2. Jul, 2019

In the weather I mean.

At the end of my last blog I did wonder if the sun would ever come out, and now we are sat with everything open in sweltering heat, watching the ladies world cup.

We spent some more time on the Higher Peak Forest canal, staying at Whaley Bridge for a couple of nights. We found a great new micro pub had opened in the village called Whaley Nook, and called in at the Goyt Inn. Next day we caught the train into Stockport. The town has happy memories for us because it is where we first met 12yrs ago,  it has a great indoor market and of course a few good pubs. To finish off a very enjoyable couple of days we had a kebab, a dirty little pleasure of ours now and again.

Then on to the wonderful Marple flight of 16 locks, but not so good in the rain. The flight had been closed for 20 months and only reopened at the end of May. There had been problems with the lock walls bulging, which meant boats were getting stuck in the lock. We had the help of two volunteer lockies which was wonderful, and it took us a very respectful 3hrs.

So on to Hyde, we moored here for about 3months before we moved on board fulltime and started our cruise to our winter moorings in Coventry. Captain Jack was our landlord and we were pleased to see him and stop and have a chat. We told him about our adventures over the past 5 years, and he was happy to see we were still living the dream and couldn’t believe how the time had flown.

Hyde is a pleasant town with a small indoor market and a good selection of shops, but it no longer has a Wetherspoons, but it does have a micro pub called the Tweed Tap, were I had the strangest tasting lager I have ever had. We also called in the Cheshire Ring, another great real ale pub, and the White Gates a Sam Smith’s pub so not only good beer but amazing prices. And then we had a chinese.

The chinese set us up for the next day and the 18 locks of the Ashton flight, this was hard work as the locks were, in the main set against us, but we got into a rhythm and we were soon moored up at Piccadilly village, private moorings but visitors are welcome to stay overnight. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the code for the gates, so we were unable to visit a brewery tap we had been told about nearby, but to be honest I was knackered and quite happy to chill out on the boat.

The last battle into Castlefield basin is with the infamous Rochdale 9 locks, but we were joined by our friend Neil thank god. These locks have a terrible reputation and haven’t improved at all since our last visit to Manchester 3yrs ago. They take you under the streets of Manchester and there is no shortage of water, but no by-washes to take the excess water away. So not only are you fighting with heavy gates and short lock arms, but the task of equalising the water in the lock chamber to be able open the gates. I was so pleased that we had Neil with us.

As we left the last lock in the basin and onto the Bridgewater canal I spotted a boat I knew, NB Ceiriog belonging to our friends Andy and Chris. We met on the Chesterfield canal last year and spent a very happy afternoon with them, in the pub of course. We had chatted about doing the Lancaster, and they indicated they would like to join us if our schedules matched.

I sent Chris a message to see if they were about.

The Bridgewater canal is owned and controlled by Peel Holding not CRT, but there is an agreement that CRT license holders can spend a week on the canal without any charge. Sonny, who is the notorious enforcement officer for Peel was not about, so we moored up without a problem and went to the pub. Of course.

Now I will have my little rant for this blog. Like with all households we produce household rubbish, being it food waste or packaging, bottle cans etc. Well there are no bins on CRT water from the top of the Marple flight all the way into Castlefield basin, a trip of 15miles and 42 locks, which took us 5 days to do. And there were no bins in the basin either. In fact there are no bins on CRT waters from Marple to Parbold on the Leeds Liverpool canal, which is 45 miles and 50 locks. So CRT what are we meant to do with our rubbish????

We had a quiet day next day and called in the John Rylands library again, this was to jog the Captains memory, as we visited on our last time in the city but he couldn’t remember it. It is such an amazing building and his memory soon came flooding back. There was a special display for the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. This took place on 16th August 1819, when a crowd of between 60,000 and 80,000 gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary  representation at Saint Peter’s Field Manchester. The local magistrate ordered the crowd to be dispersed by the local militia, and they charged the crowd of men women and children with sabres drawn. 18 people were killed and 500 to 700 injured. It was a pivotal moment in our history, and ironically named after the victory at Waterloo some 4yrs earlier. That’s history done for this blog.

