Wednesday 21 November 2018


The prevailing wind at Great Haywood marina is south-westerly. But overnight on Monday / Tuesday, what with the machinations of the jet stream, it had become a bitingly cold north-easterly. We got the diesel central-heating going immediately on arrival on Monday evening and that, together with the effect of the 500 watt convector heater I'd brought, meant we were able to take off our outer jackets and scarves just before bedtime, though we were rather tempted to keep them on all night.

I'd been a bit concerned about the wind the Met Office had been promising, because I wanted to take Erin Mae across to services in the morning, and thought it might be tricky getting out of the mooring. In the event, the 180˚ switch from normal meant that as soon as I had backed out, the wind caught the bows and swung them round the way I wanted to go. We got a pump-out, filled the diesel tank, and pushed off to go back to our mooring. Unfortunately, the north-easter was now pushing us straight onto the service jetty. I tried the cunning "reverse against a secured stern-line" trick, but made little progress against the strengthening wind, and was a bit worried about what I was doing to our nice, new blacking. In the end I had to push and then drive the stern out, and reverse back to a point where I could finally swing Erin Mae's nose round in the right direction. Boats in reverse frequently demonstrate that they have a mind of their own, and I think she was objecting to being put to bed for the winter.

Once securely tied up again, we went through the procedures for protecting the water system against the coming freeze. It's pretty straightforward, and it took only (!) half-an-hour for the water-tank to empty. Then I siphoned the water out of the calorifier (the hot-water-tank), and we were ready to go. Conditions on the road did not look promising, so we fortified ourselves before leaving with Staffordshire oatcakes from the Canalside Café before braving the motorways.

So that's Erin Mae in hibernation for a few months. Hope she's going to be OK. And that I haven't forgotten anything that I should have done to keep her snug.

Friday 16 November 2018


Engineering have just finished the blacking of Erin Mae's hull, and it's looking good.

They've also freshened up the paint of the tunnel bands – not that anyone has yet ever caught me up in a tunnel!

We've followed their advice to renew the anodes – those blocks of aluminium attached near the bow. Erin Mae is nearly 12 years old, and this is the first time they've needed attention. I'd thought that Engineering would replace the old anodes, but they've simply added the new ones, which presumably makes sense.

Science lesson: For those who don't know, aluminium is a more reactive metal than steel, and corrodes in preference to the steel, providing extra anti-corrosion protection for the hull. They're called anodes because it's an electro-chemical process, with the aluminium adopting a positive electrical potential in comparison with the steel. It's exactly the opposite effect from what boat builders discovered when they tried to cover wooden boats with copper sheeting, using iron nails to hold it in place. Iron is more reactive than copper, so the nails would corrode in no time and fall out, rather defeating the purpose!

So now Erin Mae's back on her mooring, looking very nice. We plan to get up on Monday afternoon, with the hope of winterising on Tuesday morning.

Monday 12 November 2018


Engineering were meant to start Erin Mae's blacking last Thursday. I checked the jetty's webcam from time to time to see whether they'd come over to fetch her – nothing doing by the weekend.

This morning, however, there she was – gone! 4th space up is empty.

Actually, the delay is probably no bad thing. The Met Office is indicating that the weather should be mostly a bit warmer and drier this week – better conditions for getting the hull cleaned and coated. I'd had two concerns about getting the blacking done this late in the year. Firstly, that the weather would prevent them doing a good job. Secondly, that icy weather would arrive and freeze up Erin Mae's interior before I'd had a chance to do the winterising. Looks as though everything should be OK.

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Home again

We're a bit more accustomed than we used to be to packing up Erin Mae and driving south, though it's still a bit sad. Interestingly, what I'm really looking forward to, when next year's activities start, is tackling the work on the windows and the painting that was such a source of trepidation at the start of this year. My main concern is about getting out the window fixing screws without breaking them off.

Erin Mae is booked in next week for hull blacking. I've been watching the weather forecast, hoping it won't be too cold or wet for engineering to do an effective job. They'll check the anodes at the same time – I've really no idea how many years they're meant to last, but they were fine three years ago. They're also going to freshen up the paint on the tunnel bands. So when we pay a brief visit in a fortnight or so, to put her to bed for the winter, everything should be looking very good indeed.

Well, that's the plan…

Monday 29 October 2018


Ice, as we emerged, on the inside of Erin Mae's bedroom window. Frost all over the hull and the pontoon.

