Up and Down the Line

Turning in a new direction at Norton Junction. It was one of my first junctions and still one of my favourites.

We’ve been going the wrong way (considering our destination is Bristol), and having a little diversion, a flirtation if you like, with the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.

The Lark (Rise) Ascending at Foxton Locks

I loved it. The Leicester Line starts with Watford. and the roar of the M1. You can even cut across a field to the Watford Gap services for a McDonalds if the fancy takes you We didn’t. Then come the Watford Locks, seven in total, four in a staircase. They have volunteer lock keepers to see you through safely and marshall the queue. We didn’t expect to wait over an hour and a half for our turn; we know better now. The locks are ingenious, they fill and empty via side pounds. Every lock has a red paddle and a white paddle, one to control the flow of water into the pound and one to control the flow of water into the lock. They have a saying for confused boaters: “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, slap round the head!”

Gliders take to the air at North Kilworth

Then there are 23 miles in total of lock-free bucolic loveliness. It’s the definition of pastoral. There are no towns and really no villages to break up the countryside. We spotted the first dragonflies of the year, red kites, hares and a fox slinking across a field. It’s so pretty that it almost got a little boring!

Mile after mile of fields, blue skies, fields and hawthorn blossom, the fallen petals sitting on the water (and all over the boat) like confetti. It’s such a hard life!

We met our friends Paul and Anthony as we reached Crick. They’ve had their last journey on Morning Star. We’ve had so many fabulous times with them on her, but I’m not that sad, as the new Morning Star, a stunning electric boat built by Oakums, was launched and proudly shown off at the Crick Boat Show. Thanks Anthony, I know you know what I did last summer, but I don’t need you to hiss it in my ear through the porthole at 11.30 pm! I will get you back for scaring me half to death!

Squeezing past the double-moored narrowboats at the Crick Boat Show. I didn’t take one single photo while we were there …

At the end of the long pound are Foxton Locks, two staircases with five locks in each. Again with wonderfully friendly and informative lockies to help and with a slightly different rhyme “Red before white, you’ll be alright, white before red, wish yourself dead.” I’m not messing with those guys. In the pound between the two staircases we met Karen and Drew on Larkrise, and had a super and unexpected pub lunch with them before we headed down an arm to Market Harborough, where we stayed for a couple of days.

The countryside is still pretty, but you don’t want to catch a whiff of the rendering plant on the Market Harborough Arm!

The Foxton Locks are a gongoozler’s paradise. On the Saturday afternoon when we ascended I think half of Leicestershire was there. There are two pubs and cafes and I got to indulge my love of good beer and rum and raisin ice cream, always a bonus. Between 1900 and 1910 there was an inclined plane, a type of boat lift, at Foxton, now just a relic, but there’s a nice little museum for people to learn about it, and the life of the boatmen and women. With the hawthorn in full blossom, a swans’ nest to watch and at last some sunshine, the two nights we stayed there were a joy.

All that’s left of the inclined plane at Foxton Locks

On the way back down we explored the Welford Arm. There’s a charming pub at the end called The Wharf Inn. The internet is risible, so we had to call in for a pint just so I could buy a train ticket and order a Tesco delivery. What a trial! We also stayed at North Kilworth Marina so we could all go to the Crick Boat Show, even though we said we weren’t going to this year. It was the usual mix of catching up with friends, enviously viewing the latest boats and shopping. We bought a new chimney and a life ring, so now we are adequately equipped for the mighty River Thames and back on our way again.

Approaching Yelvertoft, another image of Leicester Line loveliness

Today we turned back onto the Main Line of the Grand Union Canal again. It was a rather longer day than we planned. We queued patiently at the Watford Locks on the return trip for nearly four hours. Canal time or what?

A totally gratuitous photo of Beau Romer looking rather splendid moored up at the top of Foxton Locks

Of Shoes – And Ships- And Sealing-Wax – Of Cabbages – And Kings …

Captain Edwards putting the bunting up for the Coronation

With apologies to Lewis Carroll, and aware that there are no cabbages, sealing wax, or shoes in this blog – and strictly speaking no ships either – I am playing catch up, or I’ll get progressively further behind. There’s a lot of travelling to recount but there’s nothing new here as we cruised all these same canals last summer.

