Monday 30 September 2013

Not all retracing is a backwards step

Got through to Kings Lock Chandlery at 8.45 this morning, and they confirmed they could service both engine and central heating unit tomorrow, and for a good price. So when Aqueduct rang at 9.30 to say they couldn't, we were content. As it happened, we were already facing the way we'd come, so set off back to Middlewich with a happy sense that things were going in the right direction.

Shortly after we were astonished to find an impromptu session taking place on the off-side bank.

The crew of NB Jester were going strong with sax, guitar / castanets and a tuned drummy sort of thing a bit like a squat Caribbean steelpan. It was so much fun we stopped and gave them our ears and hands for a little while.  We'd have liked to have stayed longer, but other pleasures awaited.

It was a fine morning, much better than forecast. My best beloved spotted a chestnut tree, from which she would have liked to have replenished her supplies of spider-repellant objets d'art, but unfortunately it was the wrong side of the barbed wire.

So, back in Middlewich, we wandered down to the KLC (not the KFC) to make detailed arrangements for the morrow. Then I managed to get in touch with Steve at Evesham marina who, when we were there in June, had recommended a particular device for combining output from the two alternators and maximising it. Sounds like it might be the second step in improving our battery arrangements. The first was turning off the inverter last night and seeing a considerable improvement in the morning.

Things are looking up. And we still have the delights of the Shroppie to come, should we continue with our plan of going home that way.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Not sure what to do

We decided to come home from Middlewich via the Shroppie, with the opportunity of picking up some well-priced diesel on the way. I thought that a good run through to Nantwich would be very good for the batteries, and both limit and counteract the effects of too much running the engine just for charging. Unfortunately I hadn't reckoned on the consequences of the mind being able to range freely around the things currently taxing me, on account of having a long stretch of lock-free travel.

On the way back to Erin Mae after meeting with Middlewich Community Church in the morning, we popped up to see whether Kings Lock Chandlers were open. They weren't, but they had a large sign indicating they were a main Webasto centre. Webasto made our diesel central heating unit, and it's about time it had a service (like the engine!). So as we travelled, I was thinking:

1. Perhaps we should have hung around in Middlewich till Monday, to see whether they could do the service.
2. But we needed to cruise to charge the batteries. Perhaps we should cruise back to Middlewich tomorrow, once we've found out what their prices are and whether they can fit us in.
3. Was that an Isuzu sign I saw at their boatyard? Perhaps they could do the engine service as well. Must check out their website to see what vibes it gives about quality.
4. I'll probably need some diesel before we get to Wheaton Aston. Wonder what the Aqueduct Marina charge. Ring them and find out.
5. Perhaps Aqueduct do Webasto and Isuzu servicing. I'd have no worries about the quality of the work. What about their prices?

And so on. In the end we called in at Aqueduct, got a relatively small amount of diesel for more than they had quoted me over the phone, and Richard the main guy said they could do both the Webasto and the engine, but wasn't sure when. They could ring me at 9.30 tomorrow to find out. So we've tied up near the marina, instead of cruising to Nantwich. But now a check of the KLC website gives very good vibes, and suggests better prices – probably a bigger saving than the cost of going back there. I wonder what time they're open in the morning for a phone call. Now I'm not sure what to do.

So we shall enjoy the place we have moored up.

And we shall enjoy the lamb steaks I'm going to cook tonight. And we shall probably watch Downton Abbey. And we shall leave the troubles of tomorrow until tomorrow.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Bilbo and company

This end of the Trent & Mersey canal has a lot like this…

and some like this…

and even some like this…

traversing which you are guaranteed to meet very little coming the other way. But as soon you hit the reed beds, encroaching from both sides so that there's hardly room for you, let alone a passing stranger, four come along at once!

With the first we exchanged some jokey pleasantries. Passing the second I was too busy avoiding on-side hazards to chat, let alone take a photo. The third was a hirer who acquitted himself very well.

And the fourth was called "Bilbo Baggins", to add to my growing collection of Tolkien-related names.

 Also on a journey (though not an unexpected one, I think) down to Sandbach were Mark and Tina, stretching their legs in the Autumn sunshine.

And we passed some other items-of-interest.

Last of all but, appropriately, past so quickly there was no time for a photo, was NB Strider. So the Tolkien list now reads:

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Many Meetings

Finally, tying up in Middlewich tonight we have traversed the shortest canal on the network. The Wardle canal is just 47 metres long, from bridge to Wardle lock.

Middlewich seems a kinder place now than when we first visited it last summer.

