Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Weaver World

Captain Carl has taken over the Jottings for this week - here is his take on our boating life

Evening sun in Middlewich

Well, why did I do it? I mentioned during the week that perhaps I'd do the jottings this time “to give Linda a rest”. Oh, well, here goes.

We left the Shropshire Union canal last Monday morning in a blaze of glory. There were crowds cheering, bands playing and countless people wishing us well. Actually, if I'm totally honest about it, there was nobody around, not even a dog walker. We chugged away from our mooring, witnessed only by a few ducks, geese and other assorted waterfowl. As I steered the boat though narrow “bridge-holes” and tight, blind bends, skilfully avoiding the other boats we met at every other bridge, Linda came up to join me on the stern-deck, eating toast. I'd had my breakfast earlier, so I wasn't envious. Tricky, who was perched like a large furry parrot on the hatch, suddenly came to life and took an intense interest in Linda's toast. She (the dog) is fussy about toast. It has to have butter on it, but nothing else. She is greatly offended if there is jam or marmalade on it, and if there is even a hint of marmite she'll sulk for minutes. Suddenly, in the middle of this pleasant routine, we spied a flash of blue ahead. A kingfisher. Linda has mentioned these numerous times, but they really are a lovely sight, and always lift our spirits.

After a while, we approached the Middlewich arm, which leads to the Trent and Mersey canal. Linda went to the front of the boat, to check if we were clear to steer through the exceedingly narrow bridge that crosses the Middlewich arm. She gave me the thumbs up, so I started to swing the bows round. But not enough, sadly. Despite panicking outwardly, and cursing inwardly in that silent way that I sometimes do, the boat glanced off the side of the bridge with a bit of a bang. It is a contact sport according to Timothy West.

The Middlewich arm (it's actually called the Wardle canal, we've just discovered) is amongst our favourites. It is very rural and quiet; shortly after slipping our lines, we came across a Heron, hunched over the water looking for breakfast. As we approached, he looked up in alarm and then flew off. He settled down 100 yards ahead of us by the water's edge again, until we came close. Off he flew, again settling down 100 yards in front of us. This scenario was repeated several times, until it occurred to him to fly behind us, which he did.

It was shortly after this that we met another boat. We were negotiating another short, narrow cutting. Narrowboats are just shy of seven feet wide. This bit of the canal had been built about seven feet and one inch wide. No-one knows why. Not only that but, joy of joys, the Canal and River Trust had mischievously let lots of vegetation grow over the off-side of the canal, cunningly hiding the jagged concrete edge from unsuspecting boaters. Having prior knowledge of this obstacle, I had lined the boat up and was passing serenely through when a large bow wave disturbed the peaceful waters at the bend ahead. This was followed by a boat, travelling at quite a speed. He saw me as I was around two thirds of the way through. He kept on coming at ramming speed, with a grim look of determination on his, by now, worried features. As I came out of the cutting I veered away as far as I could, towards the nearest tree, hit reverse and shouted to Linda below to “hang on”. Finally he realised that I was not a mirage and was really there, and threw his engine into hard reverse. Then our two boats crashed together. Luckily Linda had braced herself and was ok, and no damage had been done to the boat. The other boater apologised. It seemed that he had hired his boat and this was his first day.

We were up early the next morning, in order to pass through onto the Trent and Mersey canal. This was a bit of a long day for us; we didn't seem to be able to get on. We stopped for water and then again to drop off some rubbish. As we approached a boatyard further on we came across a boat that was grounded. He'd pulled in at the boatyard for something or other and was now stuck fast. The boat owner shouted across to ask if we'd take a line and pull him free. Linda expertly took the tiller while I attached his rope to the front cleat. Linda gently pulled our boat away. The rope pulled taut, but the other craft wouldn't budge. We loosed the line, manoeuvred our boat further down and attached his rope to the rear dolly and tried again. We gave it maximum revs but he remained stubbornly stuck on the mud. Just when we were about to give up, his boat came free – success! It's nice to lend a hand to fellow boaters, you never know when you're going to need help yourself.

