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Published: February 28th 2012
Fourteen tons of steel narrowboat dangled precariously in the air above our heads and slowly descended into the water.
Like anxious parents we stood mesmerised wondering if we were about to lose everything we possessed in one second of carelessness on the part of the crane driver.
Luckily, there was no disaster and we breathed a sigh of relief. The story had begun!
Actually, it all began some months previously when we decided to close down our businesses, sell our home, build a narrowboat and cruise off into the sunset for a year.
The Narrowboat “Tristram Sprague”, named after an ancestor, started life as an empty 57ft steel cigar in a boatyard near Droitwich in the West Midlands. We ordered her in December 2000 and she was ready to collect in March 2001. Having decided to fit her out near home, her first voyage was by lorry to a farmyard on the shores of Poole Harbour in Dorset.
She was carefully craned into a former silage pit, and work began to turn the shell into our new home. Our son Alastair is a qualified boat builder, and spent the next few
weeks lining the boat with insulation and ash veneered plywood. Wiring, plumbing and heating followed in short order.
During July the interior was sufficiently advanced for us to move aboard and we spent all our waking hours helping to construct the galley and bedroom, upholster furniture, tile the bathroom and lay carpets. Luckily the weather was kind, and we had several glorious days in which to apply gallons of undercoat and gloss paint to the topsides and blacking to the hull. Evenings were often spent on the foredeck perched high and dry above the silage yard with a sizzling barbeque and a bottle of wine.
On August 29, a 98 ton crane arrived in the silage yard and began the lift onto a lorry for the return voyage to Droitwich. As the boat was now several tons heavier than when she arrived, there were a few anxious moments when control of the dangling craft relied on a couple of long lengths of rope lead from bow and stern.
Then it was away up the motorway system with us following behind. On reaching the boatyard in Hanbury Wharf, just outside Droitwich on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, the
lorry parked up and we retired for the night to a nearby budget hotel.
This is the day by day tale of our voyage through England and Wales, recorded exactly as it was written in the ship's log with (almost!) nothing left out! Part One covers the period from September to November 2001. The rest of the voyage will be covered in further blogs.
August 31 2001
The day dawned bright and breezy. After those few anxious moments, Tristram Sprague took to the water and floated free at last.....if a little lopsided. We had expected this; a steel narrowboat shell is usually ballasted to float level before the interior is fitted out. We had been advised to make sure that certain parts of the floor were left accessible so that the ballast could be adjusted once the boat was fully fitted.
The engine started first go, and we gingerly moved the boat over to the towpath and moored up. We set off to the nearest builder’s merchants and came back with concrete paving slabs. After several hours removing floors, moving and adding slabs there seemed to be no difference
in the trim.
Feeling very tired and dejected after the earlier euphoria, we were cheered to find that the “Eagle and Sun” just along the towpath does a full carvery every night. Returning to the boat, we found that the toilet was overflowing and the fridge didn’t seem to work! And so to bed.........
An early start, and spent the first few hours moving paving slabs back from the boat to the car. Then a return visit to the builder’s merchants to exchange the slabs for a load of loose concrete ballast. We discovered the delights of Droitwich, including an excellent cafe for breakfast. We also explored the street market. Later that day came our first encounter with one of the characteristic features of the “cut” – a real coal boat selling real coal. We hailed him and he came alongside and we bought four bags of best quality stove coal. Got a good blaze going, off to the pub for another roast dinner and then back to try out our 12 volt telly.
Decided to start the day by moving our four
bags of ballast into the boat. This made a big difference, as the boat started to come upright! We celebrated success by going into town for breakfast then spent an hour or so collecting firewood. Gill (Sue’s sister) and her husband Alistair arrived at about 11.00am, and we held a launching cermony with a bottle of bubbly saved for the occasion.
Feeling bold we took the boat for her first real “shakedown” cruise to the pumpout station at Oddingley; pumping out the sewage tank is a necessary (and rather frequent) evil, but we countered it with an excellent pub lunch at the Speed the Plough PH at Tibberton. Slight downer on the way back when first the headlight failed in Dunhampstead Tunnel and then the engine started to overheat.
We started by clearing out the boat ready for the gas fitter to install the oven and hob. Doug arrived at 10am, and we went off to find a launderette. We had installed a full size washing machine running off mains power. However, we rarely used it; finding a launderette became a challenge preferable to spending money overnighting in expensive
marinas. But there were none to be found in Droitwich, so we finally tracked one down in Bromsgrove! Breakfast in another excellent cafe, before heading back to find that we had to move the boat to the other side of the canal...Doug and all!
Mobile phones are one of the inventions which have made life on a boat easier; only trouble was that ours wasn’t working. However, a few calls on the boatyard payphone arranged a pickup for next day. While there, a replacement fridge was also organised, and then back to the boat to sort the toilet problem. A lot of head scratching, but finally tracked down the problem to a lump of silicone in the solenoid valve! At about 8pm we finally staggered to the pub for a £2.99 carvery. Left the boat a bit muddled and still no gas, but we have a little primus for soup and the kettle though!
Decided to go for a real shopping spree! Not for the boat this time, but us. New clothes and books to read on the voyage. Worcester is a fine city with some good shops. At last found
a nice stainless teapot in Marks and Sparks. Got back to find we now have gas cooking! Sue got all the stuff back into the kitchen cupboards, while I cleaned out the engine compartment and bilges, and refitted the engine cooling pipes...hope the engine stays cool! While doing this, accidentally knocked the washing line into the canal....so some deft practice with the boathook to retrieve the now dirty washing from the bottom!
