Thursday, 21 September 2017

Down Fradley with lots of help

Today was scheduled to be rainy, but it held off for most of the morning and only really got going as we were mooring. Sheila set off a bit before eight as we were keen to get to Fradley in good time in view of traffic levels yesterday. It was quite pleasant first thing and we merrily chugged along to Woodend.

Here there were two boats waiting to go down and one coming up. Both boats in front of us were heading for the Huddlesford Gathering this weekend. At least both top paddles are working at Woodend these days so it only took half an hour for us to get through. On we went to Shade House where we had to queue again for a bit. In view of the expected traffic going to the Gathering, CRT had rostered a volockie at each lock and two on Junction.

It made life very easy for Elanor and I – Sheila had the harder task juggling the boat about waiting for each lock. As usual, the lockwheelers walked from Hunts to Common. Since the fields are all down to arable production round there, it was possible to give Sally a run off lead which she much appreciated. She’s been scampering about a lot in these last few days, clearly enjoying her holiday.

For the last couple of locks we were following fellow Mercia moorers Bill and Jo on Lady Victoria – rumour has it that we are being pursued by Wynne and the other Jo in their newly repainted Voyager coming back from Streethay.

One tale we were told by a boat coming up was that Coates the Butchers in Alrewas is closed for refurbishment. A brief discussion amongst the crew led to the decision that this was an excellent excuse for having fish and chips tonight…

The forecast is fine for tomorrow with not too much wind, so we plan to finish the trip by carrying on all the way to Mercia. I’ll try and do a final post after that, then take a break until we move Sanity Again to Shobnall next month for blacking.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hardworking day

It’s been a busy day and I’m pretty weary, so this blog is going to be in the form of highlights for once.

First off, a big hello to the hirer on Olivia Ginger. We’ve been leapfrogging with them today and he’s spoken to us a couple of times to say that he reads my maunderings on here. It’s always good to know that there are more of you out there, especially on a day like today when it was quite hard to start this post…

Secondly, where did all these boats come from? We’ve seen far more traffic today on this stretch of canal than we did on the Four Counties in the height of summer. It made navigation especially tricky through the various pinch points between Rugeley and Handsacre. We made it with only two bumps, one a panicky hirer in a very narrow place and one a privateer just now who a) doesn't know the length of his boat for mooring purposes and b) didn't have the courtesy to apologise after his bow had clouted ours a mighty bang (twice).

Thirdly, Sally has distinguished herself. Elanor and I took her for a walk this afternoon which was going really well until we were on the way back. Sal found a rat by the canalside which dived into the reed bed just there. So Sal dived after it and was with difficulty persuaded to come out. Note to passing boats – if you see an animal or human struggling in the water, even over in a reed bed, drop into neutral as you pass, huh? We got Sal out, marched her back to the boat and poured a bucket of water over her, but she still smells of eau de canal.

And in the last and most important place, we made £2,630 in the charity auction which has been split between the Anthony Nolan Trust and Bloodwise. With gift aid, that's over £3,000 in total.

Tomorrow, on to Alrewas.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Mistily to Great Haywood

We got going a bit before eight today as it’s around three hours from Burston to Great Haywood and we wanted to get there between ten and eleven, it being a popular mooring spot. Normally we’d just carry on round to Tixall and come back the next morning, but Sheila and Elanor had a cunning plan to visit Shugborough Hall, so didn't want the extra walk.

It was Sheila’s turn to steer. She started off in quite a thick mist with the tunnel and navigation lights on. Sandon Lock was not long in turning up – I worked us down whilst Elanor finished sorting out things down below. Gradually the mist lifted and the lights became unnecessary. Sheila was a bit concerned even so, as we were running another wash load and she’d hoped for fine weather to get it dry.