A couple of hours later we were moored near to the Anderton boat lift ready for our descent onto the River Weaver. At 12.10 pm the next day we chugged into one of the caissons of the boat lift, and thirty minutes later we had been lowered onto the River Weaver. We cruised upriver to Northwich, where we moored for the day. Northwich has many fine old buildings, but is forever subsiding into old salt workings. It is normally a quiet place to moor. Unfortunately, there are major works being done there at the moment, with all the associated noise and disruption.

Do you know what one of the most irritating things is? Its when your toilet roll unrolls itself and gathers in a heap all over the floor and when you look there isn't a cute puppy playing with it. This happened to us whilst moored at Northwich. You can never roll the stuff up properly again, no matter how carefully you try.

This morning started sunny, warm and humid. After casting off we chugged through Saltersford lock without incident, and continued to Dutton lock. When the lock emptied and the massive gate opened we engaged forward and started to leave the lock. A canoeist suddenly appeared from somewhere and drifted into our path. He then “hovered” by the lock entrance looking at his oars, blissfully unaware that there was a twenty ton boat bearing down on him. We engaged reverse, and Linda picked up our little brass fog horn with the rubber bulb at one end and honked loudly (the horn honked, not Linda), with no effect. The lock keeper was watching him with disdain and muttered something which we couldn't quite catch. Eventually I sounded the boat horn, which is quite loud, and he woke up. He was last seen paddling downstream towards the Manchester Ship canal.
Tricky on guard

We are now moored on The Devil's Garden moorings and have just been visited by a herd of friendly cows.

That's about it for now.

Best Wishes

PS I hope I didn't rant too much.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Shooting Stars

 Shooting Stars

Morning All

Did you see the shooting stars last week? We were in the perfect place to see them – a rural mooring at the bottom of Adderley Locks surrounded by fields in all directions. We waited for darkness to fall and sat out on the tow-path staring up at the sky, waiting for the show to begin. Tricky sat with us, but she wasn't happy to be up so late and every so often we could hear her growling quietly at the shadows. After a while, a chill wind got up and I huddled under a blanket to keep warm. I tracked the blinking lights of jet planes high above and caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye – 'Was that one' I asked Carl. 'I didn't see it' was the reply. After the third 'Star' we gave up and went to bed. Did anyone see a shooting star?

This week we've travelled from Norbury Junction through Market Drayton, Audlem and Nantwich to this rural mooring near bridge four on the Middlewich Arm. Each day we've had a few locks to do and, with so many boats moving, it's been a lesson in lock etiquette. On a good day, as each lock empties then another boat rises up in the next lock and the two boats cross over in the the pound and everyone's happy. The steerer lifts a hand in greeting and the boats swish by each other in a well rehearsed sidle. The locking crews lean on the gates, chatting about this and that, enjoying their holidays on a sunny summer morning – what finer way to see the English countryside than from a narrow-boat on the Shropshire Canal. It all went according to plan as we went down the Tyreley flight – we flew down without a hitch and just had room to squeeze onto the moorings in Market Drayton. We set off into town via the '40 Steps' which, as the name implies, is a steep set of stone steps leading from the aqueduct down to the lane far below. This is the back way into town and I've never attempted it before as I'm usually trundling the shopping trolley to Morrisons or Lidls. It would be alright going down but I'd need a block and tackle to get me and the trolley back up to the boat.

