Thursday, 31 May 2012

Penelope May

Last Sunday I received some very wonderful news.

My son Alex phoned to tell me that Catherine his wife had that day given birth to a daughter, Penelope May. She was quite BIG at 9lb 4oz, but apparently was very beautiful, which I am so sure is very true. Both mother and daughter are well and he was due to fetch them home from hospital the following morning.

He told me that he had been there at the birth and was feeling very emotional about the whole event. It is their first child and the birth is, from my own experience, the most important part of their lives so far, so I can imagine just how he feels. I remember so well the same emotions when my daughter was born as if it was only a few years ago, though it has to be  considerably longer than that now of course. I can also remember being present at the birth of Alex himself. How quickly time flies and life speeds past in just a flick of a moment.

Congratulations Catherine and Alex and to Penelope May as well.

May the darling little girl be blessed with a long and fulfilled life and true happiness. 

Coincidentally, short of five months she has been born exactly one hundred years after my mother.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Weekend at Stone

By Friday afternoon last Janis and I had visited and been over the whole of Shugborough Hall and its ground and all the suitable walks around Great Haywood. Our legs had taken us in all different directions.

On that Friday too Gareth the engineer from Burton upon Trent, whom I had called on arrival here, had been out to remedy the screaming alternator fan belt that he fitted for us earlier and had been deafening us now for a couple of days. He fitted very quickly an adjustment bar and a shorter fan belt and we’ve experienced no bother since though we have yet to test it on a full passage.

But as ‘Futurest’ was not booked in for work at the Marina until Tuesday morning, it gave Janis and I the weekend ahead with no particular plans. So we decided to take a run in one of our boats from Great Haywood up to the largish town of Stone, about nine miles to the north, and bring her back again on Monday, ready for ‘Futurest’s booking on Tuesday. The weather forecast was most suitable for the trip with hot continuous sunshine in a cloudless shimmering blue sky.

‘Futurest’ in bright sunshine is totally self sufficient with the help of the solar panel on her roof. Even with the 12 volt fridge working normally there is more than enough electricity produced for her batteries to remain fully charged up, whereas the panel on ‘Roots and Wings’, with the little ship’s  inverter running continuously for a 240 volt fridge, fails to produce enough charge over a full twenty four hour period and the engine needs to be run as well in order to compensate.


001  Ornate bridge on Trent & Mersey

Salt Bridge


So we decided to take ‘Roots and Wings’  and safely leave ‘Futurest’ to her own devices at her mooring.

Janis came up through Haywood Lock with her ship at around eight o’clock on Saturday morning and I met them at the already busy water point complete with wash kit and windlass.


006The River Trent at Stone

The Slalom on the River Trent at Stone


However soon we were on our way as were lots of others and though we had to queue at each of the four locks along the way, it was not an unpleasant passage and because of the number of people always eager to help at the locks, my windlass was completely superfluous during the whole time and never used once.


017  Burston Village Pool

Burston Village Pond


We arrived at about lunchtime and managed to find a single mooring space on the busy canal, just below the Star Lock and adjacent to the Westbridge Leisure Park, the wonderful green space that also includes the meandering River Trent. Along the river became one of our walks while we were there of course, and we watched the anglers in the river and the paddlers on the kayak slalom. All seemed to be happy and invigorated by the balmy air in the early evening sunshine.

Saturday was also our shopping day and we trailed through charity shops and hardware stores looking for different items that we thought we needed as well as stopping at a little tea shop just off the pedestrianised High Street for a leisurely and well earned cup of tea.

We had an early night ready for a food shop at Morrison’s the following day.

After this we had had enough of the hustle and bustle of the town and decided to move in the afternoon three miles to the south to a more  rural spot at Bridge 86, very close to the small village of Burston and it was here that we stayed on Sunday night.

We arrived at around midday again with the weather still perfect. So before very long we had decided on yet another walk using the country footpath system.


020  Red Campion

Red Campion


The village was small and very quiet and for once the church was open. St Rufin’s was very small. Victorian in age it looked rather more like a Methodist chapel than an Anglican parish Church. But it was quiet and cool enough for contemplation which was important.

Unusually a lone long tailed Tit was flitting and hovering with a great deal of expertise among the small flies just above the surface of the village pond and was grabbing one here and capturing one there with ease in his quick and eager little mouth.

After watching him from a seat for sometime, we had a lovely walk in the country over rustic little used stiles, through knee high hay fields and across green meadows grazed short by timid but resentful looking sheep and very inquisitive cattle whose sheer size and close proximity made us feel uncomfortable sometimes.


