Sunday, 21 December 2014

Trains, planes, automobiles and a ferry too

California has been suffering drought conditions all year… and then we showed up. In the last ten days a third of its annual rainfall fell from the skies and each evening we have been tuned into the Weather Channel on TV  in our motel room in an attempt to dodge the downpours. And by and large we have been successful.
Locals we have encountered, as we have have made our way north from Los Angeles to Vancouver have inevitably commented “You guys must right at home with this weather”. It’s certainly been colder than home, that’s for sure.
Our first day driving north from LA up the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay was amazingly dry though, but pretty overcast, but by day two, after a night at Morro Bay, a rock slip closed Highway One, a few miles short of Big Sur, and we had to make a 50 mile detour to get round it.

We check out Muscle Beach, below the pier at Santa Monica

In Morro Bay with Morro Rock in background

Morro Bay with our Chevvy Equinoz SUV
We rolled along in a big Chevvy Equinox SUV; a bit of a gas guzzler compared to what we are used to at home, but very comfortable and it stuck to the wet road like glue, which was just as well, with the dozens and dozens of hairpin bends we had to negotiate, often with a big drop down a sheer cliff and not much of a barrier between you and the roaring Pacific.
We got to Santa Cruz on my birthday. I know Santa Cruz as the Ukulele capital of the US, though we saw no evidence of that as we roamed around, just an awful lot of elderly men and women looking for hand-outs in around its famous boardwalk.
The following day we arrived in the Bay area of Oakland for the weekend. We have been to its more famous neighbour San Francisco, across the water, so were delighted when a family friend in the city of Oakland invited us to stay. Carolyn turned out to be a great tour guide and pulled out all the stops to show us the area, despite student riots upsetting her schedule.
Her pal Kate popped over bearing a variety of acoustic instruments, which included a uke. Being a Beatles fan we found a number of tune to play together and it was great to get my hand around a guitar again – it’s been a while – especially her very rare 1938 Martin which sounds fabulous and is in great condition. She thinks it is worth several thousand dollars! We had a great weekend with Carolyn, went to a concert in somebodies house, which was unique and very intimate, visited Berkeley and the old state capital Benicia and even found time for Sunday lunch in a traditional American diner.

Lunch in diner in Oakland. Not too sure about having fruit on the plate, but this is California

Kate on her 1938 Martin and me go through some old Beatles tunes.

We swapped the very “hairy” Highway One for Highway 101 on leaving Oakland, after a quick stop in Sonoma in the driving rain. 101 swoops between hugging the coast and cutting though the forests of giant redwoods which line the road and are a feature of the coastline. It certainly is a spectacular route, rain or sun. We drove some of this road back in 2003 but I couldn’t remember much of the detail. However, we did stay one night in the same motel that we did 11 years ago, for it was difficult to forget it. The Curly Redwood Lodge in Crescent City is constructed from a single giant redwood, so was a refreshing change from the Motel 6’s and Days Inns we were inhabiting most evenings.

Cruising through the forests of Giant Redwoods
By the time we crossed into Oregon and got to Florence, the weather was really starting to be a concern, so we ditched our coastal road and heading inland to pick up Interstate 5.
Now we were really moving and soon got to Portland and into Wahington State. We overnighted in its neighbouring city of Vancover, Washington. The city father’s there crow in their tourist literature that their Vancouver was founded 30 years prior to its Canandian upstart 150 miles to the north over the border. It was a pleasant stay and we could escape the rain in the giant Mall, beside the hotel.
An early morning journey on the Amtrak Cascades service from Seattle to Vancouver

And to finish our US leg we spent much of last Friday in Seattle, a city we have visited several times. Amazingly (for Seattle) it didn’t rain until we left the following morning. I like Seattle, though not driving around it. Pat is not quite as much a fan as I am. It’s the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Kurt Cabain and Starbucks though it’s main tourist claim to fame is Pike Street Market where they have turned selling fish into a comedy routine that involves a lot of throwing salmon, crabs, and other creatures of the sea huge distances between the traders to great cheers from the assembled crowd. Our overnight accommodation was in Chinatown and we had a crazy meal, ordering stuff we were not at all sure about, though we gave the “Bulls Balls” and “Pork Bladders” a miss. We worked those out. Everything we had ordered arrived in one huge bowl. Very tasty is was.