But a gloriously sunny morning – all designed to put Dave Freeman in a good mood! Dave was here at 9 a.m. to do our Boat Safety Certificate inspection. First, he had a peek in all relevant spaces and glory-holes, with instruments to measure this and that.

Then he wrote up on the relevant forms what he had found.

All went well, so we handed over the dosh and look forward to receiving the relevant certificate by email. He showed us there was the faintest of leaks from some of the gas burners on the hob – not enough to fail the inspection, but sufficient to consider repair or replacement. Amazingly, it will probably cost more to replace three burner controls than to replace the whole hob. Over the winter we'll look at our options. It seems that, if I source an appropriate hob, it wouldn't cost much for him to install it himself, and that would be convenient.

After he'd gone my best beloved said she'd love some toast and marmalade! Unfortunately we only brought with us a minimum of essentials this weekend, and marmalade wasn't among them. So I capitalised on the moment to earn some brownie points by suggesting going up to the Canalside Café for a bacon sandwich. Approved!

The Great Haywood Canalside Farm business has been doing very well. Last year they made it into the national headlines for the number of pumpkins they sold, and all indications are it's a repeat performance this time around. But we were more interested in other things and headed to the café, which overlooks the Trent and Mersey.

Looking at the menu we settled on Staffordshire oatcakes with bacon and cheese – if you've never had one you've missed out! When they arrived at our table it transpired that, instead of two single oatcakes, they'd prepared four doubles! I followed the waiter back to the counter where he was discussing with the cooks what had gone awry, to make sure they weren't simply going to throw away all that good food. So two of the doubles came back to our table.

Brunch with a vengeance! Very tasty, and very sustaining. So we needed to walk it all off, through the village and back via the towpath. Not much moving on the water, but a stunning day, both sunny and chilly. We had another appointment around lunch-time – Keith Wilson was coming to fit the new side panels to Erin Mae's pram hood.

He took care over the fitting, and we are very pleased with the result.

The material is a slightly different PVC from the original, since that's no longer available. It's a bit heavier, a bit less flexible, and has a different texture – grainy rather than flat. But the colour is a very good match, and it will do very well.

So, in various ways (and with some damage to the bank account), we're covered again. Shucks – that reminds me that the insurance is due next month.

Sunday 28 October 2018


As with most blogging boaters who go back to bricks and mortar during the winter, my posts tail off around this time of year. We took home the first car-load a week and a half ago, combining the seasonal emptying of Erin Mae with a couple of things for which we needed to be in the south. But this weekend we suddenly find ourselves in boating mode again, albeit briefly.

First up was Saturday's annual meeting of the Boaters Christian Fellowship, held this year, as last, in Rugby – a good day of getting together with about 100 of the 600-strong membership. Some of them we have got to know quite well, but the day also provides the opportunity to chat with folk we've met only occasionally or not at all. Others (e.g., probably, Halfie, not least because he's married to the chair!) will post some pictures of the event. I thought I would put up one of Peter Braybrook, of NB Sonflower.

Peter is the BCF General Secretary and, along with the rest of the committee, does a lot of work behind the scenes to keep things developing. Not only is he also active with the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs, but he and Fran have signed on as volunteer Waterways Chaplains. So this acknowledgement is partly to thank Peter for all he puts back into the waterways. He spent most of the meeting time on Saturday taking notes about proceedings and will be sending out the minutes, etc.

One of the highlights of the day was Richard Parry, CEO of the Canal and River Trust, joining us for lunch, and afterwards speaking for a while before answering questions. He didn't duck the hard ones, either (well, not much!) and his answers provided some insights into the complexities of the system.

After it was all over we drove over to Great Haywood to spend the weekend on Erin Mae – our Boat Safety Scheme inspection is scheduled for tomorrow. This morning we joined with Wildwood Church for worship, as normal when we're in the marina, and then went over to the Hollybush Inn at Salt for Sunday lunch. They're a friendly lot. I've posted some pictures of the outside before, so this time I thought I'd try with one of the interior, taken with the extremely ancient iPhone 4 I've just inherited from my best beloved.

Hopefully you'll be so captivated by the warmth of the scene that you'll think the finger smudge top left is part of the ceiling – I'm only just getting used to taking photos on a phone! Driving back to Erin Mae from Salt we crossed the Trent and Mersey. On this cold, crisp, sunny autumn day, we found one or two things were on the move.

But we're going nowhere! The fire's keeping us snug and I've got an "Essentials of England" collection playing on Erin Mae's audio. I'm racking my brains to see if there's anything I need to do before the BSS inspection tomorrow. If there is, and I don't, no doubt Dave will inform me in the morning.