014  A country walk with Janis

A Country Walk


Then four miles later and safely back at the ship, after a good hearty pizza and salad meal, we had an early night ready for a good start back to Great Haywood today.

The canal was just as busy on the return journey after we had left the mooring at 7 am. and we soon quite suddenly came upon the entrance to Great Haywood Marina and by midday were tied up starboard side to, on the north side of the road bridge just above the water point and the junction.

‘Futurest’ was just as I had left her with her batteries fully charged and, I could feel that she was eager to be off somewhere; anywhere; soon.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Shugborough Hall

As I was unable to book ‘Futurest’ into the Marina workshop before next Tuesday to have her forward fender, which has been missing since passing through Claydon Locks on the second day out from Banbury, re-sited and fitted, we have a few days to do other things here in Great Haywood while we wait.


005  The entrance to the stables 

Wisteria on the Stables block


Both Janis and I being members of the National Trust we decided that we would visit Shugborough Hall, the seat of the Earls of Lichfield and now a Trust property. The house and grounds are enormous and we decided to take two days over the visit.

On Tuesday after mooring, I booked in at the Marina and then on Wednesday we visited the house, the home of Patrick Lichfield, the Queen’s first cousin. He died in 2005 and during his life he was a celebrity photographer and therefore throughout the tour there were many of his pictures on display as well as paintings and possessions of earlier family members, including George Anson the British Naval hero who flourished a generation before Nelson.


001  The Chinese House and Bridge, Shugborough

The Chinese House and Bridge at Shugborough Hall


Then yesterday we were even more impressed with the grounds, which were enhanced magnificently in the bright sunshine. As well as the specially cultivated flora, which was wonderful, the wild flowers were so rich and colourful in the special spaces left un-mowed till the flowering season is over. What a good idea this is, as the many different insects were taking full advantage of the benefit. To make the gardens tidy, the edges of the grass next to the footpaths paths had all been mowed, which was a good indication that so much special care had been taken. Otherwise it might have looked as if the gardeners had just forgotten or been too lazy to cut the grass.


008  Bluebells

Bluebells and Forget-me-not


Also the meadows, grazed by long haired and long horned cattle with long looks, as well as ordinary very inquisitive cows, were smothered in what appeared to be a sea of brilliant yellow buttercups, the green of the grass being almost completed hidden.



Meadows smothered in yellow Buttercups


It had been a marvellous two days during which the glorious weather had made the experience so much nicer. Long may this spell of summer sunshine last. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


At last I am allowed to have a say on this computer while the Skipper is away … yet again.  At least I hope to make a better job of it than him, who doesn’t check through what he’s written in the blog and therefore makes silly typographical errors, to be corrected only by observant commentators. I ask you…. How slap dash can he get?

Of course he’s away visiting the other boat right now.

I knew this would happen as soon as I learnt we were to be joined by another boat for the whole of this summer! Off goes the silly Old Man, yet again thinking he’s twenty one chasing a bit of skirt.

I don’t see anywhere near as much of him as I used to. The favourite thing at the moment is as soon as they tie up, off they go for a walk together. Aaahhh ain’t that sweet. While I’m left all on my own for a couple of hours!

And I do get so lonely for the old days.

But this morning our party arrived at Great Haywood and I was pleased to see that ‘Roots and Wings’ tied up well below the lock in the country stretch well out of the way by Shugborough Hall, whereas the Skipper took me through the lock by the little cafĂ© and we moored about halfway between it and the Junction.

The weather was very fine with a cloudless sky all the way, which makes a change from the overcast dreary lot we’ve been having for a long time now. It was so warm too and my roof was shimmering in the reflected heat. Even the Skipper wore a tee-shirt ….

and his shorts would you believe?

No wonder all the wildlife was scared away.

Anyway I was about to say that Great Haywood has many memories for me. I’ve visited here quite a few times not only with the Skipper but with my previous skippers  Ian and Linda, when my name was ‘JP2’, and it was here that they left me, up for sale just over three years ago.

That was a sad occasion.

And it was here that the present Skipper saw me for the first time forlornly on a very cold January day in 2009. The snow was deep and the canal was covered in ice as I watched him trudge slowly along the frozen towpath. He always tells everybody that it was at that moment that he fell in love with me.

Aaahhh bless him! He does have his good moments sometimes.

And it was in the marina here that he had me surveyed, blacked and painted overall the same year with my new name ‘Futurest’ in the big panel. I didn’t like it at first and I was glad that the Skipper left my old name painted on as well, so that my old friends would still remember me. But I like the new name now …. It’s kind of grown on me.

