Sunday, 25 September 2016

An Unexpected Treat and a Day Off.

Sunday 25th September, 2016 at Autherley Junction.
A pretty morning and, based on the forecast for sunshine and a lack of rain, M did a wash and hung it on our rotary washing line to dry. The forecast was inaccurate (as usual!) as there were showers all day but there was also sunshine, so the washing did dry - much to M's satisfaction!
For the last two nights, we had moored under trees, so MM's roof was covered in leaves, twigs and generous but unwelcome donations by birds roosting in said trees. We always try to avoid mooring under trees, but sometimes there's no choice. R set to work to brush all the bits off the roof and then to wash it down, while M cleaned the windows and the bow deck, all of which bore the evidence of the number of locks that we have done recently.
Peter and Annie, who run the hire base at Napton, have become friends over the years and we spent a happy hour in their shop having a lively catch-up and a welcome cup of tea. Peter very kindly allowed us to move MM to their service bay so that the washing was not under any trees (or birds).
When passing Wolverhampton Boat Club (one mile back along the canal) yesterday, we had been surprised to see a small notice advertising a play with music based on the subject of the "Idle Women" of World War 2.
To our delight, the performance was scheduled for 1:30 today. We had been aware of the touring show but had never expected to be in the right place at the right time. As soon as we saw the notice, we had decided to moor up for the day and to walk back to see the show.
So, we walked the mile back up the canal to the Boat Club where a fairly lively crowd had already gathered and we were welcomed with open arms and an open bar. We purchased some raffle tickets and two glasses of local real ale. We rarely drink beer but it felt appropriate on this occasion.
There was no charge for the event but there was a retiring collection for the two performers, who appear as "Alarum Theatre". R sat down to enjoy the ale and study the program.
The first half was a one woman play called "Isobel's War", beautifully researched, written, directed and performed by Kate Saffin. It told the story of a "typical" young woman who joined the boats, was trained by Kit Gayford (one of the leading trainers) and then went on to crew her own boat for the next year. The second half consisted of poetry and songs written and performed by Heather Wastie and called "Idle Women and Judies", the later term referring to women who served on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, who were known as Judies.
The picture on the front of the program is a well known publicity shot taken of a lady called Audrey during the war, posing with the long shaft on the butty "Dipper". Audrey, Evelyn and Anne were the crew of the motor "Sun" and the butty "Dipper".

It was a brilliant performance and much appreciated by everyone present, all in all a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. The two ladies are always on the look-out for  new venues and we couldn't help thinking what fun it would be to get all our narrowboating friends together somewhere back home to see it - they would love it!
To top it all, we won the raffle twice! But we took only one prize - some chocolates for R.
On the way up, we had walked part of the way on the road as the towpath was on the opposite side of the canal and the bridge across to the Boat Club was locked.
Luckily, one of the members offered to unlock the gate on the bridge for us so that we could get across the canal and walk back on the towpath.
We walked back to MM in sunshine.
Across on the other side of the canal to MM was nb "Victoria", hired by Charles, Emma and their friends from Napton's in September 2010.
A pretty sunset brought an end to a nice relaxing day.
Today: No miles but 3.0 hours for power.
Trip: 447 miles, 308 locks and 311.4 hours.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

St. Lawrence Church and a Hungry Horse.

