Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wolverhampton "Wanderers"

(If you double click on any of the pictures it brings up to a decent size)
Sunday morning we returned to urban cruising after almost two weeks of weeping willows, quacking ducks, and grazing sheep and cows, interspersed with little market towns and villages with canalside inns. In fact I got to see my first kingfisher on Saturday, sitting bold as you like on a branch sticking out of the water.
A pastoral view of the Shropshire Union, south of Market Drayton

We hung around a bit at the southern end of the Shropshire Union waiting for the weather to pick up before we made our move into the Black Country. And it needs a bit of planning.  It’s a climb of 21 locks, over about 2 miles, into Wolverhampton city centre and those locks come thick and fast. Pat had to work hard and it was our biggest flight yet. It was also a cold, damp journey but four hours later we get to the top lock after only passing two other boats the whole morning. That’s where we stopped for the night, right in Wolverhampton city centre on our own. Not used to that.
However, even in large, busy  conurbations such as Wolverhampton and Dudley life on the waterways is generally fairly peaceful and tranquil. I guess that’s the attraction for most people. Indeed, after a while, one tends to get excited by the smallest things – a duck walking over the roof first thing in the morning or the swooping of swallows as the sun goes down, so when we returned to The Cat’s Whiskers after a trip to the local Spar in the village of Wheaton Aston, to find an ambulance at the top of the slope and several professional, rescue-types with their day-glow patches, hanging around our boat, we were both bemused and puzzled.
It transpired that the chap on the boat next to us, David, had a dodgy ticker, thought he was having a heart attack and had rung for assistance.
He was alone on his boat, except for his Labradoodle Ruby, who he was reluctant to leave, and the emergency services were deciding what to do with the dog when we turned up. Now Wheaton Aston is not the sort of place we had planned to spend any time in, but needs must, so we agreed to look after her until he was checked out. The poor old dog then spent all day gazing down the towpath, waiting for her master to return as we tried to reassure her.
Pat comforts "Ruby" as she awaits the return of her master

Two things became very apparent as this incident unfolded. One was how quickly the emergency services managed to get to the towpath to give assistance, which is reassuring to know, and the other was how quickly all the boats moored along the towpath came together to offer help. David returned to the boat early evening and the following morning we left in different directions but while he was away several boaters dropped by offering assistance of all sorts.
After Wolverhampton we then pushed on to Dudley. There is a lot of weeded up sections right through the Birmingham Canal Navigation, and we got most of it round our propeller. It was a problem everybody was facing, and we have revised our itinerary into Birmingham tomorrow to by-pass the worst of it.
When I was organising leisure events at John Lewis, the Black Country Museum at Dudley was often on the must-do list and never happened, so I was determined to spend a day there, at least, as we could moor alongside the site and we were not disappointed.
It is a very impressive place, and I am glad we went. Nearly every shop, house or place of interest, had a guide there to talk to you about the buildings history and all the premises came from a five-mile radius of the museum, often taken down brick by brick, numbered and then re-assembled on-site. We were also surprised to see probably the most famous narrowboat in the country, “President” was also in the basin there. Fresh from leading the narrowboat flotilla on the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant, it will haul the Olympic flame when it visits the museum later this week.
Roger can't make his mind about what will go with his Banks Sunbeam.
Pork Scratchings or a Pickled Egg!

This bridge once stood on the canal at Wolverhampton. Pub in background

The on-site pub, “The Cork and Bottle”, which used to be at Brierly Hill beside the canal,  sold Banks and Holden’s beers, so that was very Black Country, (no lager), and the fish and chips were some of the best we have ever had. Shame the prices were not in shillings and pence though. Both the drinks and food were expensive, but the trip down the mine was very interesting and it’s been around 45 years since I have been on a trolley bus.
Tomorrow morning we set off for the three-hour cruise into central Birmingham. The Olympic flame travels through the city late Saturday afternoon and my pal Paul is coming up for the weekend to give us a hand through the city’s locks and to teach us some “Brummagem”. If the event is anything like the one we saw in Wales on the Llangollen it looks to be a “full-on weekend in the nation’s second city. I am hopeful we can moor in or around Gas Street basin if possible though we have been warned it’s noisy.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

South on the "Shroppie"

I tried to work out today how much rain has fallen on TCW since we took possession of her at the end of March. I reckon it’s enough to supply Manchester with drinking water for a week at least judging by the amount of water I am removing from the bilge on a regular basis.
We continue to get rained on most days and, as far as I know, there is no real respite coming our way soon, though to be fair yesterday (Monday) was warm and today is shaping up OK as well.
If I was taking a boating holiday and hiring a narrowboat this would well and truly give me the hump, but Pat and I are made of sterner stuff. Our friends and family seem more concerned about the elements beating down on us than we are. We just moor up if it buckets down and set off again when it passes over.
That being the case, we have chugged south from Chester in short bursts, two hours here, three hours there, as we made our way to pick up the paint and other boating supplies we had ordered at a chandlery in Barbridge, and it has been a pleasant journey. The Shropshire Union Canal is very tranquil and very straight in places. I read that in its heyday it was the motorway of its time. A huge difference to the meandering Llangollen Canal.
Breakfast on TCW
We have moored mainly in rural locations, but did enjoy our time mooring above Nantwich, which is rapidly becoming one of our favourite towns on the network. We are now in East Shropshire and entertained our pals David and Caroline in Audlem at the weekend. We met at “The Shroppie Fly”, a well-known boozer on this part of the network, adjacent to lock three of the flight, and I was, frankly disappointed with the pub - with both the beer and the atmosphere.
Dave outside "The Shroppie Fly"
(What's that sticking out of his trousers)