Early start waiting for the fridge man to to arrive. At about 11am, Steve the boatyard manager asked us to move out of the yard so they could move another boat; the fridge man arrived just as we shot across the other side of the canal, so he had to back out and drive over the bridge to find us. Having pondered the problem, he said the old “new” fridge was no good, and produced a new and better model!
Celebrated with a trip to Safeway in Droitwich for our first fresh food (no more takeaways!) Came back and had salmon steaks and champagne for tea cooled in our own fridge and cooked on our own stove. Great to
be independent at last!
A good days work on the boat – didn’t go anywhere or do any shopping! First proper breakfast of croissants and toast. Put up the kitchen top cupboards and stowed all our crockery and glass. Hung all the curtains and finished upholstering the dinette seats. Even started to hang a few pictures and a large glass and iron lamp. When we fitted the barometer, it immediately registered fine weather...hopefully a good omen!
Quite flattered today, as the boatyard have taken to showing prospective customers our boat as a “good” example of what can be achieved – they must think she looks good!
Had to go shopping again today – just how much do we need? Discovered that Droitwich has a Homebase, so did some more shopping, this time for a dado rail to trim the interior panelling.
A guy called Dave has also had a boat built at Hanbury Wharf; today they have lifted his boat Theresa Jones half out to fit a bow thruster.
Finally got the loo door fitted today – privacy at last!
The weather is staying fairly pleasant, and we have not yet needed to light the stove; we’d quite like to try it, but the central heating is very good...so far! It uses diesel fuel to power a little boiler in the engine room, which heats hot water radiators.
A good days work! First fitted the dado rails to the panels and the coving to the deckhead. Then started to look into the engine overheating problem, which turned out to be a leak from the calorifier tank. This is like a domestic hot water tank, which is heated by water from the engine to produce a supply for the shower and taps. A leaky valve was causing the water pressure to drop and overheat the system. Should be fine now!
Dave invited us to look inside Theresa Jones (named after his Mum). He has solid oak floors going in; real open plan living with a huge Jacuzzi bath in the middle and a big TV on the bulkhead. What’s he going to do about privacy for his toilet and sleeping space....not too bothered!
Made a huge stir fry in the new
wok...first of many!
Reduced the big pile of wood to a small heap. Cut up all the main bits ready for use, and finally completed trimming the doors. Framed some more pictures and finally loaded up the newly insulated lockers under the bow deck. It gets pretty cold under here, so it makes sense to insulate if you plan to store anything here....every nook and cranny is valuable! The weather is now getting more autumnal, as we found on a pretty walk north towards Astwood Locks.
Tried out cooking with the steamer....great meal and so economical!
Today we have the beginnings of a carpet! Having moved all the remaining wood pile to the bow deck, we started by adding two more bags of ballast to the front section of the hull below the saloon. Then screwed down the floorboards...hopefully for the last time! The carpet tiles look really good, an instant transformation!
Every good boat needs a good name; we had chosen ours, Tristram Sprague after a distant relative who sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America. But we had nothing to
show for it, so we were pleased to get a call from Will Jones the Welsh Signwriter planning to come tomorrow as the forecast is good!
Will came at 8am on the dot. He did a superb job and the rain held off. Halfway done, we moved the boat into the basin to turn her so he could paint the other side. His work is miraculous, because he has to content not only with the boat rocking from side to side, but also the forward and back motion when another boat passes by. His hand remains as steady as a rock, whatever the movement (though we did go into Droitwich to avoid too much rocking!).
My folks rolled up at 4pm just as Will left, and we set off up the canal to Brookline Marine for water, fuel, and a pumpout. Everyone was enjoying the trip when a passing boat called out the terrible news about the Twin Towers terrorist attack. We were glad to be on the boat, which felt a bit like Noah’s Ark on this most tragic of days.
returned to finish the signwriting. There were a lot of boats on the move today, which really stretched his infinite patience to the limits. As rain threatened, I constructed a rain tent which moved with the boat. Naturally, there was no rain until he had finished! He left after a brew at about 2pm and left us with a really fantastic piece of artwork. The boat at last has a name!
Carried on with boxing all the pipes and started to move down the boat with the carpet tiles – looks good! The grey plastic heating pipes have started to go, and Sue was very pleased to see the last of the big pipe “snakes” in the shower room!
Our son Alastair was due to come today to do some small jobs, but after getting into a jam on the M5 he turned back – who needs motorways!
It rained all day and I found another problem with the engine water syetem. Jim from the yard is going to take a look tomorrow, so we went into town to post our licence application to British Waterways – Will had left
the last few numbers of the registration for me to paint; hope i can make a good job of it!
Cheered ourselves up by lighting the stove for the first time....hot hot hot!
Sunny day after yesterday’s rain! Moved the boat into the yard to check the engine. Jim bled the system and refilled it. He thinks that the calorifier tank may be too high in the boat (mainly due to the washing machine below it!). He suggested introducing a small header tank into the system, and also fixed a small leak in the skin cooling tank. I also refixed the central heating boiler which had worked loose from the engine bulkhead!
