Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Coventry canal. Snarestone to Stoke Golding

September 2014 will be remembered for the seemingly endless succession of parties, all of which were tremendous fun, full of our most favourite people and made us feel all loved up and special. They were also all miles away, but no matter, we would have gone wherever they were.
First there was the Bourne Borderers reunion. Everyone who had been involved with the best Border Morris side in the country since it started 22 years ago, including us, had been invited for a day of meeting old friends, chatting and dancing. After a practice session at Edenham village hall in the morning where we ate copious amounts of cake and learnt four dances in quick succession,

we upped sticks (quite literally!) to the Wishing Well Inn in Dyke to perform them.
The afternoon was spent back in the hall with more cake, more dancing and more chatting with new and old friends. Later on, just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, dinner was dished up, and we found that - if we tried really hard - we could.

Our very good friends Andrew and Karen generously provided accommodation for us so we spent a brilliant evening in their company, along with several other side members, most of who turned up with various musical instruments. Tiddly Pom, here we go, there we go.

In the morning we went to Bateman’s brewery where Frankie and Harry got married. This was because Dawn was celebrating her birthday in the camping field and a bunch of our old 2cv mates were there to help her along. As we were passing… We stopped to give Dawn her prezzie, had a carvery with Wiltz and Annie, had a chat, sat round a brazier in the sunshine; all the usual stuff.

On the way home, just before we got back to Legend, we stopped on the road to pick up a sizable piece of Ash that we’d noticed a couple of days previously while out walking. We’re not lighting the fire yet, but we weren’t leaving that behind.

During the week we were in the car almost as much as the boat. As well as a run up to Anne’s for post, we went down to Mum and Dad’s in Fleet. We picked Lauren up and we all went out for lunch, and then dropped Lauren off at Wendy’s before coming home again. It’s good to be far enough south so that we can get down to Hampshire and back in a day. 

The next weekend we were back in the east for Tony and Jan’s anniversary horkey. A horkey is a party where the guests provide the entertainment and as Tony and Jan are the backbone of Pig Dike Molly, who Ann-Marie used to dance with, the guests were more than happy to oblige. There were songs, poems, musical recitals, ceilidh dances and more. Dave performed his self-penned spoonerised version of Cinderella – Rindercella and her su tuggly isters –  always popular, always a hit. He keeps saying he’s not doing it anymore, but as soon as he stands up and the audience hushes his alter-ego “The Tory Seller” takes over and it’s show time.
“Thank you, you’ve been great, I’m here till Thursday. There’s still tickets left for the meat raffle from Maureen behind the bar, Goodnight, enjoy the scampi.”

It goes without saying that there was enough food to supply a troop ship. Even after multiple return trips to the buffet we still came home with more than we took and found ourselves eating hastily assembled broccoli and tofu sandwiches on a nocturnal blast along the A47. At some ungodly hour we finally got back to Snarestone and our little boat, tired - as Enid Blyton would say - but happy.

Our activities during that week included picking a bucket full of rose hips, hawthorn berries, elderberries, blackberries and sloes and then turning them all into hedgerow jelly while moving the boat to Market Bosworth,
where Kim came for the afternoon with Baby George.
We also went for a lovely walk following the Leicestershire Round and the Ivanhoe Way and boated to a terrific mooring on the off-side just after the Shenton aqueduct, right next to a row of sloe bushes and a wild apple tree.
Another week and another trip eastward for another reunion. This one was for the SpaLding APpellation DAnce SHow, aka Slapdash; Ann-Marie’s Tuesday night dancing club.
There were more ceilidh dances, more friends, more food, as well as some performances of appellation dance, two of which featured a rather surprised Ann-Marie in borrowed shoes.
Despite several invitations to stop over we elected, one again, to attack the A47 armed only with quiche, sausage rolls and a box of assorted buns.

