Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Sankey Navigation

The Sankey Navigation
by T C Baker

I'm not sure if you could really call this a book - its more a pamphlet with a mere 44 pages describing the life and times of the Sankey Navigation.

Its a republication of Baker's 1948 essay, featuring a Foreward by Richard Chester Brown who I last encountered as the author of The Other Sixty Miles - a survey of the lost BCN also written as an undergraduate.

The Sankey Navigation holds the honour of being the very first Canal in England,  built in 1759 and predating the nearby Bridgewater Canal by two years, a waterway more commonly awarded the "first canal" tag.

As approved by parliament, the Sankey Navigation was a river enhancement with some scope or artificial cuts. But in the end its engineer Henry Berry, decided to build what he referred to as a "dead water cut" for the entire length from Widnes to the coalfields of Parr. It appears that it wasn't only Parliament that were unaware of his plans - most of the investors were kept in the dark as well!

The account is meticulously researched, as would befit the Author who later became a professor, jam packed with references. Fortunately the references are consigned to the copious footnotes and don't get in the way of the historical account.

Th Sankey Canal has more to do with the the prosperity of Liverpool and the development of St Helens as an industrial centre than the evolution of the Canal concept. Sure it has  some locks including a staircase pair, but it has no spectacular aqueducts or tunnels like it's Brindley built neighbour. 

It initially it has a prosperous 15 years as it delivered coal to Liverpool and beyond, but then the Leeds Liverpool Canal opened, tapping the coalfields of Wigan and delivering the coal more conveniently to the north west of Liverpool. The Sankey may have been bloodied, but it wasn't out. It changed its focus and started to supply the growing glass industry of St Helens and the salt industry of Northwich on the Weaver, finally closing in stages from 1931.

Today the canal stands deserted, with just the entry locks from the Mersey providing access to a marina for coastal vessels. For the rest, long stretches remain in water and more are being restored as a local amenity. SCARS, the local Canal Society continues to work towards towards the restoration of full navigation, but its a slow job. And being a disconnected canal at the top of the mercurial Mersey its hard to see many narrowboats making the perilous trip to its tidal lock.

This pamphlet may be old but I would suggest that it is unlikely to be eclipsed in terms of historical integrity. A grand old canal, the father of the English network and therefore worthy of full restoration no matter how long it takes.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Last Voyage of the Lucette

The Last Voyage of the Lucette
By Douglas and Dougal Robertson

Belle likes to frequent charity shops, which is good news for me. Part of her routine is to peruse the books section looking out for publications with a watery theme which will appeal to me.

One of her recent finds was the Last Voyage of the Lucette, an interesting account of ocean voyaging and ultimate salvation of a family from the jaws of disaster. It's hard to say who wrote this book:The original version was written by Dougal Robertson, the father, and published as Survive the Savage Sea in 1973 - later becoming a film in 1992. Dougal died in 1991 (64) and his son Dougal revisited the work in response to a deathbed request from his father and added his own take on the tale, weaving in the more emotional aspect of their ordeal, drawing on the memories of the rest of the survivors for this 2005 version.

It is quite literally a book of two halves. The first half follows the Robinson family from their unprofitable upland farm in Staffordshire to the purchase of the 50 year old Lucette and its voyage as far as the Galapagos Islands, and the second tracks their even more remarkable 38 days adrift after their boat was sunk by a whale.

From the off the voyage seemed described destined for disaster. No sooner has they set off from Falmouth than they were overrun by a monster storm which pushed the inexperienced crew far out into the Atlantic over a period of seven days. I'm surprised the five of them didn't give up then and there. Things improved for a while as they crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean but then they encountered a waterspout which missed them by a mere 150 yards and tore the adjacent trimaran to pieces. If that wasn't enough the caught a tropical storm which drove them onto a lee shore only to creep out from a rock field by the searchlight of a heaven sent ship.

The family seemed remarkably unprepared for disaster, with a dingy paid for by two aunts and an old life raft donated by the benevolent crew of a motor launch they met along the way. In the end they owed their lives to the two bits of kit.