We set off next morning for the Adderley flight and caught a flash of brilliant turquoise which can only belong to the kingfisher and I smiled as we chugged along, thinking it was a good sign for the day ahead. There was one boat in front of us at the Top Lock and I wandered off to assist, chatting to a family with several teenage children, who all seemed to know what to do with a windlass – so far so good. The local farmer has set up a Farm Shop right by the lock, selling fresh home-made bread and pies and the crew all cleared off to check out the produce without lifting the paddles. Tricky came racing up from our boat to see what was happening and we both waited patiently for the holiday makers to do their shopping before jumping aboard and easing ever so slowly out of the lock. Am I sounding a wee bit impatient? Well, I do try not to but I was looking forward to getting down the flight and finding a nice mooring so I could get on with the blanket that I'm making – it's growing so big I could use it as a sail! Everyone we met coming up the flight was grumpy and in a tearing hurry to get through the locks. As we got further down the flight, there was a queue of boats waiting to come up and not everyone was happy to wait patiently for their turn. I gathered from one lady that 'words' had been exchanged and it had 'spoiled their day'. I tried to cheer her up with tales of the tempting fare to be had in the Farm Shop at the top but I don' think it really helped.
The Shroppie Fly
On Thursday, we hurried down the locks into Audlem, heavy rain was forecast but it didn't come to much in the end. We tied up by the Craft Mill and it wasn't long before I was wandering inside to chat to the lovely couple who run it and get a quick lesson in rag rugging. It looks pretty straight forward – you cut up your old clothes into small 'snips' of material and poke them through a piece of hessian with a prodder. Apparently, it can be very addictive and people have been known to cut up their husband's clothes without first checking that they are 'old'. I can see that would cause arguments in some households!

We did have some rain through the night on Thursday, the tow-paths had turned into a running stream by Friday morning. I de-spidered my wellies for my walk with Tricky and we splashed happily through the puddles to the Co-Op and back. My thoughts turned to autumn and the darker nights looming ahead, I do like autumn but I'm not quite ready for it yet. No need to get out your winter woollies just yet - the sun came out again and we've had the most glorious weekend here. I've chucked the wellies back in the box and I've been sitting out in my deck chair today, polishing the brass and watching the antics of the hoards of hire boats that are racing past. Everyone looks happy today and so am I. Fingers crossed that this settled weather stays for a little bit longer. We're on our way to the River Weaver again and I'm looking forward to another trip on the Anderton Boat Lift.

Have a lovely week everyone.

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Hot Potatoes

Sunday 9th August 2015                                Hot Potatoes

Morning All

I'm sure you'll all remember the ditty which starts ' I know an old lady who swallowed a fly' – well, I didn't actually swallow a fly this time, although I do often seem to hoover them up as I walk along the tow-path, which isn't nice for me or the fly! This one was lurking in the bottom of a 4 pint carton of milk and splashed into my early morning cup of coffee – it's lucky I was awake enough to hear the 'plop' or I might well have swallowed it. Now, some of you hardy souls might have rescued the fly and carried on with your coffee as usual. I fished the fly out with that in mind but once I saw the poor thing floating in the teaspoon, I changed my mind and settled for an early morning glass of filtered water. This had the added benefit of preventing me from dunking my daily fix of rich tea biscuits which is the bad habit I adopted when I gave up smoking. I'm finding it harder to give up the biscuits than I did the Benson & Hedges - there are no patches or gum available for this addiction! I dropped Lidl's an e-mail to let them know they'd had a lapse in their normally high standards and I'm now involved in a game of e-mail ping pong as they try and shift the blame from their Teflon shoulders. I'm expecting an apology from Blossom the cow any day now!

When I wrote to you last week we were waiting in Kinver to get the cratch mended. We've had a very neat patch stitched into the cratch cover by the lovely ladies at Wilson's Canopies- that should keep us water-tight for another year. For those of you who were confused last week, I'll remind you that the cratch cover is a kind of tent over the front doors. It's made of black vinyl material, a bit like an old-fashioned pram hood - it makes a useful storage area for wood and coal in the winter and stops the worst of the gale force wind and rain from blowing into the cabin. I sometimes sit up front in the summer if I fancy a change of scenery - it's an ideal place to go for a sulk when I'm feeling out of sorts.