After a short but sound night’s sleep we were off again; this time to Bob and Mandy’s boat launch.
Bob and Mandy belong to Bourne Borderers, they’ve had many, many hire-boat holidays and always wanted to get a boat of their own to live on. They came to see us on Legend a couple of years ago to pick our brains, we had a lovely day boating on the GU although we don’t think we had much to teach them; they’d already done far more boating than we had and had a pretty good idea of what they wanted.
Their boat is called Matilda Blue, it’s 6 years old, 70’ long, gas-free, and very smart. They had a launch party at the Narrowboat Inn at Weedon where they bought it, and in their first afternoon of ownership had more people on board than we’ve ever had. They treated everyone to lunch in the pub, then in two shifts we all had a cruise to the next windy hole and back. Dave had a go on the tiller; it’s been a long time since he’s had 70’ of boat in front of him, but he managed to not disgrace himself, and is unrepentantly adamant that stuffing the bow into the bushes whilst winding full length is unavoidable and perfectly acceptable.  Of course that depends on where you’re sitting at the time.
Ann-Marie made them a card, and Dave made a Tiller Pin Tassel.
So we’ve now got more boating friends. Whoo-hoo! They’re heading in our direction; they’ll be going through Hawksbury, Marston and  Fazely on their way to the BCN and ultimately Tewksbury so they should come past us when we’re on the Coventry in a few weeks.

Richard, Katherine, Kieran and Leila came for the day while we boated from Shenton to Stoke Golding.
They’d not been before and the kids were fascinated by the whole affair. They wanted to know how everything worked, what everything did and how we did everything in such a little house.  Kieran even had a go at steering, despite not really grasping the principal and not being able to see over the roof. There was no-one coming the other way. Well, no-one in a bigger boat.
While we were still within striking distance we went to have a look at the Bosworth Battlefield site, a beautifully landscaped hilltop where, up until the 1960s, it was thought that the most important battle in the War of the Roses took place, where the last of the Plantagenet Kings was overthrown and where the Reign of Tudor began. It has recently been proven that if you’d stood on this hilltop when the battle was taking place, you’d have had a panoramic view of the three armies beating the heck out of each other on the marshy plains below. Still, it’s a very evocative place to be, and all rather sobering when you consider that the industrial revolution that caused the canal to be dug started in earnest about 250 years ago, and the battle between armour-clad, mace-wielding nutters took place a mere 250 years before that.

In the afternoon we drove down to Hartshill on the Coventry canal, a short hop down the road, where the lovely Happy Daze was moored with Lindsay, Paul and happy Jack on board.
Jack had been to the vets recently, so it was good to see him almost back to his old self. We had tea and cake, followed by a walk up the hill where we were treated to a wonderful view over Leicestershire with the Derbyshire hills in the distance. In the evening we all went to the Anchor for dinner. It was a lovely day and we really didn’t want to leave. Legend will be at Hartshill in a couple of weeks, by which time Happy Daze will be the other side of Braunston and heading down the GU. Such is boating; you make the most of fleeting visits.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Coventry Canal. Ashby Canal. Huddlesford to Snarestone

At Huddlesford, just before August Bank Holiday and in order to position Legend closer to the car park, there was a very short move from one end of the moorings to the other. This meant that when the Keys turned up - that’s Andrew, Karen, James and Emily - getting them aboard was simplicity itself. In our little boat, accommodating six people, while possible, is pushing it a bit. Accommodating six people and a beagle is clearly impossible so, after a perfect evening with a towpath barbecue, music and lots of laughter,
and with our visitors tucked up snuggly on board, we spent the night just as snuggly in our little tent beside our boat.
In the morning we pulled the pins and set forth up the Coventry canal towards Polesworth.
The first thing we passed was Whittington Wharf where, the day before, the Lichfield Canal Society had held an open day and had various baked goods and cake left over. In true boater style, we pulled alongside their vessel and there followed a spot of banter, after which we came to an accord and took on provisions. In discussions later it turned out that with one of us at either end of our boat, we’d managed to hand over the agreed price twice, which negated the pirate simile we had going there but it was all in a good cause.

Over the previous couple of weeks we’d been aware of a fair number of historic boats going past us in the same direction. We eventually heard that their destination was Alvecote Marina where, it just so happened, we were heading. We got there right in the middle of the boat handling competition and spent a memorable hour and a half surrounded by the sight and sound of some of the most beautiful boats on the waterways as they queued up. It was fabulous. When we finally got out of the other side we had to run the gauntlet of the commentator taking the micky out of our roof garden and hanging basket and asking if Andrew was ballast! How rude.

At Polesworth we moored up on the 48s, put the tent up again and then Andrew and Karen treated us to a meal in the Indian next door. The perfect end to a perfect boating day.