Thursday 11 October 2018


No piccies tonight – how many pictures of black paint on Erin Mae's stern counter can you take!

The day turned out as planned. A second coat of gunwale paint all the way round the horizontal surface of the stern from cabin end right to cabin end left, before coffee. Then, with the sky beginning to threaten something dire, I collapsed the hood and started the engine. By the time we were ready to get under way, the paint was all touch dry, and a few drops were starting to fall. From the Wide to Great Haywood Junction we followed NB Elysian Waters, which had come along as we were winding, so it was only polite to let them through.

At the junction they turned right while we turned left, the few hundred yards to the marina entrance. Fortunately, the wind had dropped a bit, so getting into the marina and round to our berth was relatively straightforward. There we discovered that we have new neighbours, with a very handsome, newly painted boat. I was therefore doubly happy, even though they were not aboard, to get Erin Mae into dock without touching either the jetty or the neighbours. Doubly – no marks on either their boat or Erin Mae's newly finished gunwales. Give them a bit more time to harden (the gunwales, not the neighbours!).

We're glad to be back in port. Firstly, after a week we finally ran out of water this morning – just enough for coffee. Secondly, that promised storm is now flexing its muscles and battering us with wet stuff. We're grateful to be safe and sound and warm inside, relatively protected from the elements, with water suitably contained.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Everyone's maintainin'

We've seen quite a lot of this wooden boat during our days at Tixall Wide.

Her name is Tamburo. I suppose she would be called a launch of some sort, but I don't know what the appropriate abbreviation would be – presumably not "NB" even though her width is similar to that of a narrowboat. ML? MV? The owners have been doing a deal of maintenance, as have a number of boaters here during these sunny, quieter days.

Our own painting of bits of Erin Mae has really gone very well. Today I put the first coat of gunwale paint on the stern counter. I put it on with a roller, but wasn't happy with the overall result. I'll hope to put on a second coat all by brush tomorrow, and a get nice, smooth, even look to it.

I took the opportunity of having the gunwale paint out to go down the sides, seeing how easy it was to cover travel-damaged bits with a roller-full. First impressions are that this is going to be really good solution. Rubs and scrapes as you cruise are to be expected, and nothing to worry about. But it is really nice to have a system for restoring it all from time to time, and I'm very happy with our decision to change the original green gloss for Andy Russell's satin black.

So after doing Erin Mae's right-hand side we turned her around to point in the opposite direction and did the left-hand side. The Broad Water (Tixall Wide's proper name) is wide enough to allow for this, just by holding the bows with a line and swinging the stern around with the engine. This has the advantage that, when I put the final coat on the counter tomorrow, I'll be a bit more sheltered from the wind.

The forecast says there'll be time in the morning to do the painting and then get back to the marina before the rain comes (and before we run out of water). Tamburo may well come as well – we found her in the marina when we had a couple of days there last week, and understand she's booked in for the winter.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Steady progress

Progress is a blackened stern counter.

It's a second coat of CraftMaster undercoat. This time I brushed it all, instead of using a roller. I'm intrigued that, while a roller seems to work well straight from the tin, you get best results with a brush by thinning the paint. When Little Rich taught me about painting five or six years ago, he talked about brushing needing a "warm soup" consistency. So that's what I aim for.

Meanwhile, progress in the kitchen entailed my best beloved producing another great soda bread loaf, to eat for lunch with the last of her most recent batch of home-made soup. This afternoon, she's started on another bout of chopping vegetables ready for the pressure cooker. It's that time of year, of course, though today has been bright, sunny and even warm, as will tomorrow be, if the forecast is to be believed.

Monday 8 October 2018

Up close and personal

Or rather – down close and personal!

I crouched for some of the painting of the stern counter, but had to lie right down to get over the edge.

This angle shows not only what's needed to paint Erin Mae, but also the thinness of the thatch of the one doing the painting. Looks almost like a tonsure! Blame my best beloved for having no regard whatsoever for my feelings.

This is the undercoat going on. Hopefully the masking tape will give a nice line, even though it's along a weld.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Up betimes

Got up early this morning to pay a wee visit to the bathroom, and it was cold! So I checked the batteries to make sure they could stand having the central heating on, and started the Webasto. Then, since the coal scuttle contained a fair amount of SuperTherm, I had a go at regenerating the fire and soon had a nice blaze. By now I wasn't feeling much like going back to bed, realised the Japanese Grand Prix was getting under way, and found that by using Channel 4 + 1 I could watch it from the start, accompanied by a warming cup of tea. Haven't had so much fun before 7.30 for a long time!