Part of the entertainment at Pike Street Market in Seattle
A three-hour train journey on the Amtrak Cascades line, brought us very comfortably, but very slowly into Vancouver Saturday lunchtime. Our internet research into how to get from the station to the ferry terminal north of the city, helped us considerably and despite driving rain, it was a smooth crossing across to Vancouver Island.
So now we are in Parksville, which is a few miles north of Nanaimo, on the islands west coast, where we are staying for Christmas and New Year with Pat’s sister Monica, Garry and all their family, who we will see over the next few days. Parksville is a coastal resort and I am looking forward to seeing it, if it ever stops raining.
Finally, I spent much of last night playing with my new uke, which I had built in the US and shipped here. I have been hoping that I would not be disappointed with it. I had high expectations… I was not disappointed.

Toodaloo chums 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Winter drawers on!

Blimey! It’s getting a bit cold now. December has arrived and with it has been some pretty cold night. But we have been nicely tucked up, snug as a bug, in our little steel tube, though our solid-fuel fire has been on permanently of late.

A cold morning at Mercia Marina. Spot TCW. We are right in the centre of the picture. Our more affluent neighbours, in their wide beams are to our right

Many of the residential boats in the marina have festooned their roofs with Christmas lights and our next door neighbour has a full-size reindeer and sleigh on his roof, along with a Christmas tree and presents. He finally switched them on today. The marina has a competition each year for the best decorated boat, and I think John, next door, is definitely in with a shout.

Our next door neighbours Christmas lights

On reflection, we haven’t been on the boat much over the last week or so. We hired a car from our friends at Enterprise last Friday and whizzed down to see our pals Dave and Caroline in Gloucester (great meal Caroline) and all their dogs. Pat really likes Gloucester and we were able to stroll around the quay again.  We spent almost a week there last summer, waiting for the Severn to subside . Then on Sunday morning we drove to Leicester to see some boating pals, Dave and Angie, who we met and cruised with on the Leeds and Liverpool this summer. They are in the process of building new houses for themselves and their daughter on a plot of land in their village. It’s an exciting project, that has not been easy to pull off. And while I recall our time in Liverpool, our mate Fred on “Chyandour” found this professional photo, taken while we were in Salthouse Docks in July. I think I am going to get a copy made by the photographer, who seems to specialise in Liverpool city scenes.  Here it is. Thanks Fred.

Anna-Jane Nielsson's shot of TCW at rest in the centre of Liverpool

Pat and Toby (star of next year's national Jack Russell calendar) get better acquainted, down in Gloucester

It’s a real novelty for us going anywhere by car, let alone having one at our beck and call, but last night I resisted the temptation of driving into Derby to the great ukulele club there, and caught the bus, despite lots of hanging around. The chap I sat next to was very useful and nimble up and down the fretboard and sang well. It transpired he used to play guitar in “Wishbone Ash”, a respected Seventies rock band, who, if my memory serves me well, had two lead guitarists. His daughter is also a member.

We both remain fairly healthy, though I always seem to have some sort of niggle. My gout came back late last week, though not nearly as bad as the last time. Pat is convinced it is self-inflicted, due to too many pints of beer, and she may be right, though the medical jury is still out on what it is caused by. Dave, in Gloucester, gets it regularly, and had some “super-douper” anti-inflamitory’s handy, which seemed to do the trick and it seems OK now.

Our pontoon pals from Jay and Ibis at The Green Man, Willington
And for a last hurrah, our pals on the pontoon went out on Tuesday evening into Willington for “Pie Night” at The Green Man. This was a bit of a mis-nomer, for the pub had just one pie on the menu, but it was very good, I must say. We aim to return to Mercia next year, which, at the moment, might be early September so we can immerse ourselves in the social scene more. And after a visit to our builders at Kingfisher Narrowboats on Tuesday, we have decided, all being well, to take the boat out of the water and into their dry dock next autumn to have it “two-packed” again. This will protect the boat, below the water line, for another three years, or possibly more. It also gives us the chance to touch up the paintwork and possibly replace our batteries, but that’s a long way off.