The following day, before the Keys left for home, Chloe came to see us so there were seven people and a dog on board for a while, and it was raining. In the afternoon Chloe chose to tip a bucket of cold water over herself in the name of charity. She did it in the pouring rain which somewhat defeated the object, but it was funny enough. If you were on Facebook in 2014 you’ll understand. It was lovely to see her and it won’t be long before she’s living and working permanently in Ireland so every moment we get to spend with her is precious.

Our ascent of Atherstone locks was not done in our usual solitary slick style; instead we found ourselves queueing up with lots of other boats and subject to the varying abilities and questionable techniques of lots of other people. And of course, as is usually the case, after helping several of the crews ahead of us up the locks, Ann-Marie found herself on her own, while the people behind us stood around their boats yacking to each other. Smile and wave guys, smile and wave.

Turning onto the Ashby canal was like entering a different world. A shallower world with frillier edges, but lovely all the same and a lot quieter than the Coventry. After Hinkley it got quieter still and by the time we got to Stoke Golding, where we stopped for the night, boat spotting had become a rare and exciting event. The next day we carried on to Shackerstone. We wouldn’t normally make progress in such a speedy way but events had conspired against us. We’d volunteered to help with the set up for the Shackerstone Festival, and booked Legend in for the duration. While we were at Polesworth we got a phone call from the organisers advising us to get up there as soon as possible in order to get moored near the site. This was because there were a lot of rumours circulating on the towpath telegraph resulting from an agreement between Nature England and CRT to restrict double mooring during the festival to try to limit damage to plant life.  After a nasty case of Chinese whispers with, we suspect, a fair smattering of personal axe-grinding thrown in, this was turned into local fishermen trying to permanently ban boats from the canal. Numerous flyers, demanding a call to arms, were posted on lock gates and bridges pleading for as many boats as possible to join the cause and come along to “Save the Ashby Canal from Closure”. The last thing the event organisers wanted was their volunteer workforce turning up to find nowhere to put their boat, hence the phone call and hence the rush. When we arrived the moorings alongside the festival field were all full and we tied up two bridges away, but that turned out to be a better place to be anyway, and it meant we were perfectly placed to see all this lot arrive.




The protest, for what it was worth, amounted to a lot of tutting and mumbling, a few floating sheds moored in the reeds and not much else really.

For three days before kick-off, as part of Cath & Glyn’s festival set up team, we were employed shifting chairs, tables, traffic cones and gazebos wherever they required, and during the event we manned one of the main gates each day for two hours. It was good to feel useful and we felt we’d earned our free tickets.

The festival was, as usual, fabulous. Each year it gets bigger with more exhibits and traders and covers more fields. The weather on the Sunday was amazing and there were record crowds. When we weren’t trying to stop people wandering in without paying we had a wonderful time. Kim and Luke joined us for the day on the Saturday afternoon, which was lovely. Ann-Marie got lots of George cuddles and Dave got a buddy to go round the junk stalls with.

In an amazing set of coincidences, the chap on the boat moored next to us looked familiar and it turned out he used to be our local coal merchant when we lived in a house. Over a period of three years, while we were still trying to figure out how we could get out of the rat race, we jealously watched as he built a narrowboat in a big shed in the coal yard. One day it disappeared, then low and behold, five years later it was moored next to us. Alan and Joy were the nicest neighbours we could have hoped for; they have a permanent mooring at Bill Fen marina on the Middle Level and made us promise to get in touch when we’re over there. Which we will. In a final twist it turned out that Ann-Marie used to work with Allan’s brother. This boating world is positively tiny at times.


After the festival was over we had one day helping with the clear up, then waited a couple more while everyone else left before moving the boat on to the head of navigation just beyond Snarestone tunnel. The Ashby Canal used to go on for another eight miles to a terminus above Moira, the top mile and a half have been restored and re-watered and it is possible to follow some of the original line between the two parts.



Of course there is an ambitious plan for the missing five miles, some of it along the original line, some new cut, and a bit through Measham that follows a disused railway line and goes through the station. Using a map provided by the very friendly Ashby Canal Association, we had a lovely day walking as close to the original line as possible up to the restored blast furnace at Moira, then on to Conkers, the National Forest activity centre, where eventually the restored canal will terminate.