This week we left the Staffs and Worcester and turned once more onto the Shropshire Union, calling at Wheaton Aston and Brewood on the way and arriving at Norbury Junction yesterday afternoon. The canals are very busy with holiday makers and there was a queue at Wheaton Aston when we arrived. I wandered down to the lock with my windlass and chatted to the crews as we worked the boats through the locks – it's a great way to pass the time and you meet some interesting people that way.

Brewood Hardware Shop
If you're ever in Brewood I can highly recommend 'Powells' Tea-room – the entrance is through the Hardware Shop next door, which is quite unusual and I found it quite by chance. I'd been to the chemist a few doors along, and had a bit of a wait to get served. In front of me were a pair of frisky pensioners who were flirting madly over the surgical stockings. Not wanting to spoil their fun, I thought I'd leave them to it and elected to collect my prescription later and that's how we came to be wandering aimlessly about looking in shop windows. The Tea-room is an intimate little place with a kitchen area down one side and only three tables for customers. The cakes were home-made by our waitress, Karen and were displayed temptingly on a little trolley. Some lovely pieces of china were arranged on shelves trimmed with lace and our tea was presented in delicate bone china cups. I remember when we were buying Lady Aberlour, we had a test run with the owners Bill and Ruth, one lovely sunny afternoon. Carl and Bill were on the back, talking boats and engines and Ruth was entertaining Mum and I to afternoon tea in the bows. Ruth was a charming hostess and served us tea and home-made scones using a beautiful Crown Derby tea set - No tea-bag in a mug here. We chugged along like ladies taking tea at the Ritz and I fell completely in love with the boat. I try to live up to Ruth's high standards when we have guests but I don't trust myself with Crown Derby!

On the subject of eating out, Brewood was a great experience but it's not always the case when we go off exploring. We caught the bus from Swindon to Merry Hill last week - it was a gloomy day when we moored up and Carl decided he wouldn't risk doing any painting so we went off to see what was happening in the big city. Carl made a bee-line for Maplins as soon as we got there and I followed him in, trying to avoid the young men who sneak up behind you and ask in a really loud voice 'Can I help you with anything today?' I'd really like to respond by saying 'No thanks – I'm just killing time while my husband looks at all the incredibly boring stuff you sell in here' but of course, I don't – I'm far too polite! It went downhill from there really – the Food Court was like school dinners without a teacher on duty, very noisy and crowded with teenagers taking selfies of themselves pouting. I'm glad I'm too old for this selfie thing - I don't have the lips for pouting! Merry Hill has been forever rechristened Merry Hell which is a better name for it don't you think.

I'll close this week with a little gem that's made me giggle. I was talking to Mum about her shopping and asked her if she wanted any potatoes. 'Oh no, thanks - I've still got a 2 kilowatt bag left from last week'. They must have been hot potatoes! Sorry Mum, I couldn't resist sharing that one.

That's all from me for another week – have a good week everyone.

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Dolittle and Dally

Sunday 2nd August 2015 

 Dolittle and Dally

Morning All

The title this week comes from a 'For Sale' board that we saw outside a house in Bridgnorth. I bet they had a few bottles of liquid sunshine before they came up with that name!