But I’m not very well still, you know….

My new fan belt that was fitted at Burton is now slipping on my flywheel and causing a great screaming noise. And no adjustment plate was fitted as the fan belt wasn’t quite long enough so the Skipper can’t adjust it himself.

Also ever since Claydon Locks I’ve not had a bow fender, which has made my nose a bit vulnerable, though I have to say that The Skipper has done his best quite successfully to avoid me banging against lock gates and other things.

So he walked along to the marina today and booked me in for a week tomorrow. In between I expect I shall be left on my own again while he and Janis swan off together on various jaunts.

It really isn’t fair!


Monday, 21 May 2012

Our Constant Companion

Ever since we set off from Newark over a fortnight ago we have had a friend with us at all times. If he is not actually with us then he has been very close by ….. not too far away.

He has always been watching over us and this evening tied up safely within sight of Wolseley Bridge in Staffordshire and with the Sun shining brilliantly, as if in approval, he is still very close to us.

Like all good friends he has been very supportive, when we have been in doubt. We have felt his praise when we have done things right but his rebuke has been swift when things have gone wrong. But he has been forgiving of our inadequacies and I feel he is mostly in approval.

But we do not fear him …. We respect him in all his moods, sombre, passionate and sparkling.

We are very lucky….

As we travel further north he will eventually leave us to our own maturity but, because he has been with us for so long,  we shall miss his presence as we climb over the heights of the Pennines and down the other side.

But soon at Keadby, we shall return to his outstretched arms once more.

He has been our friend,

our mentor,

our guardian,

our constant companion on this long journey

has been the River Trent.


014  Aqueduct over the River Trent

Aqueduct over the River Trent at Rugeley



The Trent watching over us nearby at Wolseley Bridge


On Friday we finally left Burton and moored later that same day at the pretty village of Alrewas.

After tying up Janis and I decided that in spite of the sky being overcast, it would not stop us from exploring the locality as much as we could. As we needed some provisions we made our way first to the local Co op, noting with wonder the ancient, black and white low thatched cottages, with either sweet smelling Clematis, climbing Rose or Wisteria, with heavy blossoms that looked like ripe pale blue grapes, cascading over low doorways and gardens full of blooms that seemed to overflow grey and weathered walls in order to cheer us all up.


011  An ancient cottage at Alrewas

One of the ancient thatched cottages


Nearby was a notice on a board announcing that on the following night a concert was being given at the Parish Church by a sextet of singers from Walsall called the Watershed Theatre Company. It was entitled ‘Music from the Shows’ and tickets were six pounds.

Initially having decided to stay just overnight, Janis and I decided unanimously as well as immediately to stay an extra day at our mooring so that we could attend this performance and dived into the local newsagent next to the Co op to buy two tickets.

Therefore having the extra day to explore, on Saturday afternoon we went for a walk, which took us over the busy A38 road as well as the railway level crossing and deposited us, quite by chance, in front of a park called the National Memorial Arboretum. We entered and discovered that it was a young recently wooded area devoted entirely to the memory of the people of this country who have died in combat since the Second World War.



The central Memorial area


It was amazing and quite marvellous. The area was so vast that it would take many days to see all of it. We found and made a particular pilgrimage to the Merchant Navy Section for my benefit, where there was a tree planted for every ship sunk during the War.



Janis against one of the walls of inscribed walls


The main memorial which showed thousands of names carved on white polished granite walls that surrounded the central area, was impressive and the more than life size sculptures within were poignant and filled me with sadness that today we were still allowing the killing to go on.



One of the sculptures which I found very moving


Later back at the little ships, we showered and dressed up for the concert at seven thirty and found the show was marvellous. Each of the cast, three ladies and three gents, had lovely voices very suitable for songs from the shows and the programme was very varied with every combination of the six voices. In the interval there was a free glass of wine and nibbles and at the end of the two hour concert we felt as if we had received full value for our money.


014  Ready for the music concert

Myself in concert going kit



Janis looking suitably posh for the occasion



Saturday, 19 May 2012

Arctic Tern and Large Families

At ten o’clock yesterday morning ‘Futurest’ and ‘Roots and Wings’ were underway after their few days delay at Shobnall. The weather was fine but with a fresh to strong north easterly breeze blowing up their sterns, navigation along the Trent and Mersey Canal, which can be  narrow at times, was on occasions quite difficult.

It was so satisfying however to be on the move again, especially with an alternator that was charging so efficiently at my usual tick over speed.

