Fuel and Unusual

Through another narrow gap

We’re in Wales. Two days away from Llangollen basin by my reckoning. We haven’t had a day off this week. The state of the world being what it is we don’t want to risk not getting there because Wales goes into lockdown again, so we’ll dawdle and stop to smell the roses on the homeward journey. That said, we don’t do long days on the tiller. Yesterday we travelled a bare 4 miles and that’s good enough.

Martyn’s checking the map and helming the boat. I’m just taking photographs

The Llangollen is unusual in canal terms. Narrowboating is shuffling down a muddy ditch in a tin bath. The Llangollen is more like a river, it has a flow. The canal draws its water from the River Dee and was built to feed the Shropshire Union Canal and the Hurleston Reservoir in Shropshire. Apparently 6,000,000 gallons of water a day flow out of the river and down the canal. We’re pushing against it, which makes progress slower than usual, and the further we get towards the source, the more noticeable the flow is. It also doesn’t help that we’re in a 20-mile pound and water levels are low. Travelling in the other direction, especially with the narrow bridges, could be a bit of a white knuckle ride.

Marbury Lock. Another bywash

We got on to the Llangollen late on Monday. On Tuesday I decided I really disliked it. If Martyn had said let’s turn around I wouldn’t have argued. I just had a bad day. We queued at the Baddiley Locks for well over an hour because a paddle was out of action, the lift bridges are heavy and I managed to cut my finger on one, and for some reason I lost the ability to tell my left from my right on the tiller. Add in the fearsome bywashes at the locks and it seemed everything was out to get us. By the close of play on Wednesday harmony was restored. We’d had a lovely meal at The Swan in Marbury on Tuesday night, we’d been up the Grindley Locks and our first staircase for years, and met a lovely couple, Trev and Jenny on their boat the Life of Riley. Sitting on the towpath sharing a drink and a good conversation in the evening is part of canal life.

And the Llangollen is charming and beautiful, as well as a bit of a challenge with its twists, narrow bridges and blind bends. There are plenty of really beautiful places to moor – with rings mostly – and we haven’t had a day when we haven’t passed a water point. They seem to breed on the banks, there are four in a line at the top of the Grindley Locks. Plus we keep seeing people we know. We passed Fran and Rich on Constanze who YouTube as Floating Our Boat. They feel like old friends to us, although we don’t know each other in real life. I shouted as much in passing, and Rich replied: “No, but we know your boat”. I’m wondering how?

Beautiful Blake Mere

Now, you might wonder how we get the diesel to power the boat? Usually we drive up to a fuel pump in a marina, just like taking the car to the garage. But sometimes the fuel comes to us. There are fuel boats and other roving traders on the canal, which all add to the flavour. Yesterday in Ellesmere Martyn heard a put-puttering coming up the canal behind us and flagged down a fuel boat.

£5 of 4 star please. Those were the days

While Richard filled up Beau Romer I had a lovely chat with Ruth on the butty behind. A butty is an unpowered boat, so it always makes a pair and is towed along behind a powered one. They’ve been plying their trade on the canals for 12 years. It must be hard work, but Jenny says Richard used to be a lorry driver, but really he just likes messing around on boats. We’re very happy to support them and their diesel was considerably cheaper than the marina just a couple of hundred yards down the cut (which was full of returning hire boats – I’ll write about them some other time).

Ruth also sells her canal art

So onwards. By the next time I sit down to write we will have crossed the Pontywhatsit aqueduct. Or fallen over the edge. I like to leave the blog on a literal cliffhanger.

Hail Fellows, Well Met

So. Narrow locks.

From the helmsman’s perspective, they look horrendous. Narrow – obviously – so tricky to enter and exit. And they are fierce! No matter how gently you, as the lock keeper, raise the paddles, the water comes gushing in towards the back of the chamber. It bounces off the rear gates and the undercurrent then pushes the boat forward – hard. To make sure the boat doesn’t bang into the lock gates at the other end the helmsman has to keep it in reverse gear, all the time, and rely on the lockie not to be too gung-ho about the process. It looks terrifying, especially as the first ones we’ve been through have all been really deep. I haven’t been brave enough to take the tiller yet, but I will.