Saturday 24th September, 2016 at Autherley Junction.
Another sunny morning.
We decided to walk into Gnosall village, as we have many fond memories of happy times spent here with our dear friends Annie and Paddy. They lived for many years in Brook House before moving to the Forest of Dean. It is a handsome house with a beautiful garden and we would have loved to buy it from them but unfortunately it's just a bit too far from the children and grandchildren.
Paddy used to ring the bells in St. Lawrence's Church, which is a magnificent example of Norman architecture.
The church was hosting a harvest festival and craft exhibition and we spent a happy hour looking around and talking to some of the volunteers on duty. R was particularly interested in the history of the town and got talking to Bob Johnson, the local historian, who had lots of information about Brook House - much of it furnished by Paddy. Everyone we spoke to remembered Annie and Paddy and asked to be remembered to them.
Back at the canal, we were being watched from above. R wandered over and made a new friend, who spent his whole time trying to grab the shopping bags out of R's hands. He was clearly a hungry opportunist!
We left Gnosall just after midday and almost immediately came to Cowley Tunnel. This is another testament to the incredible achievements of the navvies who build the canals. The tunnel is unlined and just hewn out of solid rock.
It used to be a lot longer but, soon after it was completed, it was found that the rock forming the roof at the north end was fractured and unstable so the roof of that part was removed.
Bridge 10, "Avenue Bridge", is a particularly handsome bridge and an example of the many bridges designed to placate local landowners and persuade then to allow the canal to pass through their land. In this case, the avenue over the ornate bridge led to Chillington Hall, home to the Giffard family for over eight hundred years.
The Shropshire Union Canal was one of the later canals, completed in 1835 after ten years of work. Unlike the earlier canals, its engineer, Thomas Telford, didn't follow the contours but built in straight lines with deep cuttings and high embankments. The embankments proved particularly difficult as they kept subsiding; however, the views from them now are often spectacular. From them, it is even possible to see the Wrekin, some fifteen miles away.
During the course of the day, the wind gradually got stronger and stronger. It was buffeting us in our faces all afternoon making the going quite hard.
It was a relief to tie up at Autherley Junction in time to say a quick hello to Peter, who runs the hire boat centre there and from whom we hired our first ever narrowboat together. He was just leaving, but we promised to catch up in the morning.
Despite the wind, there were traces of a pretty sunset.
Today: 13 miles, 1 lock and 4.7 hours.
Trip: 447 miles, 308 locks and 308.4 hours.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Miscanthus, Tyrley Locks and on to Gnosall.

Friday 23rd September, 2016 in Gnosall
The magnificent sycamore tree on the little green opposite our mooring was reflected in the water and looked lovely in the light of the rising sun. It is a real centrepiece for this little housing development.
To our surprise, we realised that Terry was now on board "Shropshire Lass". He and R called cheerfully to each other across the canal and briefly exchanged news. He was just setting off with two students on a three-day training course - in just the same way as we had started the course with him eight years ago. We could just hear Terry's gentle voice saying "tiller more over towards me..." as they manoeuvered towards the bridge in the distance. Happy memories!
We walked into Market Drayton as M wanted a "few bits" and R felt that he needed a coffee. Last time, we had walked in on the road but this time, we found a series of grass-covered footpaths that took us right into the centre of town. Much nicer!
Since our last visit, Market Drayton has acquired a Costa but R loyally decided to go back to the little tea room we have used in the past; after all, their trade must have suffered since Costa opened. Market Drayton is a pleasant little town with some fine buildings but we have been here many times, so we didn't linger this time.
Not long after setting off, we came to the Tyrley flight of five locks. These five locks were hewn out of solid rock, a tremendous achievement.
The trees still somehow manage to take root in the rock face; this one looks positively serpentine.
Every lock has a "bywash" that routes surplus water round the lock. The bywashes on the Tyrley flight make life very difficult as they direct their flow straight across the mouth of the lock and today there was a massive amount of water flowing down them. Even R had great difficulty holding MM on a straight course into the locks. In fact, the hire boat in front of us ended up broadside at one point and M had to go and help haul them round on their centre rope.
Beside the fourth lock is a massive field of enormously tall elephant grass. It is easily ten feet tall and towered over M as she took this photograph. It is called Miscanthus and is a perennial that is one of the most environmentally friendly ways of producing biomass for renewable energy. It will grow up to 10ft tall each year for fifteen to twenty years, we know this field has been there for at least five years! It is harvested in the spring, when it is a golden colour and the moisture content is low. It then sprouts again and the cycle continues.
The former wharf buildings by the top lock have now been converted into charming residences. However, after Cadbury stopped using the site as a wharf in 1932, the buildings had a chequered career over the years, being used at various times as a Parish Hall, a meeting room, a Sunday School, a Reading Room and a Polling Station before falling into disuse in the 1970s.
We see many herons by the canalside. Some are brave and stand still as we sail past but the majority take flight after nervously watching us approach - as this one did. They are quite ungainly as they take off with their spindly legs dangling.
Tyseley is the narrow boat used by the Mikron travelling theatre, who perform all round the country, usually in canalside pubs. We were a bit mystified to see it moored here as they have no performances scheduled anywhere near here before the end of the season. We know because we always check where they are performing and this will be the second frustrating year when we have never been close enough on our travels to see them. They are truly accomplished, writing and performing their own original and entertaining plays and music each year.
High Bridge in Grub Street Cutting on the Shropshire Union Canal is unique in having the shortest telegraph pole in the country.  It is a remarkable sight!
By teatime, we reached Gnosall and moored up for the night.
Today:14 miles, 5 locks and 6.0 hours, 1 heron
Trip: 434 miles, 307 locks and 303.7 hours.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Another 20 locks.