Some ladies by the canal in Rugeley

From Tixall Wide we turned right back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal and cruised down to Rugeley, an excellent place to stop because there’s a Tesco right next to the canal. We like places like that. We had met Gareth and Lou from Cruising Crafts at Great Haywood Junction and I asked Gareth to make a pouch for my walkie-talkie to add to my utility harness, so now I have Windlass, CRT key, handcuff key and walkie-talkie all to hand when we’re going through locks. Since I’ve had it I don’t lose handcuff keys with gay abandon either. We don’t use the walkie-talkie much when there’s just the two of us, but they are very handy when we are cruising with another boat and we were putting the hammer down a bit to meet up with Andrew and Penny again.

Great Haywood Junction in a bit of rare sunshine

From Rugeley we quickly carried on through Armitage, where toilets (Armitage Shanks) are still made and the site of the Armitage Tunnel, which isn’t as it was opened out due to subsidence, so it’s just a very deep narrow cutting now. This year no one hit the side on the way through. Once again we didn’t stop at Fradley Junction, so I still haven’t been to The Swan pub, or the Mucky Duck as boaters call it.

Making the turn at Fradley

Then it was down the Coventry Canal, past Kings Orchard Marina where we stayed last year and through the village of Hopwas, where you have the choice of two pubs facing each other across the canal, the Tame Otter and the Red Lion. We missed out on them both. From Fazeley Junction we headed for the extremely slow Glascote Locks and on to Atherstone.

Found by the side of one of the Glascote Locks – very true!

There we had a day off for the Coronation, huddled up in front of the fire listening to the rain and watching the TV. What a shame. All sorts of events were going on in Atherstone and the rain was a disappointment. It was a fabulous day all the same. Martyn wishes we hadn’t bedecked the boat with bunting though, I’m never buying the cheap stuff again. When we took it down it had left dye all over the boat which was the devil’s own job to remove.

Atherstone Top Lock, and friendly lockies. It will always be known as Rat Lock since a rat used the stern of our boat as a bridge here last summer!

Once we’d made our way through Nuneaton, which has seemingly endless allotments and was the home of Larry Grayson (who my Auntie and Uncle took me to see years ago in Bournemouth Pavillion), we reached Hawkesbury Junction with its daunting 180 degree turn. Martyn made it in one with aplomb, in front of a garden full of gongoozlers enjoying a pint in The Greyhound. We had a lovely reunion Sunday dinner there later with Penny and Andrew, which will take some beating.

I had a couple of pints of this in The Greyhound, and very nice they were too

From then it was down through Rugby (on the Oxford Canal by then) and through the three locks at Hillmorton, apparently the busiest in the country. I rather like them, but they were very full, and crossing the middle lock was like wading through a stream.

I wonder how many feet have stopped onto the lock gate here at Hillmorton

Braunston is the centre of the canal system, and it was surprisingly empty this year. We were a bit shocked that the marina was selling diesel at £1.65 per litre. We didn’t fill up there!

Approaching Braunston

We had a couple of days in Weedon on the Grand Union which meant I got to visit The Bramble Patch, one of my favourite patchwork and quilting shops. And I think this is quite enough for one blog, even though I’m not completely caught up yet.

Ready to repel pirates on the Buckby Flight

Old Friends and a New Favourite

Brick Kiln Lock in the (rare at the moment) evening sunshine

I have to think back a bit now. Once we got off the Shroppie and onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I guess I have a new favourite canal. It’s quite an interesting one, with lots of twists and turns – a contour canal – has some beautiful scenery and intriguing towns and villages on the banks. We spent three days travelling northeast on the Staffs and Worcester in mostly good weather and I want to go back, take my time, and explore the whole canal.

