Monday, 27 May 2013

A cracking Crick

Crick 2013
May 2013

The weather has smiled on Crick this year and the crowds have flocked in to participate in the Inland Waterways premier boating festival. Not that I have seen a lot of it. 

Wild Side has woven its stick charm on the attendees and the activity on the stall was pretty relentless, leaving little time to wander round the various exhibits. In fact I have learned more about the festival from the various blog posts than I did from first hand experience.


President in oils and in the flesh

More canal art

For us it was a mix of business and socialising, meeting friends old and new who showed up at the stall and sampled the Wild Side wares.

Queen of the cordials

To be honest, so many people came up to us to say hello, comment on our Canal Boat article of to poke gentle fum and poor old Capt Ahab we cant even begin to remember who you all were! Can I offer a collective thank you for all your kind words and friendship - whilst the show was a success in a commercial sense, the real profit was in meeting so many friendly faces.

Bloggers reunited

To pluck one particular meeting out of the mele, I would highlight the meeting of Halfie, Adam and myself - three blogging friends which ended in a very extended visit to the pub and and much delayed evening meal.

The sunnier face of Crick 2013

As I write this we are back at home and Wand'ring Bark is preparing for a return under the command of Mr Truth, one of my trusty return skippers. 

A final backward glance from our mooring at Crick 3013 - till next time

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The road that led to Crick

Crick Festival D-1
May 2013

The last leg of our journey was mostly spent underground - in the Crick tunnel. 

Crick is notorious for its wetness at the eastern end but compared to what was outside it was a veritable desert.  The heavens opened and the rain cascaded down all morning dampening the spirits of all those trying to erect their marquees, with the canvas being ripped from numb fingers.

As an inland waterways boat festival you would imagine that carrying commercials loads would be taken in their stride, but no. The  whole idea of canals being used to carry produce seems to be a bit alien. And we were the only boat to show up and ask a surprised harbour master permission to dock in the main marina basin and tranship our load to the Water Vole Gourmet Food Marquee.

Of course, all did not go quite as planned. First we were expecting tables and therefore didn't bring our own. Our panic was allayed when the organisers magic'd a couple of trestle tables out of this air! Hurray for the WW team. Then the weather sought to prove whey canal transport is a stupid idea. The rain was either heavy or torrential as I ferried an overloaded sack barrow to and fro - getting soaked to the skin. Ten loads later and I vacated the trip boat mooring with Persident literally steaming into our vacated slot.

Amid all the rain I only got  one photo of Wand'ring Bark being unloaded in the main basin, slick with cold rain.

Amid all the rain I did squelch past one engine manufacturer as they hauled their shiny red demo model from the truck. I was amazed to see that they have cracked the rising cost of diesel problem. Instead of fuel they had come kitted out with a huge pallet of Carlesburg Lager - maybe that accounts for the huge number of Carlesburg cans bobbing in the BCN.

But the panic is over and as I sit here in the cratch (lousy 3G signal) supping my home brew life seems better. Coffee was shared with Adam and Adrian (Briar Rose), the stall is erected and loaded with lots of Jams, Jellies, Chutmeys, Vinegars and Mustards, and all we have to do is walk over and start to trade at 10.00am.

Perhaps the best news is that the bad weather of the last few days has passed and its now set fair for the coming weekend. The festival site looks great with loads to see so, if you are looking for a trip out this weekend you could do a lot worse than come over to Crick and share in the  experience of the UK's premier boat show.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The road to Crick - upping the Ansty

The road to Crick - Part 3
May 2013

Day 5 - Snarestone to Ansty - 29 miles - 1 lock - 10.5 hours
Day 6 - Ansty to Crick - 30 miles - 10 locks - 12 hours

Phew - what a couple of days! The weather has been decidedly "off" with strong northerly winds bringing all the seasons in the space of an hour, let alone a day.

We have managed nearly 60 miles from the far end of the Ashby in just two long days, and wenow sit at the western end of the Crick tunnel ready to click into Wild Side mode tomorrow.

The bird of prey was coming off worse.

Yesterday kicked off with yet more socialising with our friends John and Sue joining us as part of John's 50 and quite a lot birthday, travelling from Snarestone for about three hours to Bosworth Battlefield.

The Globe Shackerstone

The route passes a well known motorcycle manufacturer and reminds me of an old joke : Q Who is history's first recorded motorcycle hooligan? A: King David whose Triumph was heard across the land...

The weather kept the boated tied up leaving us to travel crabwise with a strong side wind making steering very tricky.

The plan was to stop at Hawkesbury but all the visiting spots were occupied by some rather ramshackle boats and we were obliged to plug in into the sunset and moot in the relative peace  of Ansty. But even here the roar of the M6 and M62's combined to give a less than perfect night.

The North Oxford was sparkling in the morning sun and the old iron roving bridges were a delight:

Bad weather was forecast for Thursday so we decided to make an early start (6.30am) and make the best of the morning. The wind roared from the north but the rain mostly kept its distance just a couple of miles to the east. We did finally get a downpour as we started up the Braunston flight, with hail and sleet blasting us but by the time we reached the top lock the wind had died, the sun was out and all those winter coats were hurriedly packed away.