It was bright, but still damp and chilly, as we set out later to walk to Great Haywood Junction, down to Haywood Lock, and then across the Essex Bridge to Shugborough for coffee.

A heron, pterodactyl-like as ever, took fright at a walker and her dog, and flew across to the island to continue fishing.

The coffee was good, but we didn't think much of what Shugborough was offering for Sunday lunch, so we walked back to the junction and across to the Canalside Café, to find they had a roast on the menu. Very nice too.

I'd hoped to continue with a bit of boat painting this afternoon, but by the time we were back on Erin Mae (or, truth to tell, by the time I'd roused myself again after another coffee) the conditions felt not quite right. I'm not entirely certain what combinations of temperature, timing and humidity make painting a fruitless occupation in October, but it's a sufficiently fraught exercise for me anyway, without having to remove and repeat tomorrow. So tomorrow it will be. The weather forecast currently tells me I should be able to get a good bit done over the next few days.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Down below

As well as the horizontal surfaces, I'm painting with gunwale paint the top couple of inches below the stern deck above the drainage channels – the channels themselves are done with bilge paint.

That led me to lift a couple of the deck boards to do some preparation. Which (inevitably!) led on to other things…

In the A-shaped cavity you can see the drive shaft, lubricated as it passes through with water drawn from the weed-hatch above the propellor. The first ring through which it runs is a seal to keep that water where it should be.

The seal has a screw on top, which you remove to give it an annual squirt of silicone grease. I'd done this a couple of weeks ago, but noticed that there was a small puddle on the floor below it. I thought I probably hadn't squirted enough, and that I should turn the propellor as I did so to spread it all around. So, off came the weed hatch to give access to the prop. All went as planned with, hopefully, no more drips.

However, I noticed that the top of the weed hatch cavity was showing signs of a bit of corrosion. Since I had the Fertan handy, I painted some all over the upper surface and edges. But that left me with another problem. The Fertan took longer to dry than I was expecting, and I wanted to run the engine to give us some electrons and some hot water. The second quickest way to sink your boat is to have the weed-hatch open with the engine in drive. I would be running the engine in neutral, but accidents happen! I thought about leaving the deck board up all night as a check as to remind me – but the rain was coming and the side panels of Erin Mae's stern pram-hood (you may remember) were lost to the wind a couple of weeks ago.

In the end I dried off excess Fertan with a paper towel and then left it to dry for a bit longer before putting back the weed-hatch cover before starting the engine. Better safe than sorry. But I haven't yet checked to see whether the Fertan has (a) glued the cover in place, or (b) destroyed the seal on which it sits…

Friday 5 October 2018

Stern paint

There are two related painting jobs around Erin Mae's stern.

The first is to paint the surface at gunwale level with Andy Russell's satin black gunwale paint (or, as he has it, Gunwhale Paint). Yesterday I applied some Fertan rust converter to the bits that were lightly corroded and today I put down some primer over that. Tomorrow I expect I'll apply a second coat of primer – probably not necessary, but the manufacturer recommends four coats on bare metal! Then I'll have to decide whether to use some black undercoat, or just apply the gunwale paint over what's there. I'll also need to decide what to do about the dollies. I expect that the mooring lines will rub off in no time anything I apply to them. Is it worth the hassle? And what do other boaters do? I'll have to find out.

The second job is to do something about the tunnel bands – the red and white sections which are looking a bit sorry for themselves. Their rather tatty state will only be emphasised by the application of Andy Russell, and by the boat blacking to take place in November. The upper band is the same colour as Erin Mae's ivory detailing, while the red can be done to match the main bodywork panels, and I've got paint and suitable undercoat for all of that. The main problem will be getting at the panels. With the dodger off to get at the rusty bits I tried lying stretched out on the cruiser deck, and it looks at though I can probably manage to lean over far enough. My best beloved has been emailing me references to fisherman's waders, but I'd rather avoid going in if I can avoid it!

Thursday 4 October 2018


We've been dithering a little about how to spend this period. We had to be in the marina for Keith Wilson's visit on Tuesday. Erin Mae's hull needs to be blacked, and I've now arranged for that to be done in November by the engineering department in Great Haywood. So now we have a couple of weeks before Keith finishes our cover panels. The weather isn't particularly conducive to doing more cruising, but nor is it really cold enough yet to prohibit painting.