Given the name of the original book I don't think I am giving anything away by telling you that they made it in the end. After the sinking, which saw the Lucette settle beneath the waves in less than one minute, they took to the life raft with the small fibreglass dingy in tow. With no one knowing they were missing they set about using the dingy and a jury rigged sail to move themselves initially to the Doldrums where fresh water could be found, then onto the main shipping lanes with a view to reaching the Mexican coast beyond.

Within two weeks the raft had reached the end of the road, leaking and generally falling down around their ears. They were faced with two options - die of take to the cockleshell Dingy with a freeboard of under six inches. Amazingly, not only did they manage to stay the right way up, they also learned to work in harmony with the sea, catching rain water, dorado and turtles - even one rather surprised shark! To achieve this they had to utilise every bit of equipment at their disposal and draw on mental and physical resources they didn't know they possessed.

At some point they stopped expecting rescue and made plans to reach the coast under their own steam. In the end they travelled over 750 miles with a further 290 miles to go. I don't know if the would have reached the shore, but they would have had a good crack at it has they not been spotted by a passing Japanese trawler.

I find this kind of watery tale very absorbing. I know I would never have the courage to tackle such a trip, but you cant do anything but admire the attempt. I would like to think I would have the mental fortitude to keep on going, but hopefully I will never have to find out!

For me the Tidal Trent is about the limit of my salt water aspirations.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Stratford 2011 - Stratford to Wilmcote

Stratford 2011 - Turning for Home
17th May 2011

4 miles - 16 locks - 4 hours

Sarah from the Book Barge insisted on supplying us with copious amounts of reading material - Belle with a copy of the Foragers Handbook by Miles Irwin (God of foraging) and me with a 1930 version of Shakespeare's Avon which I had been drooling over, plus a copy of Steve Haywood's latest offering "Too narrow to Swing a Cat".

With the BCN Challenge on my mind I was straight into Steve book, and I had made the fateful decision to dive right in at the middle where he recounts his adventures in the 2009 event. All this reading and discussion about the BCN had me dreaming about the race. In my dream I forgot to fill in the logbook - and in so doing we came last! Oh the humiliation and the ire of my crew - and Steve was there, taking it all in ready for his next canal book - then I woke up.

Stratford Gardens

By 10.00am I was ready to leave but Belle was nowhere to be found. She had disappeared about 30 mins before with a promise to "be back in a minute" carrying her foraging basket in search of those elusive Dandelions. So I was doomed - a foraging widower.

She did turn up, her bag bulging with her illicit pilferings and we were off at 11.00am, entering the lock into Bancroft Basin to another full house. There were way more then 200 this time, all milling around and taking photo's. We has all the usual questions: Do you live on it? why so narrow?, how long does it take to get to London?, how much does it cost? and of course - why don't you use both gates? Its best to humour them I find.

Mary Arden's Cottage

The forecast was for a wet afternoon session and for once the Met Office was spot on - drizzle, downpour, deluge and then back to drizzle. We made slow progress up the locks out of Stratford, hampered by an ABC hireboat so every lock had to be turned all sheathed in waterproofs. Its a good job I had the bike to dash up and down the towpath.

Services are few and far between hereabouts but Valley Cruisers have set up a second base a mile or so above Bancroft Basin who relieved our tank of its contents and my wallet of £15. Water was another issue, we handn't refilled for three days and passed the tap on the river as it was in use. We really couldn't wait any longer so pulled in at Bridge 46 missing an opportunity to leapfrog the ABC boat. Oh what a slow tap - the water just dribbled out and took an age to fill the tank.

Then it's really rural all the way up the 11 locks of the Wilmcote flight set out on a 3:5:3 formation. An iritating feature of these locks is their tendency to have their top gates swing open - so don't blame the boat in front for being lazy!

Wilmcote's wisteria clad post office stores.

By the time we reached the top I was soaked through and had little heart to press on. Instead we moved to the far end of the Wilmote village moorings, supped a beer or two ans finally, when the rain stopped, had a look at Mary Arden's cottage and paid the wisteria clad stores a visit. Not a spectacular village but worth a look if you have time.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Stratford 2011 - Mad Hatters Tea Party

Stratford 2011 - Mad Hatters Tea Party
16th May 2011

After a morning of bustle and activity we moved WB onto the river, all part of the spectacle to a couple of hundred tourists who ringed the lock and generally got in the way.

