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.


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A walking stick or a crutch sir?

I felt officially old yesterday. A nurse in a NHS pop-in clinic gave me a walking stick and told me I’d got gout. “Gout”, I exclaimed, “I thought that was a Victorian condition”. “Oh, it’s quite common she said”, as matter of fact as you like. “Now would you like a walking stick or a crutch"?

So, it looks like I can’t hide behind my boyish good looks and charm anymore. It’s certainly not the best of looks, bent double, hobbling along the towpath clutching a walking stick, but I am confident the anti-inflammatory tables she thrust in my hand will ease the pain considerably, though 24 hours into the regime, it still seems like someone is sticking pins into my foot.

Oh well, I suppose the stick will come in handy hooking stuff out of locks
On checking t’internet it appears I am far from alone, and it is quite common of men “of a certain age”. A bit too much red meat, beer, and an extra few pounds round your tummy seem a sure-fire recipe for a Gout attack. So be warned. You know who you are.

Anyway, to boating business. The First Mate is back, after a whirlwind two weeks in New Zealand, and I met her off the train last Thursday. Considering she had been travelling for 24 hours she seemed very chipper. We decided to stay in Congleton for the weekend. It’s an attractive Cheshire market town, called “Beartown” locally, and we had a good mooring, beside an aquaduct on the outskirts of town.  A barman in Wetherspoon’s told me that “Beartown” refers to an incident in the 17c when the town’s bear they used for baiting was old and past it, so the local council gave the money it had been saving for a new bible towards buying a new bear, thinking it very good business sense. Evidently this caused outrage in neighbouring towns who could not see the fiscal benefits. There’s a “Beartown Nursery”, “Beartown Brewery”, “Beartown Cabs” and even a “Beartown Bare Miss” as the picture shows. There’s probably loads more. We really liked Congleton.
Ms Dee Cup, The Beartown "Bare Miss". I kid you not

We hired a car for the weekend from Enterprise, did a lot of food shopping on Saturday at Waitrose in Leek and on Sunday drove to Huddersfield for the second Great Northern Ukulele Festival. Loads and loads of folks clutching ukes, ready and willing to whisk them out at the slightest encouragement. Headlining on Sunday evening was the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who joked that they may have to change their name after this Thursday. They were superb and very funny. I’ve been wanting to see them for a long time, but we always seem to be away somewhere when they tour. You would not think you were watching eight people playing ukuleles. Check ‘em out on YouTube.

Mid-day thrash on stage. The silver-haired couple on the right of the picture, Tony & Jane, were moored at Mercia last winter. We had no idea they were coming.
Rog tries out his favourite Uke brand, an American Mainland Tenor in Mango
The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain.
I mentioned a while back that we were having problems with our propeller on The Cat’s Whiskers, after hitting all sorts of debris in and around Manchester. Our boating pal Fred on “Chyandour” rang me to say he’d had a similar experience and recommended a place on the Shropshire Union who could do the job, fairly quickly. “Try your insurance company”, he suggested. We did, and it looks like they will pay for it, some £650. We have to be at Norbury Junction in two Sundays time, when they will put TCW into a dry dock and do the work. At present we are just crawling along on tick-over.  Yesterday afternoon we said goodbye to the Macclesfield Canal and re-joined The Trent & Mersey, so it’s Nantwich this weekend and Norbury Junction the following weekend. We have a spot of good weather to look forward to, so it should be an enjoyable trip. It’s territory we know well.
And finally, and quite sadly for Pat and myself, we heard earlier this afternoon from our tenants that the last of our cats had passed away. Molly was a good age and seemed to have been around for ever. A proper little madam at time, but very affectionate.
My old mate Miss Molly. We reckon she was about 15 years old

Toodaloo chums  

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Deep in the heart of Cheshire