So, having had to take Erin Mae off her mooring for a pump-out, we just carried on out of the marina down to Tixall Wide (again!), which is still the most delightful local spot for doing odds and ends. Late this afternoon I went over some bits at the back of the boat with sandpaper and rust converter, and tomorrow will hope to report, with pictures, on how getting over the stern to apply some paint has gone.

Meanwhile, I found that Amazon were offering me the chance to read the first two Harry Potter books on my Kindle for free. Whenever we see one of the Potter films (and they're on the box weekly at the moment), I remind myself to re-read the books to catch up on the extra bits. So I've devoured the Philosopher's Stone and the Chamber of Secrets, with great delight (yes, I know they're really children's books, but they are good fun). So "pottering" pretty much describes what we've been doing.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Measuring up

Keith Wilson came to our jetty today. He'd been doing some repair work on a boat cover for some friends of ours, and used the opportunity to measure up Erin Mae for her own new suit of clothes (replacements for the side panels for the pram-hood cover that we'd lost in the wind two weeks ago). He believes he can get hold of the correct material. He's pretty busy but hopefully we'll have a fully functioning cover in place within two or three weeks.

Meanwhile it's cold and drizzly, so we're happy to do indoor things like reading and putting on the kettle. We had the remains of the soup for lunch, so my best beloved decided to make another loaf of soda bread. Keith joined us in enjoying some of that! And then I've discovered that my BT Broadband account gives me a certain amount of access to live sporting events, so I might just watch a bit of Champions League footie, once that kettle has boiled. It's a hard life.

Sunday 30 September 2018

Not spring

Last night's sunset over Tixall Wide gave promise of another fine day.

In fact, it's been rather dull and grey, with the occasional bit of drizzle in the air. Autumnal, as appropriate for the last day of September. I almost felt like getting out my hockey stick again! We walked up to the café at the Canalside Farm Shop in Great Haywood for lunch.

It's in a fine setting, with a balcony / patio at the back facing the canal through the trees.

The food was standard café fare, but very well cooked. Afterwards we called in at the shop itself because they sell a range of loose frozen produce from which you help yourself to the amount you want. We took some summer fruit mixture back to Erin Mae to have with custard for dessert – yummy!

On the walk we noticed the way that NB Smine was tied up.

It obviously isn't a normal "spring" arrangement, but perhaps it has the same effect. They'd used it at the stern as well.

The fact that the line runs through the eye at the end of the chain, rather than being being fastened to it, presumably allows for a bit of bounce, while still providing something of the control that a spring gives. Perhaps I'll try it with Erin Mae sometime, to see what the overall effect is.

Meanwhile, the cold and wet has given me an excuse for doing nothing to further the varnish project on the stern rail. Snug and warm inside with a good book has been the order of the afternoon.

Saturday 29 September 2018


Readers may remember that I was really worried about tackling metalwork painting on Erin Mae, but that so far it has gone pretty well. What I hadn't expected was difficulties with the woodwork.

I've been varnishing the rail at the stern, and most of it has been fine. But the section nearest to the camera in this shot has been giving problems. I thought I'd rubbed it down OK, but then some odd surface blemishes appeared overnight. When I came to rub it down again, the previous layer(s) didn't come off cleanly.

I'm trying to work out what the issue is. Perhaps the original or some subsequent coat of varnish wasn't put on well. Perhaps the overnight dew is causing problems – the days are not hot but the sun is bright and humidity doesn't seem high. I'm thinking that I'll have to go back to bare wood, but I haven't had to do that with most of the rail, just this first section on the right-hand side.

The photo above also shows the damage that happened to one of the pram-hood fasteners years ago, as we were coming down the Ashton flight into Manchester. The current at a bend took me into a wall, and I was extremely upset. Thinking back, it felt the same as when we lost the side panels in the wind last week. Two weeks ago, returning from our trip up the Shroppie, I was trying to manage Erin Mae as we came out of a lock, so that my best beloved could hop back on as I emerged from the bridge hole. What with wind, current and lack of attention, I damaged the equivalent fastener on the left side of the boat.

I was annoyed, but not devastated (that would come later when we lost the panel it held in place!). I rang Keith Wilson, and he put a couple of fasteners in the post. Unfortunately they have so far not arrived at Great Haywood PO – and this was two weeks ago. However, we shall meet him in Great Haywood this coming week to discuss replacing the lost panels, so hopefully he'll bring a couple of fasteners with him.

Meanwhile, it's back to rubbing down the woodwork…

Friday 28 September 2018


Well, here's the second coat of varnish.

