Hi folks. As usual life on the wharf is very quiet at this time of year, and even so more this year with lockdown.
So this is not my normal type of blog, I thought I would give you a virtual tour through our boat and try to explain to my non boater friends how we live, and how things work on Avalon Two.
Avalon Two is a 57ft Semi -Trad narrowboat built in 2006. It is 6’10” wide and can fit into the majority of the locks across the whole canal system. ‘Semi-trad’ describes the type of back we have. There are 3 types of back. Trad, which as the name suggests, is the traditional working boat back, with only enough room for one person to stand and steer, the engine is in the boat itself. Semi-Trad is an open back, but with steel sides, and the engine bay is usually under your feet, and finaly Cruiser Stern, this is a completely open back with room for a number of people to stand whist cruising.
Our back also has a pram cover, which when put up gives us another room almost like a porch. This is lowered when we cruise, as it wouldn’t fit under quite a lot of the bridges we encounter.
One of the main things about living on a boat is storage space, and this starts on our back deck. We have a narrow seat on one side and under this is the first bit of storage space. Full of what the Captain thinks are essential bits and pieces.
Also on the back deck are the engine controls and it’s where we steer from. The switch for the horn and tunnel light are also on the engine panel.
Come down a couple of steps, whichever way suits you, backwards forwards or if you are on the larger side, sideways, and you are in our bedroom. Avalon Two has a traditional layout, which means the bedroom is at the back and the kitchen and living area are at the front with the bathroom between. But I am getting ahead of myself.
On the way down you will see another control panel, this is for the electrical system on the boat. We have a duel 12/240volt system. Things like the lights, the pumps and the fridge run on the 12volt system which is powered by 4 large leisure batteries. These in turn these are charged when we run the engine, by solar power (2 big solar panels on the roof) or when we are on the wharf with mains power through a battery charger. The 240volt runs the TV, satellite digibox, the washing machine and the plug socks which we use to charge phones etc. When we are out on the cut we have an inverter which converts 12volt to 240volt. In the wharf we plug into electricity like you would in a caravan. So as you can see we have all the power we need.
Next and before our bed is the best bit of storage on the boat. A lovely big, almost walk in cupboard. This is where we hang our clothes, store the vacuum cleaner (yes we have a vacuum cleaner, and an iron which rarely gets used). But the best bit is all the fitted shelves at the back, which are filled with more of the Captains ‘essential bits and pieces’. Well not just his bits and pieces but mainly. It also houses the emersion tank.
Well how do we get hot water? When out cruising the engine heats the water, and it is stored in the tank which is well lagged (insulated), so at the end of a day cruising we have plenty of hot water for showers, washing etc. Whilst in the wharf we use emersion heater to heat the water. We have a singing kettle for other times. So sorted.
Our bed is 6ft long by 4ft wide, a little narrow for 2 people who are, let’s say are on the larger side, but we have learnt to cope and usually get a great night’s sleep. As I sleep on the outside it means the Captain gets a nice cup of tea made for him in the morning. We have storage under the bed, and also above is more storage, this is used for paperwork and my perfume and jewellery box.
Down the narrow corridor and next is the bathroom, we have a full size shower, a wash basin with cupboard underneath and a pump out toilet. Everything you could want. Storage is provided by a shoe tree that came from the Captains, and fitted just perfect between the shower and bulkhead. On here we keep baskets with unmentionables, socks and towels in. As the shower is lower down than the outside water level we use a gulper pump to empty the shower tray, the sound it makes matches its name. The one thing the Captain misses is a long hot bath, but it’s one of the things we have had to give up for our life on the water.
Then onto the most important part of the boat, well, in my opinion, the kitchen. It is much larger than most boat kitchens, with plenty of cupboards which store my essential bits and pieces, and plenty of work surface for me to spread out on. We have a full sized under counter fridge with a small freezer section, a free standing LPG cooker with a 4 ring hob with separate grill and oven, and our washing machine, so essential for the liveaboard life. The side hatch is in the kitchen next to the sink and draining board. It has everything I need to make the perfect meal for me and the Captain.