Even the graffiti under the M6 was impressive

There were only a couple of downsides. For a few hundred metres you pass a chemical works with prominent “no stopping” signs, and then there was the night we spent at Acton Trussell. We moored outside the enthusiastically-reviewed Moat House Hotel on a Saturday night. To be honest, I was rather hoping to be treated to a night’s B&B to celebrate my birthday and maybe even enjoy the luxury of a wallow in a bath! Sadly they were fully booked and we soon found out why. There was a wedding taking place, and I expect the guests had taken over the whole hotel. We didn’t mind the festivities and loud disco, it was actually rather jolly and we almost felt like we were celebrating along with the wedding party. We fully expected it to go on until midnight and we aren’t normally people who retire to bed early. We even had fun guessing which of the old standards the DJ was going to play next (Madness followed by Bad Manners and Dexys Midnight Runners was a bit of a no-brainer if you’re of a certain age). They were still going strong at 1 o’clock in the morning, and by that time we’d definitely had enough, especially as for the last 30 minutes it felt like we were in Ibiza rather than Staffordshire. And to compound my grumpiness at an early start after a late night we boated in the rain the next day.

The Captain enjoying the view – or maybe checking for pirates

The destination was worth the early start. We arrived at one of our favourite moorings, Tixall Wide, to enjoy the bank holiday. Apart from the honking of Canada Geese and the eroding banks which are apparently going to be fixed this summer, it’s a joyful place to spend a couple of nights.

I wouldn’t mind living here at all

On May Bank Holiday Monday we took the opportunity to visit the farm shop at Great Haywood Junction, and Shugborough Hall. The Shugborough Estate is one of the few National Trust properties we can easily access from the canal. I do like to see more opulence in my stately homes and a little less of the National Trust’s educational displays, but The Lichfield Apartments were a delight. It was almost as if Lord Lichfield had just stepped out of his family home for a few minutes with his camera and gone off to photograph the Royal Family, or someone equally famous.

I thought it was the cat that curiosity was supposed to kill, not our neighbours at Tixall Wide

And finally for this post, on Tuesday we had a day off. Martyn didn’t think so, as we took the opportunity to give the boat a good clean, firstly because it absolutely needed it, and secondly in readiness for the Coronation weekend to come.

Shugborough Hall

Finishing off the Shroppie

Herons just look wrong in trees

How quickly a week flies by. We are on new waters and they will be the subject of another post. Here’s a recap of the old ones; the southern end of the Shropshire Union Canal. On leaving Market Drayton we continued south through the dreaded Tyrley Locks. These are rather infamous for their strong bywashes. Last year, after a long summer of drought I didn’t see what the fuss was about, now I understand! It took Martyn two attempts to get into the bottom lock, such was the force of the water gushing out. It’s so strong it’s worn a cave into the sandstone opposite over the years. Thankfully it was smooth sailing after that, and Tyrley is a very pretty little flight. You start at the bottom in a wooded cutting and emerge at the top by a quite lovely lock keepers cottage. It helped that the sun was shining.

Surveying the size of the problem to come at Tyrley Bottom Lock

I’m sorry to our friend Ian that we didn’t stop at Goldstone Wharf and visit the community shop at Cheswardine. It’s just that every time we pass through Ian seems to be out of the country! Next time it will be my pleasure to pop in.

Deep down in Woodseaves Cutting, hoping we don’t meet a boat coming the other way.

Woodseaves Cutting is as equally famous as Tyrley Locks and very, very deep. Last year we hit something under the water there that that threw the boat sideways and damaged our cratch cover; it was probably a fallen rock. This year we got through with no drama and moored up for the night at Norbury Junction. We ran into Heidi from the Pirate Boat there, and it was nice to have a chat and a catch-up. She was there as a trading boat for the Norbury Canal Festival this bank holiday weekend, but we didn’t stay. We filled up with diesel too. These days 93p a litre seems very reasonable indeed.

Passing the old Cadbury Wharf with the Knighton Foods factory in the background. They make “specialty powders” there, reputedly Bird’s Custard Powder and Angel Delight. Of course I haven’t had Angel Delight for years, and just had to go and buy some!