There were fewer bugs and bits of dust than I feared, so I gave it a very gentle rub down with 320 grade paper before today's coat. I found the easiest way, and best for my back, was to do sections starting by the control column, so that I could rest my left hand on the rail as I moved around. Looking out this afternoon from Erin Mae's interior to the sunlit back deck I can see all sorts of things in the air that I hadn't noticed earlier. So there might be bits of debris for tomorrow's final rub down – we shall see. But I doubt there's anyway you get a perfect surface when painting or varnishing a boat out of doors, at whatever time of year.

In spite of the sunshine there's been a real nip in the air, so I've had the fire gently going for most of the day. It's been really nice to have the combination of fresh air from the open side-hatch and the warmth from the fire. My best beloved also prepared some most delicious home-made soup and soda bread for lunch. We are well content!

Thursday 27 September 2018

Not going home

Keith Wilson indicated that he's due in Great Haywood on Tuesday, so that's when we need to be back in the marina for him to measure up the pram hood cover for new side panels. This meant we could turn left at the junction and head down to Tixall Wide (again!) to enjoy the environment and do some maintenance.

I'd been trying to ring Harworth Heating, who know all about stoves like Erin Mae's Squirrel. Tying up at Tixall I finally had a signal strong enough to do so. The issue was that the exploded diagram of the stove I downloaded from their website shows a couple of washers to be used when changing the glass, as I did last week. But the person I spoke to couldn't see them on her diagram at all, and even said that the part number shown was not on their system. Eventually it transpired that two diagrams, both presumably supplied by the manufacturer Mørso, had conflicting info, one with the washers and one without. A fitter who happened to be in their office said not to worry about them, so I won't. I just don't want the air conductor (which I had mistakenly referred to as a baffle) to fall off!

This afternoon's warmth provided good conditions for varnishing the wooden rail on Erin Mae's stern, so I set to with sandpaper and brush. There didn't seem to be many insects around or dust in the air, but the new surface looks spotty in the evening light. I'll rub it down in the morning, get a second coat on, and see if that does any better.

Meanwhile this is a good place to moor up, very peaceful, with a red sky promising a nice day tomorrow.

Wednesday 26 September 2018


We moored up last night about half a mile short of Haywood Lock, overlooking the Shugborough estate. We've often dropped in there for coffee, or to stroll around the house or grounds. Today, whatever your sociopolitical predispositions may be towards big country houses, it looked splendid in the morning sun.

By the time we got there it was half-way between coffee time and lunchtime, so we had not just coffee and cake, but one of their home-made tomato and basil sausage rolls as well. It was scrumptious!

As visitors to Shugborough Park will know, there are various follies and towers dotted around the grounds, mostly inspired by Thomas Trail's visits to Mediterranean parts in the early 18th century, and financed by his brother George's plundering of Spanish ships laden with gold from the New World. In our previous wanderings there were one or two of these architectural wonders that we'd never located, in particular, the Lanthorn of Demosthenes. Since it was an excellent day for a walk, we determined to find it.

Demosthenes was a statesman and orator of ancient Athens and, among other things, ran a Theatre. The edifice on which this was modelled is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, which you can read all about yourself. The version at Shugborough appears to be missing most of the tripod which should sit on top, to support a flame-carrying bowl. Since such a tripod and bowl appears to have been the original monument's raison d'être, this is a bit of a pity, but perhaps the National Trust are doing something about it. They've certainly been hard at work in the interior of the main house since we were last here, creating an exhibition space celebrating the lives and work of the Trail brothers.

Walking to the Lanthorn, we passed Hadrian's Arch on its hilltop, so visited that on our way back.

Probably when they built this, you could see the house down in the valley. The trees that have grown in the intervening years obscure the house and the arch from each other, but both the arch and the view are impressive.

It was hot walking today, and we were glad to get back to Erin Mae and have a cuppa. But the sunshine meant we got a load of washing dry and that I shan't need to run the engine to charge the batteries. It's quiet on this stretch this afternoon.

Tuesday 25 September 2018


To the boater, Spode normally means a stretch of the Trent and Mersey between Rugeley and Kings Bromley. The canal passes Spode House, which was linked with the Spode family of pottery fame. Then, coming towards Rugeley, you enter a narrow stretch which, inconveniently, has a bend at one end so you can't see what might be coming the other way.

There's only room for one boat and, unlike the narrows near Autherley Junction, there are no passing places. So, if you're fortunate enough to have a crew member, they get off and go to check all is clear – or to have a chat with the crew member of the oncoming craft.

Once through the narrows, you come to the Spode long-term moorings – here seen looking back from Erin Mae, with the bridge from which we had emerged in the background..