With the sun shining down we decided to press on the the foot of the Watford Locks and then as we just had time to enter before closing time we carried on up, covering a significant 30 miles in one long 12 hour stint. To be honest - its way too much, but needs must and we are now just 30 mins from the festival site and will have all day to get set up.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The road to Crick - Calling at the Coalfields

The road to Crick - Part 2
The coalfields of Warwickshire and Leicestershire
May 2013

The Coventry Canal isn't one of the more popular boating routes, sliding through Atherstone and Nuneaton with their myriad of allotments, but the area holds a peculiar fascination for me.


My usual stomping ground is the lugubrious northern BCN and the played out coalfields which powered the industrial revolution, so maybe it comes as no surprise that I enjoy travelling through areas which live in the shadow of a coal dominated past. They say that at the heel of every successful canal you will find coal and its certainly true of our travels over the last two days. Yesterday it was the Polesworth coalfield, still being worked till the 1960's and then today we reached the far end of the Ashby Canal and the local Mines of Moria - sorry that should read  Moira - too much Tolkien!

Of course, you cant actually reach the Leicestershire coalfilelds to the north of Snarestone any more. The last five of six miles of canal collapsed into the mines they served and the canal staged a phased retreat till the last loads of black gold were carried in the 1960's to a London market then served by road and rail.

For all this post industrial decay the area is surprisingly beautiful in a very middle England sort of way. If fact its the nature which caught our eye, sheets of Bluebells beneath new canopies of green or new born ducklings power walking across the surface of the water.

The Ashby canal is new territory for me - something of a rarity. Actually, thats not strictly true as Capt Ahab Snr cruised up it for a few miles back in the late 1960's and whilst I remember the event I can recall no details. That isnt really very surprising because this canal is a bit devoid of landmarks. The towns and villages tend to stand back from the cut and the canal is left to wander aimlessly through an agricultural landscape which repeats unchangingly for mile after mile. Its in no was unpleasant, just a bit unremarkable.

For my money the best is saved for last - the bit beyond Swarkestone dives into the trees and wiggles on for its last four miles, finishing with a flourish beneath the portals of the Snarestone Tunnel.

The end of the Ashby Canal 2013

Not that the day was dull - far from it. Jeff was returning to Birmingham so I walked him to the station in Hinckley only to discover that all trains were cancelled on account of a derailment. Then our saviour appeared borne along in a gleaming white Audi TT. One of Helen's friends was coming to meet us at the station so she was soon pressed into a detour via Coventry. I folded Jeff into the back seats (shelf) and even he had to admit that my Mondeo has some advantages! 

So thats the end of the Ashby. Tomorrow we retrace our steps and press on to our rendezvous with Crick.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The road to Crick - Fazeley

The road to Crick part 1
Calf Heath to Fazeley
May 2014

When I was student and was into back packing, and I really knew what it was to travel light. I sawed off my toothbrush handles, mixed dried milk with porridge and kept the spare clothes to a minimum.

Oh what a changes the years have wrought! I seem, to have moved from ultra light to mega heavy! Not content with 15 tons of narrowboat we now seem intent on testing is load carrying capacity. Of course the reason for all this weight gain is the preserves business and jam weighs a ton when carried in bulk!

Heavily laden at Fradley Junction

Buoyed by our success in Droitwich where we came within a whisker of selling out, we decided  that more stock is needed for Crick's huge audience, loaded umpteen jars of preserves plus a huge pile of cordials and vinegars. All this called for two trips to the boat with the Mondeo down on its bump stops and stock crammed into all the storage space available. I even pressed the void left by the old holding tank into good service - but more of that another time.

But in spite of all this pre loading all was not happiness on arrival at the marina. Someone (not me) forgot to bring the entry pack for Crick so someone (still not me) had to go back and get it.... This made for a late start but we still reached Great Haywood in time to find no room in the Clifford Arms for that long promised meal out.

Shadehouse Lock

The second day of travel to Fazeley was under a clear blue sky where fleeces, jeans and steel toed boots were discarded in favour of something cooler. I feared huge crowds, but the only one I saw grew behind us at Colwich Lock as everyone left Gt Haywood together at 9.00am.

Even our trip down the three locks at Gt Haywood (counting Wood End) were uninterrupted and we made solitary progress round through Seethay and on into the wooded countryside of Whittington.

By an amazing fluke we discovered that Sandra (of the amazing Awaken Your Life Coaching - why not see what she can do for you?) and Barry (AREandARE) were moored at Fazeley so a rendezvous point was agreed, and our curries were combined for yet another sociable meal with friends. But the sociability didn't end there. Jeff decided to come and stay for a couple of days so we met him at the nearby Wilnecolte Station whilst Helen tinkered with applications for Nettle Cordial - on sale at Crick Boat Show and all good purveyors of fine food!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Stourport to Droitwich

Stourport to Droitwich
May 2013

Thursday dawned clear and bright with wall to wall sunshine beating down from a cloudless sky.