We have a small dining area with a table that seats 2, however it is mainly used to dump things on. There is another storage cupboard which house’s all sorts of things that just seem to want to live there.
Then our lounge, with a 2 seater sofa that converts into a double bad (beds not very comfy to be honest) it faces forward, and we sit on summer nights with the doors open looking out at our beautiful surroundings and wonderful sunsets.
The essential multi fuel stove sits in one corner, it keeps the boat warm and toasty even on the coldest of winter days. I sometimes use the top of the stove to cook, got a lovely leg of lamb on there today slowly cooking.
In the other corner we have our smart TV and satellite digibox, under which is a cupboard which is full of rum, but only one bottle of gin (sad face). Above are shelves with a few precious knick knacks on.
Steps lead into the cratch with its fitted cupboards filled with the very important and essential, beer.
The Captain loves to sit in the cratch after a day’s cruising, roll the sides up and watch the world go by.
On the light oak walls we have family pictures and memento’s. Just like you do in any home.
And this is our very happy home.
First of all I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy and better New Year. 2020 has been a tough year for everyone
As usual the blog has taken a back seat due to my return to work, which was a little more swift than anticipated. In so much that I contacted the agency on Tuesday 13th October, and started back at UTL on Thursday 15th. I am working for SKY again, but this year I am in outbound, which involves picking and packing and labelling, so right up my street.
Christmas on board the good ship Avalon Two has been quiet, but very very enjoyable, and I am pleased to say we are going to be drunk and fat for a few months to come. We decorated, and the inside of the boat looked like a magical fairy grotto, and the outside lights gave the wharf a very festive feeling.
So back to the final part of our journey.
The decision to leave Brum was suddenly taken by the Captain due to the dire weather forecast over the next few days. We had made plans to meet up with Col and Mags, our friends from Swan Lane, for a meal at the Greyhound at Hawksbury Junction the following Friday, and he just wanted to get there is plenty of time.
I was not happy, as I had made plans in my head for a quiet day on the boat and not moving, and he wanted to do the 13 Farmers locks out of Birmingham and get to Star City. It was raining too which didn’t help my temper as we set off. Things soon improved when a very helpful volunteer lock keeper called Andy came and gave us a hand. Things got even better when we decided to moor not at Star City, but near the Gosta Green pub at Aston University. We have moored here before and really enjoyed the pub. Although on this occasion there were no dark ales on for the Captain, but we still had a very pleasant time.
We spent a quiet next day, the rain never stopped, but I got to try a new cake recipe, Apple and Cinnamon. It was a great success.
Next day and more locks, the Aston flight of 11, taking us further out of Brum and on to the Birmingham and Fazeley canal at Salford junction. Although we are heading away from the city centre, the canal still runs through heavily urban areas, and this is where we tend to come across the more, shall I say undesirables of society. This day we met some of the most undesirable.
Cruising along and we can see a group of 4 men staggering along the towpath, at first we give them the benefit of doubt, then they throw empty cans into the canal and undergrowth. Not good. As we passed them we had the usual banter ‘give us a lift’ ‘can we steer’ etc etc ,which we reply to in a friendly manner. Better to keep them onside. At one of the bridges someone has been magnet fishing and pulled out a couple of trolleys and other bits. We pass by commenting we wish they would take what they find with them, and what happened next is why. The 4 louts seeing the pile of trolleys throw them all back into the canal. The Captain shouts at them to stop and gets a mouthful of abuse.
Not long after we stopped to do some shopping, but now the Captain is unhappy at leaving the boat unattended and I had to go alone. They pass him by without issue, but as a precaution to stop them trying to jump on, he had the front of the boat swung out towards the middle of the canal and only moored at the back. It is not often we have to do things like this, we find with most people a friendly word is all it takes to get them onside, but not with these.
So, on we went, the Captain had decided we had done enough locks and wanted to stop before the next 3 at Minworth. It was a lovely towpath for walkers, joggers and cyclists but not for boaters. Solid up to the edge so we can’t bang pins in, no arnco, no rings or bollards, so no way to moor, so we kept going. The Captain did the last 3 locks into Minworth and I steered for a change.