The canal at Audlem is dominated by the 15-lock flight that climbs relentlessly as you head south to Market Drayton. Then, just when you think that is it, there is another flight of five locks to negotiate as well.
Opposite The Shroppie Fly sat a soggy Rob Pointon, a young artist, who is spending a year travelling the UK canals and painting waterway scenes on his way round. We bumped into him at Wrenbury on the Llangollen and here he was again. Check out his journey and his work at

Rob Pointon, paints by The Shroppie Fly

We had a pretty wet day on Saturday on the Audlem flight, but Dave and Caroline threw themselves into the task at hand and we made it into Market Drayton by late afternoon.
We liked Market Drayton so much we are still here and our mooring is charming. Our neighbours on the other bank are “Bill and Ben”, still doing their bit for the Jubilee celebrations. See picture.
Bill & Ben, our neighbours in Market Drayton
Also seen at “The Talbot”, a pub a bridge down from our mooring, is this sign, which I couldn’t resist taking a photo of. We had a drink there, but no sign of any ladies.
Sign at The Talbot"

I am having my eyes tested again while we are here. My right eye still aches when I am at the tiller and scanning the horizon, so it will be interesting to see if Specsavers agree with Boots in Chester. If so, I think I will need to order a new pair of specs and pick them up in Wolverhampton, when we get there in a week or so time.
Might have to check out the gingerbread connection here as well. Evidently, Market Drayton is where gingerbread was first made and our guidebooks tell us it’s a big thing in these parts, but I have seen little to suggest this.
so our next blog will be from the (BCN) Birmingham Canal Network as we should either be in Wolverhampton or those parts by then.
I have never cruised on the BCN, and am not sure what demands it will make on us. Pat seems a little nervous about us getting lost. There are so many turns, junctions and branches, and the claim that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice, looks very genuine to me. Looking at our guides there are more than enough locks to keep Pat’s arm muscles in peak condition, though.
I am sure we will have a “bosting” time. (Apologies to my pals from the West Midlands).

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

June is Busting Out All Over

I turned on the radio yesterday. “June is Busting Out All Over” came washing over me from out of the speakers. I am not sure if the DJ on the local radio station was taking the piss or he was just a big fan of “Carousel”, but clearly he must be on a different planet than most around here.
At least we knew the inclement weather was coming. We have become obsessed with the weather reports and I have the BBC, Met Office and Google Weather reports for whatever region we are in, constantly at hand. When we heard about the storms and winds coming in from the Atlantic we made the decision to make a dash for Chester, if that is possible in a boat that averages 2mph. So we got to Chester a couple of days earlier than we had planned, but that’s fine with us. It’s one of our favourite cities. We moored right in the city centre, opposite The Mill Hotel, which we have stayed in on two occasions, once with the John Lewis crowd, so I know that a good room with a water view is well over £100 a night at this time of the year. So let it rain, I say. It cost us nothing to moor there.
Another plus is that we were less than five minutes to everything we, or perhaps I should say “I”, needed. KFC, Wilkinsons, Boots, WH Smiths and Wetherspoons and even a little Waitrose, so I have been able to get a JLP fix when I need it.
It hasn’t really stopped raining though. Saturday was, I believe rain free, but every day has been gray, and Pat had her gloves on over the weekend and I have had to wear waterproof leggings over my shorts, and I did finally put a pair of socks on for a day.
We stumbled upon “David”, Chester’s town crier on Friday. He “proclaims” daily in the centre of Chester, and when he saw us he promptly put Pat in the pillory for not spending any money or having any carrier bags on her person. I had to promise to rectify the situation, and her release was conditional on a spending spree. So Pat went for Gap  and Next – I am more of a Primark boy, when it comes to value for money, so it was more shorts and espadrilles for me.  

David, Chester's Town Crier, consigns Pat to the Pillory for not having any carrier bags on her person.

The following day we were walking the walls that surround the city centre and which go past Chester Racecourse, known as the Roodee. They were having a “Jubilee” meeting, so we hung around, selected a couple of horses that finished last and next to last, and watched the 3.10 race from the elevated splendour of the city walls.