We went to Try Thai once again with Neil, Cath and Rosemary, and had a wonderful meal, and to end a lovely day we managed to catch up and have a drink with Andy and Chris before they left the next day, once again in the opposite direction to us.

The next day was vey hot, and after a slow walk into the centre we had to queue to get into Sinclairs Oyster bar, which is the only Sam Smiths in Manchester, and at £4.60 for 2 pints and a lovely outside seating area you can see why we had to queue.

The Captain had done his homework, and discovered that the next day was Manchester day, and there was a parade and stalls and other bits and pieces going on, so of course we had to stay and take part. But then it was time to say goodby to Manchester, and head of in the sunset to Sale and then Lymm

             At Lymm we had a chance meeting with a boat called Avalon Dreams and her Captain also called Peter, and his crew Ruth.

             As usual the Captains planning was spot on and we called at Stretford marina for a pump out. The lady who served us was lovely, and very very chatty, she rinsed our tank out a good few times (we think just to keep us talking but we didn’t mind) and only charged us £12.

             Our last cruise was up through Worsely, and we were joined by our mate Neil, his Mum Pat, and   Dad Norman. They had never been on a narrowboat and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We parted company at Astley Green, but not before we had visited the Mining museum there. The pit had closed in 1970, the head stocks were saved from demolition by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire. It still has the enormous winding equipment which they run on occasions, and a miners house from the turn of the 20C. But what I loved was that they had the headstocks that Fred Dibnah had built, when he sunk a shaft in his garden in Bolton for a TV programme. Wonderful.

             It is run by volunteers and open every day and is well worth a visit. We ended a perfect day in a perfect way, in the pub of course.

16. Jun, 2019

And I am not referring to the weather, but the terrible terrible decision we had to make to put our fire in. It’s unheard of in June, we usually sail through from May until October without one, but not this year. The combination of cool days and lots of rain has meant we just had to.

The rain has meant we haven’t got as far as we would like, but since we have no time constrictions this year, it doesn’t make that much difference to us personally, but it does mean we haven’t managed to do much to fill the blog with, so, I thought I would wax lyrical for a change, so here goes.

Our days seem to flow by as serenely as the canal flows. Most of my day when we are travelling is spent looking round, and taking in the beauty of the cut. The colours of the trees and the fields are such vibrant shades of green and brown, with the occasional whites and pinks of mayflower and dog rose.

The fields, which at first glance seem a single shade of green, change as a sunbeam hits its target, and the colour shimmers and changes before your eyes, when a cloud casts it shadow the grass takes on another shade of green. It never gets boring.

The tree bark also seems to be a never ending brown, but when you look closely each tree has a unique pattern, with some covered by a carpet of green ivy. The leaves all have their own life as they flutter in the breeze, and their colour changes with each gust of wind. The peace of the cut is only disturbed by the songs of the birds, and the occasional train hurtling by (the canal and railway often share the same route). I strain my ears to identify the different sweet songs of the birds. My eyes are drawn to the movement in the trees that give their lofty perches away. They flit across the canal in front of us, taking my eyes away from the every changing colours of the trees and undergrowth.

Sometimes it seems that we are passing through some great cathedral, created by the tress to worship the wonder of nature, and then we are out in the open, with stunning views of rolling hills and deep valleys, and in some places experience the amazing ingenuity of our forefathers, where viaducts fill the landscape spanning huge valleys in the name of progress.

So back to our journey.

We have travelled the Trent and Mersey, through the Harecastle tunnel and onto the Macclesfield canal. This canal was built to carry coal and cotton, built by Telford it is of cut and fill construction. It is 26miles long and has on set of 12 locks at Bosley. It was opened in 1831 and commercial traffic ended in 1954.

Along its route there are 2 main towns Congleton, and as the canals name suggests Macclesfield. First Congleton, and it’s a town we have visited in the past. We moored up and set off to try a couple of pubs by the side of the canal, the Queens Head and the Railway (originally called to Navigation before the coming of the railway), but we spied something much better, a recently opened micropub called the Wonky Pear. It was a real find and we would highly recommend it. The other 2 pubs were not so successful.

