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!

Twenty One Today

Tricky manoeuvring to get water in Wolverhampton

I can see why people are captivated by the BCN.  We’ve barely scratched the surface, barrelling down the Main Line and only deviating to spend a couple of nights moored up outside the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley.  What a great place.  Martyn’s been there twice before, but it was my first visit. I hope it won’t be the last.  I’m of the age where it brings back memories for me too. Some of the brands in the chemist shop looked very familiar (Milk of Magnesia, Sloans Liniment and Andrews Liver Salts). What really took me back was coming across a stone grinding wheel in a yard behind a cottage.  It used to be my job to turn the handle on Dad’s grindstone so he could sharpen the knives he used in the shop. I never seemed to get the speed right. 

Our day at the Black Country Living Museum

We get asked a lot about the flag flying from the stern of Beau Romer. It’s the Dorset Flag of course. We’re both proud of our heritage. When we were in Birmingham I started to see a flag I didn’t recognise, and discovered it was the Black Country flag. It’s full of symbolism, representing the manufacturing heritage of the area, the conical furnaces and the description of the Black Country being “black by day and red by night”. One of the activities in the museum was a chain-making demonstration, which makes the chain on the flat seem appropriate, but chains as a symbol have become so controversial now. The flag hasn’t escaped that controversy.

The Black Country Flag was designed by Gracie Sheppard when she was 11 years old

The BCN has meant the expected trips down the weed hatch, but we haven’t picked up a lot of debris and detritus, most of the time it’s only weed.  I read a strikingly accurate description that in some places boating on the BCN is like navigating through salad.  Apart from the weed, the thing that struck me about the water was its crystal clarity.  Apparently it’s something to do with the coal dust acting like a carbon filter, and having no runoff from farmers’ fields.  Anyway, it’s wonderful to watch the fish and see what’s on the bottom of the canal (not so wonderful when we passed over what looked like the entire front end of a car!)

Our own private aquarium outside the Black Country Living Museum

We had an overnight stop in Wolverhampton, which was fine, apart from the thump, thump of the bass beat from a nightclub somewhere near our mooring until 2 am. There was a building opposite the mooring that proudly proclaimed “Chubb & Sons Lock & Safe Company Ltd Founded A.D. MDCCCXVIII”.* No such problems then.

St Peters Collegiate Chuch, Wolverhampton. Martyn pointed out the uncanny resemblance of the fish on the fountain to Angry Birds. Angry Fish?

Today we slogged our way down the Wolverhampton Flight.  Slogged being the operative word.  They are single locks, but most of them were empty and we needed them to be full. The only way to achieve that state was for us to fill them, which takes time.  It took us over four hours to negotiate the flight.  Usually, Martyn’s at the helm when we’re in locks.  I’m perfectly capable of driving, but we’re still treating him gently.  I did the first five today.  We’ve developed our own system and the helm doesn’t just stand there operating the throttle like a stuffed dummy, but gets on and off, closes gates and opens paddles.  It’s much more fun. The flight changed in nature as we descended its 132 feet.  It got somehow softer and kinder and more rural.  Lock 17 even had a dinky little iron footbridge, so no scary scrambling over the lock gates on that one.

The Wonderful Wolverhampton 21

I found myself wondering somewhere around lock 18 why, with all the exercise I get and all the heavy lifting I’m not skinny as a rail, with taut muscles like Nicole Kidman.  I guess my liking for chocolate, ice cream, beer and gin might have something to do with it.  

How could you think I consumed any of those delicious chips cooked in Beef Dripping we bought at the fish and chip shop in the Black Country Living Museum? Perish the thought!

* 1818


A beautiful day on the Stratford Canal

We’ve been cruising more new-to-us canals, firstly the North Stratford. The 19 locks of the Lapworth Flight would have been a real headache if it hadn’t been for a couple of CRT Volunteer Lock keepers, Pat and Roger. They were absolute diamonds, and made a wet afternoon’s trip up a real pleasure.

