Thursday, August 27, 2009

London calling!

Monday saw me travel down to London to my father's house to spend some time with Fleur and catch some shows - our favourate past-time! I arrived on monday and early Tuesday morning my father travelled up to Rugby to spend a few days with my brother on K2, (I will leave his blog to tell you about that trip!) Tuesday evening saw us in town watching Sister Act - the musical.
A good show but not the greatest! I think Fleur enjoyed it more than me. The humour was less funny than in the films and at times quite slap-dashed but the acting was good, the stage set was spectacular and it was very entertaining none-the-less.
Last night we made up for it however! For all the theatre going we do, neither of us had ever seen Phantom of the Opera so we saw that last night!
WOW! The most mesmerising show we have ever seen. A 100% standing ovation at the end and I defy anyone to watch it and not be on their feet by the end. The storyline is, of course, fantastic, the stage scenes incredible, the effects amazing but the acting was phenomenal with such passion and energy - a total must see for everyone before they die!
Today we had a day off before tomorrow evening we go to see Stomp!
There's the possibility of seeing Les Miserables on Saturday but we're not sure yet if that will work!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back to Little Foxwood!

With the greatest apologies to my boating readers, (watch the ratings plummit again!) now I'm back home the railways will probably and generally take my blogging centre of attention once more I'm afraid. Today was a rare day that I didn't go in school at all. Partly because my brother was coming up to visit K2 and I wanted to see him and partly becuase the sun was attempting to shine once again and I've had a really good few days at school this week already. Instead, I spent the entire day in the railway shed. Some of the earlier buildings had the lighting wired in wrongly the result of which is that the bulbs have started blowing as they have had too much power fed to them. Today was the day for sorting that out. It looked drastic and there was a time I thought I had wrecked the grocers totally but I now have lighting again on the mainline station and in the grocer's shop as well as a dimmer installed onto the lock keepers cottage as at night it locked as if it was on fire! The trains are running well currently and the allottments are coming on nicely.
I have taken a few general pictures simply to keep this updated. First a mixed goods train passes behind the farm workers cottage with the entrance to Foxwood allottments to the right.
The Post Office and general stores with the ever watchful local bobby keeping an eye on things.
The daily milk churn collection taking place at the farm gate.
....and the postman collecting the mail from outside the newly re-lit grocer's shop.
I plan to go back at some point when it's dark to check the lighting properly. Tomorrow, I may go into school again or then again - I may not!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Home at last!

The final holiday cruise post! Off this morning at 09:00 to tackle the remaining Atherstone Locks. Fine progress until I reacher lock 5, then we all ground to a halt. The pound was out of water!
There we all were, breasted up and stuck ont he bottom - back on the Rochdale it seemed! It was OK, however, there were at least 8 BW officials mending a bridge just above the lock:

"Oh no Gov. - we don't know nothing about the water, we just mend the bridges!" Eventually a BW man did turn up and an hour later we were all able to move again. The reason? As usual, one boater coming down stream was told by BW that a boater had left the paddles up - here we go again. This is not true! Actually the lock keeper, (remember him? The chap witht he MBE for his dedication to the lock flight,) was on holiday sitting in his cottage and refused to come out and do anything and had clearly not told anyone how to manage the flight so as to keep water flowing. Now either his job is on the line and he's out to prove a point or BW have never trained their staff in succession management!

The rest of the trip back to Brinklow was slow due tot he intense amount of extreme traffic around and the very slow hire boats - at one point I was in a long line of 5 hire boats!

Still I'm home and the landline is getting the batteries back into top condition. Tomorrow I start the shopping, washing, cleaning etc as well as take my truck to the garage to have 4 new off road tyres put on - ouch!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Almost home!