We went into Congleton town the next day. It’s a nice walk, in as it’s all downhill, not so good for coming back though. We called in at the Town Hall tourist information office as we wanted to have a look round the town hall, which although it’s a Victorian building its built in the gothic style, and inside looked like a castle. A very kind lady took us in and we weren’t disappointed, the main hall is amazing and has a very ornate mock minstrel’s gallery. She also suggested we would enjoy the town museum, and we did. It is tiny, but absolutely packed with interesting facts about the town and its industry and residents.

After a little shopping we head to the pub (of course) firstly the local Wetherspoons, The Counting House, it was ok then we tried the Young Pretender, a little pretentious for our taste, and then the Captain offers to take me out for tea at the Old Kings Head, the food was tasty and very reasonably priced. Then a taxi back to the boat, I did say it was up hill all the way back.

There was a food festival on in the town at the weekend, and we thought we might have been about for it, as the Bosley locks were closed due to a leaking lock gate, but CRT got their finger out and it was fixed quickly.

The locks are single, and when we reached there was a bit of a queue as CRT were bringing a work boat down, and made the rest of us wait to go up. But it did mean we had the help of a couple of very friendly volunteers, this was even better for the boat behind us Wedgewood, a hire boat and the crew hadn’t done any locks for many many years, they soon got the hang of it. There was much chatting and helping each other out, as it should be.

We met up with Wedgewood and its crew a few times over the next few days.

What can I say about Macclesfield, not a lot, I was not impressed with the town or its pubs at all. Again it’s downhill into the start of the town, then uphill to get into the centre. It was Sunday when we visited and we tried 5 pubs in the town, 3 were kind of micropubs, but like the Young Pretender in Congleton, I found them a little pretentious and expensive, so much so we only had halves in them. Not like us at all. The Captain did treat me to tea at Wetherspoons, as I really didn’t feel like cooking. We had had the terrible news that a good friend of ours, Martin, had lost his fight with cancer the day before. This maybe tainted my view of Macclesfield as well. I just wasn’t in the mood.

We reached the end of the Macclesfield at Marple and joined the Upper Peak Forest Canal. We know this canal very well, as we bought the boat when it was based at New Mills and spent a year moored there.

We had a walk into Marple, there is a good selection of shops and one very good pub, The Samuel Oldknow. After getting a few bits from Asda we had a couple of pints in there, before trying the Ring O Bells which is on the canal, we thought it was expensive the first time we visited, and things haven’t changed.

On to New Mills, and we needed a pump out. This was lucky for me as I managed to catch up with Stella Ridgeway, she is a boaters representative on the CRT council, and I am thinking about standing at the next elections. It was great to have a chat and get her perspective on things, we have chatted on Facebook a few times, but it was much better face to face. She is glad that I am interested in standing, as there a lack of ladies on the council and this needs addressing.

And to finish our trip into Bugsworth basin we met a boat wedged across the canal, they were trying to leave their mooring at Furnace Vale but were just too long to get round. But with a bit of brute strength and ignorance, and the help of the Captain, they were soon free and on their way.

That’s all for now folks.

7. Jun, 2019

After last year’s glorious sunshine and barmy temperatures we are back to normal for dear old England, with changeable weather, sunshine and showers have been the recipe for the last few days.

After our amazing time at the 1940’s event, we moved off in the rain, and made our way back to Cheddleton and moored once again outside the flint mill there.

It was bank holiday and the flint mill was open to the public, so of course we had to go and have a look round. It is unique, in that it has 2 water wheels to power the grinding pans, and both of these where running.

History time folks.