Friday 27 September 2013


Last year, almost to the day, the Trent and Mersey canal breached,

and poured water down the hillside.

The T&M was closed for a long time while they fixed it, and several boaters were caught, unable to move. Among them were Peter and Elaine on NB Maple, who happened to be moored up at the spot today when we stopped to take some photos.

It was good to chat with you, guys. Sorry that the photo shows so little of the boat, but the better photos are from the other end, where your washing was hanging up to dry. I decided you wouldn't thank me for leaving an everlasting pictorial record of it on the internet!

Peter and Elaine followed us through the Saltersford and Barnton tunnels.

These are the first we've encountered which are a bit twisty in the middle. The bends play intriguing tricks with the visuals of steering through a tunnel, and you certainly have to concentrate. I wonder whether the engineers or navvies had broached some other liquid as they tackled the task. We didn't spot any geological reason for the serpentine arrangement, and the technology for creating a straight tunnel was definitely available at the time.

So we came past the Anderton Boat Lift and back onto ground we've covered before. In the light of comments on yesterday's post from Mo and Bruce we wanted to give the engine a chance to put some serious charge into the batteries, but in the end we shortened the day by an hour and tied up near Marston, behind The Wool Boat. We found Colin and Caroline as they were on their way out to the Salt Barge for food, so chatted with them briefly about boaty things and knitting!

Here's the view from our side hatch this evening.

And here are some more things to consider when feeling stressed!

They were sitting just alongside the breach, and no doubt their parents observed it all happening.

Thursday 26 September 2013


You're supposed to get away from it all when you go boating. Slow down, chill out, cut the heart-rate. The reality is that you have this expensive life-support machine, with whose workings your life to date has not really familiarised you. What can go wrong is no less than in your non-boaty world – it's just different.

Last night the batteries had dropped overnight to under 10 volts. We hadn't moved from Lymm yesterday, but I'd run the engine to charge the batteries, and when we went to bed they'd been what I considered reasonable, even though we'd watched a couple of hours of TV. Why the sudden drop? These batteries were new in May, so they should hold their charge. I know they're under warranty, but that would be such a hassle! Most nights they end up around 11.6 in the morning – though a couple of weeks ago they'd once dropped to 10 point something. What's going on? Is there something wrong elsewhere that is draining them. The only thing on overnight is the fridge, perhaps a phone being charged and the little local wifi box with a Three dongle, if we hadn't turned it off. Is the inverter faulty? That would be alarming!

So I've been thinking more about how much I run the engine to charge the batteries, and realised that although I keep a record of engine hours, I haven't been good at keeping a check on the total. This has been our first really serious cruising summer, and when I did the sums today I had a shock. We're way overdue a major engine service – and I mean way overdue. So now I have another worry – do I change the oil myself (lots of other bloggers do that all the time)? No, I'm not really kitted out for that. Do I take pot-luck with a boatyard we happen to be passing? Not sure about that… Do we curtail this journey and head back to Great Haywood to get it serviced by those we trust? Probably. Meanwhile, I have to run the engine for those batteries, but now I'm worrying about the engine!

I thought it would mostly be the bodywork I'd worry about. But don't get me started on that… So what to do? Cruising down the last part of the Bridgewater canal, the best thing is to consider the lilies of the field. Or the birds of the air. Or the flowers in someone's garden. Or the autumn colours in the hedgerows. So here we go:

That's better.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Two more pianos!

As expected we went back to Dunham Massey this morning to have a look at the house. In the morning sunshine it looked a lot better than yesterday.

I always feel ambivalent about such places. No room for sentimentality here – they represent a hierarchical, authoritarian, harsh society of a sort that has characterised our country since 1066 (not that I'm given to generalisations, of course). We are amazed and fascinated by what we see, the way they did things and what they used to do them with. Life for those at the bottom of the pile was extremely hard and, for those at the top, extremely worrying. But it's easy to judge with hindsight. And there plenty of examples of those for whom justice and mercy were priorities, who sought to serve, who truly understood which way is up.

Is it good for the National Trust to preserve such places? I think the answer must be "Yes", because they represent an unrivalled educational opportunity, and not just for the children who were dressed up as dairy maids and taken to make gingerbread. We only understand our culture in the context of its past, and places like Dunham Massey offer windows onto that. Meanwhile the work done in the grounds provide a wonderful leisure resource. And, next year, the house is going to be turned back into the wartime hospital that it was during the first world war. That's a colossal undertaking, being done in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, and if it sets the right tone could be an extraordinary event.