It took us another two days to get off the Shroppie, mostly because the weather came in wet and we decided to take most of a day off. I use an excellent app called CanalPlanAC to map our journey, calculate distances and check out moorings. We halted at a nondescript place called Pendleford Visitor moorings. CanalPlan described the mooring there as “tolerable, it’s just about possible if really necessary”. I beg to disagree. Yes, the Shroppie Shelf was there, but we can cope with it with our trusty wheels down. The huge plus point in its favour was that I could see a nearby mobile phone mast, so on a rainy afternoon and evening we had plenty of internet to keep us amused. Yes, we do play games and read, and the boat takes constant maintenance, but in all honesty, most of the time on wet evenings we resort to a cosy fire and Netflix etc like everyone else.

Bridge 39 has an old telegraph pole running right through the middle arch

The southern end of the Shroppie isn’t my favourite. It has lots of straight stretches through open farmland and I find it rather brooding too. Talking of brooding, we pass through the village of Brewood, pronounced: “Brood”. We didn’t stop this time, but I noticed something there that seemed like a terribly good idea. One of the pubs advertised a laundry service. We have a washing machine onboard, but a lot of boats don’t. I’m sure a good few canalside pubs could have a nice little sideline doing boaters’ washing!

A bright and cheerful private mooring in Gnosall. We think we will stop there next time, it has two nice-looking pubs!

The Slow Train

Martyn closing the lock gates behind me on the Adderley Flight

At the tiller chugging along at a stately 3mph, I frequently get earworms. Very often something I see or hear will prompt it. One of my favourites is The Slow Train by Flanders and Swann. I must have been a toddler when I came across this marvellous pair and their comic songs, and the one I remember then was the Hippopotamus Song, mostly because it featured on a little 45rpm compilation record of suitable songs for children (“Mud, mud, glorious mud, there’s nothing quite like it for cooling the blood …”).

It’s that time of the year, lots of spring lambs, in this case sheltering from the drizzle at Hack Green

I get really nostalgic about The Slow Train. Railways tend to follow canals, and as well as the names in the song that are familiar from home – Blandford Forum and Midsomer Norton – we pass some on the canals. This week it was Mow Cop (although not I think the famous one) and Audlem. I remember Scholar Green too, and at some point we’ll collect Selby and Goole. When you pass under so many disused railway bridges and see track routes on the map it does make you wistful for those old forgotten transport routes (even though I don’t remember the railway network pre-Dr Beeching) and marvel at how long the canals themselves have lasted.

See the sign? It’s hardly secret, is it?

But before we got to lovely Audlem we made a scheduled stop at Hack Green. It was one of the reasons we decided to head down the Shroppie instead of taking the direct route south down the Trent and Mersey. We planned to visit the Secret Nuclear Bunker last year but our plans were thwarted. This time we made it.

Says it all really

The bunker is run by a Charitable trust and is a museum of civil defence and the Cold War. Very sobering it is too. I’d always imagined that type of facility to be somewhere the great and the good would take refuge in case of nuclear war but came away with the strong sense they would have to do their best along with us plebs. The bunker was going to be all about communications and keeping the government going if there would be anything left to govern. The outlook for the rest of us was very bleak indeed. See Flanders and Swann again – 20 tons of TNT.

You always know where you are on the Shroppie

Next was lovely Audlem, one of our favourite canal villages. It’s nice to see the Shroppie Fly pub open again and apparently according to one of the locals I spoke to, doing well. We trotted to Oxtail and Trotter, the butcher in Cheshire Street, and I even managed to pick up a Mike Jupp jigsaw to add to our collection from the very popular charity shop. There’s a mill shop on the banks of the canal selling craft supplies and general canalia, although it’s up for sale because the owners want to retire. I hope they find a buyer soon, and someone who will take it on as a going concern; there’s always something to buy there. Audlem is a pleasant place to linger, although this time we didn’t. Never mind the water hose decided to shoot out of the tank while we were using the services there and drench the well deck. I won’t hold it against the place.

Look closely. He’s sitting down on the job while I’m doing all the work on the Audlem Flight!

