Sunday 31 August 2014

3rd year running

For the 3rd year in a row, Lewis and Charis brought their mum and dad (Jo and David) for a day on Erin Mae. As before they showed excellent skills in handling the boat…

and helped to work Wharton's lock – the only one we had time for on our out-and-back trip.

The sun shone for the first time in days. We had good fun, good food, good crack.

And I discovered that David had also enjoyed the Patrick Rothfuss books (see yesterday's post), has the second in the series, and will deliver it to the marina after work tomorrow if we're still in Tattenhall. I can't think of any reason we would want to move, really.

Saturday 30 August 2014


Number 3 Son said I'd enjoy The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, so I took him at his word and ordered it from Abe Books. True to what he'd said, I found it a little hard going at the beginning, but a thoroughly enjoyable read in the end. Only thing is – it's the first volume of a trilogy, and I want more. But how to get the next volume? This is where the Poste Restante system comes into its own, as you can get a parcel sent to a convenient Post Office and pick it up as you pass. Well, we're probably going to leave Tattenhall on Monday or Tuesday, so it's no use getting it sent here. It'll take us a couple of days to get to Middlewich to pick up our free diesel, but it might take longer than that for the book to come. And we don't yet know where we're going afterwards. I've no particular desire to hang around in Middlewich waiting for a book.

What are the alternatives? I generally avoid paying full new cover price for books. It's not in the eBooks section of my county library. I could get the Kindle version from Amazon – on this occasion (amazingly) cheaper than a secondhand copy from Abe, cheaper than iBooks and seriously cheaper than the Nook. I could then read it on my MacBook, or on my best beloved's iPad. But there's something about paper, and being able to tuck it in a pocket when you're going somewhere you wouldn't take the laptop. And with all this summer weather we're being promised at long last, it might be that I'd want to read it sitting out on the towpath – not the place to be deciphering a computer screen.

But I'd like it now! I'm in the mood for continuing with the story. Hm…

Thursday 28 August 2014

Bananas, milk and Cherwell Valley

The bananas look fine after this six day absence. Haven't yet tried the milk. We concluded our optician business in Poole yesterday, and came back in seven hours today (car to Great Haywood, bus to Stafford, train to Chester, bus to the marina) to find Erin Mae safe and well in Tattenhall.

We've made a habit of pausing at Cherwell Valley services on these trips. Costa coffee (Americano and a Flat White) is over-priced (IMHO) but it tastes good, and the M&S Food shop stocks a wonderful iced & spiced bun 2-pack. Today we got chatting to Carol and Martin, who sat down next to us with their coffees. It turned out Martin had done some narrowboating some years ago with a group of scouts he was leading. Nice to meet you, guys – it contributed to a pleasant break.

Tuesday 26 August 2014


For some Christmas presents a couple of years ago I made a few CD clocks – a composite of some pictures of Erin Mae and family. I bought some clock-making kits from a friendly on-line company and printed the CDs on my own printer. I was quite pleased with the result.

I'd been thinking for years about making a clock with a wooden face, and since acquiring Erin Mae had been wanting a clock in her kitchen area that would fit in size-wise, something about six inches across. We'd looked at the circular, brass, nautical variety, but couldn't work out whether we liked them or not, and any that were pleasant to look at seemed very over-priced.  In the end, I made one using an off-cut from the thin wooden ply used for the sliding wardrobe doors in our bedroom at home. I did a South America / Brazil outline with a old OHP permanent pen, to remind us of our years over there, and finished the surface with beeswax before applying the numerals.

In retrospect, I think it would have been better with the edge an extra quarter or half an inch away from the numerals, but it looks good on the end wall of the kitchen. It's useful during cooking, and can easily be seen from the general living space. I 'm very cautious about putting screws into Erin Mae's woodwork, but this was one project that I thought merited it.

Friday 22 August 2014

Means of Transport

Boat, bus, train, bus, car. But not bicycle or pony and trap. Setting out from Sykes Hollow at 8.30, we were home in the New Forest by 10 p.m., via Tattenhall Marina, Chester, Crewe, Stafford and Great Haywood. The only significant difficulty was walking all over Stafford, trying to find out where the bus for Great Haywood left from. But by then we were an hour ahead of ourselves, having made some very timely connections at Chester and Crewe. All in all, a rather unusual day's travelling.

We didn't remember the locks on this stretch of the Shroppie with any great fondness. Some of the paddles and gates are seriously hard work. The first one is a 2-part staircase lock. By the time you're ready to exit the bottom section, you really don't want to think to much about the wall of water being held back by the gates between the two parts. But having friendly volunteer Keith to help was a real bonus.

He confirmed what we'd already noted – very little traffic on this part of the network today, so we were working the more difficult locks by ourselves.

However, we made it to Tattenhall in time to have some lunch, shut up Erin Mae for a week, and catch the 3.15 bus into Chester. We brought just what we could pack into a small rucksack. That included the remains of a chilli con carne and some cooked sausages for tonight's meal, but half an hour into the journey we were thinking we should also have brought the remaining bananas and the milk. They're not really likely to last the week!