Pat backs the next-to-last in the 3.10pm at Chester races
One of the outstanding things I like about the city is its pubs. Nearly everyone has something to offer, and a story to tell, and the beers I have tried have all been served at the correct temperature in very good condition. Best of all was The Brewery Tap, serving the “Spitting Feathers” range of beers, brewed in nearby Waverton.  The pub, a Grade II+ listed hall, played host it King Charles I, but all the pubs we have tried are full of good beer.
And a hello to Narrowboat "Lily Pad" and Ian and Carol if you are out there somewhere. They were moored behind us in Chester.
So now we are almost back at Nantwich. On the way up to Chester,we stopped and ordered a navigation light, some paint and some new fenders from a chandlery in Barbridge which will not ready until Thursday so we have had a leisurely cruise back and will be back at this junction later this afternoon (Wednesday). As soon as we drew our pins and headed down the cut it started raining and is now bucketing down. I have just returned from a pint of “Ash Blonde” at the Olde Barbridge Inn, opposite from where we are moored and the towpath has flooded in the time it has taken me to drink a couple of pints.
However, compared to the weather stories we are hearing about, especially in the south-east, we have had mainly settled weather and yesterday morning we were down to T-shirts for an hour or two. Pat is getting the hang of the tiller and I hope to get her to steer into a few of the wide locks this coming weekend when we welcome our pals Dave and Carolyn, coming up to join us from Gloucester. Dave was one of my snagging crew on our maiden voyage early in April, so is familiar with the boat and Carolyn has visited as well.
Toodalo folks

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The (Cheshire) Cat's Whiskers purrs into Chester

After almost a fortnight of warm, dare I say, hot, sunny weather, its back again to leggings, waterproofs and the occasional fire, so it must be the Bank Holiday weekend.
I must say the Jubilee celebrations somewhat passed us by. I now accept the fact that we live in a parallel universe. This was brought home to me twice last week. We were queuing to go through some locks last Wednesday at Grindley Brook. It was a tranquil spot – quiet and leafy, with various birds tweeting and swallows swooping over the water. Looking up I noticed a Shell sign above the hedging. I thought I would walk through the little alleyway just down the cut and get a newspaper. What a surprise. I came out to horns blaring – cars roaring in and out and a general melee of noise and loud music. It was quite a contrast and, of course, it was the normal world that most people inhabit. The other was when we got on a bus to go into Wrexham. The bus chugged down the road at 15mph – Being more used to travelling everywhere at 2mph for weeks on end, we clung on tight. It was like being on a rollercoaster. Such is our life now. And we went in a car on Sunday. First time in nearly three months. Quite a treat, I can assure you.
Anyway, back to the Jubilee. We have been conscious of this coming up as all the shops have been full of flags and bunting and we kept saying we would get some for TCW, but when we finally got round to it, all the good stuff had gone and all that was left were paper plates. Not ideal to hang from the roof!
A lot of boaters have made the effort – some, a little too much, if you know what I mean. I just hope that a lot of it does not end up in the water wrapped around my propeller when it’s taken down this week.
We now have a garden on board TCW. Pat purchased a suitable receptacle last week and while we were in Elmsmere we visited a garden centre near the canal to buy some plants to put in it. It now sits on the roof obscuring my view of what’s approaching. Pride of place are some white pansies that are called “The Cat’s Whiskers”. We had to have some of them.
Look what the white ones are called

Pat waters her new garden

Despite the change in the weather I am still in shorts and slip ons. I haven’t seen a pair of socks in about three weeks now. This might surprise some readers and has certainly surprised Pat, as I would not normally entertain exposing my legs to the sun until it is at least 30 degrees in the shade, but I considered it time to “Go Native”.
Only one leg on show. I don't want to frighten you all.

On the wet day of the Jubilee weekend, I think it was the Sunday, we met up again with our pals Vic and Liz in Northwich.
We checked the local train time table and walked the mile or so to the little station at Wrenbury. The information board explained that if we wanted the next train to stop we had to flag it down. And it worked. Just like in “The Railway Children”, though I didn’t stand on the line waving Pat’s flannel petticoat like Bobby did in my all-time favourite film. Anyway, I’d never done that before – stopped a train by waving my hat! Pretty cool.
Vic had picked up two folding chairs Pat had ordered locally and she spent most of Monday afternoon in of them in the cratch area chatting to the boats that went by. She is delighted and as I exist to make her happy, I am delighted that we have more stuff cluttering up the boat!

Pat tucked up under the cratch cover on her new chairs
So, we are now on the Shropshire Union Canal and just arrived in Chester City Centre. We both thought the Llangollen was stunningly beautiful, but, quite frankly, I was relieved when we made the turn into the Shropshire Union. It’s just toooooo popular. Oh those queues at the locks.
We really like Chester.  It’s a city we know well, but you see a very different side of any town or city coming in by water. Really looking forward to a bit of civilization again – Wetherspoons etc, a phone and an internet signal. We might even be able to get more than four or five channels on the telly. The weather forecast is for rain and wind so if possible we will stay here until Sunday. So if you’ve never been to Chester we can confirm that we have no house guests this weekend. Give us a call.
Finally, we have just topped the 200-mile mark.