There are 15 locks on the Audlem flight and some of the bywashes were rather spirited on Saturday. Martyn was at the helm and they certainly tested his skills. We enjoyed a reward of cake and ice cream from Kinsell Farm at the top, and the lady who runs the little canalside stall there to tempt people even kindly shut the last gate for us.

Beau Romer and nb Helen meeting in a pound

Yesterday we cruised down the Adderley locks into Market Drayton, and went to the Red Lion for Sunday Lunch, a real treat. Apparently, Market Drayton is the home of gingerbread due to its links with the spice trade routes through Clive of India, who was a resident of the town. Perhaps we should try some, although after lunch I don’t think I’ve got anywhere to put it!

Sunday lunch in the Joules Brewery’s taproom, The Red Lion. Do you eat it or climb it?

I’m not going to bleat on about repairs and suchlike this time. Things seem to be looking up. I’ll just end with a quick progress report. So far this year we’ve covered 102 miles and 2.5 furlongs, travelled through 3 tunnels, and come through 46 locks.

Betton Cutting is supposed to be haunted by a shrieking spirit. No shrieking was heard.

Marooned in Middlewich

Following a boat through Barnton Tunnel

Owning a boat can be the most frustrating experience ever. Perhaps we’re just unlucky, but a whole slew of things seem to be going wrong at the moment. First there was the washing machine going wrong, then a leaking window we had fixed in Wigan. The brain of our solar panels appears to be doing something downright odd and I think another of our windows is leaking. The most bizarre problem has been our chimney. Periodically it has to be resealed. Boats bump into immovable structures and boats also get bumped. Seals crack, leak and need replacement. Somehow our chimney stack got sealed to the collar, and we are fairly certain it wasn’t at our hands; let’s leave it at that. The chimney stack had to come down or we would come a cropper going through tunnels and under the low bridges in this salt-producing area. To get it off Martyn literally had to cut and peel the outer skin of the chimney back like a banana. It took him all of Saturday morning with a borrowed Dremmel multi tool to fix that and we are waiting for delivery of a new chimney stack. The old one is still usable, it just isn’t very pretty.

Wincham Wharf, where of course in the litter of boats I had to meet someone coming the opposite way

On Saturday afternoon and on Sunday we cruised from Daresbury to Middlewich, straight past the Anderton Boat Lift for once. We moored just before Middlewich Big Lock, the last double we’ll encounter for a while. I had an appointment out of town on Monday, so we didn’t move until Tuesday morning, and we didn’t get very far, only to King’s Lock Chandlery where we had an appointment with a mechanic. The prop shaft developed a leak, and the remedy was to replace the seal. See, at the moment it never rains but it pours. We sat at the junction between the Trent and Mersey and the Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union Canal all Monday afternoon watching the shenanigans at the junction and people negotiating the two nearby locks. Very entertaining it was, but we ended Monday still in Middlewich, although a mile from where we started that morning.

The first time we passed this way in 2020 we stopped here to remove our side fenders, panicking that we would get stuck on the narrow Croxton Aqueduct

I think I’ve said before that Middlewich surprised me because it’s quite a major canal junction but a small town. It’s an old settlement though. This visit I discovered it has a Roman fort, although when I went hunting it’s the most underwhelming one I’ve ever seen with only the geophysics survey revealing what is beneath. An empty field doesn’t warrant a photo! Roman Middlewich was called Salinae Cornoviorvm, named for the salt workings and for the local tribe.

Cruising the shortest canal in the country and into Wardle Lock

Finally yesterday we got out of Middlewich and onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal which joins the Shroppie and the Trent and Mersey. It was extremely windy, so much so we were cruising down the canal diagonally some of the time, a move known as crabbing. Last night we moored up and for one night only linked up with our friends Trev and Jenny and the lovely Ralf who was so very pleased to see us. A good time was had by all I think, at least if my headache this morning is anything to go by, but I have no photos to remember it by. Perhaps that’s just as well!

A lovely day to be in Minshull Lock

Yes, we are going to Bristol, but we didn’t want to take the most direct route down the Trent and Mersey. We did that last year and we like a little variety. We intend going down the Shropshire Union, and cutting across on The Staffs and Worcester, a new canal to us.

