Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Conclusion of Our Summer Cruise.

Sunday 12th October, 2014 in Aston Marina.
So, we've finally come to the conclusion of our 2014 Summer cruise - and what a fabulous few months it has been. A perfect blend of historic cities, "Shakespeare" type countryside, culture, history and geography. We met so many super people along the way and we were blessed with wonderful weather.
And we've come to our own conclusion about this summer's cruise - that it has been absolutely marvellous. The Potteries, the Macclesfield canal, the Peak Forest canal, N.E Birmingham, the South Stratford canal, Stratford-upon-Avon, the rivers Avon and Severn, Evesham, Tewkesbury, Gloucester, Sharpness, Worcester, Droitwich, Stourport, the Staffs & Worcs canal - what a travelogue! We loved it all, but without doubt, the highlight was the two weeks that we spent around Stratford-upon-Avon.
MM is now happily tucked up in bed in her "home" at lovely Aston Marina and we shall be visiting her regularly over the winter - not least because Aston is exactly half way between Surrey and the Lake District, so makes a perfect place to break the journey in either direction.
As for the lockside cottage in Kinver? Who this space...
Today, we washed MM down and gave her a coat of polish to keep her looking good over the winter. The weather co-operated but it takes a long time to clean and polish all 60ft of her two sides and a roof! The Bistro closes early on Sunday, so we had our final dinner on board, which seemed most appropriate.
As if to wish us well for the coming winter, we were treated to a sunset even more spectacular than normal as the sun set behind Aston Church.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading of our travels and look forward to starting off again sometime in May next year.
In the meantime we wish you all the very best.
Robin, Marion and "Many Meetings"

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Last Leg.

Wednesday 8th October, 2014, finally back at Aston.
R made us the smiley breakfast with middle-cut bacon, eggs and tomatoes! The weather looked brightish, if a trifle unreliable. We had a birthday card to post so we walked into the town to the nearest pillar box. On the way, we passed the parish church and it was clear that very many people were congregating for a funeral.
As we walked back, we saw a black hearse approaching and M remarked that she never wanted to be put in one of "those things". To our surprise it was empty; instead of a coffin it contained a large wreath in the form of a red tractor. Following the hearse was a real red tractor towing a flat-bed trailer with the coffin strapped in the middle. We both stood there with tears in our eyes, it was very moving.
We walked slowly back to MM in silence with our heads full of thoughts.
We finally set off about midday, taking advantage of yet another window of dry weather. We were both a bit pensive, knowing that our summer cruise was drawing to a close.
At Sandon lock, our last lock of the year, M said that she felt sad that our wonderful summer was nearly over.
In keeping with our mood, it started to rain for the last couple of miles as we went under a bridge watched by a flock of curious sheep.
When we finally turned into the Marina we were both sheltering under the umbrella. So, in the end, the weather had the last laugh!
As we approached our berth, we saw Alex, the Marina manager, manoevering nb "Alison Lorraine" across the Marina and gave him a beep - he waved a welcome to us.
Our regular space, A22, was waiting for us with nb "Chestnut and "Edwin" on either side, just as we had left it in June. It was a happy/sad moment as we backed MM in and moored her up. R was amused to discover that the three pounds credit he had left on the electricity "hook-up" in June was still there! It was clear that no other boat had occupied our space while we were away!
We both felt a bit emotional and so we walked up to the Bistro for a restorative coffee. It felt like coming home.
In the evening, we went back to the Bistro for dinner and were treated to a pretty sunset as we left MM for the short walk up to the Bistro.  The sun always sets behind the parish church, making the spire a lovely feature in our photos.
Today: 5 miles, 1 lock and 2.6 hours.
Trip: 311 miles, 209 locks and 238.3 hours.
Since Launch: 1,593 miles, 1,103 locks and 1,275.2 hours.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

More Happy "Many Meetings"