As it’s turned out, she needn't have worried. As we arrived at Haywood it all burnt off and it’s been a very pleasant afternoon, sunny with a bit of breeze. Arriving just after half ten, there were several spaces between the junction and the lock, so our timing had worked out just right. It was indeed very busy here during the morning, with boats appearing from all directions. Mostly, steerers show a bit of sense and there have been no contretemps, though the occasional hasty person seems to think that blowing your horn is an adequate substitute for waiting your turn.

No, sir, these are the English canals, not an Italian town centre…

The visit to Shugborough went off as planned, too. Sally and I stayed on anchor watch, getting in some inner eyelid inspection time as well as catching up with minor chores like the washing up and stowing the recycling.

We’ve just had a visit from Martin who’s moored Ice Breaker a couple of boats behind. He’s on his way back to London and will probably pass us tied at Handsacre tomorrow before he turns right at Fradley. It was good to have a last chance to catch up with him before next year.

Safe boating, Martin.

Tomorrow, as I say, we’ll put in another of our double days, not stopping at Brindley Bank or Taft Wharf but going on to Handsacre, calling at Tesco en route.

Location:Great Haywood

Monday, 18 September 2017

Burston out of Stone

There’s some hope that the weather is going to improve and indeed it’s been a little better today. Sod’s Law being what it is, I expect the really good stuff will start as soon as we are back in the marina…

We’ve had a pleasant day, ambling down from Stone to the towpath near Burston. The water tank was getting empty and more laundry urgently needed doing – it’s been so hard to get things dry in the damp weather that it’s not been possible to get as much done as we need to. So we worked down the first two locks, Stone Top and Newcastle Road and, after waiting a little for the boat in front to finish and move off, tied on the water point.

Elanor took the opportunity to pop into town to do some shopping whilst I sorted the hose and Sheila started the wash load. Elanor was back waiting for us at Yard Lock by the time we’d finished, so it all came together very well. On we went down Yard and Star Locks and along the urban/rural pound to Aston. Here we had to wait for a boat to come down and another, crewed by a single hander, to come up. This latter was called Sir T Fiable and its steerer was plainly determined to live up to his boat’s name, in the nicest possible way, of course.

It is good that the cut still offers a space for the eccentrics amongst us, adding to the gaiety of nations as it does.

We had a further pleasant run to here, negotiating the always tricky Bridge 86 as we went. It's been possible to have the whirligig out this afternoon, long enough to get the clothes largely dry though it’s clouded over a bit now. This section of the Four Counties is very busy today. It’s an ever-popular ring, of course, made even more so by the emergency stoppage on the Marple flight putting the Cheshire Ring out of commission for the moment.

It’s hoped to re-open lock 15 there next Saturday but the movement in the lock wall looks quite serious and I foresee a long stoppage over the winter to sort it, quite possibly involving rebuilding the whole side of the lock and possibly part of the invert as well.

Meanwhile, we’ve got another straightforward day tomorrow, down Sandon, Weston and Hoo Mill to tie in Great Haywood.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

To the top of Stone after a good evening

We visited the Plume of Feathers last night, partly out of curiosity to see what sort of a job Neil Morrissey had made of its renovation and partly to rendezvous with James, Elanor’s boyfriend. It was a very pleasant evening in all respects. The food is indeed as good as has been described and it is certainly dog friendly in the bar area. In addition, there is a good range of ales, including the Morrissey own brews.

This morning, we had what’s become our regular start for this run. I make some tea round about seven and Sheila and I drink it in bed, simultaneously snuggling with Sally and catching up on the news online. We then get washed and dressed and eat breakfast whilst Elanor is getting up. This enables whoever is due to steer to get started sometime just after eight, usually.

It’s a shortish run to the top of Meaford where we waited whilst a shareboat, Firefly, worked up. They had left the lock below ready for us, which was handy as one of the top paddles there is not working and the lock is presently very slow to fill. We were followed down by a privateer and crossed with a Black Prince hire boat above the bottom lock. All in all, it made for leisurely boating, not a problem when we were on such a short run as it gave a chance for the batteries to get reasonably charged.