Meeting Tony and Gill on Golden Girl, just outside The Lion Salt Works

Wet, Wet, Wet

Definitely a day for inside jobs

The washing machine is fixed. Andrew came to help with the heavy lifting, but Martyn couldn’t get the pump off, and then he dropped the plate that held the door in place into the bowels of the machine and took a chunk out of the lino for good measure. I don’t hold any of this against him, you can’t blame a man for trying. In the end, after phoning two companies who wouldn’t entertain coming out to fix an appliance on a boat (“We only do domestic”. So what is this then? A steelworks, or something similarly industrial?) a terribly nice man called Wayne agreed to come and fix it. Wayne was a real find. He loves boats and I hope one day he moves up from his properly licenced kayak to the narrowboat he would so obviously really love to own. He watches all the YouTubers and has even been to Crick, Wayne really deserves a boat. He got the pump off (apparently Beko machines are a real doozy to work on), removed the three colour catchers that were causing the problem, rehung the door and left everything perfectly working after staying for a cup of coffee and a chat and relieving us of a surprisingly modest sum of money for his trouble. So we can have clean clothes again – when it stops raining.

Three Bickerstaffes moored together in lovely Lymm

While we were in Lymm waiting for Wayne to turn up we enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Gary and Sheila and Andrew and Penny in The Brewery Tap. We really don’t go to many pubs when we’re travelling, but the Brewery Tap has become a real favourite after Andrew and Martyn stumbled into it last year when we were delayed in Lymm when Poppy the cat went missing.

Credit to Gary for the photo. A good time was had by all, the Bridgewater Blonde was delicious!

Martyn and I went exploring and had a lovely walk around Lymm Dam. We appreciated the wildlife coming to see us, but I wasn’t so keen on the rat we saw investigating a litter bin!

Hello Mr Squirrel

We are out much earlier in the year than has been possible before, so we aren’t really in that much of a hurry yet. Good job, as the weather isn’t being very kind to us. We had three days of high winds, and yesterday braved the breeze and moved on. We don’t like boating when it’s windy, as we effectively become a 57ft sail and rock around a bit We got as far as Daresbury. I always wonder boating through the Science and Technology Park what secret squirrel stuff goes on there, as it’s bristling with “no mooring” and “private” signs and dominated by the 70ft tower housing the Nuclear Structure Facility (whatever that is) all feeling most unwelcoming. Daresbury does have a softer side though. It’s the birthplace of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, so without Daresbury there would be no Alice in Wonderland.

Last night in Daresbury before the rain came. We have a view of the decommissioned Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, but you can’t see that.

So far this trip we’ve come 51 miles, 1.5 furlongs, been through 15 locks and moved 6 bridges. No tunnels yet, they start tomorrow.

Another view of Lymm Dam

Get a Boat They Said …

… It’ll be fun they said.

Our upgraded galley. We lost a cupboard in the process, but where the oven and grill once was there is now a fridge freezer. It’s been a game changer.

I don’t write much about the day to day little inconveniences of living on a narrowboat. We are well practised in dealing with water, waste, weather and keeping warm. Keeping cool is a little harder. We have never run out of food when we’re travelling. Maintenance, cleaning and tinkering are constant and we’ve had to deal with repairs sometimes. We take the lack of space in our stride. We’ve even made some improvements by way of having interior glass windows fitted to the duck hatches so we can have light when it’s chilly and this winter we had the kitchen upgraded.

Leigh Spinners Mill, built in two phases starting in 1913, and now an Art’s and Heritage Centre.