The earliest reference to milling at Cheddleton dates back to 1253. It is possible that the foundations of the South Mill date back to this period. Another document, dating to 1694, refers to corn milling at the site. In the late 18th century the complex was converted to grind flint. The North Mill was built specifically for that purpose and the South Mill was converted to grind flint instead of corn. About the same time, the Caldon Canal was built making transport of heavy goods to and from the mill easier. The ground, calcined flint produced by the mill was becoming a very important ingredient in earthenwares being produced in the nearby Potteries. Josiah Wedgwood had successfully marketed a new product called "creamware" which was becoming very popular. Calcined flint is white and thermally stable, making it an excellent ingredient in the new light-coloured wares that had become fashionable.

It was very interesting, and the water wheels were amazing to watch and hear.

Being bank holiday Monday it was also the Championship playoff’s, and much to my amazement my team Derby County had made it to Wembley and were facing Aston Villa. The Black Lion had the match on so, I got to watch their unfortunate defeat, it ended 2-1 to Villa. So it’s another year in the Championship for the Rams.

To end a very enjoyable day I treated the Captain to tea in the Red Lion, chicken and chips in a basket, and a pint of Hobgoblin, what could be better.

Our next destination was Leek, which is at the end of the Leek branch, (of course). The trip there was hairy in places as this part of the canal was very narrow and shallow, but we made it, and moored up with the help of a friendly boater called Richard on Beryl of Bridgwater. He was a local, and very knowledgeable. He explained that the town centre was quite a walk, but well worth a visit, and that Morrisions was only 10mins way, which was handy. The best bit of info he gave us, was it was worth using the local taxi to get into town, at amazing price of £4.00, cheaper than the bus.

We also got chatting to Pat and Ste off Nellie who were lovely

Although it threatened rain next day we decided to go into town, and we weren’t disappointed at all. It is a fascinating, with connections to William Morris of the arts and craft movement, and was the home of the great canal builder James Brindley. I had used google to check out what was worth seeing, and firstly we made for the 13C church dedicated to Edward the Confessor, lovely. The town is full of interesting buildings. The most notable building is the Nicholson Institute, it was built in 1882 in the Queen Ann style, and is home to the library and the local museum. It is tucked behind a 17C building, which the architect  Larner Sugden refused to demolish to make way for the institute, as he had great respect for old buildings. The front gate to this house is an amazing example of the arts and craft movement. Leek also boasts the Nicholson War Memorial, dedicated in 1925 and said to be the largest in the country.

Then the rain started, so we had to find a pub. I had found a couple of micro-pubs on Google, but we never made it to them, as the Captain spotted a Titanic tap house, The Roebuck Inn. I can highly recommend this pub, the food menu looked interesting, and the choice of beer was brilliant.

After a couple of days travelling along the shallow, narrow canal we made it back to Etruria, and the junction with the Trent and Mersey, this time without any mishaps at the locks. It was busy at the junction where the Etruria flint mill and museum is. This was because there was a festival on at the weekend, and the steam engine which powered the mill was in steam. Of course we had to stop, but we moored away from the junction, as quite a few boats were jostling for the closest moorings to the festival.

Unlike Cheddleton, flint mill Etruria actually prepared the flint and bone before grinding, by heating them in huge kilns to make them easier to grind. Before grinding the flint and bone are crushed. The grinding process is wet pan grinding, which stops the production of a fine dust, which caused the early death of many workers due to “Potters Rot”, or silicosis of the lungs. Flint and bone were used in the pottery industry, flint added to clay produces earthenware products, it gives the ware strength, whiteness and prevents shrinkage during the firing process. Bone is added to clay to produce bone china, it  gives it its translucent quality, and makes it whiter than any other ware, and its high strength allows it to be finer.

The mill is powered by “Princess”, a double acting condensing rotative beam engine to the design of James Watt. She was purchased second hand and installed when the mill was built in 1856, and is believed to have been built in Manchester in about 1820.

Right enough history. The day of the festival dawned, and luckily it was going to be fine and sunny, so after a hearty brunch off we went. It was a great event, and well supported by the local and boating community. There were a number of old historic and working boats in attendance, and a few trading boats including the Staffordshire Oat Cake Boat, Que Sara Sara, and the “Barge in Booze”  beer boat. We had a walk round the event field, which had loads to see and do, there was live music and of course a bar. After a pint we headed back to the Oat Cake boat, as I was determined to try this local delicacy, but I wasn’t in luck as they had sold out and shut up shop.