Today “1000 Volt Dave” left the yard in Theresa Jones on his return trip to Bray on the Thames. His nickname came from his obsession with power; a former electricity worker, he had set his boat up with the biggest 12 volt system afloat. With twelve batteries (we had three!) powering a 240 volt mains inverter, he had enough juice for his big telly, huge HiFi, Jacuzzi, myriad halogen lights. Sue had a look around and was really
taken with the surround sound HiFi...still no partitions for the loo though!
He was taking one of the yard crew as far as Birmingham to help him through the 30 Tardebigge Locks. Amazingly, he had never yet worked a lock, but would have plenty of experience in the following weeks. So away he went with the sound of the Corrs blasting down the canal in his wake!
Went to Worcester to get “yet more!) bits and pieces. At last found a set of walkie talkies, which we though would be useful for communicating at locks. Found some curtains for the corridor, having decided against lots of doors. Finally got the calorifier working again by fitting a header tank and fixing a big airlock in the pipes....hot showers all round!
Sue had a visit from her folks today. They came at about noon, and we took a trip to Dunhampstead and back before parking in the wild for a better view. Had yet another great meal at the Eagle and Sun – they will miss us soon!
Final shopping trip to Droitwich – this is serious!
Got another battery and a lifebuoy from Dave the Chandler. He told us about his trip up to Birmingham with “1000 volt Dave”. Apparently, he had grown to intensely dislike the Spice Girls (whoever they were?) and the hi tech boat was not really his style. He lives on a really traditional boat with canvas covers, a huge wood burning stove, and plays only folk music....!
Said our goodbyes to Steve, Chris, Dave, Jim and Doug and set off at exactly 1.22 hours for Worcester en route for ......who knows where! Went down twelve locks in rather cool weather; first locks in the new boat, but soon remembered the routine from several canal holidays! We arrived in the city in semi darkness at about 7.30pm, and celebrated the first day of the voyage with real champagne!
An early start. Fixed up the dinette in “double bed mode” for the impending arrival of our friends Wendy and Tim. One or two problems with the catches, and decided to add an extra support leg for safety...no offence to
our friends, mind!
Went into Worcester to do some important posting. At this point, I should mention that we have three children in their early twenties. We could not totally cut ourselves off from their growing needs, and this particular trip was to collect, sign and post back a tenancy agreement for our youngest daughter.
Back to the boat at 10.30am, then fixed up the anchor and lifebuoy for the impending voyage up the mighty River Severn. Set off at 10.45am through two deep and heavy locks (Blockhouse and Sidbury) which Sue found tricky. We passed the Commandery Civil War Centre before entering fascinating Diglis Basin with its plethora of boats, some seagoing.
Seeing Wendy and Tim waving from the quayside, we made a superb approach and came alongside in style. Quite the opposite when we cast off again to enter the lock down to the river. Caught by the wind, 57ft of steel boat becomes unmanageable and I longed for a bow thruster like on “1000 volt Dave’s” boat!
Finally made it into the huge lock, and had to do a 90 degree right turn to pick up the crew from the river quay. Then
on up the wide river in full flood. By the time we reached Bevere lock, the engine gauge was showing overheating, so we stopped at Holt to let it cool down. Not a good time for engine problems! However, we made it safely (if worried!) to Stourport and locked into the old canal basin. After the wild river, peace and tranquility tied up in one of the finest spots on the system.
The fascinating locks and four interconnected basins are overlooked by the famous clock tower and surrounded by a town which owes its existence to James Brindley’s Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. From here, goods were transhipped to and from barges off the River Severn into narrowboats arriving from the manufacturing centres of the North and West Midlands.
Cooked up a massive spag bol then drank till bedtime!
Left the port on a blustery day. Took on water and bought some shackles for the anchor – not really needed now! Started to rain a little, so stopped at Kidderminster. This town has changed a lot since our last visit on a hire boat in the 1970’s. Many of
the canalside factories have been demolished; while this has opened up the view, it has spoilt seclusion and drama of entering the town through the backdoor! It used to be that the first view of the lovely church was as you rose in the deep lock; now, you see the traffic on the bridge and a glimpse of the church before entering the lock.
We stopped for soup and rolls outside Sainsbury’s, also a new addition to the local scene!
Pretty locks at Caldwell and Falling Sands still unspoilt! Stopped below Wolverely Lock and looked round the village.Very dramatic site for the small “italianate” style church on the red rock. Old Grammar School has a 1620’s facade. Had a good dinner in the aptly named pub “The Lock”.
Day dawned fine after yesterday’s rain. Set off after breakfast on the prettiest part of the canal. The sun emerged for a while. We stopped for lunch near Stewponey, and met a lady looking for her daughter who lives on a houseboat. She couldn’t find her, so borrowed our phone only to find that she had moved two mile further
up the canal – we caught up with her later!
We reached Botterham Staircase quite late, but the lock refused to fill properly! Nearly marooned for the night in the lock assaulted by diesel fumes! Had to empty the top lock into the lower lock to get it filled, and nearly didn’t make it to the pub until after dark! Moored at the Round Oak and had a great meal! Phoned the children...Kirsten is planning to rent flats and villas in France!
Early phone called from the Eberspacher agent in Birmingham to say his mechanic was ill, so could we got to Gailey on the northern Staffordshire and Worcester Canal to meet another mechanic Dave! This meant an early start, as Gailey is 5 hours sailing time. Through Bratch Locks, where (surprise surprise!) we were asked for our boat registration number for the first time...lucky we know it is 506390! Then on through the amazing Wolverhampton Cutting which hides the town from view, then out into open country to the north.