Set off this morning at 6.00! The rain and rib injury I sustained whilst falling in the other week kept me awake. I wanted the get back home ASAP now so it seemed to make sense. I love slipping my moorings and creeping past everyone else still asleep! A very uninteresting day really. 6 boats queuing at Fradley but by the time I left the locks there was 8 behind me.
Is this the smallest traditional narrowboat in the country?
On to Glascotte Locks. Not to be outdone by Andrew Denny, I too got a guided tour of the fascinating history behind the lock cottage and even managed to get more than just a foot of the owner who is proudly holding his latest brick collection addition; I am proud to say, it's a London brick! I must apologies to Lesley who was very confused about this 'Mary Celeste' floating in the lock when I eventually emerged from the lock cottage - sorry for holding you up!

Anyway, I pushed on finally mooring at 7.00pm at Atherstone ready to tackle the flight tomorrow - I may even be home tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A stunning day!

Now my posts of late haven't often had a title like that!
The weather today has been stunning. Blue sky, puffy little white clouds, a gentle breeze, hot sun and cruising through some of the most gorgeous countryside there is - the Trent & Mersey between Stone and Great Haywood.
Passed the boat of Terry and Monica Darlington of 'Narrow dog to Carcassonne' fame whilst travelling through Stone;

....but far more interesting and exciting was seeing Jo and Keith from NB Hadar and having a long chat with them as I worked through the top lock in Stone - or rather they very kindly worked me through the lock. I only just about managed to grab this shot of NB Hadar unusually appearing very shy!

And on towards Great Haywood, giving Richard Fairhurst; editor of Waterways World Magazine, a cheery wave as we passed each other going in opposite directions.

As I passed through Great Haywood, I saw this glorious sight parked up alongside the canal.

I think Toad of Toad Hall got it right! I could do that you know - there is something magnificently elegant about these living waggons!

Finally mooring approximately 3 boats below my friends with the garden shed, (they seem to have found the throttle now,) at Shugborough. A beautiful spot.

Listening to the Buzzards screaching as the sun streams through the open side hatch.

Tomorrow on through Rugeley towards Armitage and then Fradley.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crew lost!

Set off this morning after a full fried breakfast and headed towards the end of the Macclesfield. En route, it was a pleasure as always to meet the crews of NB Caxton:
Eventually we arrived at Harecastle Tunnel as boat number 5. The BW tunnel keeper promptly instructed us to double breast up with NB Page - NB Page turned out to be our new 'friends' from yesterday!! How ironic. Anyway we made polite conversation and they reciprocated which broke the ice and determined an uncommunicated truce. We also discovered that they moor in Rugby and work in the town moving their boat every 14 days around the area - Ummmm! I wonder if the girls also attend one of the local secondary schools - I know almost all the deputies and heads of them!!
The passage was navigated without incident and the inside of Harecastle seemed positively cavenous after Standedge!
The arrival of Khayamanzi at Westport Lakes meant that my father 'jumped ship' but his friend Clive who had ferried my father's car up, (following?) came on board and helped crew me through Stoke to my fianl mooring hre at Barlaston just above the Plume of Feathers. Clive has now left me and I'm back to the rest of the trip on my own.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Oh boy! What a day!!