Turbulent water in our first narrow lock

It’s a lot easier if you’re the one with the windlass. They’re like toy locks compared to the big double ones we’re used to. The bottom gates are so light you can practically move them one-handed, and there’s only one top gate – bliss!

Leaving Middlewich yesterday, we turned right onto the Wardle Canal. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the shortest canal in the country at 154 feet. It’s there only so the Trent and Mersey could control the junction. Canal operating in the 19th Century was a jealous and lucrative business. After that short stub and its lock we were on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union. And we hadn’t gone very far when we spotted a very familiar boat belonging to Mark and Debbie. Their YouTube Vlog, Well Deck Diaries, is one we’ve watched since they started and here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf37tVqAqZtXWRgxQCG1Ahw

We stopped, star-struck, and went to say hello. Next time I will take beer, and photographs.

The West Coast Main Line crosses the Middlewich Branch. Sadly there are no traaaains, but if you look closely you might spot a couple of socially-distanced herons

Our impressions of the Middlewich Branch are that it’s very pretty, very rural, very windy and with bridge holes so narrow they made our eyes water. We couldn’t help but instinctively breathe in as we slid through them, both shouting instructions at whoever happened to have the tiller whether they were needed or not.

A tight squeeze
And another. They’re ALL like this, apart from the ones that also throw in a bend for good measure

We found a lovely wild mooring last night and slept like logs.

Misty morning mooring. Autumn is on the way

This morning we went on a goose hunt. We knew we’d be passing Venetian Marina, and that’s where David Bramley, who we know from #boatsthattweet on Twitter, lives on NB Snowgoose. Dave collects YouTube vloggers’ mugs and sightings of Bickerstaffe boats. We’d have hated to disappoint him. He’s also well known for helping boaters through Cholmondeston Lock. This time I was really happy to return the favour.

Snowgoose in Cholmondeston Lock

After meeting Dave we left the Middlewich Branch and enjoyed a short cruise on the Shropshire Union Canal. It’s different again, wide and welcoming. We’re learning every canal has its own particular flavour. All too soon we turned right onto the Llangollen Canal. It has the reputation of being crowded and the domain of hire boats with incompetent crews playing dodgem cars. So far we haven’t met a hire boat whose crew don’t seem to know exactly what they’re doing. I wonder what challenges the Llangollen Canal has in store for us?

Salt of the Earth

When you sprinkle salt on your fish and chips do you ever think much about it? I know the word “salary” comes from salt (not that I have a salary any more) but I never considered how salt gets on the table. Here in this part of Cheshire, you can’t get away from salt. Even the names of the local towns reflect the history of salt manufacturing; Nantwich, Northwich and Middlewich. During the Triassic period salt deposits formed, and now wild brine springs bubble up from deep underground. The Romans discovered them and started commercial salt production locally.

Lion Salt Works

Lion Salt Works at Marston on the banks of the Trent and Mersey was the last factory in this country producing salt by evaporating brine in enormous iron pans. The Salt Works is now a museum, and Colin, Debbie, Martyn and I went to investigate. It’s a little ramshackle because all the buildings were made of wood and not designed to last, but it’s fascinating. It must have been hellish working there; men stripped to the waist skimming the salt off the boiling pans, scooping it into moulds and moving heavy blocks around. It was hard, physical work in dangerous conditions with constant heat, steam, and the tang of salt in the air. And the canal carried the finished product to its final destination.

The Salt Works only closed in 1986, which seems so recent. Or is it just that I’m old?

Something’s wrong here – a pub with no beer! And apparently they’re all smiling

We waved Colin and Debbie off and on their merry way towards Fettlers Wharf and home on Thursday morning.

Au revoir Woody

Then we walked back up the canal towards Anderton to Marbury Country Park. Marbury Hall, the grand house that once stood there, was demolished in 1968 (dry rot apparently), but the grounds are still very tranquil.