Tuesday 7th October, 2014 at Weston-upon-Trent.
Rain again in the morning, but it brightened up later. It seems to be the pattern at the moment to start wet but become dry and bright in the afternoon.
We walked over to the new farm shop café on the other side of the canal for breakfast. It has a very nice patio overlooking the canal - and MM on the far side.
Unfortunately, we both considered it disappointing. It is set up in cafeteria style, so you queue at the counter to order your food and pay for it before picking up your cutlery, napkins etc. and finding a table. It must work well for a crowded lunch on a mid-summer weekend - but seemed out of place for a total of five guests for breakfast. M decided that she wanted an extra egg, so she had to get up and pay 35p at the till before they would bring it to her! The food was also disappointing, fried eggs swimming in oil and weedy bacon and sausages. Sad - but then, maybe we've been spoilt by the gourmet standards at Aston!
After breakfast, we fell into conversation with a pleasant couple, Dave and Cathy, who had a very smart compact motorhome parked in the café car park (and shared our opinion of the café!).
We admired their home on wheels and they kindly offered to show us around - but first they came to take a look around MM. They had never been inside a narrowboat and M had never been inside a motorhome, so it was a new experience for all three of us.
Their motorhome is fabulous, so comfortable and well designed. R, who has done a lot of travelling in motorhomes in the US, was very impressed indeed with how spacious it felt for a very small vehicle. We had a cup of tea with Dave and Cathy in the motorhome and chatted happily at length.
M said that she wants one - after all, there are still places in England that we can't get to in MM!
When we got back to MM, we found that R had received an email from Peter and Bridgett at Weston. We had got to know them in June on our way south when we moored outside their beautiful home and garden. We had contacted them and invited them for dinner on MM tonight and to our delight they had accepted. Hooray! So, a quick trip (or two) back to the farm shop to get a "few bits" to make a dinner for four and we were off.
Once more, we were blessed with a lovely afternoon's cruising, although definitely on the cool side. We had another wonderful encounter with a kingfisher who flew from branch to branch playing "tag" with us. At the first lock, we were greeted by a family of swans, who walked up to see what was going on.
The two locks between Great Haywood and Weston are very familiar to us now and around teatime we moored up outside Peter and Bridgett's house under the beech trees in the same spot as in June.
A tap on the window turned out to be Bridgett, confirming that they would be along later for dinner.
They duly arrived around 6:30 looking very smart and it was so nice to see them again. We had a really super evening and arranged to call by again on 29th (by car), when we will be on our way to Aston and the Lake District.
Today: 3 miles, 2 locks and 2.2 hours.
Trip: 306 miles,208 locks and 235.7 hours.

Monday, 6 October 2014

M's Trip Home for the Weekend.