Today we have an issue that’s really got us scratching our heads, so of course I am writing a blog post rather than deal with it. We seem to have something stuck in the washing machine filter. If you live in a house you drag the appliance out and remove the filter so you can clear it from the back, or you call out an engineer. I suppose we could do the latter, but we’ve decided to try the former in a space that isn’t wide enough to swing a hamster, let alone a cat. We need to get a washing machine that’s 55cm deep into a gap that’s just a whisker wider, manoeuvre it into position so we can tip it, fix the problem and then reverse the procedure. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Moored up for the night in Worsley

Back to cruising. When we left Pennington Flash we stopped at Leigh for food, filled up with fuel and water at Boothstown Marina (lovely friendly folk) and moored overnight in Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal, where the water turns orange from the iron oxide. Although the Bridgewater wasn’t the first canal to be built, it was sort of where it all started. The former entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines is at Worsley Delph, and Martyn and I went exploring. Apparently there are 52 miles of underground tunnels into the mines. I found that quite mind blowing. There are some nice sculptures and information boards there too. We had a couple of pints in the Bridgewater Hotel just over the road from our mooring. We have never stopped at Worsley before, and I’m glad we did.

Worsley Delph and the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines today. The sunken boats were known as starvationers, supposedly because their ribs could be seen. They are the forerunners of today’s narrowboats. Shame about the debris.

The weather over Easter has been glorious, warm and sunny, but today it’s raining. We are moored up at Little Bollington, one of our favourite places and very close to Dunham Massey Hall. Once again we’ve seen Nigel and Diane on Escapology. They called in today to borrow our Calder and Hebble handspike. I knew there was a reason we hung on to it.

Nigel and Diane on their way, evenutally to the Calder and Hebble. Today we are going nowhere.

One more thing before I finish and we go and tackle that washing machine. We had some memories pop up today from the first narrowboat trip we took with Dan, Lianna and Ben on the Kennet and Avon Canal this very week in in 2013. So that’s 10 years ago since we first got the idea it might be fun to live on a narrowboat, and of course we’re hoping to return to that canal this summer, full circle as it were.

A blast from the past! Martyn and Dan on the Caen Hill Flight, April 2013. That hat has never fitted him!


Four Bickerstaffes, all lined up in a row

That’s Back On Board, or Bevy of (Beautiful) Bickerstaffes. Take your choice.

Wandering back from the pub last night

When I last updated it was September last year. We were on the Shropshire Union Canal. After that we cruised up to Chester, where we had a rendevous with Stu and Carrie, two of our American family. We took them to Llangollen before returning Beau Romer to Fettlers Wharf Marina for the winter. Martyn and I spent the winter in Wareham in the house.

Happy memories from 2022, crossing the Chirk Aqueduct from England to Wales with Stu and Carrie

Now it’s April and the 2023 crusing season has begun. We have plans to come all the way down to Bristol, and after that, who knows? We have set off with Andrew and Penny on Seren Glas and are right now at the very end of the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Pennington Flash, which is beautiful and peaceful. Many people are strolling the towpath enjoying a lovely warm and sunny Good Friday. We are moored up with three other Bickerstaffes; as well as Seren Glas, Perfect Harmony with Sheila and Gary on Board, and The Last Derbyshire Miner crewed by Mark. We’re also enjoying canine company in the shape of Yogi and Zac.

Passing Nigel and Diane, our marina neighbours, and friends on nb Escapology just before Parbold

We spent two nights in Wigan, as Wednesday was miserable and wet. This early in the season we don’t need to cruise in the rain, so we just hunkered down. Wigan is famous for several things, Wigan Pier I’ve mentioned before, Northern Soul music I haven’t (we’ll save that one) and I don’t think I’ve talked about pies. Wigan pies are reputedly delicious, although I’ve never tried one, and people from Wigan are known as Pie Eaters. I found out why, and it’s nothing to do with pastries. It goes back to the General Strike in 1926 when the miners went on strike in protest about pay and conditions. Wigan was heavily reliant on coal mining and Wigan miners were starved back to work before the miners in the nearby town of Leigh, who scornfully named them Pie Eaters because they had been forced to eat humble pie and give in first. One of the reasons we’re on the boat is because I love discovering these little titbits of history.

Mooring in Wigan

This year I think I’m going to add a few cruising stats to the blog. So far we have travelled 19 miles, 3.75 furlongs in 10.9 hours, come through 15 locks, and dealt with 6 moveable bridges.