Arrived at Gailey in the rain to more big shocks! Firstly, the Eberspacher man has brought the
wrong diagnostic kit. Secondly, an engine mounting has broken, causing overheating and melted stern gland....result huge leak and flooded engine room! Phoned Harly the mechanic to come and fix mounting stern tube and sheared “stuffing box” bolts; also suggested that Barrus the engine manaufacturer be contacted urgently. Being totally boatyard bound, Wendy and Tim sadly decided to go home a couple of days early!
After sorting out the situation with the boatyard, we decided to walk to the nearby village of Penkridge. We had lunch in a pub there, and walked back. However, the boat was now uninhabitable without power and water, so we booked ourselves into the Travel Inn at Cannock for a night of abject “luxury”...ha ha!
Back to the boat early and decided to fit a new bilge pump to keep the water level down before a Titanic situation developed! Sue cleaned up the outside of the boat, before we headed back to the Travel Inn for a second night, hoping for a solution tomorrow. Phoned Chris Hill at the New Boat Co to update him on
Waited for some action...none came! Spent most of the day phoning people...Barrus, Chris Hill, Rod Palant, Eberspacher and Jim waiting for someone to do something about the engine and the heating. Decided we must have a pumpout, so bow hauled the boat down to the yard..only £10 here! Finally got some action from the New Boat Co and Barrus. They are sending Jim with a replacement mounting leg to the engine. Got started on fitting the stereo system to relieve the frustration. Call from Jim to say he would be over on Tuesday or Wednesday...if the parts arrive! Ordered a cheap generator from Screwfix, so at least we’ll have some power!
I’m 50 today....not the best place to be as the boat is completely out of action! However, some nice cards arrived c/o the boatyard. No action yet on the engine, but a man came to fix the heating system. Turned out to be the glowplug, and was a bit fed up that it had failed after only two weeks use. It is apparently listed as a “consumable”
spare, so not covered by warranty, unless of faulty manufacture. So paid up £63 for the callout and ordered a new glow plug.
Then set off on bikes for a birthday treat to Penkridge. Disaster struck again...while in the Coop someone let down or slashed our bike tyres, so we ended up carrying the shopping and the bikes three miles back to the boat. (We later discovered that our tyres had been attacked by huge hawthorn prickles, so hearty apologies to the youth of Penkridge!).
Pleased to find that the “genny” had arrived, and works! Late tea with steak and champagne made an excellent end to a very strange day!
Sunny start to the day...good omen? Amazed to find that Jim was on his way from Hanbury Wharf with the new parts...and his Dad! They arrived and moved the boat back to the yard by bow hauling. Jim (and his Dad) managed to get the old leg off and replaced. Barrus had actually sent a set of heavy duty legs, so they must be worried that the standard fitting is no good for the 2000 Shire engine. We
insisted that Jim take this up with Chris Hill and Barrus; Jim is convinced that they should be fitting the heavy duty mountings to these engines.
Anyway, up and running again, but must remember to tighten bolts daily! Jim’s dad full of amazing stories, like the canal boat over the weir on the Severn, the crane boat floating down the river unmanned, and the boat stuck fast in a lock carrying 25 tons of aluminium!
Discovered that the “genny” won’t power the washing machine; bit of a blow, so its lauderettes from now on! Even the new glow plug arrived, so heating back on again...thank goodness that the hot water comes from the engine. Heat, shower, power!
A frustrating day! Tried to start the heating when we got up, but no life in it after it worked so well last night! Phoned Eberspacher dealer, then the Head Office! Helpful chap Mr Christopher said he would contact the area engineer on his way from North Wales. Decided to pull the boat back to the boatyard to fit the bilge pump hull fitting; at least that now works so hopefully
no Titanic situations from now on! While there, we picked up some shore power and did two loads of washing. Then the Eberspacher engineer came, and told us that...the new glow plug had failed. He discovered that we also had a faulty control unit; now that is on the way to us, hopefully to fit tomorrow! Alastair hoping to come to see en route to Leanne’s sister’s house in Stafford!
All expectation! First thing, John came from Eberspacher and fitted a new control box to the heating. – it works again! No problem with the installation and lots of operational hints taken. Off we went again on a beautiful day, with lots of locks (how we missed them!). Stopped for lunch at Teddesley Park then discovered the renowned Midland Chandlers who had supplied lots of bits during the build, by mail order! Got lots more bits and pieces. Heater fired up at 5.30pm, but shut down again at 6pm...ominous!
Saw three lovely ducks at Shutt Hill Lock, and an old man from Market Drayton on his own – how does he manage? Cooked a stir fry, but oh no,
the heating shut down again. Thank goodness for the hot water supply from the calorifier. Moored in quiet place near Acton Trussell.
Arrived at Stafford around lunchtime. Alastair arrived at the boat with LeeAnne, Jade, Aleya, Paul (cousin) and son Liam. Took then for a trip up to Great Haywood, stopping at the amazing Tixall Wide, a huge lagoon with great wildlife. Beautiful sunshine all the way, and Alastair steered all the way back...first time for the boat’s builder! Tea in the pub, while we watched the kids in the playground!