Saturday 4th to Monday 6th October, 2014 at Stafford.
We woke up to heavy rain, which continued most of the day. M was going home for two nights to be there for our friend Angi who is coming to stay while she is between houses. R's reconnaissance told us that there is a regular bus service to Stafford railway station along the A34 where it crosses the canal near our mooring. Good job that we did take the bus as it was nearly two miles and we would have had a very wet walk.
M's train, the Manchester to Southampton service via Reading, arrived on time and she managed to find a seat but ended up changing seats several times as the train was crowded and seats had been reserved for parts of the journey. She said that the journey was "interesting, a bit like playing Musical Chairs!"
R spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday exploring Stafford, which has a large pedestrian central area and is very pleasant with many lovely old buildings but generally lacks vibrancy.
On Monday morning, it was raining once more as R walked in to the railway station to meet M off the train. Again, she described her journey as "interesting"; there were no services from Paddington going west, so everyone was travelling via Reading. She had picked up a "few bits" from M&S at Reading, so we were able to catch the bus straight back to MM without fighting our way round the shops (M hates shopping).
By now, the weather had improved considerably so we decided to set off and get some miles under our belt before dusk. It was a lovely afternoon's cruising along the last stretch of the Staffs & Worcs canal, new to MM but familiar to us after out 2010 trip on nb "Emma". Soon after we started, we passed the place where a canal arm used to go into the centre of Stafford.
There is a plan to restore this arm with a canal basin in the centre of town. It could certainly do with something to bring more life into the centre of town.
We had one of the best sightings ever of a kingfisher. He was sitting on an overhanging branch just a few feet away but, as we passed, he took off and flew ahead of us, the sun bringing out the irridescent colours at their shimmering best. As ever, there was no time to get the camera out let alone time to switch it on and take a picture!
The Sow Aqueduct is one of Brindley's very early structures and is much admired - although you need to be off to one side to get its best view!
Tixall Wide is a section of canal that was built to resemble a lake, apparently to placate the local landowner. R couldn't resist the sudden schoolboy urge to do a classic loop-the-loop in one go. He's so naughty! Here he is, half way round:
Before we knew it we were at Great Haywood Junction where the Staffs & Worcs meets the Trent & Mersey;we moored up here to take on water.
The junction is straddled by a very slender and elegant bridge.
We managed to squeeze in to a mooring just past the bridge next to two C&RT working boats and opposite the new farm shop café. The cafe was still under construction when we went past in June but it is now open and we plan to have breakfast there tomorrow to try it out.
In the meantime we were treated to yet another spectacular sunset.
Today: 4 miles, 1 lock and 8.4 hours (for the three days).
Trip: 303 miles, 206 locks and 233.5hours.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A Lovely Day's Cruising

Friday 3rd October, 2014 at Stafford.
In April 2010, we had spent our first night ever on board a rented narrowboat, nb "Emma", in this very spot and woke to a magical misty morning:
This morning, the view from MM was as beautiful but the mist was absent.

Despite the gloomy weather forecast, the day was dry, bright and breezy and the cruising was a delight.
We set off from Gailey after breakfast through the lock adjacent to the Round House, a well-known landmark on the waterways system.
For once, there were plenty of boats on the move so there was either a boat in front of us in the locks or one coming the other way. We realised that there are several hire bases in the area and many of these do their change-over on a Saturday, so boats were getting close to arrive early on Saturday morning.
It is a lovely stretch of waterway and even the length alongside the M6 was not without interest; to M's delight, we spotted an Eddie, "Joy Marry", heading north. There are very pleasant moorings on that stretch and M declared that she could happily have put out the picnic chairs and spent the day "Eddie spotting".
On the way, we passed Otherton's at Penkridge. We visited twice while doing our narrowboat research and even considered buying one of their boats. Sadly, it looked rather run-down.
At Park Gate Lock, we helped an elderly gentleman through with his boat "Victoria Plum". He was single handing despite having some mobility problems - very courageous. Just before the next lock he ran aground, so we threw him a line and towed him free and then helped him through the next lock.
As we were leaving the lock, somthing solid became caught in the propeller and stopped the engine dead. Fortunately, whatever it was fell off and we were able to restart the engine and continue after checking that there was no damage.
We had decided to moor on the outskirts of Stafford as M has to go home for two nights tomorrow morning. The moorings marked in the guide-books were not very appealing, being next to a couple of large industrial units, but a few hundred yards further on we found a very pleasant mooring under a line of poplar trees and opposite a house with happy hens in the garden.
Today: 9 miles, 11 locks and 6.2 hours.
Trip: 299 miles, 205 hours and 225.1 hours.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Back to Autherley