Steps leading to a ghost house
Humongous fungus

They built most of the bridges crossing the canal around here with arches. Now they’re nearly all flat-topped because of ground subsidence caused by the salt mining. It’s even worse for houses and other buildings and locally the canal has breached because of it.

Marbury Hall Bridge No 196 – complete with cracks

On Friday we decided three nights in one place was quite enough and set off for Middlewich. On the way we crossed the Croxton Aqueduct. It was just wide enough for the boat. We’re not on broad canals any more! The weird thing was because it was so shallow it affected how much water the propeller could shift, so we went over it at a snail’s pace. I even had time to jump off and take photos.

Breathe in Beau

Last night we moored in Middlewich. It’s a town that’s well-known on the canals and has a branch of the Shropshire Union Canal named after it. So I expected a big urban metropolis and was surprised to discover it’s a quaint little town with one main street. That said, It’s got everything a boater could want; chandlers, supermarkets, water points, pubs, a post office and Amazon hub, and a canal heritage it’s proud of.

Beside the canal
I wish all bridges were so tastefully decorated

Tomorrow we’ll be off again. We’ll be going through our first narrow locks. Wish us luck.

The end of the Bridgewater

There’s very tasty ice cream in Dunham Massey, if you walk 3 miles from the canal to get it.

Don’t ask me why the cone is black

Although we were in a nice spot we had to move. As usual, we needed water. Most of the canals and rivers in England are owned and maintained by the Canal and River Trust. The Bridgwater is privately owned. We don’t have a licence for it, so we can only cruise on it for seven days at a stretch, with no return in 28 days, or we have to pay an additional fee. As we can’t linger on Sunday we pulled out our mooring pins and set off.

Once through urban Manchester, the Bridgewater is very pretty indeed. It’s wide and quite rural. We noticed lots of cabin cruisers buzzing up and down, far more than we’re used to seeing on CRT waters. Sadly a lot of them are a little tatty. Perhaps well-loved is a better description. I was spurred on to give Beau Romer a good wash!

No-one likes to see this

On Sunday night we stayed in Lymm. It’s a pretty village where the houses come right down to the canal. There’s a Sainsburys supermarket there, very useful. It’s also busy and we ended up mooring under a tree. That’s no good for getting solar power to charge the batteries.

Lymm Bridge is very quaint

We were determined to complete our cruise on the Bridgewater on Monday. We braced ourselves for our first tunnel. The Preston Brook Tunnel is 1239 yards long, and it’s the first one-way tunnel we’ve ever come across. Martyn’s an impressive helmsman – he didn’t touch the sides once. I don’t like tunnels. They’re creepy, they drip, and they are never straight.

Emerging triumphant from the gloom

The Trent and Mersey is different from the lovely wide canals we’d been cruising. It’s narrower, twistier, and it has more encroaching vegetation. So far it’s really rural until suddenly it isn’t and there’s a lot of visible industrial activity, especially around the Anderton Boat Lift.

Closing in on a familar vessel

We had a rendezvous with Colin, Debbie and their adorable Chihuahuas, Cyril and Gladys. Their narrowboat, Woody, is another Bickerstaffe boat. They launched Woody in February and have been a great help to us as we get to grips with our new lifestyle. I’m not saying we drank a lot of wine last night, but the evening ended with Martyn flat on his back on the towpath mumbling something about just getting him a pillow and leaving him there!

And I need to make a correction. Wigan isn’t a desert at all. James, the extremely helpful volunteer lockkeeper from the Rufford Branch, (time all ascents and descents for Monday when he’s on duty) sent me a message on Twitter. The water point is just after the CRT pontoon and has now been painted blue. So we’re sorted for the return trip. Thank you James.

Old King Coal

Pennington Flash is lovely. We stayed put for a couple of days, did a supermarket shop, hunkered down in front of the fire when it rained and had a good wander around when it didn’t.

Down by the water watching the birds

There’s a lot of new development on the other side of the canal, on the site of the Bickershaw Colliery. Martyn researched it and said there were several collieries there that amalgamated after WWII when the British Coal Board was formed. 90% of the coal went to fuel power stations and the remainder to the railways and the domestic market. It’s difficult to imagine what the landscape must have looked like then, it’s so beautiful now. The giveaway is the shoreline of the flash is black and littered with little lumps of coal.

