Saturday, 30 July 2011

Shireoaks Marina

I don’t think we shall ever get off the Chesterfield Canal now!
The Skipper seems so intent on remaining here, I don’t see there is any future for me and I can picture myself as a rusting hulk sitting in a bank of silt for the rest of my days with green silken weed, thick as a blanket, all around me.
It simply isn’t fair, especially after all that I’ve put up with for his sake.
At least we reached the summit pound of the canal and if I wasn’t able to rub noses with the bricked up entrance to the Norwood Tunnel because of weed growth in the water and the end actually being hidden by foliage growing over the canal, at least we got as far as we could and it was nice to see everybody aboard so happy.
I don’t think I’ve ever had so many passengers aboard at once, certainly not while the Skipper’s been in charge and it was a treat to hear all the enthusiastic chatter while they were all here. Malcolm and Christine were a great help, especially with their expert knowledge of the canal and area. Of course the ‘Old Man’ said he would put a link on the blog for Christine’s company as well as talking about the guides, but I notice he’s forgotten so I’d better put it in here.
The company is called Richlow and they produce wonderful waterway guide books, which I can thoroughly recommend and their email address is:-
So here we are, just the Skipper and I now, at Shireoaks Marina waiting while he still attends the surgery in Retford. His appointments have been reduced to once a week now so it shows that his wound is healing satisfactorily. But it is still going to be a long time before I can even start to persuade him to leave.
He toddled off on Thursday with his backpack and bike for the local station and of course left his pack on the train when he got off at Retford. So he wasted goodness knows how much extra day time having to go all the way to Lincoln to retrieve it again. But that’s another story and I wonder whether he will be brave enough say anything about it to you ..... It’ll be interesting to find out!
He went on Thursday last and has an appointment for next Thursday and on the one after that as well but with any luck this may be the last .... Fingers crossed!!
After the summit he had planned to return to Retford and wait there for his wound to heal but he reckons now and I have to agree with him, that the Marina here is much quieter and safer than the towpath at Retford which is so close to Asda Stores. And anyway he has his heart set on a new project now, while we are here.
Oh dear! We seem to have been at this point so many times before!
By the facilities block there is a largish fenced off area where the Chesterfield Canal Trust is building a replica of a ‘Cuckoo’ Boat. These are the traditional horse drawn wooden boats that used to carry the varied cargos of the area surrounding the canal, mostly coal though, up to the River Trent and beyond. They remained unchanged in appearance until the trade stopped in the 1950’s. They were always towed by horses along the canal and were never motorised and when they arrived at the Trent, a mast would be stepped and they would sail up or down the river.
Being constructed entirely of timber, unfortunately none of these craft have survived and only rare photos and a model that somebody has made of the boat are available for the boat builder to use to build the replica.
Fortunately the builder in question, David is well chosen for the job and nobody needs to, or does, question his expertise. He works diligently every morning weather permitting during the week with whoever volunteers to help him, mostly by enthusiastic members of the Chesterfield Canal Trust. But the Skipper has decided to lend his hand as well while he’s here. So during the week he’s been toddling off round the basin to spend three hours planing the keelson to shape with a large block plane. No modern machine tools are used only the tools that would have been used in the original construction.
I think he’s enjoying it, but is finding muscles that he hasn’t used for years which ache like mad when he returns. No doubt he will bore you all with the details himself.
Hopefully we will move on in a fortnight when he has been signed off by his nurse.
Oh I do hope so!