Firstly the weather was fabulous! The sun shone all day and got positively hot at times. The scenery was incredible as we wound our way between rolling hills and quint villages like this
....and that's when things started to go wrong! Just as we were waiting to pull out the mooring pins a string of boats rounded the corner. Not wishing to be rude, I waited for them to pass, and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually they passed us and I made cheery conversation about the weather through gritted teeth as it was clear that not only were they going excruciatingly slowly, they were bridge hoppers on the move with the 2nd boat even towing it's garden shed!
The continued on tick-over with me having to pull into reverse at every bridge as the steerer performed a lively 'back deck dance' attempting to see over his array of logs and flowers all over the roof. After a couple of hours of this, my father went off down the towpath and politely asked if we might pass at some point when convenient. "Wot, aint we going fast enough for yer?" came the Neanderthal reply. My father commented that it was a little slow for us and that we wanted to get through the Bosley lock flight today, (we were over 5 miles from the flight at this point!) "So do we" he replied and turned away from my father and ignored him. I picked my father back up and we continued following his 'shed' that was swaying back and forth across the cut. Here they are just in case anyone has the misfortune to ever meet them.
And by the way - both boats were travelling in convoy at the same speed with frequent yells between the millions of teenage kids that clambered over each boat.
Then the unthinkable happened! Amidst much revving and water sploshing, we realised they were grinding to a halt. I closed the gap as we looked to see what was happening and saw a swing bridge ahead. They set off crew who dutifully opened the swing bridge to let their 3 boats through, (2 if you don't count the shed!) and then this....
Look carefully! Yes - you see correctly. The 2 giggling teenage girls swung the bridge shut behind them narrowly missing the front of Khayamanzi and I just managed to snap them running giggling back to their boat as they saw me reverse hard and my father jump off the back to go and open it again!
I am getting more and more disheartened at the pond life creeping on to our canals and I have had the most serious discussions ever this holiday about selling up and moving back to a house - watch this space.
We continued on tickover keeping our mouths shut, (except a cheeky 'thank you' called out by me to the girls!) until we got to the start of Bosley Locks.
Lock 1 completed and we saw them moored up waiting at the next lock. "You're not going any further" says Mr. BW man - "Lock 5 has come off its hinges and it will be a couple of hours to get it sorted" - Great, there we were stuck in a short pound with a bunch of single celled organisms that would challenge even the mighty Bones and who had by this time, spilled out the entire contents of shed and boat onto the bank, found some chairs and water pistols so that the 'adults' could sit on the chairs whilst the teenage kids ran up and down screaming, shouting and squirting each other. We, however dodged the wasps that had been somewhat angered by the fact that the boat behind drove his pin into their nest! 2 hours passed and we were finally able to continue. The backup of boats enabled a good distance to be put between us and our new found waterway 'friends' and we eventually got out the locks with much fun and camaraderie between us and the rest of the boaters behind whilst strategically being 'busy' whenever we found ourselves coming up behind the 'shed pullers'. We moored up in a lovely little spot at 7.00pm having travelled one of the shortest distances of the whole trip in one of the longest times!
Ah well, tomorrow - Harecastle and Westport Lakes, drop off father who returns home and then onwards Brinklow Bound on my tod!

Saturday 8th August!

The trouble with blogging a day late on the canals is that I can't remember a single thing! No telephone signal at all yesterday - what bliss! So the first post tonight is yesterdays!
Turned onto the Macclesfield to relax and enjoy the scenery of this beautiful canal.
Staleybridge is a beautiful place! Loads of lovely visitor moorings and such amazing flower displays. With the Tesco's right alongside - it was a boaters dream and too good an opportunity to miss so a shopping stop was in order before continuing.
We continued on enjoying such lovely views as this;
and this;
Oh no - sorry, that was some kind fellas high visability jacket that I spent half an hour pulling out of the weed hatch!
And here's the proof!

Nothing else exciting happened except that we moored in the most beautiful place and in enough time for a lovely BBQ!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Standedge Tunnel Experience!

What an amazing day!
First a picture of the tunnel office last night.
We were ready to set off for the tunnel from 8.00 this morning although our passage wasn't scheduled until 10.00. Just as well! The other 2 boats booked in first were apparently too smokey as they were hire boats with old Lister engines. As a result, we were pushed through first! This was great as it meant we had more time the other end to head on further. We filled up with water, removed the cratch cover, removed the navigation lights, signed 2 forms of disclaimers, kitted up and were off.
Just entering into the unknown with our first class chaperone, Terry, on board safe and sound and my little meter sitting on the hatch in front of me confidently monitoring levels of O2, Methane, CO2 and various other gases letting out reassuring bleeps and flashes every so often!
All was going well until the steam train went through in the adjacent tunnel!
From there on, we couldn't see a thing! In fact we had to stop in the middle at one of the emergency monitoring stations and switch the kettle off to allow the steam and smog to clear. We couldn't even see the front of the boat let alone the rocks sticking out everywhere!
....and here's Khayamanzi viewed from the adjacent redundant railway tunnel.
It was fascinating to see the marks where the old navvies drilled and filled with gunpowder to blast away the rock as well as the 'leggers' plates marking down the distances. Much of the view was this although it should be said that this was one of the wider and higher sections where I could take my eyes off the walls to grab a picture!
The support van was travelling in the adjacent tunnel and the 'shadow man' kept poppinghis head through to check all was OK while Terry had to radio through at specific points to check in. Eventually we popped out the Diggle end and into bright sunlight where upon we could re-assemble the boat and wash the sooty footprints out of the carpet.
The lock flight down from the end of the tunnel was through some stunning scenery.
It was a pleasure to meet an active team of Huddersfield Canal volunteers who were not only helpful and cheery but were undertaking a sterling task of repainting the locks and we quite willing to stop and help us lock through.
The rest of the journey was uneventful with a final mooring just below lock 11W and before Stalybridge. Tomorrow off the Huddersfield and through the Northern Peak Forest Canal to the Macclesfield and more familiar territory.
I have to say that the Standedge tunnel experience is one not to be missed although I am a little disappointed that I didn't get a single scratch on the boat to show for it!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A much better day and a sentiment shared!