 While we were moored at the present navigation limit the contractors were re-watering the next quarter of a mile or so and there was a lot of activity beyond there.
They’re not standing still, that’s for sure. After visiting the basic but very clean sanitary station we winded and weaved our way back under the tunnel to moor up just beyond the pub. Lovely spot; lots of solar and a short walk to the car. With everything we’ve got going on in the next month that’s going to be quite important.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

Trent & Mersey Canal. Coventry Canal. Fradley to Huddlesford.

Well, Dear Reader, over the last month or so a lot of plans have been laid and a lot of important things have happened, and despite the inherent unreliability of both the British weather and the British themselves, everything has gone like clockwork. We think this is something to be celebrated.

First there was Chloe and Shandy’s wedding in Antrim.

We’d decided to make a holiday of it and have a few days either side, so we sailed from Holyhead overnight on the Monday before the do. Before that, however, we drove over to Chloe’s Grandparents’ house near Stowmarket to pick up the wedding cake that Granny had made, using Granny’s delicious fruit cake recipe, and that Granny’s friend had beautifully decorated with a garland of sugar flowers cascading gracefully down the three tiers.
We placed the boxes containing the cakes and the flowers, along with a big gold cake plinth, very carefully on top of all the camping gear in the back of the car and waved goodbye. Our mission was simple, but involved driving almost the entire length of both the notorious A14 and the equally horrible A55 whilst trying very hard not to think about the responsibility of it all or, indeed the consequences of failure. (Images of a stand-in cake in the form of Sponge-bob Square Pants, because that’s all that Antrim Morrison’s had on the shelf, were shoved firmly to the back of our minds.) As our route took us within spitting distance of the boat we’d factored in a rest stop to say goodbye to Legend and to our friend John who was looking after it for us. We gave him a comprehensive rundown regarding on-board systems operation, or to put it more simply, showed him how to change the loo and start the genny.

We managed to get a couple of hours kip on the ferry, and the drive from Dublin up to Belfast was a breeze, but it was a weary pair of travellers who turned up on Kevin and Pauline’s doorstep 24 hours after leaving the boat the day before. The cake, happily, was perfect.
No Sponge-bob for this wedding!

The rest of the wedding was perfect as well; the ceremony was in Antrim Castle Gardens
and the reception was at Ballymena Rugby Club in an amazing triple tipi.
Dave looked very smart and very proud walking his daughter down the aisle.
And Ann-Marie looked gorgeous as well.
In the days afterwards we had a very small tour of the top right hand corner of Ireland, and if that’s anything to go by, (and everyone assures us that it is) we’re going to love the rest of it. Now our daughter and new son-in-law live there we’ll be regular visitors and intend to make the most of every trip.





After such a hectic time away it was lovely to get back to our calm little boat.  John had watered all the plants and left the place spotless so we were able to chill and do nothing for a whole day. Bliss.

Our next move was to Fradley where we stopped for a week above the locks. Fradley is one of the more popular spots on the waterways; not only is it the junction between the T&M and the Coventry canals, but there’s also a CRT office, a caravan site, a famous pub, a cafĂ© and a flight of locks. It’s always busy. It's busy when the rest of the network is deserted and it's positively chaotic when the weather’s good and the kids are off school. This makes it a really great place for boat - or more accurately - boater watching. By the third week Granny and Granddad are questioning their sanity, and the idea of doing the Coventry ring with the grandkids is rapidly losing its appeal. They’re seriously considering sneaking them into a young offender’s institute in the hope that no-one will notice until it’s too late, when they come round a corner and there before them is Fradley junction and a four hour queue. It kept us amused all week. With this in mind we made a seamless departure down the locks and onto the Coventry at about 8am. Even then there were three boats coming up; no doubt all with the same idea as us!

After filling up with water we carried on down the Coventry to Huddlesford Junction where there was a very convenient car park and some very safe looking moorings. As we would be leaving Legend there for a while we tied proper knots in the mooring lines and put the bird table up. Huddlesford Junction hasn’t really been a junction for sixty years or more. It used to be where the Wyrley and Essington Canal departed from the Coventry and wound its way up through more than 30 locks to the BCN and eventually the top of the Wolverhampton flight. Sadly the section between here and Ogley Junction was closed in the 1950s; the remaining quarter of a mile or so still in water is now used for private moorings. Happily, under the more relevant name of the Lichfield Canal, the derelict part is subject of a very energetic and quite well advanced restoration scheme.
There’s a lot to do.