Alastair came at about 10am, and managed to fit the shelves and sides of the second cupboard. I fixed up a locking system for the genny while Sue did some ironing! Later discovered that the broken engine leg only had one bolt in the mounting...no wonder it broke! Went into Stafford, a lovely town, then had a meal in Bella Pasta before going to see the film “Enigma” with only six other people in the cinema..bet we were the only ones off a canal boat!
A day of mucho frustration! Discussion with a very rude Mr Christopher about the heating. He finally agreed to contact their service centre in Stoke, but nothing happened, so we went to Stafford B and Q for more bits and pieces. Sun gave way to heavy showers by the time we set off. Also spoke to New Boat Co and Barrus, who agreed to send another engineer to sort the mounting problem, especially now we know there is only one bolt holding it together! Cruised in rain to Teddesley and had pumpout, fuel, water ...£15 very expensive for pumpout (usually £10). Had another look around Midland Chandlers before sending a very angry email to Eberspacher!
Quite a good day! Is this progress? Call from Eberspacher; they came and replaced a faulty fuse. Replaced it, then heater failed after 15 minutes...glow plug again! This time they took the whole boiler out and off to Stoke...will we see it again? Dave Bratch (Marine Surveyor) came about 3pm; spent about an hour and found very few faults with the boat for the Boat Safety Certificate. However,
he said that the engine mounting legs would definitely fail the BSC; he heavily criticised the whole mounting installation as a bad design, so great ammunition! Moved up to Penkridge and went off to the shop for supplies.
Bacon sarnies from breakfast! Lots of water in the bilges this morning, because the last engineer (who was he?) trod on the grease tube and broke it off yesterday! Sunny day, so left at about 10am and made steady progress towards Autherley. Lunch in the sun in a rural section outside Wolverhampton. Had some trouble in Autherley Stop Lock; we couldn’t tell which side of the lock the water was highest, as the levels were so similar. However, even an inch of water on the wrong side will stop the gates opening!
Sue steered the boat all day today, as there are few locks on this section of the Shroppie. Saw a boat called “Summat in tha water” – silliest name yet? Steady progress up from Autherley Junction, where engine passed 100 hour running time. Through lovely cuttings and Avenue Bridge...lots of canal folk live here! Moored at Brewood, just north
of the boatyard. Good chicken and pasta supper!
Lovely sunny day...for a change! We are moored on a long straight embankment overlooking nice countryside opposite a boat called “Stress Free”. Walked into the village, which turned out to be very posh. Bought Jade her birthday present (a large soft dog!) and some postcards. Seemed to be a great parish gathering and also a big funeral, with lots of well dressed people walking around. Coffee in a very nice place opposite the renowned Swan Hotel, which features lovely interesting windows.
Back to boat to get call from Eberspacher..could we meet at 2.30pm near Gnosall? Pressed on through Wheaton Aston until we got halted for a while by a big log floating in the remarkable Cowley Cutting and Tunnel. Neil the engineer seemed to get the system up and running again..fingers crossed! Celebrated with a good meal at the Navigation Inn; highly recommended home cooking!
Walked to the village and chanced on one of those amazing ironmongers inside a Post Office (or was it the other way round?). Very old fashioned,
but they found us a box to post Jade’s present! Set off again before stopping at Norbury Junction where the old Newport branch use to join...maybe again one day? Picked up our towpath “cycle passes” from BWB, together with some magic cards giving access to £5 (yes!) DIY pumpouts!
Through spectacular (if strangely named!) Grub Street Cutting and over Shebdon Embankment. Very quiet countryside towards Cheswardine, but plagued by an annoying “tailgater”. Picked up loads more debris in the cuttings, before finding a quiet mooring between two bridges. Sorted out the greaser for the stern tube at last, and the heating actually came on for both programmed times today! Lots of rain today, so hope we don’t sink!
Lovely mooring in open countryside. Started to drizzle as we passed through the really eerie Woodseaves Cutting....was that ancient horse drawn boat we passed real?! Tyrley Top Lock has a screaming ghost. Didn’t see it, but met a nice lady who lives there with a boat called “Cobweb” built at Hanbury Wharf..notes compared! On to market Drayton and walked about 5 miles into the town with back packs and dirty laundry;
our first real launderette experience!
A very wet day with gales of wind. Early visit to Safeway to stock up. Back to boat about 11am; went to chandlery for paint for topside blacking. Took owners advice about using black undercoat instead of bitumen. Ran the genny so Sue could do some ironing, while I did some ash edging to the cupboards. Saw some historic boats pass by, including “Gifford”. Today, the attacks on Afganistan started...could it be a long war?
Early morning visit to town and bought some gingerbread men, a local delicacy, but a bit stale! Scott from Barrus came and did a full assessment of the engine mountings – we think he will recommend that the higer rated mountings are fitted. He said that they were about 20mm too high! Refilled the cooling system and several chafing pipes and organised a free oil change at Ted’s Boats (Ted is the dog, not the owner!). Barrus will arrange for the mountings to be replaced free of charge – hooray!
Set off through Adderley and Audlem Locks
– really pretty, but all set against us! Arrived at Audlem knackered, so into the famous “Shroppie Fly” for Lamb Balti and Trout. Don’t mention chewing gum....American canal boat trippers in the pub!