Gary and Sheila kindly helping us through the Deep Lock at Appley Bridge


Beau Romer on the water point in Audlem

We have been in an internet desert since turning onto the Shroppie at Autherley Junction. Perhaps I should consider a digital detox because we feel very bereft without it. I know some people move onto narrowboats to enjoy the simplicity of the lifestyle, but we like our modern conveniences. WiFi, smart TV, washing machine, microwave – bring them all on.

The Shroppie has some very nice bridges. I missed the most famous one and Martyn didn’t take a photo. Next time.

Now we find ourselves moored up at the enigmatically named Coole Pilate (which I have no idea how to pronounce correctly) with a fantastic WiFi signal. I was contemplating what to write last night while cooking dinner – lamb chops bought at Oxtail & Trotter, the simply fabulous butcher in Audlem which is something of a destination shop for us. Then the awful news came in that HM The Queen had died, and I didn’t really want to do much of anything for the rest of yesterday.

Filling up at Wheaton Aston

I know this is a blog about narrowboating, but you cannot ignore events of such magnitude, and I mean no disrespect posting today. So here’s my acknowledgement of the passing of the Queen which will leave such a massive hole in the fabric of the UK, but also the Commonwealth and the World in general. I’ve been listening to the TV and the tributes coming in. Here are my personal thoughts. The Queen was an amazing woman. She was a wonderful example of dedication to country, duty and hard work. I’m sure she had a wicked sense of humour too, remembering the James Bond sketch at the start of the Olympics in 2012 and the recent marmalade sandwich for which she and Paddington Bear shared an alleged liking. She was also a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and I feel for her family. It took me a little by surprise that I feel her loss so personally. RIP Ma’am and thank you. You did a very, very good job and we will never see another like you.

On the boating front, We’ve been travelling northwards on the Shropshire Union Canal. It’s a canal I was really looking forward to, but at the southern end at least, it’s not my favourite. I’m sure many people and the very active Shropshire Union Canal Society will disagree with me, and in its day it must have been a real superhighway with the flyboats zipping up and down. Apparently, the run from Birmingham to Ellesmere Port only took them 30 hours. That’s some going. The Shroppie is long and straight with a plethora of embankments and deep cuttings, and I find it a bit sombre and brooding when it’s not very open and rural. There are several legends of ghosts and spectres. A headless horseman and a shrieking monkey are only two, but thankfully they haven’t troubled us. There also seem to be a lot of pig farms, or at least the aroma of them. More positively, both Martyn and I saw kingfishers, the first for months, and a couple of herons flying overhead made me think of pterodactyls. They always look so odd when you see them perched in trees too.

Cowley Tunnel. It’s short, and the only one on the Shroppie

Almost as soon as we turned onto the canal we ran into two other Bickerstaffe Boats, Glenn on Sacre Bleu and Sheila and Gary on Perfect Harmony. We had a couple of most enjoyable evenings together and a lovely meal in the Wharf Tavern at Goldstone Wharf near Cheswardine. Sadly our friend Ian, who lives there, was on holiday in Canada, so we missed him, what a pity.

Goldstone Wharf in the moonlight, post excellent meal at the pub

Passing through the narrow and menacing Woodseaves Cutting, which I think finished off the great canal engineer Thomas Telford, we had an unfortunate incident. We seemed to hit something under the water which threw the boat sideways and into the opposite bank. It ripped out some of the rivets securing our port side scratch cover. It’s fixable, but I fear the repair is going to be expensive.

Woodseaves Cutting is very deep!

The Tyrley and Adderley lock flights were a joy and took us no time at all because miraculously every lock was set for us.

Tyrley Top Lock with lovely flowers

We were really looking forward to Audlem. We’ve been there before, and as previously mentioned, the butcher is well worth a visit. We got stuck at the bottom of the flight in 2020 after a lock failed at Hack Green. This year we got stuck three locks from the bottom due to a broken paddle. Thankfully the CRT were on the case, and the man in the dry suit had everything moving after a couple of hours. Its just a shame that two of the three pubs in the village, the famous Shroppie Fly and the Lord Combermere are closed down at the moment. Here’s hoping they manage to survive.

Spotted on the bank. What a cheerful chap!