Normally, at this end, there is an odd life-sized figure on the bank, and I thought I'd take a photo of it as we passed. But it wasn't there! It's been in the same place every time we have come this way, until today. However, 100 yards further on we found it.

The figure is holding some sort of light. Its gender is indeterminate, and I can't decide whether it's meant to be a witch, or Scrooge's associate Jacob Marley, or simply an old person in their night attire. And why it should have been moved to someone else's plot 100 yards along was not at all clear. Perhaps the people who moor here take it in turns to host this character. It did strike me today that it might be one of Tolkien's blue wizards that we discussed yesterday, a little lost and trying to find his way home.

So much for Spode. There are unfriendly moorings on the towpath side – a concrete edge and no rings. You never see anybody moored up there. But today, for whatever reasons, there was a flotilla at anchor as we neared the end where the canal turns sharp right through a bind bridge hole towards the Ash Tree pub.

Monday 24 September 2018

Blue wizards

Following yesterday's post and Kath's comments about the colour of NB Mithrandir, I tried to remember whether there was a blue wizard in Gandalf's order. On a page in the Tolkien Gateway website I found that there were, in fact, two.
"Alatar and Pallando, also known as Ithryn Luin, the "Blue Wizards," went into the East and do not come into the main tales of Middle-earth."
The webpage gives a little further info about them, for those who might be interested in such things. We are not told whether, like Saruman and Gandalf, they acquired other names among men and elves. I doubt whether I shall find a narrowboat named "Alatar" or "Pallando", even a blue one to match the wizard.

Well, today we definitely did not go into the East. Somewhat prosaically we have sauntered back in a sort of north-westish direction to territory we are well acquainted with, in the hope of eventually arranging with Keith Wilson to have our pram-hood restored to its former glory.

Sunday 23 September 2018


J R R Tolkien had an extraordinary talent for naming. There are countless words and names in Lord of the Rings, in one of the languages he himself invented, which, once you have assimilated them, never seem anything else than utterly appropriate for the object or person in question. At Fazeley, for an enjoyable weekend with other members of the BCF, we came across this boat.

Mithrandir is an Elven name for Gandalf, which translates roughly as "Grey Pilgrim", "Grey Wanderer". It's not used a lot in the book(s), but both as a description of Gandalf and on the tongue it feels perfect. The first syllable "mith" means grey, and is also found in the word "mithril" – the silver grey metal of which was made the coat of mail that Bilbo was given, and which he passed on to Frodo.

Why, therefore, NB Mithrandir should be painted blue is a mystery! But it is yet another to add to my collection of Tolkien-themed boat names, which has now grown by three this year.

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Earls of Rohan
Frodo’s Dream
Lord of the Rings
Many Meetings
Riddles in the Dark
The Arkenstone
There and Back Again
Tom Bombadil

Saturday 22 September 2018


Having got the new glass for my fire in place, I was very pleased to get a fire going, after a few days without. All went well for the first half-hour, but then I noticed it was getting difficult to see the flames – the glass was blackening up on the inside. I'm used to cleaning soot off, so the next day I got out the cleaner spray. Nothing had prepared me for what I found on the glass.

It was covered in a bituminous deposit that the spray didn't touch, not even with a hard scrub with paper towel, cleaning cloth or nylon scrubber. It seemed like volcanic rock! In the end I took a Stanley knife to it and managed to cut pieces off, scrape by scrape.

I've been trying to think where it came from. The obvious source was the smokeless fuel, but this was from the end of a bag of Supertherm which had given no trouble before. The only new thing introduced to the fire was some copper grease I used in the holes for the screws holding the glass in. But there was nowhere near enough of that to have created this mess.

Eventually I had cleared about half of the deposit before we really wanted to have the fire going so I left the rest to another day. My chief worry is not the time expended, but that I might be leaving scratches on the glass that will make it more susceptible to breaking.

However, this weekend we are at Fazeley for a BCF get together. Peter of NB Sonflower assures me that (a) the deposit has definitely emerged from the fuel, and (b) it will eventually burn off if I get the fire running hot enough. If he's right, great. But I hope I don't burn out the sitting area doing so!

Thursday 20 September 2018


Yesterday, as many will know and some will have experienced, was windy. Very windy. Not ideal conditions for taking a narrowboat out and about. But today was expected to be wet. Very wet. And we had to be at Fazeley by Friday. We had a choice – wet, windy or both.

