Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Welcoming of Good Friends

Having provisioned at Morrison’s we remained at the Leek mooring overnight on Thursday 23rd August, returning to Bridge 3 lower down on the branch, where there was a turning point. Then we moored for the night facing back in the direction of Leek, just beyond the aqueduct and overlooking the ‘Hollybush Inn’ down on the towpath of the Froghall Branch.

In the car park of the pub on Saturday morning we had arranged to meet friends who were arriving to stay for the weekend. They were independent of each other and would be arriving in separate cars but they had both booked the bank holiday weekend to visit.



The reunion of old shipmates


Mel was a friend of Janis from Nottingham and would be staying on board with her while Alan was over here for a while from Geelong in Australia and had been a shipmate of mine way back in 1960, when we had served as cadets together on the ‘Ulster Star’.

We became firm friends during that voyage to South America and back but over the years had slowly lost touch during the course of our busy lives. He emigrated to Australia not long after that voyage but recently we had managed to reconnect  via the internet. About a month ago he had returned to the UK to visit family and friends so it became a good opportunity to renew our old friendship. After forty odd years I wondered whether we would recognise each other.

The reunion was no problem at all though and I think we both agreed that over the years, time had made us only greyer and a little bit thinner on top from those young and heady days in 1960.



Alan, Mel and myself


Mel I had met only once before very briefly, when Janis and I were invited to a barbeque in Long Eaton earlier in the year. On this occasion as the last she was lovely and great fun to be with for the whole weekend. All four of us seemed to get along well with each other.

The following day we fired up our engines and took our guests for a two hour cruise to the end of the branch at Leek and back again but this time returning as far as Hazelhurst Junction and descending the three locks down onto the Froghall Branch. We were able to moor for the night right outside the ‘Hollybush Inn’.

It had been a good day; the weather had been kind to us and later that evening Janis and I took Alan and Mel for a meal at the ‘Hollybush Inn’. It turned into a very happy little party, which I enjoyed enormously. The pub was very busy and our relaxed happiness was very evident.


013  Alan, myself & Janis

Alan, myself and Janis

The weather on the Sunday was not as kind so we stayed put on ‘Roots and Wings’ all morning drinking tea, coffee and later on wine. As the rain drummed incessantly on the roof, all four of us were happy to chat, yarn about old times and joke about the new until the noise began to ease by the afternoon.

We went for a short rather wet country walk and later Alan regretfully had to leave. Mel stayed for a further night but had to return to Nottingham on Monday afternoon.

Janis and I agreed that it had been a very happy weekend for us both.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Up the Creek at Leek and Others

At Etruria Junction, on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Stoke-on-Trent, a small waterway leads off towards the east in a sharp winding manner, past the handsome statue of James Brindley on a tall pedestal to the left and, looking very forlorn on the right, the recently closed Pottery Museum. Almost immediately afterwards around a very sharp right hand turn, a steep and impressive staircase lock bars the way. This is the vigorous entrance to the Caldon Canal.

At the top of the lock, the surrounding vista of industrial buildings that flourished emphatically all through the Industrial Revolution until very recently, now reek only of silence and dereliction. Their glass-less windows gaze like open eye sockets to the passing boater seeking in vain his sympathy for their unloved condition of partial or complete demolition, surrounded by heavily graffiti-ed hoarding. Unfortunately it gives one only a sad feeling of depression, which coupled with the physical exertion recently required to get the ship up through the staircase lock, makes one wonder whether the effort of coming onto the canal was really worth it.

However within a just few miles one is rewarded as the waterway meanders past Milton into wonderful breath-taking Staffordshire countryside. It becomes narrower and shallower as the reeds, blackberry briars and the voluptuous looking but nonetheless insidious Himalayan Balsam encroach onto the waterway. The latter though its fragrance is as exotic as its orchid-like blossom, has over the years vigorously covered the banks of the canals much to the detriment of the indigenous flora.

But this notwithstanding, at this time of the year it all looks lovely.

‘Futurest’ and ‘Roots and Wings’, still in close convoy arrived at Etruria Junction during the morning of Tuesday 21st August under an overcast sky and a gentle south westerly breeze that carried the occasional spot of rain on its breath.

After four miles we were at Milton where because of encroaching thick black cloud, decided to tie up for the night in mid afternoon.

We were just in time. As we battened down, we were greeted by a reverberating clap of thunder, after which for over an hour we were battered by a violent and picturesque storm.

Two days later we arrived at Hazelford Junction and branched off to the right to enter the Leek Branch, passing very soon over the other arm that winds its lazy way down to Froghall. We were deep in the Staffordshire countryside now and revelled in its pastoral envelopment. The waterway was embraced by steep green meadows with contentedly grazing cattle between brown dry stone walling and lush copses of overhanging Oak and Ash.

Moving gently along through the muddied waters around steep bends and low rustic bridges, we finally arrived at Leek having passed through the narrow Leek Tunnel. Beyond the last bridge, where we turned around, the visitor moorings were very full. But thankfully there were two lengths of fifty seven feet available for us to reverse and move into.

At the end of the very pleasing day Janis and I walked up to the nearby Morrison's for provisions where I bought her a cup of tea at the café inside the shop to celebrate our arrival.

Yes I know; I can be very generous when I want to be.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Harecastle Tunnel

The little fleet has done well since it arrived on the Trent and Mersey Canal and this evening we find ourselves at the moorings beside the urban nature reserve of Westport Lakes, just north of Longport, Stoke-on-Trent.

Though the weather this morning at the place we were moored last night, close to the top of Church Lawton Locks, was overcast with a grey mist-like rain falling, we felt we had to get on. We didn’t want to waste yet another day doing nothing just to avoid getting ourselves wet.

It was such a good job we did too, for as we travelled up through our six locks, the Sun soon came out to warm us and we enjoyed another glorious hot day.


005  The North Portal  of Telford's Tunnel

The North Portal of the Harecastle Tunnel


006  Inside the entrance

….. and just inside. No convenient lights further in.


007  'Futurest' awaiting transit

‘Futurest’ awaiting transit


008  Brindley's first Tunnel now disused

Brindley’s Old Tunnel entrance, now disused


Soon we entered the rust coloured brown waters always associated with the entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel and soon we were with two other narrowboats and two small cruisers alongside the quay awaiting the arrival of a convoy of boats travelling north through the tunnel.

About three quarters of an hour later, very conveniently allowing us to eat some lunch while we were tied up, we started on our way south through the tunnel, watching the pinprick of light at the end that for a long time never seemed to grow any larger. It was two thousand nine hundred and twenty six yards away.


012  The pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel

Inside the tunnel with the pinprick of light at the end


I had had to remove all my chimneys for the passage and in parts I had to duck my head, as well as bend my back to get beneath the arch of the tunnel which was very low. With darkness all around me and cold dripping water on my head and back, I experienced what cavers must feel when they go underground. With just the sound of the Russell Newbery and my headlight softly illuminating the way ahead I felt as if I was journeying along the River Styx to meet Poseidon in his ancient kingdom.


013  Getting larger towards the end

….. getting larger


But it was pleasantly cool with a faint breeze following me through the tunnel. I concentrated hard; I had to and managed to cover the one and a half miles without scraping the sides.


014  'Roots abnd Wings  exit-ing the tunnel

‘Roots and Wings’ returning from the Underworld


It took forty minutes to transit the tunnel and the daylight was dazzling as I came out. It took some minutes to re-accustom my eyes to the bright environment but it was good to feel the hot Sun on my face again. The experience had been exciting and I enjoyed it immensely.

Half an hour later we came upon the visitor moorings alongside Westport Lakes and we decided to stay here for the night. The rings were just the right distance apart for the length of our ships and as we walked around the lakes later on, we watched and listened in silence to, the myriad of wildfowl for a long time whilst they dived for a late supper amidst a loud cacophony of quacks, honks, hoots and hisses.


017  Sunset over Westport Lake

The setting of the Sun beyond Westport Lake


We watched the Sun go down with the promise of another beautiful day tomorrow and we were glad to be so alive and part of it all.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Middlewich to Wheelock

Yesterday we travelled south from Middlewich in beautiful warm sunny weather but this morning we are cocooned within our steel shells once more with the patter of familiar raindrops on the roof. And as the forecast predicts that nothing will change for the rest of the daylight hours, we have decided to remain tied fast to the towpath and use the time as a ‘make and mend’ day; to get up to date with all the little jobs that tend to be neglected when one is heavily involved with travelling.