Good news, there were rings outside the Boat Inn, so we pulled in with a little help from a local and moored up, it had been a long day, well for us, so we headed to the pub.
What a find, a lovely friendly place, but the best bit, they had Theakston’s mild on for the Captain. It was so good that he stayed for an extra pint whilst I headed back to make a late tea.
Still more locks the next day, and we did the 11 Curdworth locks to Fazeley junction were we turned on to the Coventry Canal.
We spent the night at Fazeley. Last time we were here the Fazeley Inn was great, but not this time, so we tried a second pint in the 3 Horseshoes, much better but still no dark ales so only the one. Then a chippy tea, The Fazeley Fish Bar is one of the best on the system and we always call in. Fish and chips for the Captain and a kebab for me mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Only 3 locks next day, so an easy day for me and we moored at Polesworth for the night.
The final part of our journey took us up the 11 Atherstone locks, but for once I can’t say the volunteer lockies were any help at all, they just stood around talking at the top lock whist I struggled in full view with the lock below.
But the Angel Ale house made up for it with 2 very nice darks on for the Captain, Parsons Poison and Dark Ruby. Krombacher for me, so a great end to a busy day.
During the last part of our cruise we met up with Fred and Lisa on NB Chyandour, friends we had last seen in Liverpool, and the infamous boat Silver Fox and the vlogger Sean, his partner in crime (Colin was away for the day) and Otis their puppy. For those who haven’t come across their very good vlog, it’s called Foxes Afloat and can be found on Youtube.
We got to Hawksbury Junction in plenty of time, the meal at the Greyhound was as usual excellent, and the company the best, but it couldn’t top our return to the Brickies and a couple of pints with the other moorers from our home, Swan Lane Wharf.
We haven’t planned our cruise for next year yet, but once again the Ribble Link on to the Lancaster canal is at the top of the list. 3rd time lucky we hope.
Life on the wharf is quiet, but I have been planning to do a couple of blogs about the boat and how we have got it set out for our comfort and needs.
So that’s for next time folks
The last part of our journey is dominated by lots of locks, 87 in total in 90 miles. The canal planner says it should take about 7 days, but obviously it has taken us much longer. There is no rushing when we are cruising.
After leaving Stone, we left the Trent and Mersey at Great Haywood Junction and joined the Staffordshire and Worcester canal. We spent a few days at the beautiful Tixall wide part of the canal. Due to subsidence the canal is extremely wide here and is a popular mooring spot, but I just wish some would learn to moor without leaving git gaps, so that there is room for everyone who wishes to moor and enjoy this part of the system.
We did manage to moor, the scenery is stunning and we could hear the plaintive call of buzzards in the distance.
As the Captain pulled us in he jumped back, as something splashed into the water by his foot. A large green beautifully marked frog had been minding its own business in the long grass, when it was disturbed by the Captains size 11 feet.
It swam between the towpath edge and the boat, well I couldn’t leave it to get squished, so I fished it out (first a hedgehog now a frog) and released it. It hopped off full of gratitude, or maybe just escaping the indignity of being manhandled.
Our enjoyment of the rich tapestry of wildlife continued, as in the evening as we sat and listened to tawny owls call to each other in the woods across the cut. Haunting and beautiful.
The first of the 87 locks came next day when we did the 5 locks at Penkridge, not too difficult but it stilled called for a well earned pint in the Star afterwards.
Then on to Autherley junction, but not before disaster struck. Coming through a bridge we met a hire boat waiting to go through a very narrow cutting, they had sent crew ahead to check no one was coming the other way. We hovered and chatted with its captain and intended to follow it through, but then we hit something in the water which lift the tiller out of its cup, the fitting at the bottom of the rudder, not good. After a bit of shoving and pushing the Captain managed to get it back in, but that wasn’t the end of it, on no. We had something round the prop, we got to the side and whilst I held the boat in the Captain disappeared down the weed hatch. There was much chuntering and fetching of bits of equipment. Finally a hacksaw was applied and the offending objected was removed. It turned out to be a blue umbrella, the metal ribs had got wrapped round the prop shaft and had to be sawn off. It took a good hour to remove and did nothing to improve the Captains temper. But we were on our way and made it to Autherley Junction in time for tea, and the Russian Grand Prix which cheered the Captain up.