Thursday 2nd October, 2014 at Gailey.
It was cold! We both put on extra layers but by mid-day were peeling them off again as the sun came out and gave us a lovely afternoon. At breakfast, we were joined by a very tame duck who would take bread out of your hand.
We cruised past Aldersley Junction, this is the bottom lock of a flight of 21 locks that take you up to Wolverhampton and on towards Birmingham (we've not done that flight of locks yet).
Autherley Junction comes next and was the usual chaos of boats trying to get in, out and through the junction bridge all at the same time!
R reversed into the stop lock and on to the Shropshire Union Canal as we only wanted to visit our friends Pete and Annie at Napton Narrowboats and fill up with diesel before going back on to the Staffs & Worcs canal again.
It was lovely to see Pete, the Manager at Napton, who immediately recognised us and waved. Annie was on duty in the shop. We had a catch-up; it was 15 months since we saw them last. Pete had very kindly agreed to take delivery of our new perspex rear door for MM, which means that we can now have natural light in the very rear of the boat without losing heat or letting the bugs in when it gets dark.
We walked briefly up to Morrisons, about 3/4 mile away, for the inevitable "few bits" before filling up with diesel and then said cheerio to Pete and Annie, Napton Narrowboats and Autherley. We have a special affection for all of them as the very first narrowboat that we rented was nb "Emma" from here back in April 2010.
Peter waved us farewell as we went back through the stop-lock and back on to the Staffs and Worcs then turned north towards Great Haywood. We had done this section before on nb "Emma" but never with MM, so it was new territory for her. The first part goes through an area of very hard rock, therefore the "navvies" only cut a narrow passage through the rock for the canal with passing places. Naturally we came across two boats coming the other way so for a while it was trifle chaotic!
We moored up at Gailey in exactly the same place as we had moored up in nb "Emma" on our first night four years ago. It's a very pretty spot and it was a lovely evening.
R fitted the new "door" and it was declared a great success. It is only the reflection of the flash that gives it away, otherwise you would never know it was there. M is wondering how long it will be before she forgets it's there and tries to walk through it!
M went to photograph the sunset through the trees, but when she pressed the button she got more than she bargained for - where did he come from???!
Today: 11 miles, 5 locks and 5.3 hours.
Trip: 290 miles, 194 locks and 218.9 hours.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Rude Awakening!

Wednesday October 1st, 2014 at Wightwick.
Last night we moored up opposite a large empty field. Out in the country, no cars or people in sight. Err - imagine our surprise when we awoke to the sound of people and cars at half past seven in the morning just as the sun was rising!
By half past ten there were hundreds of them!

What on earth could be bringing them all to this remote field so early in the morning?
A passer-by on the towpath told M that it is a regular car boot sale every Wednesday and Saturday that draws huge crowds.
We set off after breakfast, through locks with delightful names like Giggetty and Bumblehole. One could imagine Hobbits having such names! At Bumblehole Lock, we fell into conversation with a delightful old couple out walking together. They had recently moved into the area after spending 51 years in Kent and were fascinated by the canal. There they are, on the far side of Bumblehole Lock in the photo.
We ended up giving the lady a lift to the next lock but unfortunately her husband felt that it would be too far for him to walk back, so he didn't come too.

The Bratch is a set of three locks, not technically a staircase but it feels like one, as there is only about ten feet between each lock. It's a relief to know there is a resident lock-keeper to help you through.
The lock keeper has a lovely old octagonal building by the top lock as his office.
Above the Bratch, we passed the cricket ground where, in July 2013, we were assailed by cricket balls that landed in the canal and even flew right over MM (we moved on quickly!). Now, in October, it was all closed up for the winter.
Awbridge Lock is a handsome edifice, with an elegant balustrade. There is supposed to be a galleon carved into the brickwork by French prisoners of war capture after Waterloo - but we didn't see it! 
We moored up for the day at Wightwick, which has a splendid art deco manor house; we visited it last year. Sadly it is closed mid-week at this time of year.
A sudden rain shower caused M to rush out to get in the washing which was outside on the line. By 6:30pm it was getting dark - a sure sign that the summer has drawn to a close. But what a summer!!!!
Today: 5 miles, 7 locks and 4.2 hours.
Trip: 279 miles, 189 locks and 213.6 hours.