Sunday, June 30, 2013

All alone in The Devils Garden.

At last we have a decent signal to be able to update the blog. We are currently up on the Middlewich Arm overlooking Church Minshull village, but have spent a couple of relaxing and very enjoyable days on the River Weaver. 

We had our passage on the Anderton Lift booked for 10am on Friday morning, the first one to go down onto the river. The weather was very unpleasant as we moored up on the holding moorings, but by the time we entered the caisson of the lift the rain had ceased. This was our first time on the lift and it was a great experience. The trip was very smooth and the views over the river fantastic apart from the industry on the far bank. 
Moving into the caisson.

View from the top
Onto the River Weaver

We had a short run down to Northwich to use the services and stock up on a few provisions, before we headed back past the lift and lunched at Barnton. The lock keepers have lunch 12.00 to 12.45. We left just after 1.00pm and phoned ahead to Saltersford Lock and as we rounded the corner the gates were open for us. We weren't quite prepared for the vastness of the locks on here, they are HUGE. The lock keepers we encountered were friendly and chatty and offered good advice and knowledge about the river. 
Lunchtime mooring at Barnton
Stunning scenery towards Saltersford
We travelled down as far as our intended destination for the night, 'Devils Garden'. The name conjours up all sorts of pictures in the mind, but at the end of the day it is simply a farmers field inhabited by cows. Maybe a little disappointing, but what is great about this place is the complete isolation and tranquility it brings. Apart from the occasional dog walker, we didn't see another soul. 
'The Devils Garden'
We had our return passage booked on the lift for Saturday afternoon which meant we could enjoy the surroundings in the morning. Jasper found a great new game of rolling around in cow lovely!! We had a really pleasant journey back upstream and shared the lift with 'Calypso' an unusual and interesting narrow beam Dutch barge which was featured in Canal Boat in April 2011.

Once back on the T&M, we headed south in lovely weather and moored at one of the 'flashes' which have been caused by salt mining subsidence. A good night of fishing, including one very large eel, which didn't go down very well. We spoke to both our at Wimbledon with tickets for the show courts and the other at Glastonbury preparing to watch The Rolling Stones. How the tide is turning. We had to make do with the TV !!!

Today we have travelled back through Middlewich. The locks were pretty busy and the junction always provides good entertainment for gongoozlers. We turned right onto the shortest canal in England, The Wardle Canal, before entering Wardle Lock and The Middlewich Branch. 

** I thought this had posted on Sunday evening...clearly a bit of a technical issue with 'Blogger'.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rain stops play and the Weaver looms.

We didn't really have a plan this morning. The forecast was for rain later in the day so it looked like being a shortish day as far as cruising was concerned. We hoped to drop down onto the River Weaver, but on arrival at the booking office, we were told that the earliest available slot was 12.50pm as it was the morning for scheduled maintainance...there's that lack of planning coming to bite us on the bum. 

That helped the decision in a way as by then rain was forecast, so we booked a slot for 10am tomorrow morning and a return trip on Saturday afternoon and then headed off towards Preston Brook. What a lovely stretch of canal this is. Very rural and good views over the Weaver valley together with stretches of over hanging trees and complete remoteness. 

As the weather closed in we winded at Acton Bridge and made our way back through Saltersford Tunnel and moored in a wide pound just beyond - a lovely peaceful and remote location. The rain continues as we speak, but the weekend looks brighter. 

We are looking forward to our passage on the lift in the morning and plan to head towards 'Devils Garden' which sounds intriguing. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stuck in the middle of Middlewich

We left our moorings at Rode Heath in beautiful sunshine yesterday morning and continued the journey down 'Heartbreak Hill'. The lock gear has recently been greased, but it is still very difficult at times to operate. We shared the steering and the locking all the way to Wheelock and then enjoyed a steady cruise into Middlewich.
Louise at the helm on Heartbreak Hill
We then headed onto a new stretch of water for us, beyond Middlewich Junction towards Preston Brook. The excitement lasted for about two minutes !! As we passed Middlewich Narrowboats, we were told that there was a stoppage at Lock 74 for 'Health & Safety reasons'. We tied up behind a hire boat at Lock 72 and went to investigate the problem. Three CRT workmen were congregated around the bottom gates, all looking bemused. There were several boats tied up obviously waiting to ascend the locks, but nobody was going anywhere.

The problem was a pillar adjacent to the gate hinge had come away from the brickwork and was in danger of becoming completely detached. The gate was leaking badly and so until a decision was made by the 'H&S Committee' the lock was to remain shut. How long for was hard to say, but after much head scratching and a general lack of communication, it changed from 'not until at least tomorrow if you're lucky' to 'let's go to Kidsgrove and get a couple of Acro props and do a temporary repair'. In the meantime it gave us time to get provisions from the nearby town.
Lock repairs by 'Bodge It & Scarper'
Once the decision was made to do the repair, things moved pretty swiftly, and just over four hours after we arrived, we were able to descend the locks. We moored at Croxton for the night at the location which suffered a breach (or at least one of them) last year. The repair job is excellent and you can see why it took a long time to fix.        

