event will be held this weekend.  We thought we had to travel down to Grendon, and collect "Sickle".  However, I have been contacted - they are short of mooring space at Grendon - do I mind if they bring "Sickle" up to Alvecote?  Well of course I don't - its ideal, and saves us quite a few hours of travelling.

We moored at Westport Lake, North of Stoke on Trent.  Odin got a half decent walk around it, but although he might have liked to take his first swim since his brush with death, we didn't at all like the look of the green stuff floating in the water, and ruled it a "bad idea".  If it was the rather horrible "blue green algae" there were no warning signs to that effect, but either way, we were not risking it.

Gurnett Aqueduct (Macclesfield canal) to Westport Lake (Trent & Mersey)
Miles:  18.9 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 652.0, Locks: 452

Monday, 18 August 2014

From one aqueduct to another

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)
Post for Monday 18th August.

Marple aqueduct with railway viaduct beyond.
We had heard through Facebook that Brian on narrow boat Alton was coming down the flight early in the morning. Alton is a 'coal boat', supplying fuel to boats on the canal, and we needed diesel. We set off fairly early, hoping to both refuel, and benefit from the empty locks that Alton had left behind it.

The Marple locks are all deep ones.

"In Flight Refuelling" (Photo: Brian McGuigan - operator of Alton)
The plan worked well, we refueled 'in flight', and almost all the locks were empty for us.


Attractive former warehouse, (and the lock where we had just had a scare).
We did have a nasty moment, a bit scary, but not one that could have caused much damage. This was at lock 9 in a flight of 16. I wasn't there, having gone on to open the gates on the next lock, but I suddenly saw David rushing down to the bottom gate paddles and opening them. There is a protruding coping stone at the top of the lock, which had caught on Chalice's gunwale (properly 'top bend' but almost everyone refers to this as the 'gunnals'), and as the lock continued to fill the side of the boat was being held down. A few things left lying around after breakfast fell on the floor, and some saucepans fell out of a cupboard. Because the lock was very nearly full it wasn't dangerous, but it's a reminder that we all need to be vigilant at all times when going through locks.

Serious lack of water at top of Marple locks.
After that it was a day of lots of miles through fabulous scenery. We moored at Gurnett Aqueduct, as advised by Brian, but also because we wanted to meet with one of Alan's former colleagues who lives not far from there.

Did someone forget to reset the scales before weighing?

Alan did an oil change, had a shower, and I redressed the stickers on his face (a little bit mucky, a good thing he's on antibiotics), and we spent an interesting evening in the pub.

Marple Aqueduct to Gurnett Aqueduct
Miles:  14.2 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 16
Total Miles: 631.3, Locks: 439

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Leaving Manchester, (and back to narrow locks).

(Boat Chalice- posted by Cath)
Post for Sunday 17th August.

Secure overnight mooring at the Telford Basin, Picadilly Village.
Another early start, because the Ashton Locks out of Manchester are notorious. Nicholson's guide says 'do not do this flight in school holidays', and 'begin it before 10 am'.

So we got up early, ate breakfast, said goodbye to Richard and Kathy who have been so helpful over the last couple of days, and set off before 8:30. The day started fairly dry, but quickly degenerated into dry patches, interspersed with cold, very windy squalls - probably the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha that is due to hit the UK today.

Setting off up the Ashton - Our first narrow locks for many days.
At the second lock we met with the local lock keeper, who said that it isn't nearly as bad as it used to be. There is a lot of prestigious new housing, and 'they have moved a lot of the troublemakers away' - where to wasn't clear. We saw loads of joggers in brightly coloured clothing, and a few dog walkers, but no trouble of any kind. The lockie said that he 'lives on the Ashton Canal', but spent 13 years working on the Rochdale. He seemed pleased to be working back on the Ashton, and talked about 'getting it working right'. He told us to leave top gates open, and anti-vandal (AV) locks off, as there were boats coming down the flight - that made our lives a lot easier.

One of the stgriking new developments
Despite that it was slow going, although we didn't meet up with any of the downward boats until midway in the flight of 18. Unlocking every AV, even if we weren't re-locking them, takes time, and the locks fill quite slowly. At one point we had a problem with a very low pound, but we took some water from the pound above the next lock to float the boat through. It took us the best part of 5 hours to do the whole flight.

Lock 10 failed and closed the canal recently - the new gates need more work!
Near the end we came across a young couple coming down - even if the flight isn't as prone to vandals as previously, this was a very late start to finish the flight by a reasonable time. I asked where they were mooring overnight. Central Manchester said the young woman.

Not obvious, but Alan is stuck solid here, waiting for water to be let down.
Did she know that to get to Castlefields she would also have to do the Rochdale 9? No, she didn't, but she didn't intend to go that way, they were heading up the Rochdale, the way that we had come down last night. Had she got a map? No, there was supposed to be one waiting for them in Manchester - someone had posted it to the wrong place.


Does this seriously look like a tunnel where 2-way traffic is possible?
I showed her our map, pointing out that the locks are very close together, and she wouldn't be able to moor between them. Also, she really didn't want to be mooring just anywhere in Manchester. I told her how to get the Thomas Telford Basin, where we moored last night, and told her that would be a good starting point for the Rochdale Canal tomorrow. I also said that she needed to get quite a long way up the Rochdale to find a safe mooring. She seemed a little bemused, it really didn't seem to have occurred to them that some cities need to be treated a bit more carefully than others. I don't know where they had come from.

The sign says it is!
I suppose that I am just extra careful, I can't imagine going boating without a map of where I'm going, well, not into unknown territory, anyway.

At the top we saw our friendly lock keeper again. I told him about the young couple and he said he'd go and find them, he had a few more boats coming up anyway, which would make life a bit easier for them.

Afterwards we boated through windy squalls, until we got to Hyde, where we spent ages trying to moor up - the towpath was mostly concrete, even under the grass - and I went to Aldi. Isn't Aldi a weird supermarket? Ladies cycling gear next to tree loppers and jam. I have a real difficulty telling myself that, no, I really don't need a collection of multi-coloured mixing melamine bowls in a variety of sizes.

Marple railway viaduct, with the canal aqueduct largely hidden behind.
There are several short tunnels, all of which are quite narrow, but are described as 'two way working' on the boards immediately before the tunnel entrance. I suppose that this means that boats are able to go in either direction, however, most 'two way working' means two boats going in opposite directions, at the same time - I certainly wouldn't want to try that on any of these.

We took Odin for a walk under Marple aqueduct and went to get a proper look at the railway viaduct.  Although both are impressive, the aqueduict, both lower and shorter, can only be seen in small parts through the railway viaduct arches.  Even much of that is obscured by some exceedingly tall trees.

Afterwards we didn't eat curry.

Footnote by Alan, by way of explanation.

Cath was planning to cook a curry, and was convinced she had appropriate sauces bought and ready in the cupboard.  She didn't so the curry will have to be another time.

Manchester Picadilly to near Marple Aqueduct 
Miles:  13.6 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks:18

Total Miles: 617.1, Locks: 423