Woke to pouring rain, so decided to explore the village. Pretty place, with a collonaded butter market in front of the church. Very grand church which also serves coffee and tea and an old police station like Dixon of Dock Green! Bought some incense sticks from a craft shop. Off again through the remaining Audlem Locks; met a crazy American couple from Swindon, with an out of control wife driving the boat!
Moored south of Hack Green Locks for lunch in the sun! On towards Nantwich across spectacular emabnkment surrounding the town, culminating with a pretty iron arched aqueduct. Moored up to do some jobs, including fitting bathroom and loo doors...privacy at last! Started to plan a meeting and walk with Gill and Alistair for two weeks hence. The boatyard has a launderette, and a shop/chandelery.
Jade is 6 today! Decided to stay for the day
as the weather has turned worse. Went for an exploration. Very pretty town, full of “black and white” and Georgian buildings. Did the laundry at last..why don’t more boatyards have lauderettes...only £2 per load! Sue found a book about knotting, but there was no rope to try it out with.
Later in the night, we thought we heard some noise on the roof. Someone had started to try and steal the bikes or the coal, and had moved a bag to the edge of the roof. We popped our heads through the hatch and yelled at them, which scared them off...then did investigation in my dressing gown! Didn’t sleep much, but decided on full security review next morning!
After last night’s scare, decided to play safe and fix up better bike security. Bought a large stainless steel “eye” and fixed it through the roof with padlocked chain around the bikes. After lunch, headed for Hurleston Junction. Lovely afternoon, and the Chester Canal has a very different character from the Shroppie, wide with long dramatic curves.
Very interesting sharp turn into Hurleston Locks; we virtually blocked the canal but
made it round in one go under the gaze of many “gongoozlers”! Very friendly keeper at the pretty top lock, and on into the narrow twisty turny Llangollen Canal. Another boat running amok at the second set of locks...all poles and splashing about! Moored opposite gentle green fields with cattle in warm evening light.
Fantastic day – warm and sunny - this is what we came for! Headed for Wrenbury, meeting lots of boats heading the other way at Baddiley Locks... do they know something we don’t? Near Wrenbury, come across the first of the famous lifting bridges; not as heavy as they look, and I remember making one out of Lego for the kids when we were last here in the 80’s.
Wrenbury is a busy Alvechurch Hire base, and the boats virtually block the canal! The lift bridge is exciting; Sue had to push buttons to stop three different streams of road traffic before opening, and the sharp turn through is also difficult. Moored and spent the afternoon painting and repairing; did a nice black line along the rubbing strake and finally tackled the registration number! Moored
for the night near Marbury with fields of cows both sides.
Spent the morning on jobs. Sue did the ironing while I cut some wood for the back doors; these are the last metal bits showing inside the boat. Had an idea how to improve the ballasting...take some slabs from under the bed, but thats for another day!
Three very fierce locks, difficult to enter and we nearly lost the chimney pot! Then came the staircase locks; the lock keeper in charge told us to wait while he....flushed through a dead dog which had been floating around in the lock too long..ugh! The pound below was also flooded due to a blocked weir, adding to the chaos! People at the water point told us we were lucky; they had encoutered a dead (human!) body at Hurleston!
The town is still quite remote from the canal, but they are reconstructing the old Arm into the centre. The first bit is complete. The next part is very ambitious, and will include an inclined plane and
canalised section of stream down into a new mooring basin in the town. It all looks pretty derelict at present! Went to town and found launderette called “Bubbles” with nice helpful owners. Shopped, then took bus back to boat due to heavy rain.
Moved on to the pumpout at Viking Boats. A daft bloke at the next lift bridge reversed past us and scratched our new paint. Lovely countryside, then across strange Whixall Moss. Moored up and decided to lift the floorboards to remove ballast slabs. Hard work cutting floor below our bed due to the steel cross members, but eventually extracted 5 slabs. At last the boat rose 2ins and came level!
Spent a pleasant hour walking down the Prees Branch; this is navigable for about 2 miles to a basin through two lift bridges, one of which is skewed but broken. Met a fisherman who had caught a big bream (he said about 300lb) who told us that boats disturb the water for about an hour...now we know why they complain!
Moved towards Ellesmere, through a very pretty section through the Meres before reaching the town,
and then a prettier windy section beyond down to Frankton Junction. Lots of new moorings have been laid here. Complimented by another boater on our manoevre to let him through a bridge! Weather fine, with some sunshine but windier and colder than of late. Helpful chandlery at marina north of Ellesmere. We can now see the Welsh Hills!
A lovely mooring spot with sun over cattle grazed fields at dawn – surprised to see so many after the Foot and Mouth outbreak! Moved through New Marton Locks, where we were helped through by friendly hire boaters at the first. The second is very pretty with a superb cottage – took on water here. Onwards with hills starting to close in on all sides, then suddenly round a sharp bend on to Chirk Aqueduct. Very slow progress across and throught the adjacent Chirk Tunnel due to the water pressure, as there is a strong “downstream” flow. This is because the Llangollen was also built as a water supply feeder.
Moored for lunch of sausages opposite Chirk Marina. Onwards through Whitehouse Tunnel to the always exciting Llangollen Aqueduct. We crossed Thomas
Telford’s dramatic masterpiece in still conditions and low sun over the valley. No other boats but us, suspended 126ft above the River Dee. Round into the narrow final canal section; last time we were here with Tony and Linda in the 80’s this section was closed due to subsidence! Spectacularly pretty, with an amazing narrow section between Bridges 41 and 42. Moored at dusk...superb views!