I thought Happy Valley was where the Jolly Green Giant lived or was a race course in Hong Kong. Clearly I was wrong for as we continued our cruise down the Macclesfield Canal last weekend we found that we had strayed into this depression, deep in the heart of Cheshire. Actually we were in Bollington. Heard of it? No, neither had any of us, but it is well-known in the area as the home of “White Nancy”, a folly or landmark that overlooks the small town. It’s a bit of climb up there. I know that for Paul, one third of our present crew, fancied taking a closer look and persuaded Malcolm and I to make the ascent, and that prior to our Sunday lunch in a local pub it would be good to take some exercise.
The Three Amigos at "White Nancy". The 50 does not refer to our waistlines, but commemorates the 50th anniversay
of the local arts festival
White Nancy from the boat
View from "White Nancy". The Cat's Whiskers is pointed out, deep in "Happy Valley"
The views from the top were sensational. Last Sunday was clear and fair, and you could just make out Liverpool on the horizon. The telescope at Jodrell Bank was also visible. We could just make out the boat, sitting between two clumps of trees, as you can make out from the pictures. And who or what is “White Nancy”. Nobody seems to know, though it’s thought it is a relative of the gent who built the structure in Victorian times.
So we didn’t stay for the brass concert in Marple on Sunday and instead travelled down to Bollington on Saturday afternoon. It was a good cruise – no locks – so we made good progress and arrived in “Happy Valley” late afternoon. This really is the name of the area around here, and it is extensively used for marketing purposes, though I didn’t hear any of the locals using it.
One of the two renovated mills in Bollington
What Bollington does have is loads of pubs, and two breweries. Not bad for a town of 2,000. Fancy me stumbling on that combination! Put them together and we had our Sunday lunch in the pub attached to the brewery. Behind the pub were the playing fields and we tarried awhile to watch the local cricket club in action, who were having a dad’s versus son match. Very entertaining it was too. And what a scorcher Sunday was. The towpath was overflowing with walkers, dogs, and cyclists. Great to see the canal being so well used after our experiences in Manchester.
The mill behind me is where Hovis was first made. Now its luxury flats.
This is about the best view of the canal at Macclesfield I could get. Note the goose poo everywhere. 
The next stop was Macclesfield. We were warned there were few mooring opportunities there, and the advice was sound. Two very overgrown 24-hour moorings, in a run-down area. Walk down the hill into the town and it is very pleasant, but I suppose because the canal skirts the town, there is no real incentive, or cash, to improve it. It’s where we said goodbye to Malcolm yesterday morning. I had planned to stay there until the end of the week if possible, but it was pretty dire, so Paul and I carried on, down the 12-flight Bosley Locks into Congleton.
I don't think ET has antthing to worry about
First impressions of Congleton are it’s much the same as Macclesfield, for again, the town is a good mile from the route of the canal, but it’s OK and it has an attactive town centre. I am currently moored in a shady spot below the railway station. Paul needed a station to depart from this morning and Pat returns to the country tomorrow and is catching a train from Euston to here. There are some better moorings a little way along, but this will do for now. I expect we will move up tomorrow afternoon.
We will not be leaving Congleton until Monday. This weekend there is a huge Ukulele Festival in Huddersfield and we have tickets for the Sunday. I will finally get to see live the “Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain”, who have to be seen to be believed. I’ve been watching them do their stuff on YouTube, and am very excited about the whole thing. Hope to post some pictures next week.

Finally, and most importantly, here’s a picture of Pat in NZ with a very cheeky Livi and baby Ben, just a few days old. Ahhhhhhh. Can't wait to see them after Christmas.

Toodaloo chums, and "Great Scot", I almost forgot to thank to Malcolm & Paul for their help crewing TCW over the last week or so.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

South of the Border, down Macclesfield way

Adjusting my stern gland. Ohhh Urrr Missus!
It seems a lot longer than two weeks since I last blogged, but there has been very little boating activity to report on, until this week.

Pat is now safely tucked up in Wellington, New Zealand, and clearly enjoying the short space of time she has with our new grandson, Ben, and our granddaughter Livi. I’m glad she has made the trip. She needed a rest and a change of pace. Should have a nice picture to put up in next week's blog

Our plans to moor at Portland Basin worked out well. In fact we were moored about four miles away, in a new marina, at Droylsden. I must say it is a bit of a depressed area, typical of much of the inner-city around Manchester, but it  had a large Tesco opposite and the Manchester tram line, which has been recently extended out towards Ashton-Under-Lyne, stopped about 100 metres up the road, which was handy.

Droylden Marina
So with the boat safely tucked up, and with its tummy full of nice clean oil, we hired a car from Enterprise (fantastic service for boaters) and headed south. Pat got on the underground at the end of the Piccadilly line at Cockfosters and I spent the next couple of nights just up the road in Potters Bar, at my sister Carol’s place.

Then it was the usual stuff of visiting the GP for repeat prescriptions and seeing pals. Friday night I was at my bestest pal John’s place in St Albans, out with my CAMRA pals. It was very hard to be paying £3.50 for the same pint of beer that would be a pound cheaper in this neck of the woods.
I caught up with my old work pal Colin, and Sid and Mave, so got a lot out of my time back in Hertfordshire.
Bottom of the Marple flight of 16 locks
Malc and Paul at the top of the Marple flight
Our mooring at Marple. To the left it's the Macclesfield Canal - to the right the Peak Forest
Sunday morning I travelled back to Manchester with my amigos Paul and Malcolm, and we have slowly been heading south since, on the Ashton and now the Peak Forest Canals. The general consensus is that this is a lovely stretch of waterway, and few would disagree. After a couple of weeks of cruising through urban sprawl, it’s a real breath of fresh air. Paul has taken over on tiller duty, which is great for my wrist is playing up. 

Our plan has been cruise down to the end of the canal, (no locks) Wednesday to Whaley Bridge and Bugsworth and then return at the weekend to Marple. On the way you pass a grim looking building, which is the sweet factory where “Lovehearts”, and “Swizzles” are made. We heard that there is a nice smell as you go past, but all I could smell was the sewage works on the other bank. But what a lovely little town Marple is. Set at the top of a 16-lock flight, we finally felt that we had left the metropolis behind. Super pubs, compact town centre, and it is obvious that they have embraced the canal that dissects the town.
The end of the Peak Forest at Whaley Bridge
Not something you see every day. A right-angled tree
We are hopefully returning there at the weekend. The local canalside pub is having a brass band festival, and I like a bit of brass.

A good way to get out of the washing up