Today we have had a lazy day. The dogs woke us at about 5.30am, but it did mean that Louise decided to put the bread maker on and we awoke later to the smell of fresh bread. We did some odd jobs and lazed about until late morning and then cruised up to Anderton. Apart from the industrial section around Northwich, it is a lovely section of canal, although the towpath and banks could really do with some attention. We are moored just before the boat lift and have enjoyed a walk around and a lovely meal at The Stanley Arms tonight.
Anderton Boat Lift
A relaxing afternoon by the river. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Through the Potteries towards Cheshire

The weatherman certainly got it right yesterday and the predicted stinker of a day arrived as forecast. We stayed put for the morning and watched the occasional boats pass us with the steerers looking miserable and wet. We finally pulled the pins after midday and our journey improved gradually as we headed towards Stone.

We wanted to get above Meaford Locks as there was a planned stoppage this morning between 8am and 2pm. We passed the halfway point of the Trent & Mersey Canal at Aston Lock...46 miles to either end from here. It was like crossing the equator...I wonder if the water will go down the plug hole the other way now ?

We always seem to get lucky at Stone and today was no exception. We were straight in to each lock and soon at the top lock where we met an Anglo Welsh boat waiting to come down. A couple of blokes helped with the lock. Apparently they were doing the Four Counties Ring in a week. They had no idea whether or not they were on schedule and didn't even have a guide book. They did have a map which a friend had drawn for them telling them where the locks were though !! Louise suggested they have a look at Canalplan to give them an idea of how far they had to go. 

At Meaford Locks we passed one of our old shared ownership boats 'Marbury' as it was heading in the opposite direction. Just time for a quick hello as we passed in the pound between locks. There is a lot of work going on in this area with piling going in to save the banks and the towpath being restored which is good to see. We spent the night at Barlaston ready for an early start for the run through Stoke.

Today has been pretty uneventful. The weather has stayed dry although the wind has been strong at times. We left Barlaston around 7.30am for the long drag into Stoke. It's not our favourite stretch of canal, but needs must. We didn't see another boat moving until the middle of the Stoke flight which then meant the rest of the locks were in our favour. We had a short break at Westport Lake to give the dogs a good run and then headed up to Harecastle Tunnel where we were the second boat in the queue.

We were told by Dave the tunnel keeper that we would have about an hour to wait and that 7 boats would be coming through. Time to get the deck chairs out then and watch the world go by. His prediction was right and surprisingly no other boats joined the queue, so just ourselves and nb Scorpio made the trip north.

Half an hour or so later we emerged into the orangey waters of Kidsgrove. Scorpio turned left (or is it right) onto the Macc and we began the descent of 'Heartbreak Hill'. We stopped at Red Bull Services which were very clean and tidy and then plodded on towards Rode Heath where we moored near Bridge 140 for the night. 

We had a meal tonight at The Broughton Arms (2 for 1 grill night). A nice meal, but very slow service. Tomorrow we will head for Middlewich. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Let's hope failing to plan doesn't mean we are planning to fail.

Well who in their right minds would go away on holiday during the fortnight which also includes Wimbledon and Glastonbury, two of our well known institutions linked to bad weather.'ve guessed it. 

Blue Moon was blacked last week at Bromley Wharf and they did a cracking job and also fixed a vibration on the stern gear caused by a dodgy bearing. I managed to drop by and have a look at the hull whilst in dry dock and all seems very well below the water line. 

We have decided to head north on this trip and plan to visit the Anderton Boat Lift and maybe drop down onto the River Weaver or head up to Preston Brook, before we head back down via the Shroppie. We have an arranged meeting at Audlem early next week, but other than that it is a case of see where we get to.  

We left Kings Bromley this morning after taking on some diesel, but we intend to fill to the brim at either Norbury or Turners Garage next week. As we travelled towards Rugeley, we encountered a large fishing match. We were in a line of four boats travelling closely together and there were similar travelling towards us and the anglers were somewhat pi**ed off to say the least, but we made an effort to smile at each of them as we passed but most struggled to return the gesture. 

We got a call from home around lunchtime to let us know the British & Irish Lions had managed to scrape a victory down under in the first test. So not only was this trip poorly planned with the weather, we will also struggle to see all three test matches....who actually 'planned' this ??

We did manage to raise a glass to the Lions though. Louise managed to make sure we could toast their success with this box of wine. 
and very nice it was too...hic                  
As we approached Shugborough we came across a boat who was offering axe and chainsaw sharpening.  We needed some shears sharpening so pulled up and got them done for £2.50. The chap did a great job of sharpening and oiling them....just like new.