The Heron that allowed me to take his portrait


So since we topped up our freshwater tanks at Middlewich yesterday, it’s been a good opportunity today to put the washing machine on and get up to date with laundry that’s been piling up for a while. The generator is on and everything sounds most business-like as the unfamiliar whirring and pumping goes on under the galley worktop.

Similarly it’s been a useful time for re-sealing the chimney flues of both my stoves where the fire cement has cracked and fallen out over the year. Now they both need repainting of course which is another job, probably for the next rainy day I suppose……. Ah well! So life goes on.


007  Salt works

A salt works at Middlewich


Though the Trent and Mersey Canal possesses its own unique beauty, already I am missing the wonderful views and magnificent vista that surrounds the Shropshire Union Canal in every one of its different branches and forms.

I miss its very rural nature; the very fact that Chester is the only large built up area anywhere on its whole length is amazing and wonderful for me, compared with the industrial (or ex industrial), very conurbated Trent and Mersey Canal. Furthermore the whole of the former’s structure appears to be so well looked after in comparison with the poor old Trent and Mersey, which after only one day’s travel feels like a poor relation.

With ‘Futurest’s deep draft at the stern, yesterday after numerous attempts to moor at a quiet rural spot that had enough depth alongside to accommodate her, I had to give up in the end and be content with these limited visitor moorings here at at Wheelock. We just happened to be lucky enough to find two available spaces for our little flotilla to moor.

But on the Shropshire Union canal we were physically able to tie up just about anywhere we liked, as well as at all of the numerous and well maintained visitor moorings that the local canal society continually look after.


015  Stud Green Bridge (162)

…..nevertheless a beautiful setting on the Trent and Mersey Canal


However after tying up yesterday afternoon, a gentleman in the boat astern of ‘Futurest’ greeted me with:

“Is your heel better?”

Now meeting, and sometimes travelling in company with, so many different people in this roaming life, and my memory for names being a little, at best …. well tired perhaps, I have a continuing fear that somebody whose performance is better in that respect than mine, will greet me with my name and yet to me they will appear as strangers. What an embarrassment that would be.

This is how I felt yesterday when greeted cordially by my neighbour. But just as panic was beginning to take over, he continued:

“No we don’t know each other but I read your blog”

Phew! That was a near one. But of course I was thrilled when he said he enjoyed it.

Unfortunately in my fluster I forgot to ask his name so I’ll just say: Thank you dear Sir for reading my blog and I’m so glad you enjoy it.

He had just recently taken delivery of his boat ‘Eleventh Heaven’ from Braidbar Boats and indeed it looked beautiful. I hope you and your lady enjoy your life on her as much as I do on ‘Futurest’.

Though I failed to get the gentleman’s name I took a photo of his name panel which is a wonderful piece of artwork. I hope he doesn’t mind me displaying it here.


017  The boat of a blog reader at Wheelock

‘Eleventh Heaven’


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

At Middlewich

I’m so stocked and shunned tonight I am!

I’ve just learnt that we are not going over the Pennines any more. I knew this would happen cos the Skipper’s always like that.

And I did so want to travel over the top this time. That’s two years running we haven’t done it now. Told everybody he was going to do it last year as well.

Always has great big ideas and then never carries them out. That’s the Skipper. D’you remember, I’ve told you he’s like that before.

I was hoping that after four years with me he would have done better by now. But no! He’s just the same as he ever was.

Honestly! I’ve taught him all I know and he still knows nothing!

He does dawdle so much. Only does about four miles a day at the most and then has one day at least with me tied up like an animal while he goes off exploring with his new lady.

Last Friday he left me miles from anywhere while him and Janis tootled off to Newark for the weekend …… Very nice for some I must say but what about me?

I ask you …. no wonder he doesn’t get nothing done.