The boat is currently full of bags, boxes and cases. We have one case of winter clothes, for whatever, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia can throw at us and one of summer clothes, for Southern California, and New Zealand.

We leave the marina tomorrow and travel back down to Welwyn Garden City for dentists (fear a filling is due) and the doctors to get a bumper load of prescriptions, then it’s out for a major Chinese feast with our my male mates, most of whom I have known for 40 years, while Pat is joining a smaller ladies group at an Italian restaurant, both in Potters Bar.

We then have the weekend and next Monday and Tuesday to visit lots of family and friends before flying out to LA on Wednesday. I suspect the next blog will be before Christmas from Vancouver Island. We’ll wish you a Merry Christmas then.



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Buses, Basketball and Bakewell Tarts

It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but after two weeks tucked up in our marina in Derbyshire, we have stopped waking in the morning wondering where we are, and whether we need to move or stay put, and roll over. Slowly, a daily routine has emerged which involves a fair bit of hanging around bus stops, chatting to our neighbours (there’s a lot of that), a regulation longish walk along the towpath, marina or neighbouring countryside, and the occasional excursion with our “pontoon pals” to The Boardwalk, the new pub/restaurant on the other side of the marina. It’s all quite pleasant.

An autumnal towpath walk close to the Marina on the Trent & Mersey

One of the reasons we like it here at Mercia Marina so much are the transport links. Most marinas are in very rural locations. Not having a car any more means we have a certain reliance on buses and trains, and we have a lot of choice here. The bus outside the marina goes to Derby one way, and Burton-On-Trent the other and runs every hour. We are about half way between the two.

We went into Derby on Tuesday with my old work colleague Hubert, who had joined us onboard for a couple of days. The plan was to do a bit of a road trip up into the Derbyshire Dales. The forecast was for a brightish day, and we had pencilled in Matlock and Bakewell as destinations. It was a long old journey, about 90 minutes each way, and we did make it to Bakewell, had two hours there and then caught the bus back to Derby. Stunning scenery from the bus and Pat and Hubert had to have a Bakewell Tart while there, taken with afternoon tea in a very ostentatious tea room, down a little alleyway in the centre of the town.

Hubert & Pat in Bakewell

Pat enjoys her Bakewell Tart in Lavender Cafe
Last Saturday we switched to the train and visited Sheffield to see Pat’s Great Nephew Cameron in action. He is playing professional basketball for a local team just outside the city and also working as a teacher in the city.

Cam & Pat

Six foot six Cam hails from just outside Melbourne in Australia, and has played extensively in college basketball across the US, but though our international wanderings are extensive, we had never seen him play. So we were so glad when his team “The Arrows” won their match, beating a talented team from Loughborough by the narrowest of margins – just one point in it. We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Cam, though, was a little disappointed with his performance. He is playing down in London early December and we are hoping to be able to get along and see him then as we will be staying in Hendon the same weekend.

Cam in action with "The Arrows"

Back in the summer, when we were in Yorkshire, I travelled a fair distance to Huddersfield to check out a particular brand of ukulele, that I really fancied. Eagle Music in Huddersfield is the only importer of this particular American brand called “Mainland”, but they were quite expensive and I put it to one side.

I did contact the company though about buying direct from them in Illinois, after realising that we are going to be in the US and Canada this December. The price was right and they agreed to make one for me to my specifications and it was delivered to Pat’s sister Monica last week. I think it looks magnificent and can’t wait to play it. I also ordered a brown hard crocodile case for it, so it should be safe on our onward journey to New Zealand and back to the UK. So I have a Kala Tenor Ukulele for sale if anybody is interested out there. Just restrung, with a very nice tone.
My new Mahogany Mainland Ukulele, waiting for me on Vancouver Island
I must say, even if we did want to go out on the boat now, our options are limited. Our nearest lock at Stenson, whose gate paddles have a fearsome reputation, is undergoing a huge facelift and it looks like they are replacing the gates. It’s just one of dozens of locks closed during the winter months for maintenance across the country.