We took the tour round the mill which was very informative, and got to see Princess in action, and for you of those who know me, this was the best bit for me, I love steam engines, and there is something about the smell of the boiler, the smoke , the oil, everything really.

To finish of a perfect day we headed off to find a pub, I had found one on Google called the Holy Inadequate. It was anything but inadequate, with a wonderful selection of beers, and pork pies for only £1.80.

Our final night in Stoke was spent at Westport Lake, we took a walk round the lake and put our bird song app to good use.

Next challenge, the Harecastle Tunnel, and then the Macclesfield canal.

30. May, 2019

We head off to Stone and spent a couple of days there. We travelled through the locks with a couple of other boats, The Dreamcatchers and Mercury Rising. Both Captains and crew were pleasant and I had many a happy chat with them.

It was whilst we were in the Swan the Captain suggested a trip up the Caldon Canal, a canal we haven’t done, and I was more than happy to agree.

The junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon is at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, and it took us a couple of days to get there.

But first disaster struck, I always enjoy cooking a Sunday dinner for us, and I had prepped a lovely piece of pork and all the trimmings, when the gas went, not a problem, the Captain is very well organised and it was simply a matter of connecting the full bottle, but we didn’t have a full bottle, shock horror, he had forgotten to get a new bottle just before we left. So, no Sunday dinner for us.

However there was a silver lining to our dilemma, we were heading for Barleston and the very good pub the Plume of Feathers. We have been in a couple of times for a drink, and I had always fancied trying the food. This was the perfect solution to our problem. The food was as good as the beer and we had a great time.

Next day and we replaced both bottles, at a very good price, and I managed to cook the dinner.

History time now folks the Caldon canal was opened in 1779 and is a narrow canal, it runs for 18miles to Froghall, it has 17 locks and the Froghall tunnel, which is very low and we certainly couldn’t get through. It was built to carry limestone and coal. There were 2 branches, one for the Uttoxeter canal, which is no longer there unfortunately, and one to Leek which is navigable. For a time the canal joins the Churnet river. The last commercial traffic was in 1952, but then in an unusual move, Johnson Brothers, a local pottery, commission 3 new barges called Milton Princess, Milton Queen and Milton Maid, to transport their pottery 2 ½ miles from the factory in Milton to the new packaging plant in Hanley. It was a great commercial success and continued until 1990.

The first of the locks is a staircase, which caused a hire boat a few interesting moments, as its crew tried to work out what to do, but it was at the number 3 lock that we had a problem. As the Captain picked me up coming out of the lock, a combination of a side wind and a weir, forced the boat onto some underwater obstruction and we tilted alarmingly. We were truly stuck, the Captain tried all the tricks he knew but to no avail. A friendly cyclist stopped to see if he could help but it was no good. We seemed to be pivoting on whatever was under the water. Luckily behind us just coming up the lock was a CRT workboat, and the guys on the boat came to see what they could do. The Captain managed to get the backend to the side and jumped off with the centre rope. It took all of them pulling on the rope to free us from the unknown.

It was a bit scary but I have great faith in the Captain.

At the next locks we met up with Mercury Rising again. Also at the locks was the charity boat, The Beatrice, with a group of school kids on. I greatly admired how they encouraged the children to get off and do the locks. They were having the best of times.

We moored up at the Holly Bush at Denford and went for a couple of pints. When we returned it was obvious Sam was on her last legs, and sadly she died later that evening. The Captain buried her at the side of the canal in a very peaceful location.

We spent the next couple of days at Cheddleton outside the Flint Mill. We had a look round the church before trying the 2 pubs, The Black Lion and Red Lion. All I will say about this village is ‘its on a bloody great hill, and everything is up’.

The end of the canal is at Froghall, which is the home of the Churnet Valley heritage railway, and as it was the bank holiday weekend they had a 1940’s event on, well we couldn’t miss that could we. So the dressing up clothes came out and off we went. At first I was unsure, as not many people seemed to be getting into the spirit, but as the afternoon wore on things improved. There are 3 stations on the railway, Kingsley and Froghall, Consall and Cheddleton. There are plans to extend the line to Leek Brook, there is a platform there but no other access but from the train.  Also at each station there is a pub just a walk away from the railway.