At Aldersley Junction we turned on to the Birmingham Mainline canal and our biggest challenge, the Wolverhampton 21 locks but over only 2 miles. Built in 1772 to join the Birmingham Mainline Canal with the Staffs and Worcester with 20 locks, another lock was added in 1784 to save water. They are hard work I can tell you. Although they are only single locks they have double gates at the bottom, these both require opening to let the boat in or out. But there are no little bridges across the gap like on other canals, so you have to walk back to the top gate and cross over, and then back again. I must have walked 4 miles rather than 2. Surprisingly it only took us about 4hrs as most of the locks were set in our favour and the Captain helped me out where he could. We met Robbie Cummings on NB Naughty Lass who does a narrowboating vlog, so look out for us when he publishes his vlog on the Wolverhampton 21.
But I was knackered by the end. We moored up at the top and the Captain took me out to tea as a treat. We went to the local Wetherspoons, The Moon Under Water, and very nice it was too.
Luckily for me the next couple of days were lock free. I could enjoy the changing scenery as we left the rural canals and headed into Birmingham with all its graffiti, some good, but most not. Surprisingly we were still seeing kingfishers, it has been an amazing year for these colourful birds, and we haven’t had many days when we have not spotted one.
Before the next 3 locks into Birmingham centre, we decided to investigate the boater services at the end of the Engine Arm at Sandwell. Over the last few weeks we have been doing a survey, comparing what is shown on the CRT boaters services map, and what is actually on the canal. There are quite a few discrepancies which is not good for boaters. At the turning on to the arm there was no sign to say there was anything down there, but we went anyway. At the end are permanent moorings for about 10 boats, and yes a sanitary station. The winding hole is right by the station and there was boat using the pump out, so we pulled in the best we could and waited. The moorers came to chat and were extremely friendly and helpful. We even had a visit from Belle, a lovely spaniel, who decided to investigate the boat and didn’t want to come out. What it said on the map was right, but they told us the pump out machine was hit and miss if it worked. Oh well can’t have everything. The boat on the pump out moved and we winded and headed back down the arm.
Down the last locks and into Birmingham. It was extremely quiet with very few boats. We moored up and headed into town. I needed a new phone, a couple of days earlier it had started acting the goat, and after trying various things it was obvious that it was beyond saving.
Phone bought we headed for a pint in the Briar Rose, and then on to the Figure of Eight (both Wetherspoons). The Briar Rose was fine, but we were very unhappy with the Figure of Eight. Although I don’t see the point with some of the Corvid rules, I do my best to stick to them. Unfortunately a large group of youngsters sat near us and were completely ignoring the rules, and the staff where letting them. Walking round without masks, swopping tables, and not observing social distancing at all. We only had the one and both of us complained to staff as we left, but I doubt anything was done. You may think I am being overly critical but rules are rules.
As our business was concluded in Brum we decided not to hang about and head back into the countryside, but that’s for next time folks.
Although we are back at our home mooring in Coventry I still have a few more tales of our cruise to share with you.
Here's what happened next
And that’s where we got to, Stone in Staffordshire
But not before we had done nearly 40 miles and 48 locks, including the Harecastle tunnel which is 1 ¾ miles long. It’s also very low and narrow in places. All this on the Trent and Mersey canal.
To start our journey we returned to Middlewich for a couple of days. 2 reasons, shopping, and we had been invited out for tea by John and Jean in their motorhome Gladys.
Unfortunately our trip to Middlewich was not without incident, a boater coming towards us waved us through a narrow part of the canal on a bend without concern for the boat behind him. The Captains steering skills were put to the test and no harm came to either boat. But he didn’t half grumble.
We tried the Big Lock pub after shopping, and with Hobgoblin on for the Captain, life was good.
Tea with John and Jean was very enjoyable, I have never been in a motorhome, I was very impressed with all the storage ideas, but not so the limited cooking space. I love my big kitchen on the boat. They are off on a tour of Germany, so we look forwards to hearing about their tales of ‘Gladys on Tour’.