A lot of activity at Stenson Lock, just down the cut from the marina

So that’s about that. We have around two weeks left here, before shutting up shop and heading south for a few days before we fly out. Hope to blog before that though.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

All cruised out

After 800-plus miles this season, we finally chugged back into Mercia Marina yesterday morning. And it felt good to be back. Lots of familiar faces said hello and we didn’t waste any time before we were in the new bar/bistro at the “Boardwalk”, the new retail complex that sticks out like a finger from the main car park. There is a rolling selection of beers and the quality was good.

Our view of the new "Boardwalk" development at Mercia Marina from TCW
We are back on the same pontoon as last year, though we have moved down one spot. I was not looking forward to turning into the mooring as the marina is very open and it was quite gusty yesterday, but it was OK, and our neighbour Ian was there to lend a hand. Ian and Sarah have taken possession of a rather-snazzy 10ft wide-beam since we saw them last and we were both very impressed with the finish, both inside and out. Ummmmmm.........
The last week or so has seen us marking time as we could not come in to the marina until 1 November. That was our agreement. All this hanging about would be fine for most of our boating pals who make a point of only moving every few days, stopping to commune with nature and immersing themselves in local cultural activities. Pat and I, (well me anyway) like to keep moving, unless, of course, we are in a place or town that screams out for investigation.

We must have been mad asking for a cream roof. Always scrubbing it clean and then rinsing it off.
At Branston Water Park

Most villages you pass through or by usually have the regulation church, a Co-op or a Spar, and at least one hairdresser, and within an hour or so you can easily walk the length of the High Street, take a look at the church and have a quick pint if the pub happens to be open. Occasionally these visits throw up something interesting but it’s rare. Call me cynical (and I am sure you will) but that’s the way we cruise, though I note that we have done 100 miles less this year than last, so we are slowing down a bit.
Pat places her order at Coates the butchers in Alrewas
So we had a long weekend in the village of Alrewas, and there are a lot worse places to bide your time with 3 pubs, 2 churches, a butchers, a fish & chip shop and a Co-op. I’m sure there is also a hairdresser somewhere, but we never come across it. We both like the village, especially Coates, the butchers. It’s a popular stop for visiting boaters and Coates has a very good reputation. Not cheap, but the quality is excellent. We were there for five days this time around. And Alrewas punches well above its weight in other departments too.  Great value Sunday carvery lunch at “The George & Dragon”, plus a visit to the local ukulele club on Monday night and a return trip to the National Arboretum just outside the village.

The new Women's Land Army statue at the National Arboretum just outside Alrewas

Then it was nearly three days at Branston Water Park, just outside Burton Upon Trent: a very good mooring with a half-decent pub and a very convenient park bench close to the boat that I was able to use to as a work horse, to split a load of wood up on and cut some longer lengths down. We now have a good stash of year-old cured wood ready for when it finally gets cold. We have had the fire on most nights, but as we all know it has been very mild of late. In the mornings when I get up to put the kettle on, I have rarely had to slip a jumper on and on Thursday visitors to the water park were walking around in shirt sleeves.

Part of our wood "cache", ready for a cold snap
Late this afternoon there are fireworks at the marina. Not sure whether to watch from the back of the boat listening to “Handel’s Firework music” or venture over to where the barbecue is. Ah decisions, decisions.
Toodaloo chums


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Circling Birmingham

This is the time of the year when commuters experience “Leaves On The Line” - the sometime all-too convenient excuse for late-running trains, but we have a different take on this phenomenon. Ours is “Leaves In The Canal”, slowing us down and almost stopping us coming out of locks.
Crusing on a carpet of leaves on the North Stratford. Looks like I could do with getting over a bit.
I don’t know how many times I have had to stick the old gal in reverse to clear the prop of debris over the past few days. Dozens I would guess. And I really can’t recall this being a feature of our autumnal adventures in previous years. Might it be something to do with my new shiny, propeller. Who knows! Anyway, that’s my rant for this week.

Our moorng at Curdworth. Waiting for whatever Hurricane Gonzalo can do to us.

 I write this as Hurricane Gonzalo, sweeps through the Midlands. We have holed up for the day beside a little village called Curdworth, between Birmingham and Fazeley. We are in a wooded cutting, by a small tunnel. We had considered stopping at a more open location, but this offered a degree of shelter from the strong winds and the trees are solid. There is little dead wood around. It looks like a good place to shelter. We are hardly moving and after just going on to “Facebook” I see from a couple of boating sites that boats are already adrift in some places.