Thursday 21 August 2014

Change of plan

When Kings Lock Chandlers did our engine service last year, a washer got left off one of the taps in the fuel feed, and we ended up with a lot of diesel in the bottom of the engine compartment. They came out really quickly to sort it all out, and Steve said we could have 30 litres of diesel any time we were passing. What a gentleman! So we were hoping to take him up on his offer as we passed through Middlewich on our way north.

However, as things transpired, we weren't able to tie up above Kings lock last night, so went through the junction and up Wardle lock, ending up on the Middlewich branch of the Shroppie. I was going to reverse back down this morning, but meanwhile we'd been discussing when I should get my contact lens check, which is now due. I've been aware of a slight irritation in the eyes, so I rang our friendly optical expert Richard back in Poole. He said we could carry on cruising if we wanted, as it wasn't imperative to do it immediately, but one of the lenses is four years old, so no surprises if it's starting to remind me of that. The upshot is that we've decided to go across to Tattenhall marina towards Chester, where we can leave Erin Mae for free. A couple of buses and the train from Chester to Stafford will get us back to Great Haywood to pick up the car and drive south for an appointment. It will be the furthest I've ever gone for an eye check!

So this morning we simply carried on along the Shroppie, and the free diesel will have to wait till we resume our trip in a week or so. Meanwhile we have the delightful prospect of driving from Stafford to the New Forest at Bank Holiday weekend. I think we'll try to time it for the middle of the night.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Into the breach

True to their word, CaRT got us through the troubled pound and lock this morning, even though their work yesterday had not solved all the problems and they were continuing to diagnose and plan further stoppage time. Coming down we passed boat after boat moored up, waiting to be allowed up. Stopping for water in Wheelock we found ourselves next to a Danish couple in a hire boat, who were 21st in the queue, and there were a further ten behind them. I think CaRT were going to work all day to get as many possible through, before another stoppage tomorrow morning to try and work out where all the water is going. As you travel this section it feels very rural, and it was a surprise to hear tales from the CaRT personnel of vandalism of the locks that had brought them out several times in the last weeks.

We were pulling up for our lunch (warm home-made bread – yummy!) when the expected rain hit us, and we thought for a while that we might stay put. But the sun came out again and the Met Office forecast promised good things, so in the end we came on all the way to Middlewich, home to the Wardle canal which, at just 47 metres long, is the shortest canal in England. We have a date here with Kings Lock Chandlery to get some free diesel – more about that tomorrow, assuming it materialises (the diesel, that is, not tomorrow, if you see what I mean).

Tuesday 19 August 2014


In view of the forecast for this morning, we stopped in bed and listened to the rain. Setting out around 11, we began to pick up news of problems down the hill. It turned out that lock 63 on the Trent & Mersey had failed, leaving the pound above it with no water. Traffic had come to a complete halt. So we moored up at the back of the queue above lock 61 to sit it out. There were nine boats in front of us, and another five came along behind.

Some were saying it would be Saturday before it was fixed. The first CaRT guy to tell us about it said they were planning to do the work tomorrow morning. So we walked on down to have a look.

The pound was down to its muddy bottom, but a work party was already tackling the issue.

There had been a problem since the weekend with the lock losing water, but they hadn't been certain of the cause. Now they found that the upper paddles were leaking.

A lot of made-to-measure work has to be done on site. There's very little mass production of these items, and some good technical skills are called for.

You don't normally get to see these recesses where the paddles are located – they're below the water-line.

So the CaRT guys seemed positive they had solved the problem. Now they have to bring the water down to get the levels in the pounds back up to normal. The main reservoir is up the Macclesfield canal, and they'll be doing it overnight. It will be interesting to monitor whether we are aware of the water coming past us. We've been told they'll start to move the boats in the morning.

Well, it's a lovely sunny evening – might get the guitar out on the towpath if it stays this way.

Monday 18 August 2014

Wedding pics

A bit off-topic for a boating adventure blog, but here are some of the pics my best beloved managed to take on the day of, what was for us (of course) the wedding of the year – when our Nº 3 son Simon married his Sarah.

Selected family members await the bride,

as does the bridegroom and his father (your truly), who's going to marry them.

I think I can safely say that Simon's function band have never played a venue like this. The Albert Hall, yes. The chapel of Christ College, Brecon, no. Until now.

After the ceremony, Simon and Sarah leave for Pen Pont, in a nicely done up Land Rover.

Didn't we scrub up well!

As did Iain and Chris (sons numbers 1 and 2), and Chris's Norwegian wife Mie.

The cake was pretty impressive – and served with a cup of tea at tea time, about an hour before the main meal.

It had to be cut, of course.

Inside the teepee, everything looked very cool, including the chill-out zone where folk who wanted could just relax and listen to the band.

Tables and settings were, shall we say, rustic-chic, with a Moroccan flavour.