But the mooring was in a lovely spot with views all around below and of course my new friend ‘Roots and Wings’ was with me. They had moored us nice and close together so I wasn’t lonely at all. It’s so nice to have her here with me this year. Don’t know what I’d have done otherwise.

The Middlewich Arm

The rain has returned today after a number of days of glorious sunshine, which having lulled us after a just a few days into a languorous feeling of dreaminess, has returned us now to the real world of very changeable English weather. Though the air temperature remains high the return of grey forbidding clouds and the patter of rain on ‘Futurest’s roof is a reminder that the English summer remains very fickle.
However the wet weather that keeps some of us fair weather boaters firmly tied up to the side of the canal, does enable me to do jobs aboard, such as blogging, that tend to be neglected in the normal course of a travelling day. With the Russell Newbery throbbing in the background, deputising for the Sun on this dull day to replenish ‘Futurest’s batteries, I gain inspiration from its perfect beat to tell what has happened to us in the last week or more.

003  In the middle chamber

Chester Staircase Lock hewn out of solid rock mainly

004  Travelling along the North Wall

The gorge along Chester’s North Wall

While we moved ‘Roots and Wings’ to a mooring a mile or so south of Chester the previous day ‘Futurest’ and I remained in the basin so that I could collect some mail from the local post office on the Monday after the last blog posting.
As soon as this was accomplished we set off too and after some time, while  negotiating the large staircase lock, we eventually caught up with ‘Roots and Wings’ snugly moored up and patiently awaiting us at Christleton just to the south of Chester.

Sunshine, peace, reflection and shadow

002  Sunbeams and Shadaows

Sunbeams and shadow

The following day we continued happily south in sunny weather towards Barbridge Junction where the Shropshire Union is met by the Middlewich Arm of the same canal. Here we turned hardaport, or in more usual narrowboating terms, sharp left and headed off towards the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Middlewich, some fifteen miles or so away.
The Sun continued to shine as we meandered slowly along giving both Janis and I a healthy looking tan and the maturity of high summer moved swiftly on. The green of the countryside which only a short while ago had appeared so vigorous in its growth had now gained the more languid look of maturity. Having produced and scattered its seed, it seemed now content to move into the metamorphose of Autumn. And while large juicy blackberries ripened on their briars Mallard chicks that had only recently appeared as fluffy ping pong balls, now had grown almost to the size of their parents.

003  Peacock Butterfly on wall at Lorna's

Peacock Butterfly on Lorna’s Wall


Male Gatekeeper Butterfly
On Friday last at a convenient bridge along the Arm Janis and I left our two ships moored snugly together and shot off to Newark on Trent the help Janis’ friend Tina celebrate her fiftieth birthday. It was a wonderful party and thank you Tina and Steve for inviting us. We stayed at the home of another friend Lorna and thank you to her as well for her generous hospitality.


The exotic looking but roguish natured Himalayan Balsam

We returned by train on Sunday and caught a taxi from Crewe Railway Station back to the ships. It had been a lovely weekend but it was good to be back and to find them safe and sound exactly as we had left them.
The following night we moored at one of the frequent visitor moorings that one finds conveniently along the Shropshire Union Canal. Here the grass along the towpath is always neatly cut while ropes can be securely tied to rings set in concrete. Often there are wooden picnic tables, benches and iron frames to make barbecues convenient and safe, while always they are situated on a part of the canal that has stunning views of the countryside.

010  'I wanna be the Leader'

‘Roots and Wings’ turn to be leader

So now we have arrived at the small town of Middlewich and though we managed to get ashore last evening quickly to buy essential provisions at Tesco, Janis and I have yet to explore the vicinity in more detail. Hopefully the rain will clear away soon to enable us to do so without getting wet.
However time is passing quickly and we still dawdle. We have now had to give up the original idea of travelling over the Pennines and have decided that as we need to be certain of arriving back at Warwick by November 1st, since Janis is booked to fly to New Zealand on the 2nd, we should return south down the Trent and Mersey Canal and Birmingham. This allows for the fact that both of us are still eager to see everything of interest en route. Therefore dawdling along is inevitable. Hopefully we shall arrive before the ice of winter.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ellesmere Port and back to Chester

Last Monday we set out in glorious sunshine towards the terminus of the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port, on the Wirral Peninsular. 

From here one can look out over the Manchester Ship Canal and beyond, across the wide mudflats that show at low tide in the estuary of the River Mersey. While in the grey hazy distance to the north the silhouette of the Royal Liver Buildings can be clearly identified along the waterfront in Liverpool.

Along Chester North Wall towards the Staircase Locks

011  Telford's Warehouse overhanging the water
An old warehouse in Chester Basin now a pub

We could have covered the nine miles in one day had we wanted to and had we started earlier enough in the morning but after our last minute shopping spree in the city it was 4 pm by the time we arrived at the rural mooring at Bridge 134 near Chester Zoo and decided to call it a day.

After a quiet night and a good sleep we were ready to leave early on the Tuesday morning. But it rained all day and having decided to stay put until the rain ceased we remained at the mooring for a second quiet and peaceful night as well and it wasn’t till Wednesday that we set off and finally arrived at the top basin at Ellesmere Port.

002  Weeded up north Shropshire Union
Algae collecting on the canal north of Chester

The canal up to here was liberally covered with floating weed which because of the fresh southerly prevailing wind at the time seemed to thicken up as we approached the end of the canal. It was quite dangerous at the Museum where the green blossom-like petals built up in front of the lock gates and could have encouraged young children at the very least to believe it was grass and therefore to be tempted to walk on it. It was a full time job all day for two members of staff with rakes and a wheel barrow to keep the gate area clear.

018-1  Hedge Bindweed taking over
Large white trumpets of Hedge Bindweed taking over

Navigationally this petal-like algae was no hindrance to the propeller as ‘Futurest’ moved slowly through it, though some boaters seemed to complain about the number of times they had to stop and dive into their weed box. I think this was due to the fact that there was also present on the water, though in lesser amounts, the longer weed that looks like a floating mass of giant watercress, or perhaps water ivy would be a better description. When ‘Futurest’ unavoidably encountered this it was easy enough to stop the propeller and drift through the mass until it was past. On checking at  Ellesmere Port very little had collected around the propeller shaft.

004-1  Arriving at the  Boat Museum Ellesmere Port
Arrival at Ellesmere Port

Ellesmere Port was our mooring for two days in total while we shopped and entertained my friends Peter and Isobel on board. They live locally in the Wirral and he is a Master Mariner but unlike me he remained at sea until he retired a few years ago. He and I were colleagues in Blue Star Line many years  ago so it was lovely to see him and his wife again and to be able to roll back the years for a little while.

004  Sunset across the Museum
Sunset across the Museum

Janis and I didn’t need to visit the Museum itself since we have both been there before by car so on Friday we turned around in the weed at the head of the lock down into the Lower Basin and said goodbye to the Museum. But we needed to moor up at Bridge 134 again in order to rendezvous with Janis’ friend Nigel who had volunteered to crew for the rest of the weekend. Having arrived safely, he came down on ‘Roots and Wings’ to Chester where we all moored up on Saturday afternoon in the Basin near the area that is being redeveloped.

021-1  'Futurest' moored in the rain at the Basin
‘Futurest’ moored in the rain in Chester Basin

Though the weather had been mixed it had failed to spoil our enjoyment of a lovely and rewarding trip.

As soon as I was tied up I set off to the Post Office at St. John’s Street to collect my license disks that my son Alex had put in the post for me but they hadn’t yet arrived so I shall have to visit again tomorrow before we set off towards the south.

But while I wait here with ‘Futurest’ near to the post office Janis wanted to carry on south today in order to give her friend some cruising time. So all three of us this morning took ‘Roots and Wings’ up through the staircase at the North Gate of the city and the three remaining locks up to Christleton a couple of miles to the south of the city.

025  The canal through the garden from the North Wall
The canal from the North Wall down through a garden

I left them there and walked back to my ship along the towpath but was caught in the middle by a very noisy and fierce thunderstorm. The rain pelted down in torrents reducing visibility to little more than a few yards for about three quarters of an hour but I was able to take cover under one of the frequent bridges so arrived back eventually in an almost dry condition.

Tomorrow after the visit to the post office, I shall set off in hot pursuit of ‘Roots and Wings’.