I didn’t blog last week, because we had not gone anywhere or done anything much. We enjoyed our week or so in central Birmingham and got everything done we had set ourselves, the most important being getting Pat’s ears sorted out, which we eventually did at a drop-in clinic in the city centre.

The centre of Birmingham, around Brindley Place
We decided that as we still have a couple of weeks to kill before we go back into a marina for the winter months, to do a bit of circular route around the city, which is relatively easy, via the Worcester & Birmingham, and the North Stratford-On-Avon, before turning left and coming back into the city via the Grand Union. A big chunk of this was shared by our old pal Bobby, who left his good lady at home and spent three very enjoyable days with us. He’s pretty good on the helm, so I was able to help Pat with some locks, especially on the long Lapworth flight.

Pat & Bob at top of Lapworth Flight

Bob takes the helm as we approach the bottom lock, but one.
 I must say coming into Birmingham from the south is not too pleasant, once you have cleared Solihull and Acocks Green, especially around Sparkbrook, but we found a decent mooring in Bordesley on Sunday night and made a dash for here on Monday. As in most urban locations there is a lot of junk in the cut, and although there were the usual scrapes and bumps from the subterranean depths, we did not have any of the problems we had last time we cruised through the city and hardly saw any shopping trollies or submerged furniture.

Another side of Birmingham. Your welcome to Sparkbrook
Our overnight mooring on Sunday night at Bordesley

I did some calculations last night and by the time we return to Mercia Marina we will have done 2,250 miles and a massive 1,900 locks and swing bridges over the three seasons we have been cruising. Not bad at a average speed of just under 2mph. Just 600 miles this season though.

Naughty boys doing "CommunityPayback" on the towpath near Minworth. Seemed very cheerful
Fazeley tomorrow, weather permitting, and we should be back in Alrewas for the weekend on the Trent & Mersey. One of our favourite moorings.

Toodaloo chums


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Back in Brum

I think we both let out a huge sigh when we arrived in Birmingham city centre last Sunday afternoon. We made it before it started bucketing down (which was threatening all day) and it was good to be back in familiar territory. And there are not many city centre locations on the waterways that I can say that about. Though one thing I have learnt about myself since we started boating is as much as I enjoy the delights of the British countryside I am really an urban boy at heart and look forward to mooring in a metropolis.

We took the journey down the Shoppie and up the 21 locks into Wolverhampton at a slow pace. I can now almost function normally now, so can hop off the boat and do gates and paddles, making a bit easier for the First Mate.
Not far from Autherley and Wolverhampton. Where is everybody?
But there was no-one around. Last Friday, when we did the Wolverhampton locks, we saw nobody all day – going up or coming down – and then, on the run into Dudley, it was much the same. I think one boat went past. Quite strange really, especially as the weather was dry and bright.

We were going to moor at the Black Country Museum but stopped a bit short of there and stayed in Tipton Green on Friday and Saturday nights on a mooring we used two years ago. One reason was to visit Mad O’Roukes Pie Emporium. On previous visits I have often hankered to visit this place, renowned for their 4lb Desperate Dan Cow Pies. As a bit of self-appointed international pie expert, an opportunity like this could not be ignored and as soon as “Strictly” finished on Saturday night, we were there.
The Desparate Dan Cow Pie arrives. Down to business
It was very good – a thick mixture of steak, kidney and vegetables, complete with pastry ears. I must say though, it was a bit of a struggle, even for a greedy bugger like me, but I made it, and got the certificate to prove it. Interestingly, the certificate gives directions to the local A& E at the bottom! I think if you also order a dessert, they have an ambulance standing by too. The music was good and everybody was singing along. The beer wasn’t bad either, though I am still very restrained in the drinking department.
Mission completed. Now where's my certificate?