Swanky new marina development at Plank Lane

Yesterday we moved on. Just the other side of Leigh we left the familiar Leeds and Liverpool Canal for the new-to-us Bridgewater. We needed to top up the water again. Our tank holds about 100 gallons, but I’m not frugal enough with the water and had been doing the laundry. No worries, we would pass two water points. But we couldn’t find the first. The second, in the pretty village of Worsley (where the water is the colour of yellow ochre from the iron in the soil), was closed up and padlocked. Oh dear, no shower for us!

So we carried on through the outskirts of Manchester. We’d save the turn into the city centre for another post-pandemic day.

Perhaps he’s dreaming of what he’d like to be

Twitter advice and Stretford Marina saved us. The marina has lovely people and free water. They also sell ice creams!

I had to wind to get to the water point. If you’re not a boaty person, winding is turning the boat around. Normally I get Martyn to do it. It’s a confidence thing, I had a fabulous teacher. Martyn was messing around with the hose, so I was going to have to go for it. And Beau Romer behaved like the lady she is. She rotated like the second hand on a clock, even though it was breezy. I was so pleased with myself!

A lot more industrial landscape than we’re used too – and a handy entrance to the Trafford Centre if you fancy a shopping trip

We passed the Kellogg’s factory. It has a wharf that’s probably been out of use for decades, they don’t bring the grain in by boat any more. We sniffed the cereals baking. It reminded us of being at home and driving past the Ryvita factory in Poole!

I hope this is being preserved and not demolished

After 19 miles we reached Little Bollington and moored up in a picturesque spot overlooking Dunham Massey Hall. If you’re ever in the area try The Swan with Two Nicks for good beer and tasty food. Again, we may stay here for a day or two.

This’ll do

Wigan is a desert

On Sunday we managed to get off the Rufford Branch at Lathom Junction and on to the Leeds and Liverpool mainline. We turned left, headed towards Leeds and moored in Parbold for a pint and fish and chips. The next morning we indulged in breakfast from the Yours is the Earth cafe. I’ll spare you the photo of the breakfast bagel with bacon, tomato, avocado and poached egg. You’ll have to take my word that it was very, very good. Sadly we had to get takeaway thanks to the Chancellor, they didn’t have a single space to eat in left all day.

It’s Bank Holiday Monday people. Why is everyone out?

That breakfast cost us more than the money. We’d planned on getting through Wigan on Monday. Three of the locks closed at 4 pm and we wouldn’t get through them in time, so we only chugged 3.5 miles down the canal.

Holding the boat under the M6. Doesn’t he look pleased with himself? And doesn’t Beau Romer look beautiful?

Just before Dean Lock, a fisherman was struggling to land a fish and gesturing frantically to us to stop. Putting Beau Romer hard into reverse I brought her to a stop and we watched him land an enormous carp. Was he pleased with himself! As we passed he shouted he’d been after that fish for 18 days. Imagine if I’d been responsible for him losing it? No photo sadly, I was driving.

We moored up just before Crooke. It was a lovely mooring, very peaceful, and we slept like logs.

Early morning reflections

The next morning we got going on time. I was a bit apprehensive about Wigan, but cruising through it was quite lovely.

Wigan Pier is completely underwhelming!

Here’s today’s quirky lock mechanism. Instead of pushing the gates open and closed, you have to wind a giant handle.

All the way through Wigan we searched for a water point. The maps showed two. Where they’ve gone goodness knows. And, confident we’d easily get the tank topped up, I’d been doing the laundry, so we were running low.

At Wigan Junction we turned sharp right down the Leigh Branch in blazing sunshine. The 21 locks of the Wigan Flight would have to wait for another day. We’d expected the Leigh Branch to be really pretty, and sometimes it is, but I think the mainline scenery was nicer. The Leigh Branch runs through mining country. The resulting subsidence created lakes – or flashes as they’re called – but you only get glimpses from the canal. We had to get through another timed swing bridge at Plank Lane, we were cutting it fine, and the water was on the other side. We made it with 10 minutes to spare. The bridge wasn’t a swing bridge at all; it was our first lift bridge.