Gambian Drummer

Our favourite mooring is just downstream of the foot ferry, opposite the temporary theatre. No sooner has we moored up than a Gambian chap wandered up and asked if we minded him doing a spot of drumming on the adjacent seat. Of course we didn't mind and our preparations continued to the accompanied by the sounds of West Africa.

Wand'ring Bark at Statford Foot Ferry

Belle's academic friends rolled up through the afternoon, feasting on scones spread with  Plumb, Compost Heap and Dandelion Jam plus a varied selection of cake including Victoria Sponge with Lavender ans sponge drizzled with Spring Juices Sauce. There delectations were all washed down with Pimms, Gin and Tonic and a Cucumber and Mint concoction (which was surprisingly refreshing).

 Belle - the hostess extrordinaire

It was good to see all Belle's college friends, all busy discussing dissertation ideas and things Shakesperian. 

We spent the evening in Grants who offer another excellent meal from their a la carte menu and rounded of our visit to Stratford in some style. The Capt had Chicken Liver and Duck Froi Gras followed by Lamb and topped off with Pear Tart whilst Belle had Omlette with Seared Scallops and Lemon Creme Brulee for pudding. This is a quality restaurant with high standards, but not snobbish in the least. The bill came out at £40 per head including wine, so its a treat but well worth the money for a special occasion.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Stratford 2011 - Stratford

Stratford 2011 - Foraging in Bancroft Basin
17 May 2011

Wand'ring Bark in Bancroft Basin

We spent yesterday evening in the company of Jamie and Sarah of The Book Barge in the Dirty Duck where pints of Old Speckled Hen awaited. The pub was strangely deserted which can probably be attributed to: 1. it was a Monday night and 2. it was after theatre curtains up time - either way we spent a pleasant couple of hours supping our beer under the watchful eyes of Dame Judy Dench (well, her photo anyway) and Miles Richardson ("he's a friend of Belle's... don't you know..."). After a couple of pints of OSH it was time to go and Belle falls off her bar stool - not due to inebriation I would add - her peripheral vision tends to let her down, quite literally in this case. I laughed so much that I walked out without my fleece or brolly so I guess the last laugh went to her.

Sarah of the Book Barge

We returned to WB and drank coffee whilst thinking up likely locations for the Book Barge. It was an odd exercise, they want high footfall whereas we all want quiet and solitude. In the end we concluded that Crick would  be a good destination, till the idea of the BCN Challenge reared its head!

Hamlet in Stratford - and Yoric!

Bancroft Basin is a bustling spot, even at 7.00am when Belle rose to start preparations for  the soiree in the afternoon. I guess that this is the price of a town mooring but the incessant stram of tourists wanting to be photographed beside, and sometimes on the boat was a major pain.

They say that a blow to the head can change a person. Well that has certainly wrought some changes in our lives with her extended recuperation and her impaired sight causing her to seek a diversion away from the book one usually sees in her hand. As an alternative she has fallen back on another love of her life - cooking, but with a twist. She has embraced foraging for free foods and where better than along the unpolluted hedgerows and towpaths of our canal network. Suddenly a humdrum descent through a flight of obscure locks becomes a huge gathering opportunity with each day having its objectives. One day its fresh Beech Leaves (fresh, soft and only just unfurled mind you) then its Elderflower, again fresh, selected heads only - followed by Dog Rose petals. I suddenly find myself in the midst of a crash course in British flora and fauna.

Now its Dandelions which seem to have gone into a temporary decline and Wild Comfrey which is supposed to be everywhere at all times - which means we cant find a bit of it. What I could find was Lavender - there is lots of it in Bancroft Basin and I was dispatched on an undercover foraging expedition before buying a day pass and dropping onto the Avon to moor just downstream of the foot ferry.

More of the Mad Hatters Tea Party another time.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Shadow of the Wind - book review

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
June 2011

I seem to be into a run of books about books - this one came on Belle's recommendation.