Monday, 25 July 2011

To the End and Back

‘Futurest’ and I have just experienced a busy weekend.
In fact I’ve had an eventful week altogether, moving the little ship from Retford up to the end of the navigable canal at the entrance to Norwood Tunnel and back as far as the small village of Shireoaks, where ‘Futurest’ is moored at present. But it’s been a most sociable time for me since I’ve had quite a company aboard for a lot of that period.
On Sunday 17th, whilst still in Retford, Peter and Jeanne invited me to a delicious roast dinner at their house and when I returned to ‘Futurest’, inside the cratch cover was a little polythene covered parcel of local waterway guides written by Christine Richardson and John Lower. On the top was a handwritten note, signed by the lady herself.
I emailed her immediately to thank her and in her reply she asked if she and her husband Malcolm could join Janis, myself and ‘Futurest’ from Shireoaks up to Norwood Tunnel where they would catch the train back to their car at Shireoaks.
They are both very active members of the Chesterfield Canal Trust and Christine, apart from being the co-author of ‘The Chesterfield Canal’, a very descriptive and informative guide, is the historian for the Trust. During the restoration to date, she campaigned heavily and very successfully for the two top flights of locks, called Turnerwood and Thorpe, to be replaced as authentically as possible to the original James Brindley design. She said she and her husband would bring their own windlasses and be happy to give Janis and I all the local history and canal information as they worked the locks for us. This sounded like a good idea to me so I invited them to join us on Saturday last at Shireoaks Marina. Janis was joining there as well.
In the meantime, after I had had my last appointment with Sheldron at the surgery on Monday at Retford, ‘Futurest’ and I set off on Tuesday westwards towards Worksop. Jeanne joined me on board up till the first lock on her way to work but we were delayed for some time here while we fished out a small waterlogged hooped tent and its equipment from the lock, where somebody had thrown it.
It then took us a further tedious seven hours, including a stop to fill the fresh water tank at Forest Locks, to get as far as Osberton Lock landing, where we tied up at the end of the day.  I had been told that Worksop was not a friendly place to stay the night and decided to pass through it early in the morning. This meant we had an early start from Osberton the following day.
The next trial point was Stret Lock in Worksop, where my friends Berni and Sarah on ‘Algonquin’ had been stuck fast as they tried unsuccessfully to get through. Apparently this boat had been built with a wider base plate than most narrowboats and as a result they managed to get wedged between the lock walls, where they had been bowed inwards due to mining subsidence. The boat had to be pulled clear by Stan the local British Waterways manager and his team so they could return to Retford.
I phoned Stan before we arrived at this lock and with the team standing by and us proceeding very slowly into the lock, steering with difficulty as it was at a skew, we felt our way in, like a hand into a silken glove. But not until we were clear at the other end was I able to relax again. With great satisfaction I thanked the BW men and we were on our way again.
There were a total of eleven locks to go through between Osberton and Shireoaks. The weed cutting boats had recently passed through this part of the canal but I was still frequently having to dive into the weed box to clear the propeller and rudder of the green silken algae, while ‘Futurest’s skeg was ploughing a furrow for most of the time along the bottom of the silted waterway. I was glad therefore when we eventually arrived at the Marina at Shireoaks in the early Wednesday afternoon sunshine.
On Friday it was nice to welcome Janis aboard and I was looking forward to her crewing again for me.
At nine o’clock on a beautiful Saturday morning we were ready to leave, while at the same time we met Christine and her husband Malcolm, windlasses in hand and we were very happy to have them aboard as well.
It was most pleasant uphill travel, through picturesque lock after lock, with short narrow pounds in between, mostly surrounded by large copses of oak, beech and chestnut. But it was easy work for me at the tiller just steering into each entrance as they arrived, while Malcolm went ahead to prepare the next lock and the two girls operated the paddles to see me through each one. Lots of people were out on the towpath in the weekend sunshine and many compliments were paid to ‘Futurest’s appearance. I find it quite flattering when this happens.
We tied up for a coffee break at the longer pound landing between the Turnerwood and Thorpe flights and then for lunch on the summit pound. It was then another lock free two miles or so before we arrived at the winding hole and visitor moorings at Kiveton, where Malcolm and Christine left us to catch the train back to Shireoaks. Janis and I spent the night here.
At nine o’clock yesterday morning, we began our return downwards, through the locks to Shireoaks. She was walking on ahead to prepare the next lock while I closed the paddles and the gates behind us as we left them. Soon we managed to get into a very economic routine, which made the day pass too quickly for us.
However it was still six hours later, after leaving our mooring at Kiveton, when we finally tied up again at the visitor moorings here at Shireoaks Marina.
Janis left early this morning to return to work while ‘Futurest’ and I have laid here quietly recuperating throughout the day, ready for the return passage towards Osberton and Retford beginning tomorrow.
What a pleasurable experience it has all been!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Tedium in Retford

I’m fed up!
I’ve been so fed up over the last few days, I haven’t even felt like writing up this blog.
So there!
Do you realise we have been here in Retford now for a total of twenty four days altogether and the Skipper hasn’t even started up ‘JP2’ in that time, other than when we went down to fill up with water, let alone travel anywhere. His new fangled, lardy dah solar panel has been so efficient that my batteries have remained fully charged up all the time. I cannot even commune any more with my old pal when she is throbbing happily ‘midships. I’m just left on my own to vegetate amongst the weed, tied up like a wild animal, while he swans off ashore to see his nurse or his new friends.
And he has the cheek to call himself a continuous cruiser too. Huh!
Okay He did have to seek proper medical advice as his heel would never have got better otherwise, but if he hadn’t been so careless in the first place we would have been up in York by now. As it is we are going to have a job to complete our summer plans before the winter season starts.
The irritating part is that he has come to terms with his injury and is quite happy with the circumstances. He has his new friends Peter and Jeanne and he chats and exchanges details quite happily with every boat that comes through, while I have to lay here and allow these other boats to overtake me up to the end of the canal and then leave us behind as they disappear in the return direction, to continue enjoying their voyages. No wonder all the boats have a knowing smile on their faces as they pass me by. One of them even winked at me! .....  The Cheek of it!
I just wrinkle my nose and try to look the other way, but the humiliation is difficult to take.
And unbeknown to me, I read just now in the previous entry that he has invited his little friend Janis to return, to crew from Shireoaks on our passage to the end and back, so that means while she's here he won’t have any time to be nice to me.
Still he’ll obviously be trying to impress her so with any luck he’ll concentrate better than he does when he’s on his own and we might get there and back in one piece.
However she’s not too bad a girl as they go and will be sure to keep him on the straight and narrow. She’s a proper boat skipper and there’s no nonsense with her. Maybe he’ll pick up some feeling of responsibility from her.
Who knows we may be lucky!