Plank Lane Swing Bridge – I think the Nicholson’s Guide needs to update the description

Last night we found a lovely mooring overlooking Pennington Flash, a country park full of walkers and cyclists. Although we were a bit nonplussed when a police car drove up the towpath at dusk, we think we may stay here for a day or two.

All tucked up for the night at Pennington Flash

So what mishaps have happened in the past few days? I cut my finger trying to avoid a lady on the towpath who seemed oblivious I was trying to get off the boat to moor up and wouldn’t stop talking or get out of my way. But it was nothing a couple of plasters wouldn’t handle. Martyn managed to wound himself on a lock spindle and to my horror, drove the boat into a tree while he was distracted looking at Wigan Athletic’s football stadium. We lost a fender in that little episode (surprise, surprise). The most annoying incident was Martyn dropped his Fitbit somewhere while locking in Wigan, but he has a birthday next month, so I’ll have to count his steps until then. It stops him beating my step count every day anyway!

Locks and Fenders

We are out out. We’ve left the marina and God willing and the creek don’t rise, aren’t planning on returning until the end of this year’s cruising season.

Before we can get anywhere – as I mentioned in an earlier post – we have to travel up the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the main line at Lathom Junction. That means negotiating seven locks with a curious selection of operating mechanisms. I’d heard somewhere when they dug the Rufford Branch the canal company had run out of money, so they acquired surplus lock mechanisms from other canals. I’ve got no idea whether this is true or not, especially as the Rufford arm, opened in 1781, predates the completion of the mainline in 1816.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the conventional lock apparatus. Pop a windlass on a spindle and wind away until the paddles raise and water gushes in or out.

Naked spindle. I didn’t want to get hit by a flying windlass while taking a photo. Also shows the pesky handcuff.

That’s not good enough for the Rufford Branch. We also have these things where you wind the lever like stirring an enormous cake mix.

Another pesky handcuff in place

And then there are the cloughs.

Yes, if you look closely there’s a handcuff.

These are fun, if you like weighlifting.

Action shot

Once you get the bar to vertical, it drops into a socket which raises the paddle. They are heavy.

We’d only gone through two locks yesterday when I noticed something. There were four rope side fenders on the boat. We should have six. So we moored up, walked back to the marina, bought two more and walked back again. No more cruising for us. We’d done approximately two miles. We found one of the fenders floating in the canal on the way and retrieved it, so at least we have a spare. We attach the fenders with zip ties so they snap off rather than snagging the boat. Even so, if you have any hints and tips on how to keep them on the boat, please let me know.

But at least we’re out out.


When you fall off a horse the advice is to get straight back on again. That’s what we did. The day after getting back from our first trip out we booked passage to Liverpool and a berth in Salthouse Dock.

We agreed to leave on Friday 31 July. We weren’t due at the top of the Stanley Lock flight until 1 pm on Monday 3 August. We had plenty of time. But Friday was hot, sunny – and windy. So we moped around the marina bruised by our previous experience until in the end at 3.45 pm when the wind had dropped a little, we went for it. And it was fine. Up the locks we went, and four hours later moored just around the corner from Lathom Junction, close to the Ship.

Wait! I hear you say. That’s the wrong direction for Liverpool. We had a sneaky plan. Kev was out training on The Katie K and we were going to do our best to make sure we passed him. And we did – twice; once on the way to wind at Parbold and again on the way back. We took a lot of flack for the bristling zip ties that were holding our front swag in place too.

That night we moored just before the other Ship pub at Haskayne, opposite some permanent moorings. While we were getting ready to go out and eat there was a tap on the boat. It was Stewart, the manager of the Mersey Motor Boat Club moorings, because that’s what they were. He’d told Kev and Sue one of their offspring had turned up and had moored slap-bang opposite The Katie K’s spot. We had absolutely no idea.