Guillotine locks always make me nervous, even when they’re redundant like this one at King’s Norton

After turning right at King’s Norton onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal we moored for two days in Bournville, and so made a pilgrimage to Cadbury World. It would have been rude not to. I think it would have been a lot more fun with small people in tow, and was a bit disappointed that you don’t get to see inside the massive factory. It didn’t stop us leaving laden down with chocolate though. Next time I’ll just stop at the shop. Bournville itself was pleasant, although not as “manufactured” as some of the other Victorian factory towns built by philanthropic businessmen we’ve visited, like Titus Salt’s Saltaire. We did like the visitor moorings though, securely gated and right next to the railway line, which didn’t bother us in the slightest.

Another day, another tunnel. This one’s Edgbaston
He’s happy; they gave him Chocolate at Cadbury World

Then we pushed on into Birmingham, a trip I’ve been equally looking forward to and apprehensive about. One minute you’re chugging through Edgbaston and past the leafy University halls of residence and then all of a sudden you’re in the city itself, looking very Peaky Blinders around the Gas Street Basin area. No-one warned us about the narrows just outside a pub on the way in. There were plenty of people to judge our boat handling skills on a sunny bank holiday Sunday!

In the heart of Birmingham. See the fudge boat? Yes, I went back and bought some. Obviously I hadn’t had enough sugar at Cadbur World.

We moored up close to the National Sea Life Centre and spent a couple of days exploring the city. With apologies to all those who love it, we were a bit underwhelmed. There is plenty of shopping to be enjoyed, but not a lot of sightseeing to do when you get beyond the canalside, which to us was the highlight of the city. Sitting with a drink watching boats negotiating Old Turn Junction I felt like we were on holiday.

It really is a roundabout, but boats don’t have indicators (neither it seems on the roads, do a lot of cars!)

We visited the Bullring, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and found the bull from the Commonwealth Games. We noticed a lot of begging in the city. Someone even approached us while asking for money while we were drinking a cup of coffee in a Starbucks; that’s a first for me. A lot of the city centre seems to be undergoing redevelopment. Many of the 1960s concrete buildings have been or are being demolished and replaced with modern creations of glass and steel. It’ll be interesting to go back in a year or two and see what changes there have been. I’m sure we’ll visit again. I’d be happy to take recommendations of things to see and do on a future visit.

Martyn looking a bit small

There are two main line canal routes through Birmingham and into the Black Country. Today we’ve been cruising Thomas Telford’s New Main Line (hardly new, it was completed in 1837) and enjoyed passing through the many junctions and peering down loops and arms. We could do without the extremely narrow and redundant gauging stations though. I can see why people get so fascinated by the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations), there’s an awful lot to explore.

The Old Main Line crossing the New Main Line on a beautifully gothic aqueduct. See how narrow the canal is?
A few more snaps of Birmingham. Why not?

Deja Vu

Rowan quickly found out the purpose of the duck hatch

No sooner were we on the boat on our own again, then we left it. Dan, Lianna and Rowan took over for a week. We spent it in Dorset, and they cruised the boat back to Brinklow. Oh well, we got to enjoy Pumpkins Deli for a second time!

The Newbold Tunnel revisited

So, back in possession, we repeated the journey we’d already taken on the Oxford Canal, down through Rugby, Hilmorton Locks and Willoughby to Braunston. This time, on a busy day on the canal (where we seemed to cause all sorts of chaos trying to moor at the chandlers), we turned right at Braunston Junction, towards Warwick. Everyone who had been there had recommended The Folly at Napton and the Napton Cidery, so we detoured there, but everything was closed when we cruised into Napton. Oh dear. Don’t visit on Monday.

Calcutt Locks, looking warm

The next day we turned back onto the Grand Union Canal, familiar territory from a holiday we had a good few years ago. At least this time we managed not to throw a windlass into the first of the Calcutt Locks. By now we were into the summer of 2022 Heatwave 2.0. and the 11 locks of the Stockton Flight were roasting and exhausting. At one point I was just laying on a balance beam in a rare shady patch praying either for more shade and less heat, or for it to all be over. Thank goodness for the Blue Lias Inn at the bottom with cold beer and good food!