There's a railway line to get under and a several roads to cross.
A new section of canal to cut to avoid a housing estate. 
But there’s a lot already done.



When it’s complete it will make a very useful cruising ring and a short-cut to Wolverhampton and Birmingham. We have every hope that when we come back up this way again (10 years is our estimate for a return trip) if it’s not finished it won’t be far off.

On our trip away from the boat this time we were in Mate Helping Mode. First stop was John’s in Woodlesford for a de-brief on boat sitting. And cake. Very nice cake. After that we went to Kate and David’s in Keighley. They’ve bought a Mercedes Vito van which they’re going to convert to a camper.
Before all the insulating and furniture building that will ensue at a later date, the first job was to fit the pop-up roof which David had bought on-line. Dave had agreed to help him fit it, or to put it another way, cut a large hole in the top of a perfectly serviceable white van, which, unless the fitment of the pop-top was successful, rendered it worthless. No pressure then. Despite it being a quality piece of kit and very well made there was a dire lack of understandable instructions, so there was a good deal of ‘measure twice, cut once’ with extra measuring on the side.
When the boys were absolutely sure it was all in the right place and at the right angle Dave climbed up with a jigsaw. When he’d completed the jigsaw he cut a hole in the roof with an angle grinder. Boom Tish. Sorry.
After that they positioned the supports and tensioned the canvas and fixed it all in position. This is the finished result.
Obviously there’s still a long way to go but it makes the rest of the conversion seem achievable.
From Keighley we drove to Gorefield in Cambridgeshire where Glen, Steve and Holly live, to look after their menagerie while they were on holiday in the Pyrenees. We’ve had plenty of experience with chickens, ducks, cats and dogs so that was no problem; it was the ponies and goats that we were a bit apprehensive about. Glen had left us four pages of very comprehensive and very useful instructions, but it was still a short, steep learning curve. On day one the goats ate the ponies’ tea, on day two we woke up to find a pony in the garden and then the ponies ate the goats' breakfast, but after that we all settled down and had a very amiable week.
Even the goat/rose bush incident did little to spoil the fun. By the end of the week we were well into the routine and Dave and Bart-the-pony had a bit of a thing going on.
When Glen, Steve and Holly came back we gave up our role as staff and stayed for a couple more nights as guests to help celebrate Steve’s birthday along with a few of their other friends. We had a smashing barbeque followed by an evening of classic films. Predictably “Airplane” went down a storm – we all joined in with choruses of “Don’t call me Shirley.” and “It’s a big building where doctors work, but that’s not important right now.” However the mixed family audience concluded that, with hindsight “Midnight Cowboy” was, perhaps, a seedy bus-ride too far.  Never mind, it was an excellent evening.

Before we’d left Legend, we’d taken measures to stop the plants drying out with, we found on our return, varying degrees of success. After lots of soaking and a good deal of pruning we put our stunted collection of withered foliage back on the roof and hoped that it would get better soon.
What won’t get better soon is the log burner. Sometime between January when we had our Boat Safety Examination and August when Dave deciding to apply some stove blacking, this happened.
We think the sequence of events went something like this; when we had the leak in the back boiler last year, the water got into the rope seals between the cast iron panels. Then when we stopped using it in spring rust developed and swelled the joints resulting, when the pressure got too much, in a crack in the bottom right hand corner.

We’re not sure what to do about it. You can’t have a BSC with a stove that’s been welded up, no matter how well it’s been done, so obviously at some time we’re going to have to have a new one. The questions are when and what. It doesn’t leak (we’ve tested it and the crack is below the firebox meaning that even if wasn’t air-tight it would draw in rather than leak out) so we’ll probably hang on till next year, but do we replace it with another Morso Squirrel or with something cheaper? Unfortunately anything else will require re-aligning both the chimney and the plumbing (that’s if we can find anything that small with a back boiler) so we’re reluctantly coming to the conclusion that we’ll end up biting the bullet and shelling out the fat end of £700 for the genuine article. Hey ho, at least we’ll have a nearly new stainless steel back boiler to fit in it.