The next day was very chilled. We only cruised from Haskayne to Melling. There were lots of weeds and water lilies on the canal.

Still life through the duck hatch in Melling

On Monday the alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5.30 am. We pulled pins at 6.30 and raced at 4 miles an hour for Swing Bridge 9, which closes to canal traffic during the rush hour. We made it with 15 minutes to spare which meant we had a leisurely cruise into the city, instead of the mad rush if we’d left it until 9.30. Who wants stress when you live on a boat?

We reached the top of the Stanley Locks just after 1, having refilled the water tank and emptied everything else at Litherland. The lock keepers were really friendly and very complimentary about Beau Romer and Bickerstaffe in general. At the bottom of the locks we were off on our adventure, solo boating past the Tobacco Warehouse and the Titanic Hotel, turning left at the Dockers Clock and into Sid’s Ditch. Now, only we could get lost in the Docks. We missed Pnnces Lock altogether and Martyn was getting really twitchy when he declared he could see the bottom. No harm was done, we were soon through Princes Lock and the tunnels, emerging in front of the Three Graces and going under the Museum of Liverpool. At Mann Island Lock Jules, the lock keeper, was ready for us. Turn right towards the chimney he said, turn right at the chimney, left at the double-decker bus, into Albert Dock, try not to hit anything historic and cross into Salthouse Dock and our berth. Sounds bizarre, but it all made perfect sense.

The Dockers Clock
Cruising Past The Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building – The Three Graces

Salthouse Dock is saltwater, not fresh, and is full of jellyfish, their lazy, pulsing swimming fascinated Martyn. Listening to the anodes fizzing away at night fascinated me.

While we were there despite lockdown we visited the Tate and Walker Art Galleries, enjoyed a Beatles Walking tour, checked out the Anglican Cathedral and ate in a couple of really nice places. I pass on Sue’s recommendation of the Italian Club Fish on Bold Street. It’s casual, and oh, so tasty.

Beau Romer looking very swish on her mooring in Salthouse Dock
And equally smart in the evening
We wished it had been open

All too soon it was Friday morning and time to leave. After a slight delay and the CRT fixing a problem with the sea lock gate (someone had left a switch set incorrectly) we were off. On the way out we passed Trevor and Marina on Conveyancer, two of our Marina neighbours, and James on On a Whim going in. The delay meant we were likely to be stuck on the wrong side of the swing bridge again, so we hung around at Litherland for a couple of hours and finally got to Melling at 7.30pm.

The worst thing a out going into Liverpool is the rubbish in the canal. At one stage we passed a sofa, a chair and a door complete with handle (I wondered where te rest of the living room was). We counted two Lightning McQueens, and goodness knows how many footballs. On the way out Martyn was down the weed hatch three times, as well as the plentiful weed, I’m assuming caused by the lack of boats this year, he took off a bin bag and some really tough industrial plastic. I sacrificed a kitchen knife to that, I new we should have brought the old bread knife with us. There’s some really interesting grafitti too. Someone really has it in for Adrian Ferris if you read the walls!

One the way back we moored outside the Saracens Head at Halsall (yes, we had a couple of pints in the beer garden) and then on Sunday at Burscough. Sumday was lovely. I shopped at the Wool Boat, and then we saw Kev training another pair of Bickerstaffe owners. We got snapped having a chat mid canal, and apparently that photo ended up in the local papers.


Total figures for our Liverpool trip, 63 miles, 3 furlongs, 24 swing bridges and 26 locks.

Liverpool, we’ll be back.

The First Outing

We launched on a Friday. On Monday Anthony, one of our marina neighbours asked if we’d like to go out on our first trip with him and his grandson. A week after launch day we set off at 11.30 am. Fettlers Wharf, our marina, is on the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. There are 7 locks and 2 swing bridges between us and the mainline of the canal. 7 very hard locks. The gates are heavy and every lock seems to have a different operating mechanism. Some are conventional, needing you to turn a windlass to raise the paddles. Some have horizontal handles to wind, and some have torture instruments called cloughs which are basically long wooden levers which have to be raised to vertical and dropped into a socket. Heaving these up is like weight lifting. Every lock has an anti-vandal lock, or handcuff which has to be removed too. I was really glad we weren’t on our own.