Ahh there it is. Complete with directions to the nearest A&E and a note to "Get Well Soon"
We came into Birmingham city centre, via the old line. Birmingham, as many of you non-boaters are probably aware, has a plethora of canals, jutting out in all directions, but arriving from the Black Country you can take two possible routes, that run almost parallel. We took the old line this time, and much preferred it.
We have scheduled a week here. That was always the plan, but has been reinforced by the weather. Like most of the country we have had a lot of rain and wind and it’s no fun boating in those conditions if you can avoid it. It seems that it’s going to be much of the same for the next few days so I would rather be in a city where we can do “stuff” than be moored by a muddy towpath, miles from anywhere, but I know that’s paradise for a lot of my boating pals.
Hubert joins us to fill up with water at Cambrian Wharf
An old John Lewis pal of mine visited us on Tuesday and stayed over until yesterday. I’m not sure what Hubert made of it all. We were able to travel down to Cambrian Wharf to fill up with water, during a break in the rain, and then I made an almighty mess of winding there (turning around). The wind got up, my bow thrusters ran out of battery, and it all got a bit messy. Still it was good to see him and catch up with his news.
We have a long list to things we do here in Birmingham. Pat has a blockage in one of her ears that needs sorting out and she has been going into the drop-in clinic in the city centre. She is there this morning. 

Clutching a temporary library card I prepare my assault on the new City of Birmingham Library
Meanwhile I have decamped into the new multi-million City Library for the day, to do this blog (free Wi-Fi) and start printing out car hire, hotel and other travel receipts, as we start to  crank up our plans for this winters’ excursion. I love it in here – there is a huge music library in the basement and I am considering spending the rest of the day here. It’s pouring down outside, so I might as well stay put.
Unfortunately I am going to miss the Moseley Ukulele Group (Mosele), They are one of the finest clubs in the country, and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I have visited a few over the last couple of years. They meet twice a month and the meeting is next Wednesday. I was looking forward to bashing out a bit of “Slade” and “ELO”.
Next Monday we leave the city, rain or shine. On Tuesday we are picking up an old pal Bob, in Shirley, who is staying on for a few days. Looking forward to that.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Propped up at Norbury

After limping through much of Cheshire and Shropshire, the Cat’s Whiskers now sports a brand new, sparkly bronze propeller, fitted at Norbury Wharf on Sunday. I can’t say it has made an enormous amount of difference to the boat’s performance, but at least we go in a straight line now,
The Cat's Whiskers waits by the wharf on Sunday morning to go into dry dock

Back she goes down the small arm to the white building at the end

We slowly back in beside the other boat
It was the first chance we have had to look at the boat below the water line, since she was commissioned, nearly three years ago now. Generally all is well, but there a few places around the water line where you can see a bit of clear metal and the boatyard at Norbury has advised us to re-cover it at the earliest opportunity. So we are now planning some time in dry dock around Easter time, to “two-pack” it, and tidy up the bits of paintwork that I can’t get to easily. I am hoping it will be at Trent Lock, where the boat was fitted out.

With the water all gone we could have a good look around her below the water line
The new propeller is fitted. Thank goodness we got insurance cover to cover this eventuality

A real feature of the weekend has been the opportunity to meet up again with Fred and Lisa on “Chyandour” who are the owners of the boat built by Kingfisher Narrowboats after “The Cat’s Whiskers”. Unlike me, Fred is very practical, and we have been able to resolve a few issues with the boat, especially the central-heating system, that neither Pat or I had ever been able to fathom. It involved getting an engineer in eventually, but seems to be OK now. And while the ladies enjoyed “Strictly” on Friday and Saturday night, Fred and I repaired to the pub for a pint or two, though I was conscious that my gout would suffer if I imbibed too much, so kept my consumption to a sensible level.

With Lisa and Fred on Chyandour, just before we left Norbury Tuesday morning
Norbury Junction is really in the middle of nowhere - somewhere in Shropshire - but you certainly wouldn’t know that from the level of activity around the basin. There’s a thriving pub/restaurant, and the wharf offer a huge range of boating services, a cafe, a small hire fleet and some of the cheapest diesel around.
The day we took the boat into the dry dock turned out to be a very warm, sunny day for the most part, and the pub garden round the corner was full of families, dog walkers and others, drawn to the waterside, by the good weather. It didn’t take long for the engineer to change the prop over – about an hour or so. It took longer to empty the dock and then refill it. We had Sunday lunch in the pub and by 3pm I was pulling out of the dock and mooring up. It all went very smoothly.
Pat's Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding. It was "deelish"
I continue to hobble around, though I must say, compared with a week ago, my gout is much improved. So it looks like that is going away slowly, thank goodness. Pat’s got a small problem with one of her ears though. So, when we get to central Birmingham next week she will seek out a “drop-in” surgery, and get that sorted out.