As we walked around, I'd begun to wonder what had happened to the music, until we got upstairs and found two pianos. One a Bechstein from around 1890, you're allowed to play, so I did (compulsive response).

So that was another to add to my collection of "pianos I have played". The other instrument you're not allowed to touch because of its fragile condition, but I would have loved to have been able to do so. It's an 1840 Broadwood.

So we said farewell to Dunham Massey, and came down the Bridgewater to Lymm, where we've tied up for the night. 

It looks as though it's got one or two really interesting places to have coffee, especially if the sun us shining again. So that's what we're hoping for.

Monday 23 September 2013

Green and pleasant land

It was just before midnight last night that one of a group of lads decided to crown his evening (of celebration or sorrow-drowning following the Manchester derby) by jumping on and off Erin Mae's bows, amidst much noise from the rest. I opened the side-hatch, camera and phone in hand, which appeared not to deter them at all. Fortunately they didn't seem particularly malicious, and we're thankful it didn't turn nasty. But it meant that we were quite glad, when the time came, to untie and leave Sale behind. The Bridgewater is wide and deep enough here for Erin Mae to hit the 4 mph limit at a little over 1200 rpm, so we made good progress past the remaining urban miles and out into the country past Altrincham.

In one of the guides we'd seen there was an interesting National Trust property near at hand, so we tied up near the village of Little Bollington, from whence it was just a short stroll to the entrance. Dunham Massey is a typical NT place of its type, with obvious care lavished on both house and gardens.

The house dates originally from the early 18th century, but the form of the grounds owes much to the later landscaping movement. The NT has a stunning programme in place for its gardens, with separate areas for a rose garden, a bog garden, borders of various types and a winter garden that is promising to one of the best of its kind in the country.

We didn't have time to look at both the house and the gardens, so we'll go back tomorrow to see round the house. The grounds beyond the gardens are an extensive deer park, and some of its occupants clearly also think the house worth a visit.

Where we're moored is a haven of peace after the noise and bustle of Manchester and last night's adventures.

And for that we're thankful.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Not your usual place of worship

We'd passed it coming down the Rochdale 9 on Friday. The Comedy Store sits above Deansgate Tunnel Lock – it's a venue for stand-up.

But on Sunday mornings it's the venue for a Manchester city centre church. The bar serves as a welcome area where people gather and drink coffee,

before going downstairs to the theatre part for worship. About 140 including kids, I reckoned, with 90% under 40. Friendly (as first time visitors we got a goody bag!) and the guy on the electric guitar lives on a widebeam boat, which appears to be feasible around the environs of the Bridgewater. It was good to chat with Scott, Julia, Esther and Peter, and we even discovered a mutual acquaintance.

Afterwards we wandered round to another of the myriad arches that exist in this part of Manchester, in the shelter of and in front of which there's an artisan's market.

In this instance, the carefully crafted things we purchased were two pizzas for lunch, and some pieces of cake made by Jane. She's well talented!

The pizzas were consumed pretty well immediately, but the cake waited until we tied up to take on water later in the day. It's amazing the places you find to have a picnic as you travel!

Going down the Bridgewater we encountered another unusual place of worship:

The new stand rears impressively over the canal – it's quite a sight.

Our sympathies today are with the worshipers, whose idols have this afternoon been crushed by their noisy neighbours.

We, on the other hand, are well content to have got down to Sale without mishap, and tied up on a mooring by the King's Ransom pub.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Thumbs up to the YHA

Great idea to stick a Youth Hostel in the Manchester Castlefields complex when they were redeveloping it.

It gets a mention in Nicholson's guide on account of having laundry facilities open to boaters, and it was about time the bedding and towels got done. So this morning it was across the various bridges to where it's situated on the Staffordshire Arm. They were welcoming, there was a spot where I could work on a tricky database issue over the internet while the wash went through, and when I bought a coffee from the receptionist, she invited me to help myself from the biscuit jar!

The Castlefields area is full of the watery equivalent of nooks and crannies, presumably owing their existence to all the wharfs needed when this was a very busy terminus for the Duke of Bridgewater's ground-breaking canal.

More modern business interests are represented by the Hilton hotel, towering in the background.

Up the arm towards Grocers' Warehouse, where we're tied up, NB Fenakapan lies awaiting your custom.

Andy and Di (assisted by Roxie the Jack Russell) make a range of country wines which they sell from the hatch.

So some blackcurrant wine and some elderflower cordial have found their way into Erin Mae's equivalent of a cellar. Well, they've been very helpful with advice about this and that, so it seemed only right…