Three boats in a lock? Thats different.

Now anyone who knows us knows we aren’t morning people. That changed in the heat, with the order of the day being to set off well before 8 am and to moor up before lunchtime. On we went, hunting for moorings in the shade and spending long drowsy afternoons doing not much of anything in particular. Via Long Itchington and Radford Semele we found ourselves in Leamington Spa and had a bit of trauma there. Martyn’s wallet was stolen from the boat, right in front of him. There wasn’t a lot of cash in it and only two bank cards, but the hassle factor has been a nuisance. We’ve had to replace his driving licence, bus pass, National Trust and Chelsea membership cards amongst others. We were surprised how seriously the police took the crime, even to the extent of dusting Beau Romer for fingerprints. They found some too. We shall see what transpires.

The perfect antidote to a hot day’s boating

Since Leamington Spa, the weather has cooled down and we haven’t had any further dramas. We went up the mighty Stairway to Heaven, the Hatton Flight, with a lovely family on a hire boat and then up the Knowle Locks to Catherine-de-Barnes, where we stayed for a couple of days while I went to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC with friends, and Martyn went to play on the Severn Valley Railway.

Friendly lock keepers at Knowle rendered me surplus to requirements

Having gone nearly all the way into Birmingham we have now turned around and are aiming to enter the city by a different route.

Street art on the Grand Union

Legal Aliens

Four happy boaters

Back on the boat and in a marina it was rather frustrating that a Sainsbury’s delivery driver couldn’t find us. With all the activity around Lichfield due to building HS2 I’m not surprised. We haven’t seen any track being laid yet, just enormous construction depots and road works. Thankfully – and eventually – a taxi driver could find his way from Lichfield station with our guests for a week, Bailey and Anna, all the way from Washington DC and Jackson City Tennessee respectively. I’m amazed that a solid week of rain last October apparently hasn’t put Bailey off the English canals, and that she not only came back, but brought her sister with her.

Bailey and Yours Truly, lock keeping

it did make us laugh in the middle of this exceptionally hot and dry summer, that the girls, along with the Sainsbury’s delivery (eventually!) arrived in the middle of a rainstorm. The lack of rain is starting to cause us some problems. So far the Leeds and Liverpool, Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals are closed, the Trent and Mersey just as well may be, and there are restrictions on many others. I’m sure we will get back to our home mooring in Rufford at some stage this winter, but it wouldn’t be looking good if we turned north now.

Patiently waiting on the Atherstone Flight

Water levels are so low that somewhere on the Coventry Canal we came across a party of scouts who had got their boat thoroughly stuck. Martyn and I weren’t on the boat at the time, the girls were doing a great job in charge. The scouts didn’t have a boat pole (that they could find!) so Bailey and Anna attached a line and gave them a tug to get them going. Of course we grounded ourselves in the process, but we know how to get free!

Beau Romer to the rescue

We’d planned to journey with Bailey and Anna from Lichfield to Rugby, and had a lot of fun on the way. They bought cheese and sweets from a couple of tradingboats, we found a fabulous deli in Brinklow and we enjoyed several pub visits.

It’s a tight turn at Hawkesbury Junction

There was a lot of wildlife in evidence, mainly rats. We were in one of the Atherstone locks when one decided to use the stern of the boat as a bridge from one side of the lock to the other. The next day as well as a dead one in the canal there was a live one swimming alongside the boat. I also spotted a cheeky squirrel using a telegraph wire as a tightrope. The wildlife highlight of the week was a water vole on the towpath practically running over Bailey’s foot!

Concentrating in Braunston Tunnel

Because none of us can help overachieving, we went far beyond Rugby and ended up at Long Buckby on the Grand Union Canal, where the girls had to leave to fly home. That gave us a couple of days to cruise down as far as Stowe Hill, the first place where many years ago I ever got involved in winding a narrowboat. And a right mess up that was! I think we do a bit better these days.

Another day, another pub lunch. The Tame Otter at Hopwas