The top table (though it was actually in the middle) had chairs rather than benches – better for the bride's dress, and the couple's parents' backs!

The leaves were a nice touch – M.O.G. was Mother of the Groom!

The bar served different sorts of punch, and lots of other things.

 And a good time was had by all.

Old flame

It was one of those tender moments. After the demands of the Harecastle tunnel (nearly 3000 yards) and the first six locks down "Heartbreak Hill" we found a place to pull in for a sandwich. I squeezed by my best beloved in the kitchen and, in doing so, dropped a gentle kiss on the top of her head. She leaned back a little (in appreciation of the gesture is my guess), forgetting that the kettle was heating on the gas hob just behind her. Seconds later there was a yell: "Is something burning?" Affirmative. That nice fleecy, jumper thing from Milletts was past repair, and had also deposited melted poly-something on the tee-shirt underneath.

She herself acquired a sore finger from trying to feel what was going on before we had extinguished it. Well, well. This old flame doesn't normally take his job description quite so literally.

Apart from the conflagration, this sunshine-and-showers day worked out rather well. We were third in the queue to enter the tunnel,

but they promoted us to the head for some reason, so we got a good lead as we went on to the locks. Later on we encountered a family out for a walk, so Romy, Xavier and Elias came on board with their mum to go down one of the locks.

Further on again we found this couple painting one of the mile markers – first time I've encountered anyone doing this.

There are 26 locks to this flight. Some of the paddles are very resistant but for the most part we got through them well.

The wind was troublesome at times, but we've moored tonight at Rode Heath, looking out across the valley.

Thought I'd finish up with  couple of pics of Elissa, Sam and Theo enjoying the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust centre at Wolseley Bridge, while they were with us at the beginning of the month.

Sunday 17 August 2014


Yesterday at breakfast time we were running out of gas. I went to the gas locker to switch to the other cylinder. Oops! That was empty as well. I'd included it in my mental check list before we set out, but obviously the reality did not match the memory of having installed a new bujão (as the Brazilians say). So we got under way without a warming cuppa and hot-footed it to Stone where the chandlery sold us two. Ouch! It would be interesting to compare the price to that of the piped supply to our house. I'm sure someone's already done that if only I could be bothered to google it.

Today in the breeze we stepped on the gas a bit – steering in a gale seems easier if you're going faster. But as we travelled the last couple of miles to our mooring spot, we clearly weren't going fast enough for the guy coming up behind. I saw no reason why I should move into the shallows and probably go aground, just so he could break the speed limit. However, he gave me a friendly wave as he passed while we were tying up, so he maybe wasn't that bothered.

Well, that's enough gassing for the moment. It's time to make the tea.

Saturday 16 August 2014

What a month!

The last month has been amazingly wonderful. Nº 3 son's wedding in July was stunning. Held in Brecon and its environs, it was designed to maximise the time for guests to chill, chat and generally enjoy themselves. A lot of friends, coming from distance, were camping or staying locally, so the celebrations kicked off with a foody get together on site on the Friday evening. On Saturday things continued with the 1 p.m. ceremony in the chapel of Christ College, Brecon, followed by welsh cakes and elderflower cordial on the lawn, then a drive to the reception venue on the banks of the River Usk. 3–3.30 was Pimms and canapés, at 4 the bluegrass band struck up, at 5 the cake was cut and served with a cup of tea, and at 6 we sat down to the main meal in a teepee on the grass at Pen Pont. After the meal and some brilliant speeches (including one by the bride), the band got going again and ran a ceilidh in the teepee until about 11, when members of Nº 3 son's own function band got out their instruments and did a riotous hour's set. At midnight, hotdogs were cooked and people sat around the fire pit on hay bales until they felt like drifting off to tent or lodgings. The weather promised horrible and turned out fair so the outdoors feel to the whole thing worked really well. Sunday morning various friends joined in dismantling the decorations. The bride and groom were involved as well, and finally left around 1 p.m. for their honeymoon on the Malawi / Mozambique border.

We came away with few "action" photos from the wedding, but these three give a feel for what the teepee was like, inside and out, as it was prepared.

We went home to recuperate, and then the following weekend our three Norwegian grandchildren, who'd taken their parents to Cornwall for a week's holiday, descended upon us, packing their parents back off to Oslo. We had a ball for nine days or so with Elissa (10), Sam (9) and Theo (6). A couple of days in the New Forest, and then up to Erin Mae. This was Theo's first time over with us, so he was doubly excited. Not too many days for boating, but we got down the Trent and Mersey to visit the children's favourite wildlife centre / park at Wolseley Bridge. Then they flew home under the tender care of SAS cabin crew.

So now we are free to consider the rest of our year, and where we would like Erin Mae to take us. We've started north on the Trent and Mersey, with the intention of taking the Ribble link on to the Lancaster canal, but the first available slot turns out to be not until the end of September. So we'll probably see whether Erin Mae's 60 feet will fit into the locks on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, for a trip across the Pennines. We've always wanted to visit Wigan…