Thursday 22nd September, 2016 at Market Drayton.
Today was officially the first day of Autumn. Unofficially, it truly was autumnal although still quite warm and with a blue sky.

We had decided to make an early start as ahead of us were two flights of locks, the Audlem flight of 15 locks and then the Adderley flight of five locks. We hoped that by starting early, we would have the flights to ourselves and be able to go at our own speed. At 7:41, we set off and cruised very quietly past Rufford. Jenni's face appeared at the window to wave farewell to us.
Within a hundred yards, we approached the first lock of the day.
After the first two locks, we saw this beautiful old lock-keeper's cottage in the "Telford" style. So sad to think that in the 1960s, British Waterways emptied several hundred cottages like this of their tenants and let the houses decay and fall down because they didn't want to let people have access to them via the towpath. Just think what that property portfolio would be worth today!
As we passed this cottage, a moored boat started up and went into the third lock ahead of us. Our hearts sank as it meant that all the next 13 locks in the flight would be against us. Putting aside any disappointment, M went on ahead to help them through the lock. Unfortunately for them, their throttle cable snapped as they were leaving the lock, so they moored up above the lock. We offered to help but there was nothing that we could do. We felt very sorry for them as they were on a one week hire and the delay, waiting for the hire company to fix it, would probably cost them at least a day.
As a result, the next nine locks were in our favour and we sped through them with M doing a brilliant job of lock-wheeling - setting the next lock in the flight to be ready for MM. (note from M - R did a brilliant job too!).
As we approached the 13th lock, we found that there was a boat in front of us which had moored overnight in the middle of the flight. He was "single-handing" so M went ahead to help him through the last three locks, which speeded up his progress and so also speeded up ours.
After the 15th Audlem lock, there was a short pound of about a mile before the five Adderley locks. Again, M helped the single chap through, which speeded up our own progress too.
Finally, just four hours after starting, we went through the top lock and were able to moor up at last for a well earned breakfast (or brunch)! It was a lovely rural spot and a tractor crossed the bridge behind us as we moored up (a John Deere, M's favourite).
Beside the top lock, there was a local farm stall selling home made produce. It was unmanned, with only an honesty box for purchases.
Stalls like these are true gems and not that common. Among the goodies on sale (at very reasonable prices) were home cured bacon and ham, homemade sausages, pork pies and black pudding, lamb chops, T-bone steaks, free range eggs, a home made rhubarb tart and chocolate chip cookies.
M was sorely tempted by the rhubarb tart but settled for eggs, cookies (for R) and a pork pie, which she declared to be the best she had ever had.
The hedgerow beside MM was laden with sloes and, for once, they were easily within reach, although there were stinging nettles lurking at the bottom.
M gathered some sloes to make sloe gin for the winter.
After our breakfast/brunch, we set off again southwards towards Market Drayton. We are very familiar with the moorings there, having spent many happy times there over the years. Our first visit was with Terry Robertson on his boat nb "Shropshire Lass" when we were doing our Helmsman's Course eight years ago. Imagine our surprise as we arrived in Market Drayton to see Shropshire Lass in the private moorings! There was no sign of Terry, though.
We moored up on the visitors' moorings opposite Shropshire Lass and facing a very attractive terrace of town houses, one of which we seriously considered buying six years ago.
As the temperature had dropped significantly, we put up our glass panel on the back door to keep the cold out but let the light in. Through it, M photographed the sky as the sun set.
Today: 6 miles, 20 locks and 5.4 hours.
Trip: 420 miles, 302 locks and 297.7 hours.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Nantwich and Audlem.