We spend an hour or so Sunday night, putting together a schedule that will get us back to Mercia Marina at Willington, for 1st November. We have decided to spend a whole week in central Birmingham next week. We’ll probably have to move a couple of times, but there are several places to moor in and around Gas Street and we really like the area. From there we are doing a circular route around Birmingham, taking in the Stratford-On-Avon and Grand Union canals, before returning to Derbyshire, via Fazeley and Fradley Junction.

Toodaloo Chums

Friday, 26 September 2014

"Wich" country

Hello friends. This week’s scintillating blog sees the First Mate and myself in Shropshire, after navigating the “Wich’s”. And there are a lot of them around here. We visited Middlewich and Nantwich during the last week and ticked off Northwich earlier in the year, when we visited via the Anderton Boat Lift. And I’m sure we've missed a few along the way as well.
My belligerent crew
So we have swapped Cheshire for Shropshire, and looking outside a light breeze is gently blowing through the oak tree opposite, sending a slow cascade of leaves into the water. So the season of mists, etc... is almost upon us, and with “Strictly” starting in earnest this weekend, I think we can say that autumn has arrived, though Pat has just informed me that the press are reporting another mini heat wave to hit us early next week. Well, twenty degrees or so. That’s pretty hot in these here parts.

Pat plants out the front garden for the autumn
I’m still limping around, though have hung up my walking stick. I list to port a bit, and go anywhere quite slowly, but I am adapting OK. I thought I would be over it by now, but it looks like my “Gout Attack”, is not going to go away quietly. At least I can cycle, so have been getting a bit of exercise from pedaling to the local supermarkets for the daily essentials, as we have made our way slowly south. I’m not getting much sleep though.

A possible cause of this condition is too much beer. I went nine days without having an “onboard beer” or visiting any of the lovely pubs we passed. Something of a personal best for me, but I am determined to get rid of this complaint, even if it means I have to give up beer all together. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Let’s just say I am planning a few non-drinking days each week. This was quite difficult on Monday, as we arrived at Audlem, a very attractive canal village that features a very famous canal pub “The Shroppie Fly”. The pub was awful last time we came through, very run-down and unwelcoming, but it’s been completely renovated, and I just had a peek through the window. Honest. Oh, and it’s called “The Shroppie Fly” after the fast “Fly” boats that used to ply from London to Cheshire in four days in the early years of the 19th century. For the canal we are on, The Shrophire Union, was very much the motorway of its day, with huge long stretches. It’s very remote, and is a lot of boaters favourite.
The Shroppie Fly, right on the canal at Audlem
It’s been a quietish week on TCW. My old school pal, Vic, in New Zealand, asked us if we could have a look at a boat he was interested in purchasing when he returns to the UK next spring. It was at a marina we were passing and it was a nice diversion. This we duly did, and reported back. On Sunday we met Vic’s Partner Liz, in Nantwich for lunch. Liz and especially Vic flit back and forth to NZ more than we do. Good to see Liz though, who has now retired and has rented out her house near Crewe. It’s made her strictly homeless but she has no regrets and looked really well. We’ll see both of them in Wellington when we arrive there next January.
Pat and Liz
So we had the weekend in Nantwich, which is a very attractive town and then another couple of days in Market Drayton. When we visited two years ago, the town centre looked pretty run down, but things looked a whole lot better now. Good moorings and as it is now the home of “Joules” Brewery, I broke my nine-day beer abstinence with a pint of their “Gold” at the Brewery tap.
These long straights on the Shropshire Union are a feature of the canal
Tomorrow we will be at Norbury Junction, where we are staying, at least until Monday. The boat goes into dry dock there at the Wharf on Sunday to have its propeller inspected and probably changed. It will the first chance we have had to see TCW out of the water since we started this boating lark.

Our boating pals Fred and Lisa are meeting us, coming up from the opposite direction. If all goes to plan we should be in the centre of Birmingham the following weekend. We both like Birmingham, though getting out of the city takes a good day, with loads and loads of locks to look forward to.