Friday, 15 July 2011

On and Off

‘Futurest’ and I are still lazing here in sunny Retford and both the adjective and the participle in this case are very relevant not only for today but have been for most of the fortnight or more that we have been here. Today continues to be warm under the deep blue cumulus speckled sky and I am relaxed in the saloon fanned occasionally by the balmy almost tropical westerly airs that sigh through the open cratch cover by the side of me, rattling the folded cover slightly as they do so. All is at peace.
‘Futurest’ and I wait patiently for my heel to repair.
But we are eager to move on now. We have languished far too long in this one place and we are excited that shortly we may be moving.
Twice a week I have been attending the Bridgegate Surgery where Nurse Sheldron has been, very patiently bless her, re-dressing my wound. It is by no means fully healed yet but she tells me that the wound is granulating nicely, which is a good thing apparently. I should be able to travel to the end of the canal and back next week, missing out a couple of visits to her, so long as I can re-dress the wound during that period myself. Janis has indicated that she would like to crew for me for the three days from Shireoaks to the end and back to her car, to gain experience for when she comes to the Chesterfield next month on her ship ‘Roots and Wings’. Being a practice nurse herself, she has volunteered to be my nurse at the necessary time. So all now looks settled for a satisfactory continuation of The Chesterfield Canal Adventure.
But it hasn’t been so all along. There have been ups and downs, like the regular flow and ebb of the tide with my motivation, to continue further along the canal. With the low average speed due to us ploughing the bottom; stopping every hundred yards or so to dive into the weed box to clear the screw and rudder of silken weed; at rumours of a low bridge towards the end of the last lock flight which nothing but the lowest height boats with chimneys and everything cleared from the roof, can pass under; with, just recently, another boat getting wedged between the walls of Stret Lock in Worksop, has been almost enough to put one off for good.
But luckily I have said ‘almost’ and have not yet given up.
On the positive side the whole ‘Chesterfield’ experience so far has been one that I would never have liked to have missed. I consider it to be a little like childbirth (Please forgive me all you mothers for being arrogant enough to think I know all about that but I can’t help using it as a suitable analogy nonetheless)
So far getting to the canal has not been too difficult but it has had its excitement now and again which makes it complicated enough to ensure one concentrates a whole lot more than usual. The horror stories told of the tidal River Trent put a lot of cruisers off this side of the Pennines altogether. They are quite happy thank you to stay on the quiet (and busy!) sensible canal system.
Then there is the difficulty (and some more massive concentration of course!) of having to transfer oneself and boat satisfactorily from the swift flowing tidal river into the narrow entrance of West Stockwith Lock, without clouting the side and damaging same ..... and at this point with engine going flat out, then to stop in time before hitting the cill at the inner end of the lock.
After this turmoil however, all is peace and we have opening up in front of us such a beautiful vista of green patchwork fields, with sheep and cattle grazing quietly, frequent wooded copses of varied colours rolling out ahead over hills and red escarpments, as to make us think we have arrived in heaven. Wondrous colours of vivid yellow rape mixed with vibrant scarlet poppy reach down possessively towards the waterside.
Because there is less evidence of man the wildlife around the canal is less timid and is seen more frequently. Many Kingfishers, Herons and our old friend the Arctic Tern take full advantage of the shallow waters being churned up as ‘Futurest’ passes by to catch their disoriented prey in the water.
Blackberry briars, heavy now with as yet unripened fruit, vie for space along the unkempt and overgrown sides of the canal with a myriad of bright colourful wildflowers and nettles, strewn with buzzing insects while green pads of white and pink Water-lily crowd towards the centre of the watercourse among the thick bright green shoals of silken floating weed.
The colours and scents are breathtaking.
At regular intervals ‘Futurest’ ploughs to a stop and we have to clear the propeller and rudder again before we can continue. Luckily the weather is warm and charmed so our hands don’t get too chapped continuously diving into the weed box.
After two struggling days we arrive at the very welcoming little market town of Retford and we are very happy, in spite of everything that has happened and the fact that for the time being we must remain here for some time. Everybody who lives in this friendly town assures us that the best is yet to come, notwithstanding the hard work that might accompany it.
And so we are determined to go on, ‘Futurest’ and I. The child of our imaginations has been born with a struggle but we need to savour the rest of its sweet life to make it all worthwhile.
We cannot give up now!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Heel and healing

Now those of a nervous disposition had better not read this posting any further, or at least not look at the photograph, as what is contained would have received an ‘X’ certificate by the censors when I used to go to the cinema as a teenager.
No I’m not planning to turn this blog into a porn site; I am simply going to show a photograph of the wound on my heel, which is taking such a long time to repair itself. So those of you who are nervous but want to read on avert your eyes from the photo now!