I won’t, for a change go into detail of every pub we visited, only the very good ones, and the Cheshire Cheese at Wheelock was only ok.
Next few days and I was very busy with locks. 9 one day and 14 the next. There were plenty of other boats using the locks, which meant lots of helping out and chatting for me. My idea of heaven.
The last 14 locks took us into KIdsgrove and past the Red Bull Hotel (which was on the last lock). It was lovely and sunny and people were sat outside. After a swift discussion with the Captain it was decided we would stop and try the pub. However as we were mooring up there was a loud splash from the lock ahead, 2 teenage lads had decided it was a clever (not) idea to throw a small go-kart in the water, well off the Captain went to remonstrate with them, he took the camera, and when they were reluctant to fish the said go-kart out of the water he snapped a picture and threatened to send it to the police. This didn’t go down well with one of the lads, or his father who was fishing (read that as drinking) nearby. Why parents don’t control their offspring I will never know. They followed the Captain back to the boat, one demanding he delete the picture whilst the other was more apologetic. As one stood by the boat moaning, the other went off and did as he was asked and retrieved the offending item. The Captain showed them he had deleted the picture and off they went. (He did keep a copy just in case of any further trouble).
Now this left us with a dilemma that they might return for revenge later, so we decided to give the pub a miss and move on a couple more locks and take any temptation away from them.
This turned out to be a brilliant decision as we found a much better pub, the Blue Bell, a lovely real ale pub and only a short walk from the moorings.
We had booked (corvid strikes again) the Harecastle tunnel for Monday morning, so moored only a short cruise from the entrance. This tunnel is one way working and is controlled by tunnel keepers, so we had to wait our turn along with 4 other boats, it came soon enough. It took a respectable 45minutes to do and we emerged into the sunlight and headed into Stoke.
After a fill (water) and an empty (toilet and bins) we moored up outside Festival Park and headed off to a pub we found by chance last year, The Holy Inadequate. This is a proper real ale pub and had Milk Stout on by the Bristol Brewing factory on for the Captain and Prava on for me. But none of their lovely pork pies this time.
After a quiet day we headed down the locks and out of Stoke, there is a lot of history to see in Stoke and the remaining bottle kilns are an apt reminder of this.
Now onto one of my favourite pubs The Plume of Feathers at Barlaston, it belongs to Neil Morrissey of ‘Men behaving Badly ’ fame. Usually they have Plum Porter by Titanic brewery on but not today, (corvid strikes yet again) but the Captain still treated me to tea, he had the fish and chips and I had a steak pie, it was one of the best pies I have had, lovely buttery pastry and full to the brim with meat, I just needed a little extra gravy to make it perfect, mmmmmmmmmm.
At the last few locks into Stone we met Rosemary and Wayne off NB James Arthur, a lovely couple and Wayne knew the Captains name through his involvement the ’12 volt boating group’ on Facebook. Through the miracle of modern technology we became friends on Facebook and arranged to meet for a drink and a chat in Stone next day.
Now here’s the real reason for the name of this blog. Our good friend and fellow boater Malvern had told us about a pub called the Borehole which is based at the Lymestone brewery in Stone. ‘Stone the Crows’ is the name of their dark ale and is a favourite of the Captains. I also treated the Captain to one of their special brews called ‘Stone Dead’ which they had in cans, he is a lucky guy.
We met up with Rosemary and Wayne next day at the local Wetherspoons , The Poste of Stone, and had a very enjoyable afternoon chatting as only boaters can about this that and the other.
The trend continued the next day when we met up with Phil and Julie from NB The Perfect Match. We met this lovely couple when we did the Thames in 2018, and last saw them in Lincoln a year ago as they moored in Brayford Pools for the winter. This year they are staying in Aston marina near Stone, and already have their winter jobs sorted. We had a lovely time but unfortunately didn’t get to visit the Titanic brewery tap house, The Royal Exchange, as they were operating a booking system due to corvid (and it strikes yet again) and were full. There will be a next time.
Now we are off to Wolverhampton, and after much discussion have decided to risk Brum before returning to Coventry and home at Swan Lane.