To make matters worse, Martyn gave me the tiller when we came out of the first lock. He’d had some practice manoeuvring in and out of the marina on Sunday, but it was the first time I’d been hands-on with the boat. Which is how I came to snap off one of the protective side swags on the side of the lock, in front of an audience. I was mortified. That was the last time I drove the boat that day. By the time we moored up at 6 pm close to the Slipway pub I was done for. Am I getting too old for this lark?

No worries. The next day we turned around to head East, going through a group of disgruntled competition anglers twice in the process. We enjoyed a five-mile cruise to Parbold, a couple of drinks and an excellent portion of fish and chips. Maybe narrow boating wasn’t so bad after all.

On Sunday we went through Deep Lock at Appley Bridge and confronted with yet another lock mechanism I dropped our only handcuff key in. There was a lovely chap on nb Skipton who spent ages fishing for it with a magnet, but in the end he had to give up. We carried on through the same fishermen as the day before to Dean Lock, under the M6. I phoned Bickerstaffe and Ryan brought me a spare couple of keys. Now that’s what you call fantastic service.

We moored up at Appley Bridge where there’s a pub. There’s a theme developing. Monday was a vile day weatherwise. Martyn lost a side fender in Deep Lock but managed to retrieve it. We only got as far as Lathom, but had dinner in the Ship, which is fast becoming one of our favourite pubs.

On Tuesday we headed back to Fettlers Wharf, having met our marina neighbours and shared the locks with them all the way home. It was another horrid, wet and windy day. We knew we should have stayed put but carried on anyway. That was a hard lesson learned. Poor Martyn was bobbing around like a rubber duck in a bath with an overenthusiastic toddler. All I could do was watch as the boat went everywhere he didn’t want it to. The worst bit was getting on to our berth in the marina. It was so windy Martyn was pinned against the boats opposite, and everyone it seemed was out offering helpful advice. Eventually we got the boat moored and retreated to lick our wounds, by this stage, there were only two out of six fenders left on the boat!

Launch Day

17 July 2020, 1pm. That’s when our new life started.

It was 11.45 am. There we were, waiting at the entrance to St Mary’s Marina, Rufford. We heard something heavy driving down the road. And there she was, our new home, narrowboat Beau Romer, perched high up on the transporter. There were tears in my eyes – the one thing I swore wouldn’t happen. The feeling when something you’ve dreamed of, plotted and planned for over 7 years is actually happening in front of you is hard to describe.

We wandered down to the slipway, trying to look all casual and nonchalant and met up with the gang from Bickerstaffe, Kev, Sue, Ryan and Rob. The transporter backed down the slope and steered into position under the crane. Then the slings went on and everything was ready for the lift. The crane took the strain, the lorry drove out from under her and Beau Romer, with all our possessions onboard was hanging suspended in mid-air. This was the moment everyone worries about, but it was fine, she was perfectly balanced. The crane swivelled her around and slowly lowered her into the water. The nerves kicked in again. Would she float? Of course, everything was ok. She sat sweetly on the water as the guys swarmed all over her, checking for leaks, looking for bubbles. Ryan took her out into the marina, performed a few manoeuvres and she was good. Kev was smiling.

We drank Bucks Fizz to celebrate. She was and is beautiful. She changed colour as the light played with her paintwork, from red to brown, through russet to orange. Just for a moment the sun emerged from behind the clouds, and she shimmered.

They left us to the organising, hunting through the cupboards for the things we’d just thrown in. We’d planned to get a takeaway for dinner, but neither of us wanted to leave the boat. So our first dinner on board was cheesy beans on toast topped with a poached egg, washed down with a nice bottle of Barolo.

Later I sat on the bow as the twilight fell. The marina lights came on, the water was calm and still, apart from one solitary duck meandering about. I noticed the reflections in the water and the way the evening light struck the paintwork until Beau Romer glowed. And I thought to myself, what a wonderful day.