Its a story set in Barcelona at the time of the Civil War and traces Daniel, the son of a bookseller, as he is introduced to the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books'. He is invited to take one volume for his own and Daniel discovers a book by the an obscure author called Julian Carax, which he finds fascinating, and so do others. 

The odd thing is that all the books by this mysterious author are being bought up and destroyed, but why?. Daniel decides to learn more about Cerax, but the more he discovers the more convoluted the tale becomes. Zafron has written a masterpiece of narrative, building sub plot upon plot with a huge cast of characters all cleverly thought out and brought to life.

Daniels curiosity and determination bring him into increasing conflict, and the closer he gets to the truth the more dangerous things become for Daniel and those around him. Wheels turn within wheels and whilst there is little action, the plot is both compelling and haunting.

Its no light read, but neither is it difficult to access. Its a book lovers book, a book about books, book sellers, book authors, books collectors and book readers. The intensity of the plot means you need to take it slowly, but even so the end comes too soon. And what an end it is with more twists than a corkscrew and a final turn of events I never saw coming.

This is a quality read, with the ends all neatly tied off. If that is not enough it comes complete with discussion questions - book group ready. In its way this is a contemporary masterpiece and well worth a read. It comes highly recommended.

ISBN 0-75382-025-0

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Droitwich Dreaming

Droitwich Canal reopens
19 June 2011

My sources tell me that the Droitwich Canal is opening a bit earlier than the official 1st July celebrations.

I hear that it is actually opening on the 20th June, or at least the Barge Canal is - but I don't know about the narrow Junction Canal which links Droitwich up to the Worcester Birmingham. 

Whatever the exact date, this is exciting news for the Midlands waterways as another meaningful canal comes back on stream - and suddenly the Stourport Ring becomes the Stourport figure of eight. As luck would have it, we will be on this route the week following the official reopening, so will be passing through the Droitwich on the 4th July (sure to be fireworks), and again on the 6th!

I typed the route into Nick Canal Planner and was told the route wasn't possible because the Droitwich is still under restoration. Doh! But all isnt lost, this remarkable route planner lets you bring the Droitwich back on line at the touch of a cursor. If only restorations were so easy!

Here's a fond farewell to the 'under restoration' moniker for the Droitwich.

From Nicks Canal Planner:

Excluded Waterways

The following waterways are excluded from planning. To allow them to be used for planning deselect the checkbox
only navigable by advance arrangement, many craft will not fit.
under restoration
under restoration
Closed, superceded by Pomona Lock Branch
under restoration
under restoration
under restoration
under restoration
under restoration

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Stratford 2011 - Kingswood to Stratford

Stratford 2011
Kingswood to Stratford
Tues 16th May 2011

13 miles - 33 locks - 10 hours

Oh I was so weary last night - tiered to the point I was fed up with boating. It wasn't the number of locks but the fact that they all came at the very end of a long day and I was fragile to begin with.

Crossing Edstone Aqueduct

But a new day and a good nights sleep and we awoke with a renewed spring in our step. Time and tide wait for no man and Belle's Mad Hatters Tea party is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Stratford so its time to press on. 

As a mooring, Kingswood Junction on the Grand Union is pretty good, but highlighting the four ages of transport: The aircraft from Birmingham International drone overhead, the M42 offers its own unceasing distant roar, the railway gives off a periodic rumble. Meanwhile the canal gently exists with little more then a lap of wavelets and an occasional tinkle of paddle gear. I know which one I like best.

Barrel roofed buildings large and small
Stratford Canal

This supposedly quiet trip has turned into a three day dash to Stratford passing over the canal's three aqueducts: Runty baby aqueduct at Yarningale, Mummy Aqueduct at Wooten Warwen and lastly big Daddy aqueduct at Edstone. The day came with high winds which were particularly strong as we crossed the exposed expanse of Edstone, pinning us against the side and causing us to bump along the entire length. This really is an impressive structure, particularly when viewed from below.

Edstone Aqueduct with Odd Lock beyond

Wootton Warwen is the site of the big Anglo Welsh base, and we hoped a source of some extra milk. Sadly their shop stocks no food or milk so it was to be beer for the rest of the tip to Stratford - such a shame.