Of course, if I hadn't broken a filling, or we hadn't decided to go south to get it fixed, and arrange for a haircut for my best beloved, etc, etc, we could have set out earlier and simply found some quiet spot to hole up for a day or two. As it was, we had a limited time-frame. So when yesterday's rain had relented and the worst of the wind was supposed to be past, we left our berth – around 4 p.m. I managed the tricky business of getting out of the marina fairly well – the wind is always in the most complicated direction! Then we set out down the Trent and Mersey, to get at least a couple of hours in before nightfall. Once we were travelling, the wind was manageable. But around Little Haywood, disaster struck.

We always collapse the pram hood canopy when on the move – it folds forwards very neatly. To do so I remove the side panels, fold them and put them on Erin Mae's roof weighted down with three spars that I "just happen to have". The wind was flicking at the edges of the panels but, as we were passing a few moored boats, a strong gust blew them off the roof and into the canal. I put the engine in reverse immediately, hoping to be able to fish them out of the water, but they were sinking rapidly. As any boater knows, having your engine hard in reverse when there's clutter in the canal is a recipe for getting all sorts of things tangled round your prop, so as we came level with the sinking panels, I had to go into neutral, and then reverse back gently to where we thought they were. But twenty minutes of fishing with a boathook produced no results, and in the end we concluded they had gone – probably to catch round some other boater's prop at a later stage.

Having the pram hood cover fitted had been a great decision. It had provided both protection over the stern from the sort of weather we've had today, and a extra degree of security. I was concerned that we would not be able to replace the panels with the same material, but when I rang Keith Wilson today he implied that it might be possible. It all means that after our weekend at Fazeley we will need to return to Great Haywood straightaway and arrange with him times and places for measuring and fitting this new set of clothes.

I was extraordinarily upset yesterday about it all. It felt as though something very special had been irrevocably spoiled. But then I thought of so many going through real trauma. For goodness' sake, I chastised myself, how does this misfortune compare with a dozen situations you can read about today on the BBC website? Death, disease, bereavement, torture, the effects of the wind in the Philippines and America – how can losing a pram hood cover compare with such things. Of course, it was my calamity, which is bound to make a difference. But it's good to get things in perspective.

Monday 17 September 2018


This morning I took to our local garage our malfunctioning car engine (along with the rest of car, of course). That was when I discovered I would have to pay an extraordinary amount just to have it tested on the special diagnostic machine. All to do with the extraordinary cost of the machine, apparently, but not what I was expecting. I have good reasons to trust this particular service centre, so I bit the bullet. While the driver ran me home (part of their service) we discussed the evolution of engines, comparing the one in the car to Erin Mae's Isuzu 42. He was well-informed. He even knew exactly what it was like for some friends to help me change the engine in the Triumph Herald I had in the early 70s.

Later the garage rang to say that one of the pipes linked to the turbo was split – the origin of the whooshing noise we'd heard. They'd also found a coolant leak from the temperature sensor – one of those situations where the replacement part (an O-ring) costs peanuts but the time to change it costs about 100 times as much. Oh, it all makes work… It doesn't make any sense not to do the work, of course – it would eventually result in a failed MOT.

Later again they rang to say there had been a problem with the computer inventory and they couldn't complete the work today. So while we were expecting to get back up to Erin Mae mid-morning tomorrow, it will now probably have to wait until after lunch, too late by the time we get there to set out towards Fazeley. Meanwhile, I'm left to ruminate on how much more than expected I'll be out of pocket. Perhaps it still won't be quite as much as I'm going to have to fork out for dental treatment in November.

Nevertheless, adding to what I said on Thursday – double ouch!

Friday 14 September 2018

Hand protection

My best beloved's hands are normally protected from the risks entailed in paddle-winding and handling line operations by a nice pair of sailing gloves. Unfortunately, when we passed through Norbury Junction a couple of weeks ago, they were inadvertently left in the toilet / shower block, alongside the secondhand book pile she'd been perusing. The immediate consequence was no doubt delight for some other boater who thought they were no longer needed. The longer-term consequence was unsightly damage to the epidermis of my best beloved's pinkie.

Canal chandlers don't tend to stock gloves, so we've taken advantage of being in the south to drive over and visit the chandleries in Lymington, where the yachting fraternity has regular need of such items. The type she had before seemed to be very over-priced so, for the moment, she's settled on a different one which we hope will serve.

Time will tell whether the fabric and the stitching survives the expected wear and tear, or whether we'll have to replace them again. They look very good at the moment. BCF members will have the opportunity of inspecting such damage as may have accrued when we meet up at Fazeley next weekend!