A very wet night! Moved up the canal to a very narrow section with one way working. Met a lady who looked like a Martian with aerials fixed to head...turned out she was controlling her husband on the boat out of sight round the corner. We used our walky talkies, but still had hysterics about this lady! Up through past the Wharf to the “winding hole”; total balls up of the turn, then ran aground just as the horse boat full of trippers came by...much embarrassment!
Moored near Bridge 45, then a lovely walk up to Horshoe Falls in the sun. Back for lunch, then a pleasant afternoon looking round Llangollen. Ended with a beer in the Mill (Felin) pub by the river;
fantastic noise from the water falls, and a great exhibition of canoe slalom to boot! This is a magical place, the town being seemingly surrounded by hills on four sides and the watchful eye of Castell Dinas Bran. Bought some Welsh Cheese and incense at a lovely candle shop. No TV reception here...but who cares!
Thought it would be a nice day, but woke to grey mist! Spent some time cleaning up; including the shower sump pump, which resulted in a loose connection, which in turn “took out” the toilet pump..took a while to fix! Gill and Alistair arrived at about 1pm; no end to the rain, but after lunch decided to “go for it”. Somewhat wet voyage down to Trevor arriving at about 5pm just in time for a pumpout.
Moored at the very end of the Trevor Arm; this was to have been part of the main canal line to Chester, but it was never built. Spent a very pleasant evening at the Telford pub overlooking the basin, which is an Anglo Welsh hire base. Hoping for better weather tomorrow to see us over the Aqueduct.
Crossed the Aqueduct very slowly to watch an excellent football match underway 126ft below us – we shouted our support, but wondered if they knew where it was coming from! Chirk Tunnel was very smoky today, before we moored at Chirk Bank. Walked back to Llangollen along Offa’s Dyke Path, but took the old bridge across the Dee so we could admire and photograph the Aqueduct! Up into the hills overlooking the valley and round Castell dinas Bran. Ate at the “Bridge” on Chirk Bank.
Dull morning, but decided to walk into Chirk. Not very imposing; an old colliery village, where the colliery was replaced by a chipboard factory and a chocolate plant! After lunch, on towards Frankton. Gill and Alistair left us at Marston Bottom Lock to walk back to their car. Reached Frankton Junction, and the keeper saw us through into the newly reopened Montgomery Canal. A lady near the locks was scattering the ashes of her canal loving husband...very sad!
Beautiful sunny day. Spent the day
working out a route from Knighton to Queens Head. Decided to take a train to Knighton from Shrewsbury, then walk to Churchtown on Tuesday, overnight at Chuch House farm, walk to Welshpool and stay on Wednesday night before walking back to Queens Head on Thursday. Went to the village after lunch to get supplies and back to some jobs on the boat. Lovely meal in the Queens Head before early night!
Bus to Shrewsbury and train to Knighton. Walking Offa’s Dyke..about 13 miles today to a b and b at Churchtown. The best bits of the path so far, but tough going!
Walked about 12 miles to Garthmyl (near Montgomery). Met Frances and Paul Dorrington near Montgomery...almost by chance, so they joined us to walk to Welshpool. Great evening together in the pub and the b and b. The Garthmyl to Welshpool section of Offa’s Dyke follows the Montgomery canal, and we saw the restored Berriew Aqueduct.
Walked about 17 miles along the towpath back to Queens Head. This included
the navigable section and the sad dry section around Pant. The locks at Aston were being “aerated” while awaiting reopening. Boats at Maesbury have nowhere to go...yet! Also saw the restored Vyrnwy Aqueduct, and several locks in good condition. Arrived back at the boat about 6pm to find all well...boat afloat!
Rained hard all morning – there have been major floods over south and east England. Decided to move on at about noon to catch Frankton Locks As we left the weather improved. Past the new Graham Palmer Lock, named after the well known WRG leader who I met briefly on the Basingstoke Canal “Deepcut Dig” in the late 70’s.
Arrived at Frankton about 2.30pm and had a natter with the keeper. He complained about the safety standards on hire boats, with lack of safety tuition. He though the Montgomery would not fully reopen for about ten years, the main problem being SSSI status.
Went to Blackwater Meadow marina for fuel and pumpout. Nearly didn’t make it, and found that they don’t let hire boats in because of damage to the banks. I cycled to Ellesmere to
get a takeway from the excellent takeaway Chinese!
A lovely day! Spent the first part at the launderette in town, and the Coop stocking up. Explored the town and saw the Mere, then spent time cleaning and polishing the boat. Moved on later to a pleasant mooring near Bettisfield. Who is Betti?
Anoth nice day! Set off after breakfast for a leisurely cruise. We kept slow, but suffered several “tailgaters”. Arrived at Whitchurch Arm and I went to Tesco to get roast beef and all the trimmings. Great Sunday dinner...the first in our gas oven!
Another sunny morning – the weather is very good for the time of year, though there has been flooding elswhere. We noticed that excavations have been started for the next phase of the Whitchurch Arm beyond Chemistry Bridge. At Grindley Brook, several hire boaters were causing mayhem and met a very strange pair on a tug. The lady was very dominating seemed to know everything, and worked the paddles with her bare hands! The next
people along closed a lock in our faces, so we spent a difficult ten minutes drifting about between two pounds. Then found some Aussies aground with their boat scraping along the sidings to much cussing and swearing! Found lots of free firewood today, as BWB were clearing the banks south of the village.