We started at Kingsley and Froghall and went to the end, Leek Brook, before getting off at Cheddleton and had a look round. More people were turning up in period dress which was nice. The pub here is the Boat Inn, and we went and had a couple of pints. The landlord was very friendly and asked for a photo to put on the pubs FB page, and of course we were happy to oblige.

There was a battle re- enactment at Cheddleton station which was very well done, and of course the yanks won. Then we boarded the train and headed for Consall. After looking around the pub called again this time the Black Lion, which had been recommended to us by Rob the lock, we got our drinks and headed outside (the weather had been very kind to us), looking round we spotted a couple sitting at one of the tables, also dressed up, so we asked if we could join them. This was the start of the most enjoyable time. We were chatting about boaty things when the lady asked is we had a boat, and of course that was it, we got chatting and got on like a house on fire. Diane and Richard from Oakham. Diane had been in the RAF, so her and the Captain had a lot in common. The conversation just flowed, it was lovely but time passed and we headed off to get the train back to Froghall, but oh dear, we had just missed the train and the next one wasn’t due for an hour, so back to the pub.

When we got back to Froghall we went down to the marquee to see what the entertainment was, a dance lesson was just finishing and a jazz trio had started playing, suddenly I found myself swept off my feet by Richard and I was dancing. For you that don’t know I have 2 left feet, but I did my best and I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. We stayed to the end dancing and laughing but it didn’t end there and we headed for the Railway Inn and a rather strange game of darts.

We were sorry to part company with them and I hope we will see them again, they have a camper van so there are places we could meet up. Watch this space folks.

27. May, 2019

Sam was our old lady cat and definitely queen of all she surveyed. At 18yrs old she was a good age many people will say, but it doesn’t make losing her any easier.

She travelled over the rainbow bridge on the evening of the 24th May, she had been poorly for a few days but her last hours were peaceful, and like Bubbles she had her box.

Sam was a strange cat, off hand with you most of the time, but she loved nothing better than being picked up and cuddled, and she would purr loudly.

Unlike Bubbles she was a very vocal cat, with a wide range of meows and purrs, the loudest being when she decided it was time to be fed.

I have already said she loved to purr, and she was so loud it would drown out the TV, and sounded like a small engine.

She took to life on the boat with ease and learnt to swim, but she didn’t like the water (what cat does), and soon let you know when she had fallen in, wow that cat could make a racket when necessary. To start with when she was hoisted out she would run off and hide, ashamed at her clumsiness and not return until she was dry, but then she learnt that we would dry her off and give her lots of love and cuddles (and treats) when the unfortunate happened. She would get off and explore when we moored up for the night, but her favourite place was on the roof in the sun, but just out of reach of us, and anyone who might disturb her slumbers. We had to keep the cabin door shut when travelling or she would be out and on the roof, not the safest place for a small elderly cat. She had a good life.

She was also fearless and would stand up to any dog, but usually from the safety of the boats roof. I remember Cassie, a very large Belgian shepherd we met at the IWA festival, Sam hissed and growled  at her, whilst Cassie looked on in wonderment that something so small could think she was a match for her, but Sam did.

Woe betide any strange cat that might stray into her territory, she would be there protecting what was hers and seeing off the interloper.

She eventually took to the Captain, who came into her life quite late on, and sometimes would inch onto his lap when Bubbles wasn’t looking, but she never was a lap cat in the true sense.

She became a minor celebrity last year in Nottingham. She took up residence on the bench at the side of the boat because of the heat, and the Captain had to put a note on explaining that she lived on the boat, and wasn’t lost, or a stray, after a very kind gentleman wanted to take her home. Many people stopped to read the note and spend time with her.

I would like to think that she is reunited with her sister Tiggy , Bubbles and Puss in the happy hunting grounds over the rainbow bridge.