Wilmcote Locks and Stratford

Our descent into Stratford through the Wilmcote Locks couldn't be easier - the top gates tend to swing open and all the chambers stood full and waiting for us. So fast, so easy. It was interesting to examine the sides of these locks. Many are made of poured concrete and bear the imprint of the planking moulds, like stretchmarks bearing silent testimony to a hurried re birth.

Out last trip to Stratford was two years ago and many bottom gates have been replaced, and with them has come larger gate paddles which speed the emptying process no end. This is all very different to my first trip on this waterway a few years after restoration and whilst it was still operated by the National Trust. At that stage the gates were very rickety with rotting balance beams and insecure paddle gear. What a difference three decades makes.

Lady Macbeth - our night time companion

We moored in Bancroft Basin, opposite the Book Barge and indulged ourselves in a trip to Grants of Sheep Street, not cheap but excellent food and service. One hiccup - Belle slammed the doors shut leaving the keys stuck in the ignition inside! Luckily she had failed to secure the top bolt so access was gained without causing undue damage.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Weasel - all is revealed

Weasel - the Ebridged answer

Weasel lies beached on the mud at Ebridge Mill in Norfolk, near the top of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal.

Ebridge Mill with Weasel in the foreground

The  North Walsham and Dilham Canal is only a few miles from my mothers home, so I like to keep an eye on the restoration progress from time to time when I visit. 

Ebridge Mill with new Millpond

The restoration team are a busy bunch, advertising working parties every other weekend right through to Christmas, so I was intrigued to see what they had achieved in the last year. My last visit coincided with a working party at Ebridge Mill and the bemused volunteers were clearly asking "who's the bloke with the camera"? Well this time there was no one on sight but there was plenty of evidence that they had been there.

Ebridge Lock

The old millpool which was once choked with reeds has been emptied and the silt scraped out to form a temporary bund in front the the abandoned mill. The impact is immense and it is a huge visible statement to the local population that the restoration team mean business. So far I havn't heard a bad word said against their efforts - everyone is delighted to see the mill pool and canal clear (if somewhat empty at the present time).

Ebridge's leaky coffer dam

The team are working with an old BW dredger Teasel and a shore based JCB and the plan is to work on up the canal for the next couple of miles, past the Bacton Wood Lock which they are currently restoring as a phase 1 of their project - Swafield Road Bridge to Ebridge. The problem is that the canal has been left at such a low level for decades the sides now leak, as do the old barricaded top lock gates at Ebridge which makes it very difficult to raise a full head of water and offer the dredger the 3ft of water it needs. That said, I suspect that Weasel is the first powered craft ever to navigate this pound in the history of the canal.

(Update 4.9.11 - an incorrect assumption I later discovered that the wherries that traded to Bacton Wood Lock were motorised, including the last one in the 1930's. Also, the dredger that belonged to the Canal company had a parifin engine - so the Weasel is not the first motorised boat on the NW&DC - thanks for the  correction Ivan)

Working ground paddle at Ebridge Mill

The group have plans to rebuild the lock walls at Ebridge and then re-instate the gates. Its quite an  ambitious plan but the group now own the upper half of the canal and have agreement to reinstate the bottom half. There are no meaningful obstructions on the route so really its just a case of hard work dredging out all the silt, repairing some locks walls and getting new gates built. As I looked out at all the spoil movements at Ebridge I could sense the fun which has been had by the team.

Full restoration is no small task but at the rate they are going this project could see boat movements in the 2020's.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Second chance at identifying the whereabouts of Weasel

The whereabouts of the mysterious Weasel

OK, so yesterdays photo was a bit tricky.

Let me give you not one but two photos of Weasel where she currently lies beached:

Any ideas?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Weasel teazel

A "where is it" question for you.

I spotted this dredger a few days back and wondered how many of you canal buffs can place it.

A few clues:

1. It is on a canal
2. The dredger is called Weasel
3. Its not currently licensed (as far as I can tell)

Thats it - happy guessing.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Stratford 2011 - Birmingham to Kingswood Junction

Stratford 2011
Birmingham to Kingswood Junction
15 May 2011

17 miles - 19 locks - 10 hours

Its good to have a private mooring on tap in central Birmingham, and its lovely to see Nick and Victoria as we pass through. Thanks guys.