Mooring ring in Stourport

We had hardly seen a boat for days and made a solitary descent into the town basin where we refilled with water and paid the obligatory visit to Limekiln Chandlers for various bits and bobs.
As usual, we had an extensive audience as we descended the staircase locks, passing a silent funfair and out onto a placid Severn.

Stourport Bridge

After weeks of frosts and cold it was a delight to cruise down this might waterway, flowing at a sluggish pace on this occasion. All very pleasant and the entrance to the Droitwich Barge Canal came up all to soon, the bottom lock still covered in mud from the winter floods.

Droitwich Junction with River Severn

The Droitwich is a firm favourite and this year it is in sparkling form. The reeds have been trimmed back and at last some moorings have emerged on the lower reaches. This is not a canal to hurry - slow down and enjoy.

 Droitwich bridge 1

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A trip down the Staffs and Worcester

Staffs and Worcester - to Stourport
May 2013

Our trip down the Staffs and Worcester was about as blissful as it gets. The weather got warmer and warmer and we sauntered on with lots of time to spare before we needed to be in Droitwich so it was lazy starts and early finishes. Perhaps the only problem was that in spite of trying to slow down we still found ourselves in Stourport after 2.5 days.

Ashwood Basin - other end of Lord Ward's tramway

We all know that the Staffs and Worcester has some remarkable circular overflows, but it also has an amazing diversity of other formats.

Overflow weirs on the Staffs and Worcester Canal

We stopped off for the first night at Dimmingsdale Lock, always a firm favourite, and then on to Stourton Junction for the second. We paused at Kinver buying some essential supplies and sampling a very acceptable lunch at a cafe in the high street.

Mooring at Stourton Junction

Stourton second lock

We took the opportunity to polish the boat and bring the green up to a gleaming green finish and also to undertake a bit of foraging - wild garlic and dandelions.

Foraging at Stourton Castle

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Droitwich Calling

Droitwich Calling
5th May 2013

Droitwich calling - an eerie echo from the early days of radio when all broadcasts from this location started with those famous words. I had assumed that the radio base was here on account of geographic elevation but in fact is was down to the underground salt deposits, which provided an excellent earth.

Festival crowds - Droitwich day two 2013

Salt was both the savior and the downfall of this pretty little town. Brine deposits were found here but as in the Croxton area to the north, excessive pumping caused subsidence on a massive scale. The area around the brine pump has all gently slumped into a depression with the building leaning and warped like a Salvador Dali on acid.

 The leaning buildings of Droitwich

Barry out on the photographic hunt

Day two kicked off where day one ended - warm weather and sun which got hotter and hotter. Today the mood was more festive, with families out for the day at this excellent event. Its a shame that more trade boats are not here (we are the only one) as the huge friendly crowds offer lots of potential and more life on the water would enrich this festival no end. Maybe next year.

This was the day of cycling - they were everywhere in all shapes and sized with lycra clad figures making up the bulk of the early morning trade. Which reminds me - yesterday, just as we were packing up a guy came round on a recumbent bicycle and following up my expression of curiosity proceeded to offer a lesson. I wobbled and weaved my way round Vines Park but no harm done, and no one ended up in the cut. It was a blast, the most fun I have had on a bike- do try one if you get a chance.

This event has been a time for friends - at last a dozen must have sought us out yesterday and it was the same again today, with friends old and new turning up at the stall. The afternoon was enlivened with the arrival of Barry and Sandra (Areandare) and Andrew Denney (Granny Buttons) who swapped stories, drank ale form the real ale bar and polished off huge helpings of fish and chips under the setting sun.

Andrew Denney

Another memorable day when friendship and trade were mingled in a happy blend.

Don't you just love the great British Bank Holidays!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Droitwich Festival Day One 4

Droitwich Festival (St Richards)
Day1 - 4th May 2013

Well this has to be a first - a live post on the day of the event.

With the exception of a deluge in the morning the sun has shone on the St Richards Festival in Droitwich, adding to my sunburn gained during our trip down the Severn a couple of days ago.

 Vines Park crowds - Droitwich

The crowds have been out in force, making the most of the unusually pleasant bank holiday weekend and enjoying the various events and attractions across the town. Its the first combined festival with a canal focus and its looks set to be a winner. 

 Atlas and Bittel parading at Vines Park

The Staffs and Worcester and Droitwich Canal Societies have joined forces to deliver the waterside element of the event and the whole thing has been lubricated with a fine display of real ales.

St Richards Festival, Droitwich 2013

Perhaps the strange thing is that we are the only trade boat but as word spreads I suspect that this will change and offer a West Midlands alternative to Loughborough and Little Venice.

Brisk business for Wildside Preserves

Trade was brisk and large volumes of preserves were sold to enthusiastic customers.

A cracking start to a great festival, which included visits from numerous friends which was a real bonus. Guys you know who you are.