“I’ll swear I received it in the Gallic Wars”

I have to say though that I am in very good hands at the local Bridgegate Surgery, where Nurse Sheldron is looking after and re-dressing the wound twice a week. What a wonderful system we have in our NHS. The fact that these professional people at this Retford Surgery should and do give me as a total stranger to them, as good a service and attention as I would receive at my own GP’s, all totally free of charge, is quite remarkable. In all my travels to many other countries in the World I have found nothing quite to compare with our health system. In that respect alone we should cherish it and be grateful that we have it at our disposal. I know it is not free of charge and that each of us has paid for it during our working lives, but it remains nonetheless quite outstanding in spite of everything.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Washing and Water Points

I have mentioned earlier a couple of new friends Peter and Jeanne who live at the moment locally but are in the process of selling their home to live on a Steve Hudson narrowboat; the build should be completed very shortly. While I’ve been moored here they have frequently been along not only for tea and coffee but also to admire ‘Futurest’ which, though not a Hudson Trad is very similar in design to the one they are having. They too will be the envy of the waterways with their boatman’s cabin and a Lister JP3 in the engine room. Obviously they are very excited and are counting the days till they can move aboard.
They are a fine couple and since we’ve met they have been excellent friends towards me. First of all they looked after Janis’ car while we were on our trip and now they have offered to do a big wash for me in their machine. I could have managed the wash okay and obviously would have done under normal cruising circumstances but the drying is always a challenge on board so I was easily won over by their offer. Furthermore today when I took the large laundry bag to their house balancing precariously on my bike, they offered me the use of their bath, which I am unable to resist.
But maybe they were trying to tell me something, politely that I should be aware of! I have to admit that because of having to keep my heel dry, my current ablution routine is a bit haywire so could well do with the bath anyway, with my left heel stuck outside somehow! But it doesn’t bear thinking about as the imagination could run wild!
Jeanne also offered to cut my hair when I said it needed doing so I am going back to them on Monday for a right old session altogether. They have been really very good friends to me.
Thank you very much Peter and Jeanne.

A Large fish in the canal. One of a shoal of many more

When I noted the forward draft yesterday, it showed that the fresh water level in the tank was getting low. It would soon need replenishing.
So as we were heading in an easterly direction, I set off on my bike along the towpath in the same direction to reccy the water point situation. The nearest one is at the ‘Hop Pole’ public house about a mile and a half from where we are moored. But then the nearest winding hole after that for returning to the mooring in town was a further mile and a half along the canal, at the ‘Gate’ public house. So ‘Futurest’ and I would have to travel six miles in all to top up the tank and the way she struggles on this canal to drag herself over the bottom, not to mention stops for clearing weed, it would take us all day, with the possibility of losing our mooring to somebody else when we returned into the town. If we are here for some time while my wound continues to be seen by the nurse, I felt there must be an easier way of acquiring fresh water.

The delightful Chesterfield Canal

Just below Retford Town Lock is the RMBC (not sure what the initials stand for but it’s a boat club) so I thought I would ask if there was any possibility of filling my tank at their water point. Then I could turn round at the winding point just beyond the nearest bridge. I gave the club commodore Jake my sob story and he willing agreed to me using their fresh water, which was most kind.
So this morning I took ‘Futurest’ down through the lock and got the bow as close to one of the moored boats as the silt would allow and managed to secure our bow line to it. It was then no problem to top up the tank in no time at all and to reverse back into the lock and subsequently the mooring still heading in the same direction. The whole procedure took an hour and a half, which was nothing at all. I am very aware that I have been well served by good friends in Retford.

The Comma Butterfly

Yesterday the weather was warm and when I reached ‘The Gate’ I sat outside in the pleasant sunshine and enjoyed a pint before setting off back to the ship. Took some interesting photos, some of which I show here. Wild flowers are now profuse and for the first time in a long while there were plenty of butterflies happily flitting about; brightly coloured Peacocks who settle with their wings open displaying their beautiful plumage as do the light brown Commas, while the Meadow Browns and the darker Ringlets are happy to keep their wings closed for camouflage purposes presumably. It was wholeheartedly a beautiful day and good to be outside.

Trumpets of Hedge Bindweed on a Stinging nettle host

Ringlet Butterfly

Common Ragwort just coming into brilliant bloom

Great Willowherb