Indigo Dream

After my excess of red wine it was a fitful night and we finally ground into action at 9.00am, but we didn't go far. No sooner had we started than we stopped outside the ICC and I legged it up Broad St to the Sainsburys Local store for a range of supplies to satisfy Belle's new foraging initiative.

The next start was no more successful. Nick had warned us of the vicious wind funnel beside the Cube but did I listen? Did I heck. I rounded the corner hugging the right hand side and bam! - the wind slammed into us and even powering along the boat crabbed at about 30 degrees and I missed rattling a sleeping Alvechurch boat by inches.

The Steaming Spires of Birmingham University

There is a new feature on the Worcester Birmingham - the Selly Oak Aqueduct. This new structure offers fine views over the university with its dreaming chimneys (not quite the same  ring as the dreaming spires of Oxford - but then this is Birmingham). 

Brandwood Tunnel is a known trouble spot for stone throwing kids and we were warned of inbound attacks as we approached. I saw then scramble behind a wall and decided to play cat and mouse, so I stopped in mid channel out of range and waited. Eventually they emerged to see what was happening and found themselves looking down my telescopic camera lens. That was enough for them - they scuttled away into the trees and I zipped into the tunnel without incident - result!

Communal lunch - bloggers of the world unite

Half an hour further on at Warstock, we passed a boat and as we came level we simultaneously recognised each other - it was Richard and Sue with Indigo Dream en route to the BCN Challenge. We have been following each others blogs for years and corresponding through the comments pages but had never actually met. Too good an opportunity to miss, so we moored up there and then and shared an impromptu lunch. Its times like this when I really love blogging.

Spring Syrup

We hit the top of the Lapworth flight at 5.00pm, the time when sane boaters are thinking about calling it a day. Not us, not this time. We pressed on, following 12th of Never, a share boat from Gailey and a very slow ABC hire boat. All the way down Belle was out and about foraging for this and that to make Spring Syrup: sugar infused with Blackthorn and Elderflower flowers - a surprisingly potent perfume! We were greatly relieved to see the other two boats pull over at the foot of the main flight leaving us free to press on to Lock 20, emerging at 8.00pm in need of a mooring. These may be few and far between in Lapworth, but there are plenty out on the Grand Union - away from the railway track too.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Stratford 2011 Alderley to Sherborne Wharf

Stratford May 2011
Alderley to Sherborne Wharf
14 May 2011

Stratford on Avon 2011 - index of posts:

Post 1 - Calf Heath to Birmingham (this page)
Post 2 - Birmingham to Kingswood Junction
Post 3 - Kingswood Junction to Stratford
Post 4 - Statford on Avon
Post 5 - Mad Hatters Tea Party
Post 6 - Stratford to Wilmcote
Post 7 - Wilmcote to Chessetts Wood
Post 8 - Chessetts Wood to Camp Hill, Birmingham
Post 9 - Camp Hill to Tipton

At last with Jeff and Tilly safely ensconced in their respective colleges Belle and I can have a week to ourselves. Bliss. 

I never tire of the early morning view from the hatch.

With Belle only just getting over her third lot of surgery the vague plan has been a relatively easy nine day route, maybe the Four Counties Ring of the Caldon. Then the bombshell - how about a trip to Stratford? I like the Stratford, its a pretty canal and there arnt many locks...... Not many locks! there are about 75 of the things between Calf Heath and Bancroft Basin, and then there is back again. But hey, whatever the lady wants - and her being on light duties (no locks).

With nine days you would assume four days out and four back and a day for faffing around somewhere. Not so on this trip. Belle fancied hosting a tea party for all her academic buddies and this was to take place on the Tuesday, which gave us about three days to make the outward journey. Ok - time to roll those sleeves up and get cracking.

We stated with a short hop to the Fox and Anchor at Coven, a pub which is virtually our regular. We downed some of their particularly fine burgers washed down with a couple of pints of Batemans. Not a bad start to the week.