Nothing had changed in the country once we were clear of the suburbs of Burton upon Trent. Brown and white Hereford Cattle grazed contentedly on the low wet grasslands and the wild fowl were busy and prolific, not deterred in the slightest as we chugged gently by.



A large family


Early on in the passage to Alrewas we were passed by a large family of Canada Geese travelling happily in the opposite direction. Twenty six little goslings in total, herded close together by mum and dad at each end, were paddling furiously to keep up with their parents’ leisurely strides, while for a spell, along the straight that leads through Barton Turns Lock and on to Wychnor, ‘Futurest’ and I were buzzed consistently by a very elegant Arctic Tern, who was unperturbed by the unceasingly noisy A38 road that runs parallel to and next to the towpath. He seemed to enjoy hovering so easily just a few feet above us before power diving into our disturbed wake for some tasty morsel. It was amazing and luckily I managed to take one or two reasonable photos of him with my small digital.



Buzzed by an Arctic Tern



The passage all the way to Alrewas was leisurely for our little squadron and anyway it had to be that way since there were so many hire boats on the canal ensuring that we had to wait patiently in a queue for some time at all of the five locks. We took on water at the Barton Turns Landing, which helped to pass the waiting time there. However the situation was not at all stressful and everybody was happy, talkative, and helpful.

Back at Newark, prior to the voyage, Janis and I had worked out a lock working plan which we decided would work equally for both double and single locks.

Whichever ship was leading at the arrival of a lock would prepare it for the follower to navigate straight in and then work the lock completely for the follower first and then his own ship. In this way the follower would then become the leader at the next lock and perform the same tasks.

It was a little tricky to work the idea yesterday  since having to wait in a queue tended to interfere with the expected smoothness of the idea, but somehow we managed to share the workload satisfactorily.

We passed pleasingly through the narrow and unlikely side arch of the bridge at Wychnor, past the church in its pastoral setting on the hill and the wide weir, onto the short and quiet river section of the canal just to the north of Alrewas.


010  Wychnor Church

The Church on the hill at Wychnor


We were then through the last lock and very soon tied up along the visitor moorings at this very pretty and ancient Staffordshire village.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Burton upon Trent

Since Sunday last ‘Futurest’ and I, in close company with Janis on ‘Roots and Wings’, have been moored near Shobnall Bridge at Burton upon Trent. It has proved to be a very quiet and respectable residential area and we have enjoyed being close to the shops in town, managing to walk in on most days.
However it is an unscheduled stop, since both Janis and I prefer to moor in rural areas where there is plenty of wildlife and enjoyable country walks available. And this was our continued plan until ‘Futurest’ developed more trouble in the Engine Room, which encouraged us to stop for emergency repairs.
As you will remember six months ago the Russell Newbery was fitted aboard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Stretton Wharf together with a brand new alternator to charge the batteries. However the pulley that was already on the second hand engine, though it was not really large enough, was used for the alternator fan belt. This meant that at engine tick over speed, only slightly less than that which the RN runs at during normal passage, it was hardly sufficient to turn the alternator at a fast enough speed to turn the red ignition light off let alone charge the batteries fully. But with a little initial revving the light did finally extinguish and it then stayed unlit for the rest of the day’s journey, apparently charging as it should do.
This seemed to be acceptable and fearing that further delays at Stretton Wharf might trap us for the rest of the winter I decided to leave things as they were temporarily and later, next winter perhaps, have the alternator re-sited with the belt straddling the engine flywheel itself. This would create a much greater and effective speed on the alternator for charging purposes.
But on Saturday last the red light went out during the day and stayed out no matter how much revving of the engine I performed making my temporary measure even shorter than I had anticipated. I had to have it all repaired fairly immediately, though I wasn’t seriously in trouble at that moment since the Sun was shining valiantly at the time and keeping the batteries well charged up with the aid of the solar panel.
But for how long could I expect this fine weather to last?
We were approaching Burton upon Trent and Nicholson’s Guide told me that close by, at Shobnall Marina, they had an engineering facility called the Burton Boat Company and after we had moored up Gareth very quickly and willingly came aboard and having taken the alternator ashore for testing, returned on Tuesday and refitted it in its new position just above the engine flywheel. By the time he left the ship on that same day the alternator was revving at its perfect speed, powered by a flat fan belt rigged around the large RN flywheel. It was such a pleasure the see the red light go out even before the engine had fired into life.
Meanwhile Janis, moored just astern of us on ‘Roots and Wings’ has been investigating her new solar Panel, which she had had fitted just prior to her departure from Newark. Comparing it with the performance of mine, it didn’t appear to be performing as efficiently as it should have done, though this was difficult to ascertain since having to use continuously 240 volts for her fridge she had to run an inverter, which I don’t. So naturally ‘Roots and Wings’ power demand is much greater than ‘Futurest’s simply for this. Also with the new panel was fitted a very complicated battery monitor system and it is difficult to see from this just how much the panel is creating. But I think now that Janis has satisfied herself that everything is working satisfactorily.
Now all is complete again and after this pleasant but busy few days sojourn, we are all ready and shall be glad to be back on our way tomorrow chugging along the very busy Trent and Mersey Canal.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