Like summer...the temperature must have reached 20 degrees and the weather people were talking about the warmest October on record! Spent the morning doing jobs. Painted the second registration number on the side, touched up the blue paint and did some odd woodwork. Left before noon and stopped at Wrebury. Nice village with a useful shop selling everything including real Cheshire Cheese! Nearly came to grief at the lift bridge north of the village due to the high wind – Sue nearly got carried aloft!
Wind got stronger and weather worse! Hurleston Locks were very different on the return journey – a boat coming up was in lots of trouble with wind, but we got away with a few small bumps. When we arrived at Nantwich, we couldn’t stop the engine! Went to see Ian the
engineer, but after he stopped the engine (broken stop switch), discovered that one of the engine mounting legs had sheared...again! Put it all right tomorrow!!?
Moved the boat into Natwich Basin. Ian Farrington noted the both front engine legs had sheared this time – quite a big job given the lack of space to move. Apparently, they often have to strengthen these legs – Barrus don’t like fitting them because they cost about four times as much!
Decided that it was time to collect and move our car nearer. Walked into town, and took a train to Shrewsbury, then changed at Birmingham and arrived at Droitwich at about 3pm. Chatted to Chris and co at Hanbury about our experiences so far!! The car was amazingly still there (and intact!). Got it going with some difficulty, then headed off back to Nantwich – very strange moving at 70MPH after so long at 4MPH!
Got up early when they started work on the engine..again! Went to town..by car...and called at Sainsbury’s and DIY place...very strange experience! Got back and made the
most of “shore power” to rebuild the floor beneath the bed, with new insulation layer added! Ian had done a good job welding strengthening plates on the engine mountings. He also said that the stern gear might need attention due to excess wear, probably after the engine fell off! Moved on to a mooring near Barbridge and guess what...the heating did not come on – fuse blown? Low voltage? Who knows!
Did an early morning engine check. Concerned to see that the rear starboard engine mounting had sheared a stud. Phoned Ian, who advised us to return to Nantwich! Found fuses for heating at chandlery, and did some essential work protecting hoses from chafing. Then quick trip to the next winding hole and back to Nantwich. Arrived at about 2pm, and Ian managed to drill out and replace the sheared bolt in about an hour!
Off again at 4pm after chatting to the owners of two splendid timeshare boats “Henry” and “George”. Lovely afternoon and back north to stop in a superb mooring north of Vickers Bridge 98....we have now been past Hurleston Junction about five times
in six weeks!
Off early. The weather started nice but grey by lunch. Met Rob the sheepdog, who followed us for a while! Very pretty locks at Bunbury; we hired a boat here with the kids in the 80’s! Shared the staircase lock and took on water. Now comes a sucession of wide deep locks on the old Chester Canal; very pretty scene at Tilstone and Beeston Stone Lock. The latter is distinguished from the next, which is the famous and weird Beeston Iron Lock...made of iron and unique in order to combat shifting sands! Brooding castles on the hills at Beeston and Peckforton dominate the landscape. We moored at Waverton.
An interesting day. Past nice waterside housing at Waverton Egg Bridge 119, before tackling five amazingly slow locks down to Chester. Then through the impressive Northgate Staircase Locks, 33 feet deep and hewn out of solid rock! Lots of nice waterside buildings including housing and restaurants. Then asked if we would tow a broken down boat as far as Backford Bridge..happy to help! Then discoved that this
section from Chester will be closed for five weeks, so decided to turn and return to Chester Tower Wharf, and very attractive mooring. Watched the fireworks over the city while enjoying a chicken dinner-amazing night!
Spent a great day looking round Chester! Walked around the Roman walls, looked at the Castle and the Cathedral..then went shopping! Had several not very nice cappuchinos and decided to buy a new camera...at last! Picked up our winter mooring ticket from the BWB office!
Early morning city visit. Decided on a Minolta camera! Met some more boaters coming through Northgate Locks doing the same as us. Originally from Bath, they had been afloat for a year and were hoping to make it Ellesmere Port for the winter. We told them about the planned stoppage at Backford Bridge, so don’t know what they did instead. The locks took about two hours to pass. While all were in our favour, they were all quite violent going up, throwing the boat from side to side! Cruised until after dusk, using our navigation lights for the first time,
as we were determined to reach the “Shady Oak” PH at Bates Mill Bridge near Beeston! Arrived at 6pm in darkness! Lots of water in the bilges, but no worries...into the pub for a great meal!
Bates Mill Bridge
Back down south. Pretty showery day. Shortly before Beeston Locks, we met a dredger working and and had to pull over for a while until the channel was clear. Weather brightened a little. We discovered a brand new sanitary station at Calveley- they had a card operated pumpout which lasts over eight minutes and cost only £6! We reckon these are good value compared to the boatyards – shame there are so few yet! At Nantwich we pulled into our long term winter mooring about Bridge 93. Seems a pleasant spot, with a sheltering hedge on the towpath side. Bought a new bilge pump...just in case!
The canals close down between November and March, so unless you want to spend several months in the same place, this is the time to abandon ship. Having no other home to go to, we decided to find somewhere warm to spend the winter.
So we left the boat all “shipshape and Bristol fashion”, got into the car and headed for Spain!
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