There were several spaces above Stone Top although things have clearly been pretty busy over the weekend. Leaving Elanor and Sally on anchor watch, Sheila and I made a trip to Morrisons to top up the supplies of fruit and the like. We’ve had a quiet afternoon. The weather is occasionally sunny, occasionally wet and it’s distinctly cooler with a light northerly wind. I’ve lit the Squirrel again to keep us comfortable this evening.

Tomorrow, we’ll work down the first two locks and fill the tank on the water point just below before carrying on to a rural towpath mooring below Aston lock somewhere, probably near Burston.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Down through Stoke

I said yesterday that today’s run was the usual one for this route for us, with the exception that we were starting from Westport Lake rather than Etruria, 45 minutes further on. Nonetheless, it’s still a fairly long run by our standards, around 3.5 hours and I set off just after eight. We reached Etruria top at nine and took 40 minutes to descend the Stoke locks, all of which were with us.

There’s then the steady run at a decent speed through the rest of Stoke and on to Trentham, slowing only for the occasional narrows or bridge hole and the moored boats alongside the place that advertises “Tacle and Bait, Airguns, Archery, Country and Western Line Dancing” and a 10 metre shooting gallery.

The cut was quite quiet with just a handful of boats coming the other way. By not long after eleven we were working down Trentham lock and on our way to a mooring at Barlaston. I noticed that the 48 hour mooring restriction totems have gone from the Wedgwood moorings, though whether that’s deliberate by CRT or not is another matter, of course.

We’ve had a quiet afternoon – Sally in particular is feeling very worn out after all this locking supervision.

Tomorrow, merrily on to the top of Stone, so just the Meaford four to work in a truly short day’s cruise.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Once more into the tunnel, dear friends

The plan for this cruise is to put in some long (for us) days at the start, so as to get back in ten days rather than our usual two weeks. Accordingly, we’ve come from Congleton to Westport Lake without stopping at Hall Green as we would normally. Admittedly, we’d usually go on to Etruria, but this is a better place for exercising Sally.

So we got away at half eight, Sheila steering as the rest of us got ourselves sorted out. It was a fine morning, though cold after a chilly night. Sheila was on fine form, making it through the tricky multiple bridges by the Queen’s Head without touching the sides of the bent towpath. At Hall Green, we found Andy Grindrod, former Braidbar fitter, watering his boat Northern Soul. He’s gone freelance now and is available over a wide area for fitting and maintenance work, the quality of which can be seen in various areas of Sanity Again. He’s on 07709 166240 if you're interested.

Sheila’s form continued for the turns in the flyover approach to Hardings Wood Junction and round the junction itself. We had to hang around at the tunnel for a bit as a small GRP cruiser had been sent in ahead of us. Being powered by a petrol outboard, the rules require it to be given a ten to fifteen minute start to ensure that the exhaust has been drawn away by the fans at the southern portal.

The three other boats then went in with us as tail-end Charlie. This was a bit of bad luck as the boat in front of us was Elk, smoking away like fury. To be fair, it is 72 years old, but poor Sheila emerged from the other end feeling kippered and slightly sick. The low section in the middle had been a severe trial – she’d had to drop to tickover as she just couldn't see where she was going. I think she’d rather have taken her chances with the petrol fumes.

Meanwhile, Elanor stayed out on the front, Sally keeping her company for some of the time whilst trying to persuade her to come below. It being midday, I did the washing up and then ate lunch. Forty minutes later, we were heading for Westport where we found plenty of room, though it’s now filled up pretty completely.

We’ve had a walk round the lake, accompanied by a frankly reluctant Sally who clearly felt that after all the stress of the tunnel she should be allowed to stay behind and sleep. Once she gave up on the protest, she fairly shot round in order to get home again as soon as possible. When we got back, we found Saunter Together tied not far in front of us, just the other side of the Candy Boat, indeed, and had a quick catch up with them before the rain came on.

Tomorrow, a more usual day, down Stoke and on to Barlaston.

Location:Westport Lake