The two little ships arrived happily at Nottingham this afternoon and so that we two skippers could go shopping for provisions at Sainsbury’s, they moored themselves neatly end to end, on the Nottingham & Beeston Canal, right outside the superstore for us.



‘Roots and Wings’ on the River Trent


Janis and I had an hour’s grace to shop before the weather, which had been kind to us all day whilst we travelled from our overnight mooring at Holme Lock, became more unsociable.

We just managed to return to the ships with our shopping before the sky darkened and leaned heavily on us, chucking it’s rain down like driving stair rods.

We waited. We had no choice and about half an hour later it eased and briefly stopped, lulling us into thinking that it was all over. So we let go quickly and moved westward along the canal. But within a few minutes the rain began again and though it was not as severe as before, it hasn’t stopped since.


011-1  Field of yellow Lesser Celandine

Fragrant fields of Meadow Buttercup and Lesser Celandine.


We are now moored safely in spite of the rain doing it’s very best to hinder us during the process, secured to iron rings near a bridge that carries the road over to the vast Boots Factory estate. It is almost a rural mooring and I have stayed here twice before. Each time it has been very quiet and safe, with just the occasional but urgent pat-pat of feet passing by as they jog along the towpath.


009-1  Family of Canada Geese

Canada Goose Family with youngster trying to clamber out of canal


Having left Newark on Sunday morning the passage up the River Trent was slow going, the two little ships working incessantly against the two or three mile an hour current downstream, which never gave up trying to push them backwards. Consequently the 1.6 mph average speed attained was so much different from the pace that ‘Futurest’ had been hurtled down in the opposite direction barely a fortnight ago.

But our slow speed was good since it gave us the opportunity to view and photograph numerous and different wildlife and at this very special time of the year it was wonderful to see that Nature had been so generously plentiful again with both young fauna and flora. It was a pleasure to note that She had not forgotten us during the cold winter. As lambs frolicked and young water birds bobbed eagerly like furry ping pong balls in the river, the meadows and the new bloom of the trees shone luminously in the early sunshine in so many different unimaginable shades of green. The fragrance around was heady and stimulating making it good to be alive and part of it all.


010  The old FMC Warehouse Nottingham....

The old Fellows, Morton and Clayton Warehouse, Nottingham


Sunday, 6 May 2012

The New Adventure

This morning in beautiful sunshine a new journey began. Two little ships crept out of Kings Marina in Newark and set off in a southerly direction through the old medieval town and out into the River Trent.


002  Newark Town Bridge

‘Futurest’ passing beneath Newark Town Bridge


‘Futurest’ was leading the small armada, battling against the swift running river, while close behind she was followed by the indomitable ‘Roots and Wings’.


003  Castle from under bridge 

The Castle from under the Bridge


These two boats were now well seasoned travellers together on the River Trent, as the latter had only nine months ago very bravely and stoically towed a disabled ‘Futurest’ along the fiercely tidal part of the river from West Stockwith to Newark. The voyage was carried out most satisfactorily and so naturally they were now firm friends.


006  Skippwer Janis 

Skipper Janis with ‘Roots and Wings


Janis, the Skipper of ‘Roots and Wings’ has a year’s sabbatical from work and has decided to travel the northern waterways in the company of ‘Old Salt’, who has willingly subscribed to the idea as well.

Many jobs needed to be completed on both ships after Janis left work and prior to leaving but purely by chance the completion date today, and the day of sailing, is auspicious as it is the anniversary of the first meeting back at Holme Lock last year. So it has good vibes.



Patient domesticity


Having battled our way today against a very strong current, as well as competing against members of Newark Rowing Club and many other users both fast and slow for space, we decided finally to tie up on the upstream moorings at Hazelford Lock. Though the wind remains chilling from the north the weather is, and has been all day, very beautiful.

It’s a very good start to our voyage of discovery.