We continued to dodge the showers but were caught in a couple of deluges this afternoon before we moored up at Weston just before Bridge 81. The forecast looks a bit more promising into next week, but tomorrow looks like a right stinker !!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Old Heartthrob and New Waterway

Blue Moon has spent the week in dry dock for blacking at Bromley Wharf and will be re-floated tomorrow, but the weekend has been full on activity for us and we got some fabulous boating in on new territory too.

As soon as work (ugh!!) finished on Friday afternoon it was a dash home, changed, and out again as we had a another concert to go to. After Rod Stewart only a couple of weeks ago, this was another trip with our friends Dave and Sally - this time to Sherwood Pines Country Park to see the wonderful 'Blondie'.

Another blast from the past, but they don't make 'em like they used to. A lovely evening during which the weather stayed kind, we had a picnic tea and then enjoyed some fabulous music. Supported by the lead singer of The Lightning Seeds, Ian Broudie, who warmed the crowd up with an acoustic set, Blondie didn't disappoint and the crowd were in fine voice as she banged out the hits of our youth and some tracks from her new album. It was hard to believe that Debbie Harry is now 67 !!!
video I took of the hit Atomic with a great guitar solo at the end by Tommy Kessler.

Saturday was an early start for a trip down to St Ives in Cambridgeshire to meet up with friends Chris and Gratsi, work colleagues of John. They have just bought a brand new 'Sea Master 28' named Lazee Daze and we met them at their moorings at The Pike & Eel Boatyard on the banks of the Great Ouse. The wind was blowing strongly as we arrived, but after a look around their boat and a welcome cuppa, Chris decided that we would venture out of the marina and onto the river.

The scenery reminded us very much of the River Avon with views across the fields instead of high banks and plenty of twists and turns. John had a spell of steering which was very different to a narrowboat, not only due to there being a wheel as opposed to a tiller, but sat in a high comfy leather seat. The reaction of the wheel was very different to a tiller and took a bit of getting used to, but we didn't hit anything. It was also nice to have plenty of space at the rear of the boat to sit and relax as we cruised along enjoying a drink or two.

We cruised up through St Ives with an unusual bridge to pass under. The small building in the centre is a chapel which is still very much in use. The bridge was built in 1425 and the chapel a year later. Since then it has also been a toll house, a pub, a doctors surgery and a private residence, but is now back to its original use.
St Ives Bridge
Again, we were lucky with the weather as you can see from the photo. We moored at Hemingford Grey for lunch which was well timed due to a torrential downpour, before the sun re-appeared for the return trip to the marina.
Hemingford Lock
Lunch break and time to chill
Hitching a ride
Where are Health & Safety when you need them
Louise doing what she does best 
The return journey in the sun
The Great Ouse is a waterway we have never visited before never mind cruised. We liked what we saw and one day we hope to venture down that way and explore more of the area. We saw a few narrowboats whilst we were out and overall the river was quiet, clean and interesting.

Would we swap from a narrowboat to a cruiser ?? I suppose it depends very much on what you are used to and what you want from boating. The boat was lovely and Chris and Gratsi are really pleased and happy with their purchase and so they should be. It has its advantages of a lovely rear deck for entertaining, but overall we would always come 'home' to a narrowboat and the canals.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

No boating, but 'We Are Sailing'

Don't panic we've not gone mad and bought a yacht. This week we have had a break from the canals (almost) and last night we headed to the Capital FM Arena in Nottingham with our friends Dave & Sally to see the opening night of Rod Stewarts current tour. He is an artist none of us have ever seen live and something we have all been looking forward to for months since the dates were announced.

What a fantastic night we had. A packed arena with the crowd in a great mood and Rod banging out a mixture of well known hits, an acoustic set in the middle and some tracks from his latest number 1 album 'Time'. It's hard to believe that he is 68. Probably the most poignant moment of the concert was when he dedicated 'Rhythm of my Heart' to all of our fallen war veterans and it finished with pictures of Lee Rigby on the huge screens, prompting a standing ovation (and a few tears). He is fantastically supported by some wonderful musicians, the pick of which have to be J'anna Jacoby on violin and percussion and Katja Rieckermann on saxophone (purely for their musical talents of course !!)

We took a few pictures and videos, but none as good a quality as this. Not one of his best known tracks, played as part of the acoustic set.

If you get the chance to go to any of the remaining dates we can highly recommend the show.

So, I did say we almost had a canal free weekend. This morning we took our usual stroll down to Stenson Lock Coffee Shop for breakfast. Plenty of activity on the water and this boat certainly caught our eye and our ears with a wonderful sounding engine.