We were really hoping for a still morning when we woke last Monday morning. The previous evening, we'd looked at the map and decided that it would be quicker for us to reverse back through the bridge and turn our boat in the Diglis Basin rather than go up a few locks to the winding hole and back down again. It sounded feasible after a few glasses of cider with our cruising companions Pat and Malc. The Naga Queen is also facing the wrong way and they were planning to turn if they could or reverse back to the lock. 'We'll play it by ear ' we said as we tottered off down the tow-path after a night of red wine and very silly jokes. I offered to man the tiller if Carl would stand by on the bows. I don't mind standing on the stern trying to look like I'm actually doing something useful but the thing is, when you're going backwards on a narrow-boat, you've got absolutely no control at all. If it wanders off across the canal and the bows swing round and hit the boat you're trying to pass, then all you can do is wave apologetically to the angry face at the window. I gave it my best shot but I didn't do so well on the tiller – I tried to blame the wind (like Carl does) but he wasn't in the mood for my jokes. We made it back through the bridge and past two more moored boats and tied up alongside the Naga Queen. As soon as the rush of hire boats had gone we pulled both boats back to the corner of the basin and started to reverse our boat round the corner. That's when the 'Voice of Doom' piped up from the boat opposite us – a dour Scotsman who sounded like he was speaking in Gaelic for all the sense I could make of it. I did make out 'Crosswind' and 'sideways' and gathered eventually that he was telling us that if we weren't careful the cross wind blowing across the basin would take us back down the canal sideways. We had a couple of goes at turning, but the crosswind did indeed take our bows sideways down the canal so we gave that idea up and decided to strap both boats together and reverse to the lock. It went perfectly – in a text book turn we reversed up the canal, backed into the basin and turned together to arrive at the lock perfectly aligned to go straight in. That's when we realised that one of us should have stayed ashore and walked round to open the lock gates!

After a gloomy start, the sun came out and we chugged down the river, through the last of the manned river locks, arriving in Stourport to find there were spaces for both boats on the floating pontoons. It's a great mooring and a nice walk into town along the river, past the fun fair and into the high street. We celebrated the end of our summer cruise with Pat and Malc in our usual way with a few glasses of wine and a bit of a sing-song – we'll miss them very much but Tricky will miss them more!

Have you heard of the Severn Valley Railway? It's a steam railway that runs from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth and it's been on my bucket list for a while so we caught the bus to the station for 'A Grand Day Out'. We took Tricky because we didn't want to leave her all day by herself and we thought she'd be OK on the train - she loves going in the car so it never occurred to me that she wouldn't like the bus. Tricky absolutely hated it! She paced and panted, jumped up and tried to climb over my shoulder to get behind the seat. Carl and I were both wearing black jeans which were covered in Tricky hair by the time we arrived at the station – all three of us traumatised by the journey. Luckily, she was fine on the train and settled on the floor by my feet and hardly moved until we got to Bridgnorth. Funny dog!

The views from the steam train over the Severn Valley are just as good as I'd hoped and it was a lovely sunny day as we left Kidderminster.  As I watched the industrial units of the town passing by, waiting for the scenery to open up, I was surprised to see a group of elephants below us.  Yes - thats right, elephants. Of course, I didn't have my camera to hand to capture the scene, but I found out afterwards it's the West Midlands Safari Park.  |It was just a glimpse of the exotic before we crossed the bridge and I was immersed in the English countryside at its best - a sparkling river, lush green pastures, white-washed cottages and fluffy white sheep.

 By the time we reached our destination the rain clouds had gathered and we just missed a heavy shower as we crossed the footpath that joins the station to the Upper Town of Bridgnorth. We ate our lunch on a seat looking out over the river and the Lower Town. The little Cliff Car is a major attraction taking people up and down and I'd have liked to have a trip myself but I thought Tricky had been through enough for one day. We found the Castle ruins surrounded by a beautiful garden – have you noticed that there are hardly any municipal gardens left these days? As we waited for the train to depart, I read through the train schedule and decided that we would get off at Bewdley and catch the little hopper bus back to Stourport after a tour of the town. It didn't quite work out that way. We walked down into the town to find we'd missed the last bus and then the heavens opened and the main street became a river and as we watched, the sewers overflowed and a terrible stink rose up and drove us into the shelter of the Co-op. A lovely young man, who didn't look old enough to tie his shoelaces never mind being the manager of the Co-Op, was very helpful when I explained our predicament. He used the shop phone to call me a taxi and it arrived in five minutes as promised – nothing short of amazing on such a wet afternoon. We arrived home in style and Tricky was spared the terror of the bus from Kidderminster – tell me, do you think we spoil that dog?

That's all for this week – we're hanging around in Kinver for a couple of days waiting to get some repairs done on the cratch cover. Have a lovely week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers