Tuesday 27 September 2011

Read the map!

You don't need the Nicholson's guide to come down the four locks in Stone, which we did first thing yesterday. So we continued on our way with it still on the shelf, and got to Aston lock rather quicker than expected. Coming round the corner at a gentle pace appropriate for passing the moored boats that occupied our interest, I suddenly found myself also passing Bruce holding Sanity Again on the centre line while Sheila was with the other windlass-workers around the lock – they were themselves second in line to go down. So with hurried apologies for what may have seemed like a lack of manners, but was really a lack of attention, I stopped (glad I was going so slow) and got a bit of practice in going in reverse in the right direction without damaging anyone's paintwork.

While we awaited our turns I was able to ask Bruce about Erin Mae's own paintwork. I don't think she's had any polish or other attention for quite a while, and steel body and paintwork (car or boat) has never been in my comfort range of "things I can do". So, as with everything, it was good to get some advice. One thing to get it, of course, another to follow the instructions.

It's a bit like my wrist, which is still pretty painful. Taking the pills at the right time to dull the pain enough so you can do what the physio tells you – all a bit of a challenge. Working around 60 locks over the last 11 days doesn't seem to have substituted properly for those exercises where you allow the weight of a hammer to turn your wrist over – ouch! Today, back in Christchurch, Tom the physio told me I should expect it to be taking this time (thanks, Tom!). So I'll go see what the doctor says about the pills. In regard to the body, as to life in general, it seems that following the maker's instructions is no bad thing. Then maybe we can do some more boating in this Indian summer the gurus are prophesying.

Sunday 25 September 2011


Yesterday we met a singlehanded boater and went through a lift bridge with him. He showed us the answer to last Monday's question. You leave your boat untied, take the centre rope with you, and draw the boat towards the bridge. Once it's open, you can either pull the boat through from the bank, or climb back on board, drive through and climb back onto the bridge from the other side, in order to lower it again. We were well impressed – though we had to imagine the last part of the operation as we were following through and closed the bridge ourselves.

Today we've done a long run as I want to keep my physio appointment in Bournemouth on Tuesday. Some of it in the rain, some of it back through the depressing first couple of miles of the Caldon, some of it pleasant in the sun later on. At the top lock of the Meaford flight above Stone, we met a guy selling some of his art work to supplement his disability allowance. He'd sold one piece today, which had made it worthwhile. He helped with the lock, and then volunteered to go on down and set the second one for us – said he was getting bored waiting for a sale, and that the exercise would also be good for his disability, but it was also typical of the general attitude we've encountered on the cut. When I thanked him, his response was that I would do the same for him some time. True enough. Another singlehander we met today told us of a long cruise (I forget the details) when he'd had to do only three locks himself.

Most singlehanders I've known seem to flourish best when the right company is just around the corner. Some of them have been the most helpful people you could wish to meet.

Saturday 24 September 2011

And another…

Popped into the Hollybush last night for pudding, and found ourselves sitting next to several members of the Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club, including a number involved in the Caldon and Uttoxeter Canal Societies, the local IWA rep, and a trustee of the Beatrice charity we blogged about a couple of days ago. Ken, Jane, John, Neil, Kath, Jim whose mate designed the floating windlass and Tony, who's building his own boat from scratch. More than 200 years of boating between them, they reckoned – and their boats go through the Froghall tunnel! We listened to some great stories, had a lot of questions answered, got some good tips and a contact or two.

Great crack! Thanks, guys. And the apple pie and the frangipan tart were pretty good as well.

Friday 23 September 2011

Chance encounters

The Churnet is Staffordshire's "hidden" valley. So hidden, said an elderly man we met today, that "when Jerry wanted to bomb the copper factory in Froghall, he couldn't find it." Bolton's made the first transatlantic cable (said our informant), and that was a nice link to Valencia on the coast of Kerry, which was our holiday spot three years ago. We walked down to the tea rooms at the railway station in Froghall only to find that, like the flint mill yesterday, opening is restricted to weekends once the school holidays end. But the walk took us through Froghall wharf and basin, at the junction with the old Uttoxeter canal, brilliantly restored and a treat in the morning sun. There, among the ubiquitous ducks (and occasional goose or swan) was a shag. Our bird book says they can occasionally be found on inland water, and here was the evidence.

Froghall is the end of the line. On the way back, we chatted to three walkers clambering on to the towpath after something of a diversion, we gathered. They watched as we came up the next lock, and then joined us on board for the next part of the journey. A cruiser stern is not everyone's cup of tea, but for this it was ideal. One after another, Rebecca, Pete and Viv tried their hand at the tiller, with no great calamities, and we suddenly spotted the Consall Forge Pottery. By mutual consent we stopped (mooring up a communal affair and no mean feat) and, as chance would have it, Nigel Williams (the potter) arrived at just that moment and opened up. He took time to talk about his approach to his craft and the glazes he uses. We bought a couple of mugs for the Erin Mae, and a new salt pig for home – all very satisfying.

Pete, Viv and Rebecca got off at Consall Forge, though we ran into them again returning from a late lunch at a pub in Cheddleton. Really good to meet you, guys – hope you got home all right! Meanwhile we've moored up outside the Hollybush at Denford. Pudding calls again!

Thursday 22 September 2011


There's a flint mill at Cheddleton. The book said it opened from 1 to 4, so in the morning we climbed the hill into the village, went in the church, looked at the war memorial and found our way to the tea rooms / art and gift gallery. The girl behind the counter told us the coffee machine was broken so it would have to be instant. She had a very nice filter gizmo but didn't know how to use it. A crash course ensued, followed by some excellent coffee – and a cheese-filled Staffordshire oatcake (they are yummy!).

Meanwhile, two police officers followed us in, and ordered extremely large breakfasts. They were doing an advanced motorcycle course – Steve the instructor and Mark the trainee. Steve regaled us with stories of his parents' fifteen years living on a narrowboat, while Mark talked of his motorhome travels to France and Sweden and the outdoor things he had done with his girls as they grew up. We never did work out how breakfast fitted into their day – whether it was to combat the rigours of riding, to adjust the centre of gravity on the bikes, or just a bit of male bonding.

At 1 p.m. we went down to the flint mill, only to find that it was open mostly just at weekends, so we wandered around the buildings reading the plaques, and then set out for Consall Forge. More industrial heritage there in the shape of a lime kiln built into the hillside alongside the canal. The courses of its buttressed stone wall rise up about 40 feet, with four bricked-up arches at the base. Made a lot of money for its owners in the early 1800s.

The Black Lion at Consall Forge featured in CountryFile last Sunday. It has a wonderful location and a lot of character, but has to make enough during the summer season to last through the winter in this now isolated spot. Since the Churnet Valley Railway runs between the pub and the canal and during the season delivers 100 visitors every half hour, the numbers add up so far. It had a few locals in when we went there for our second course tonight – bread and butter pudding for my best beloved since my aversion to this delicacy means she never gets to make it at home. Crumble for me, freshly made with appples and pears from the trees at the bottom of the garden. More yummy!
The Black Lion

Erin Mae at Consall Forge

Wednesday 21 September 2011


Went to put the kettle on this morning, but the ignition on the gas hob wouldn't work. Erin Mae's batteries were a bit low, so we got under way to charge them. That got us to the Leek tunnel entrance earlier than we would have done otherwise, and there was a kingfisher on his perch, also looking for breakfast. Champagne moment! 10 minutes later we had scrambled eggs on toast. The Caldon in the morning sun is a real treat.

Back at the junction with the main line and turning right down the Churnet valley, we waited our turn while NB Beatrice came up the locks. This boat is run by a charity "for children who need to get afloat". There were some inner city lads on board, working the locks and having a very good time under excellent supervision. It was great to see the work being done to build positive attitudes into their lives. All too short a day for them. They turned round and followed us back down the flight, and tonight we are tied up at Cheddleton, just back from Beatrice's mooring.

On the way we stopped at the Hollybush Inn in Denford for lunch, and had a good natter with Graham and Pauline (NB Shy Girl) about all manner of things, boating-related and not. Turned out that Pauline had had both hips and both knees replaced, not entirely successfully. She was a reminder of how much you can do when you just get on with it. Don't know if you'll ever read this, G & P, but we really enjoyed meeting you.

Tuesday 20 September 2011


My best beloved was practising her tiller skills. Morning rain meant there was little traffic and a large margin for the occasional error as she taught her brain and arm to respond correctly to a required change of direction. We were coming sweetly round a corner between bridges 1 and 2 on the Leek branch of the Caldon when there was a lurch and a crunch and the boat tilted over to the right as it ground to a halt. The water level was fine, especially with the rain – it was the bottom that was the problem, and the boat seemed to be caught half way along its length, responding to our initial attempts for freedom by simply pivoting about that point. So we rocked and thrashed the engine in reverse and got out the long pole to push away from the bank. Eventually we floated free and continued on our way.

We're steadily getting used to not being grounded at all. We don't have to be anywhere in particular until my next physio appointment a week today, and that can be postponed if we feel like it. Yet my retirement is not yet complete – I'm in daily contact with the IT department at the college to help with all the database work that has to be done at the start of the academic year. Retired or not? It's a bit like those sub-atomic particles which don't decide where they are or what they're doing until you look at them and ask.

So here we are, moored at Leek, enjoying a coffee after lunch. In a minute we'll wander along the towpath into town. The rain has stopped and it's warming up. We're well chilled.

Monday 19 September 2011


Boating can be a bit minimalist, but we decided that certain kitchen gadgets would fit well on the Erin Mae. So far they've been a great success. The breadmaker produces magnificent wholemeal, while the Morphy Richards Intellichef does slow cooking (last night's stew), frying, home-made soup (today's lunch), steaming, boiling and even cakes. And then my best beloved has this hob-top cooking-tin thing that she acquired in Brazil, with a hole up the middle for the hot gases and a lid to direct them over the top of whatever it is you're cooking. This week it's delivered a great chocolate cake, but in the past it's done baked potatoes and lasagne.

It occurs to me that few of the delicious goodies served up by this trio of gadgets could be classified as low-carb, which is the approach we've been using successfully for the last six years to control weight and waistline. Judging by today's six locks, however, cruising might just involve sufficient extra exercise to counteract the effect. One gadget that stayed at home was the bathroom scales.

Another enabled me to capture the spot we had breakfast today on the Caldon Canal, shortly before Long Butts lift bridge (just visible). What I can't work out is how a single-handed boater does a lift-bridge when the mechanism is on the other side from the towpath, and the opposite bank doesn't permit access. Answers in the comments box, please. It might be important some day!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Life support

Today we lost our chimney to Bridge 9 on the Caldon Canal. That crucial lack of an inch or two that I didn't recognise until too late made it an expensive day – I dropped a windlass just below the bottom gates of our first lock, and no amount of fishing with our magnet-on-a-string could retrieve it.

Carrying around all you need makes you vulnerable in particular and different ways. We were "on the cut" by 7 this morning, because the poo-tank (excuse my French!) was completely full. We had to get to a pump-out station at Stoke-on-Trent, and hope they would be open. All was well and for a brief while we were the happiest of boaters – full water-tank and empty poo-tank! Didn't last, of course.

There's a certain mind-set that all this develops – have we got what we need for the next 24/48 hours? Can't work out whether this is more or less materialistic than normal. But after 10 miles and 9 locks I'm too tired to worry. And Spooks has just started.

Saturday 17 September 2011


Today we made a fairly early start, caught the best of the weather, came up the 4 locks of the Meaford flight and eventually moored at the northern limit of Burlaston, next to the Wedgwood pottery establishment. So we decided to pop over to the visitor centre. Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795) seems to have been a genius, combining his potter family heritage with a keen scientific mind, and developing new technologies that completely changed the face of European ceramics. He also helped devise and promote the Trent and Mersey canal (on which we are currently travelling) which had the immediate effect of cutting drastically the cost of transporting his fragile wares out of Staffordshire.

He comes across as an artist, a scientist and a businessman, but he also found time and energy for social issues, arguing against the slave trade, and adopting some really progressive approaches to the care of his workforce. I enjoyed the exhibition, the demonstrations and the museum (and the lunch!). But I mostly enjoyed seeing again someone bringing together success in various professional arenas while not ditching their humanity along the way.

Friday 16 September 2011

Real Boaters (Stage 2)

It's been a while coming, but last night was our first away from the security (aka mains lead and jetty tap) of the marina. The sun shone as we made our way to Sandon Lock – the furthest we'd come on our previous days out. This was decision point, as our canal guide doesn't show Aston Marina. We thought that, once past the winding hole at Sandon, there'd be no opportunity to turn until Stone, and by then it would be too late to get back to Great Haywood. So up we came to Stone, and found the last mooring in the town centre just above the bottom lock.

Why was this such a big deal? Because when I'd tried to start to start the engine in the morning, there was nary a peep from the starter motor, and it tripped one of the circuit breakers. Engineering Jon came over to see, and nonchalantly said it had done this on and off for the last three years. That sounded like trouble, but Jon thought it was probably just a dud battery. He put in another he happened to have, and suggested we go and try it. Then he said he'd come and fetch us if we got stranded!

So far, so good. We met some more helpful people along the way, including Gina and Andrew on Braidbar boat La Suvera, who shared a bit of their own experience of extended cruising. The locks are getting less claustrophobic. We've had a very peaceful night at Stone. And the engine started every time it needed to.

Wednesday 14 September 2011


The stookie came off last week and an X-ray confirmed the bone had healed up, albeit slightly resetting the angle between arm and hand. What I hadn't expected was the stiffness, soreness and weakness in my wrist and forearm, from five weeks of inactivity. Exercises will sort all this out in time, but for the moment the locker covers for the Erin Mae have to wait – marine ply and power tools are not yet a safe combination.

Still, we decided to come up to the boat today, and after a delayed start found ourselves passing Oxford around 4. "What about a cuppa at Annie's tea rooms?" met with my best beloved's approval. You can't read boating blogs for long without getting to know about Annie's, and we had a vague idea how to find it, though Thrupp doesn't actually show up on the map we keep in the car. Followed our noses, asked an estate agent, and there it was, looking its best in the afternoon sun. Suitably refreshed, we got up to go, and thought we recognised the dog sitting by the bench outside. Boots the dog, and Bones the owner, also recognisable from the general self-description on her blog, the caricature that heads her column in Canal Boat, and the serious piece of two-wheeled machinery 10 yards away. So we hesitatingly introduced ourselves, and had a good natter for 10 minutes or so. Her blog was one of the first we began to read when first we found the on-line boaters, and it was great to say hello. Thanks, Bones!