This morning at 9.30 am a knock on the door heralded the arrival of the local photographer and reported from the local rag. Shortly afterwards another knock saw the arrival of 'Nick'. Nick was the BW man who was so pleasant and helpful. In fact, Nick and Colin helped us through the locks to the summit and the tunnel entrance and could not have been more of a contrast to 'Rick' yesterday! They were pleasant, fun, helpful and so hard working. We kept them plied with drinks, cakes and chocolates and they kept us plied with tales of BW's total inneficiency. It appears we share the same sentiments and frustration relating to lack of funding here. Apparently this morning the dodgy old photocopier in the Leeds office finally gave up the ghost after many years of service and several weeks of strange noises. They made a phone call to request authorisation to purchase a new one and were told 'no' flatly - what hope is there to purchase a new set of lock gates then?
Off we went through the very stiff guillotine gate that was the scene of so much frustration yesterday.
Anyway, the sun was shining, the day was warm and dry and the scenery was stunning. Progress was slow which gave us time to enjoy our surroundings and the conversation with Colin and Nick.
Eventually we found ourselves at the BW owned reservior which was low although would have been much lower but for the quick thinking of Colin a week ago when the rain came down!

The final lock on the summit was a welcome relief to all concerned and the final gongoozlers were in place to watch any minor error of judgement - fortunately, there was none!

We were 'deposited' on the waiting area with the other 2 boats who are travelling through tomorrow.

Apparently we can move down to the visitor centre any time after 4.00 so we plan to go as soon as I've finished this post! We did walk down and pay a visit to take a few pictures.

All being well, tomorrow evening should be about the trip through the tunnel and onwards through the exit locks to wherever we get to moor tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

More B&Q than BW

I'm afraid BW have today managed to single handedly convert me from an ardent BW supporter into the biggest BW cynic ever! BW are more B&Q than BW in 2 ways: their approach to customer service and their approach to canal maintenance - read on to find out more!
I shall begin with the journey so far. A fascinating trip through locks whose walls are adorned with the marks of their stone-masons.
Every mark is a fascinating reminder of a day when people took pride in their work - a passion and skill long since lost - especially within the lower ranks of BW!

Kirklees Borough Council still have the view of us being long haired tree hugging 'bargees' clearly! Maybe I'm over sensitive but I found this sign quite offensive.

On through Slaithwaite - a very pretty little town but sadly with no visitor moorings again.

And that's where the journey stopped and the adventure started!

Several locks back my father had met a BW 'operative' - a large, hairy chap who goes by the name of 'Rik' who got out of his truck, raked some rubbish from the weir, (leaving the bottles and debris still floating around,)made no attempt at conversation, got back in his truck for a swig of coffee from his flask and drove off again. As my father approached lock 24E, a guillotine lock, the same 'operative' got out of his truck, walked up to the gates, padlocked them in my fathers face and started to walk off. Naturally my father enquired as to what was happening given that we were told to report to BW at lock 34 and all paperwork emailed to me from the bookings office clearly states this; the 'operative' simply jingled the keys and told him we had to stop here until tomorrow when we would be met at 10.00 and escorted through. My father then enquired what we were to do and where we were to moor; his reply was, "just back up down there". This is what and where he meant!