Belle foraging on the 21

We started the Wolverhampton 21 in the drizzle which annoyed Belle as she has just got into foraging and the book said to pick Elderflower and Dog Rose on a warm sunny day. Patience isnt her strong point and no sooner had the rain eased of than it was deemed "dry enough" and off she went into the undergrowth leaving me to move the boat single handed. Suddenly that hill up to Wolverhampton looked very long indeed.

Belle's energy levels didn't match her enthusiasm and she re-emerged about half way up grasping a bag of flowers and picking assorted prickles fro her legs, reminiscent of Winnie the Poo when he fell into the gorse bush. In the  end we made it to the top in 3 hours which was a creditable result in the circumstances.

Barnes being towed from Tardebigge to Penkridge

The canal from Wolverhampton is weedy and slow, and progress is a steady crawl at best, but picks up after Coseley Tunnel. We were heading for a 7.00pm appt with Nick and Victoria in Sherborne Wharf so we had to press on through the increasing wind and squally rain showers. Fortunately the wind was behind us so I donned my waterproofs, sent Belle below for a kip and let the weather do its worst.

Galton Bridge, Smethwick

We surged down the New Main Line, arriving with 15 mins to spare. N and V are lovely hosts and my glass was constantly replenished in th way that means you have no idea how much you have drunk - till the next day and boy did I suffer!

All this poking around the BCN offered an excellent chance to do some timings and see how long each section of the BCN marathon would take. Not that I take the race seriously of course.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Something's Brewing

Barks Brew
June 2011

I was very taken with Barry's home brew set up on nb Northern Pride. I always thought that home brew was something for the anorak brigade and hadn't realised that the results could be so palatable.

The last 2 litres from batch one

Call me a heretic, but I have little interest in wine. White wine is ok in small doses and whilst I love the taste of a good red, more than half a glass and I am ill the next day. But I do like a good pint, especially when we are out and about on the boat. The trouble is that even if we imbibe a couple of pints a day, which is more than possible, the daily cost is over a tenner - more than the cost of a days diesel.

Belle hatched a plot with her side of the family and lo and behold I received all the essentials to start Bark's micro brewery for my 50th birthday. 

The first kit was aptly called Wherry Bitter, a Norfolk ale with a watery theme to it. In went the cans of treacle like goo, the water and the yeast and we were off. Within hours the fermentation bin was bubbling away as the yeast turned all the sugar into alcohol. This carried on for four or five days till the gravity stabilised and then I siphoned it off to the cask, added some extra sugar to trigger a secondary fermentation and left it for 10 days. 

All this put me in mind of my tea total Grandfather who used to brew ginger beer from a living yeast plant he propagated. He was a local preacher and had no idea that his innocent looking ginger beer was actually highly alcoholic, or he wouldn't have poured half pint glasses of it down my throat every time he saw me! Because he didn't appreciate that fermentation was taking place, he stored it still fizzing in old glass Lucozade bottles, which exploded with monotonous regularity. I dint know how my family kept the truth from him.... 

Now comes the snag, and a pitfall most home brewers fall into. I wanted to drink it too soon. Belle and I were out on a "just the two of us" trip to Stratford (blog posts to follow) and we just had to take some of my beer with us. I drew off 8 litres of the nearly clear brew leaving the rest in the cask at home. We kept it cool in the front locker and really enjoyed its refreshing tang on demand.

Batch No 2 - not discharge from Harecastle Tunnel!

Disaster happened when I got home. Half of the remainder had gone, vanished - but where to - the house was locked up?. Realisation dawned when I noticed a very brewery like smell in the back room and a wet foot when I walked near the cask. I hadn't screwed the tap in properly and it has been seeping out for 10 days. I quickly bottled the remaining 6 litres and made ready for the next batch. Dont worry about the colour of this lot, I know it looks like the water coming out of the Harcastle Tunnel - I am assured it will clear.

Yours truly!

These kits can be had for about £20 from Wilkinsons and make up 40 pints of beer - thats 50p per pint. The end result is a beer I wouldn't turn my nose up in a pub, and it allows us to enjoy a tipple whenever we want. What is more, like repairing your own boat, there is a certain sense of pride in having made it myself.

Now I cant claim to be in Barry's league, he had a still set up in his boat, but its a start. If you see us passing give us a shout and grab a glass of Barks Brew.