Wednesday 21st September, 2016 at Audlem.
Another pretty day dawned, a little cooler than yesterday but we have been so lucky with the weather this summer.
After breakfast, the crews of MM and Rufford conferred briefly to decide on a plan of action for the day. Jenni & Co decided to go on towards Audlem but we chose to linger awhile to go into Nantwich and visit the marvellous bookshop/coffee shop once more. We said that we would catch up with Rufford at Audlem later in the day and we waved them off shortly afterwards. Will and Ed's skippering skills are certainly coming along apace!
On the way into town, R renewed an old friendship; however, he said the conversation was a bit wooden and definitely one-sided.
Nantwich was largely destroyed by a great fire in 1583, which lasted for almost three weeks. Efforts to dampen the flames were said to be "considerably hampered" by four bears, who had been thoughtfully released for their own safety! The town was rapidly rebuilt and many of the surviving timber frame buildings date from 1584 - including this one, sandwiched between two modern horrors.
The small plaque on the first floor reads:
"God grante our Ryal Queen in England longe to raign for she hath put her helping hand to bild this town again"
It seems that Queen Elizabeth was concerned that vital salt production should not suffer and so donated £1,000 towards the reconstruction of the town.
The bookshop/coffee shop, also built in 1584, is a bit on the wonky side; it sags in the middle, having been built over the filled-in moat of the old castle.
A notice outside indicates that dogs are welcome as well as "Husbands on a tight lead!" R remarked that it's a dog's life anyway!!!!
Inside, the oak floorboards are said to be original (1584!). The coffee was certainly excellent, as was the cake, and the range of books tempting.
We walked back to MM after a short detour to M&S and Boots - just for the essentials, of course!
M steered MM expertly out of Nantwich across the aqueduct and we soon passed the "Secret" Bunker, which we visited with Jamie and Alex in 2013. There are notices for miles around announcing the whereabouts of the "secret" bunker!
We turned into Overwater Marina to refuel. It has just won "Marina of the Year" for 2016. We certainly commend the staff for the first class service that we received and the facilities looked to be excellent, but we did not stop to sample them as we were keen to catch up with Rufford.
Jenni & Co were already moored up just below the Audlem locks when we arrived at tea time. They had already winded as they want to go back up to their base at Nantwich tomorrow.
When we had moored up, we walked up to Audlem Mill, which is renowned throughout the boating community as an excellent arts and crafts shop selling everything boating as well as a range of needlework items and haberdashery. Oh, and Snugbury's ice creams!
It was here that we picked up Jamie and Alex in 2013 on our way to Middlewich.
How many thousands of horses have trudged this way with their tow ropes cutting into the iron?
Back at the boats, we had tea and biscuits on board Rufford before saying farewell to Jenni & Co. It was super to see them again and hopefully we shall visit them in Huddersfield before Christmas.
Today: 6 miles, 2 locks and 2.6 hours. One kingfisher.
Trip: 414 miles, 282 locks and 292.3 hours.