Now there are no mooring rings, (the only 2 are taken by a boat we have been told has been there for at least 3 days,) the bushes and trees prevent getting near to the bank, the mud means mooring 3 feet out, the adjacent wall is approximately 2 feet high, we are outside industrial factories whose concrete yard prevents the use of mooring stakes and the front of the factories is a main thoroughfare for screaming cars and vans as well as walkers, dogs and the innevitable result of irresponsible dog owners - apart from that it's a lovely spot! On walking up above the lock there is a lovely lock waiting area that must be a quarter of a mile long with bollards, good depth of water, (in fact one of their BW workboats is moored there,) and which is much more tranquil and peaceful.

I phoned BW to seek clarification and was told that due to 'water restrictions' a new rule had been introduced that boaters had to seek escorted passage from lock 24 instead of 34. They also said that a note had been made on my account to say that the customer had been advised of this since booking - I clearly had not since we were making our merry way on towards lock 34! I asked about the water restrictions as I could clearly see water gushing round the by-weir. I was told that the shortage was due to boaters who had left the paddles open. Oh really? I have photographic evidence to the contrary!

Firstly please explain this sign!

Secondly please explain this! An obvious attempt at sealing a leaking lock gate with spray foam!

Thirdly, please explain this!

This is not just some random farmers boggy field. It is, in fact, canal water leaking from the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at lock 27E into an adjacent field. How can I be so sure? Firstly, the ark of water was from one corner of the entrance to the lock wall right out in a perfect line into the field and secondly on closer inspection this could be found all over the wall level with the water ark.

More B&Q special - spray foam! Totally inneffective as the leak shows and the innevitable result is this.

Still - we got it lucky, a boat up ahead phoned when they got to the lock with the sign that says 'no passage beyond here without BW' and were told to carry on to lock 32. When they got into one lock, they got stuck and phoned BW who sent out an 'operative' and told them that they shouldn't have got that far and they had to reverse out and moor in the pound below until next Tuesday when they were booked to go through the tunnel. We walked up to see them as their boat is listing at an alarming angle and they have to pole vault, (literally) to get on or off the boat - their pound is still leaking and they are worried about the night ahead! No amount of explaining our predicament or requesting that we might be allowed through to moor just above the next lock would make them budge so BW now have 2 very unhappy 'customers' sitting at a location we did not choose to be in for a period of time we have not chosen with facilities that are non existent. Having got through to the PA of Robin Evans and the regional manager we were promised that a BW official would arrive this afternoon to see for themselves the dreadful conditions that they have 'dumped' their customers in but noone has arrived.

So BW - please STOP blaming the boaters until you get your own house in order.

Apparently BW were given £2M to rejuvinate this area and the money was spent on the Marsden Standedge visitors centre where there is, unsurprisingly, plenty of water and lovely mooring and waiting areas. I have attempted to phone BW and ask if it is at all possible to be let through the one lock above so that we can get some decent moorings for the night but to no avail. It seems if their customer service is as much akin to B&Q as their approach to maintenance!

The locals walking the towpath are as frustrated as we are and one suggested/asked if we could contact the local press and provided us with a number. We have done so and they are very interested and are sending a photographer out tomorrow morning to photograph all the boats listing on the mud and the lack of facilities for us.

My advice to anyone contemplating doing this canal and through Standedge is simple - Don't do it! I am convinced that BW only spend money on the mainline Midlands system and the extremes of canal system are ignored and neglected. In fact, my father and I have been thinking and we have not passed a single visiting boat who has come through here and said they would return; the unanimous comments have been 'it's nice to have done it but never again' - a sentiment I would certainly echo!


The crew secretary and archivist of the President steam narrowboat, Richard Thomas, who also happens to give many talks on the waterways circuit has now moored in with us on his Shire Cruisers hire boat. He was told that he could proceed to above lock 26 this evening and was told this by a BW 'operative' this morning. The Shire Cruisers hire boat and crew that is coming up behind us is expecting to go through, as we were, to lock 34 - who knows what is going on; BW certainly don't!