Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sojourn in Stourport

Droitwich Calling - Day 3
Kinver to Stourport
April 2014

Another balmy day on the southern end of the Staffs and Worcester, bringing out the thin trousers and tee shirts for the first time this year. The day was glorious right from the off, with a heron hovering directly opposite our Kinver mooring. He offered a great reflection but his patience as a fisherman outlasted mine as a photographer and I never did capture him actually catching anything.

A picture of patience

Its hard to beat this canal in springtime as it winds its was beside the River Stour, the canal channel at times cut right into the red sandstone cliffs which underlie the area. The newly unfurled leaves provide a thousand shades of green and the native undergrowth gets a moment in the spotlight before the Himalayan Balsam grows up and dominates all in its path.


The woodlands are a riot of blue at present with bluebells carpeting the ground in their millions.

Three fisheremen

There have been some human injections of interest too. Around Kidderminster new housing replaces the old industry and here and there old tree stumps have been artfully carves in to herons and kingfishers. And on a more natural level there has been a fruit tree planting programme underway on the towpath which will offer rich autumn pickings in years to come.

 New fruit trees

Kidderminster church

One off phenomenon came south of Kidderminster where the seed pots were coming off the trees so thickly you could be forgiven for thinking the canal was covered in ice!

Call the ice breaker

From Kinver we played tag with nb Marsh Harrier, both of us heading for Droitwich and in the end we moored nose to tail on the Stourport visitor moorings. With poor weather predicted for Thursday we will make for Vines Park tomorrow, joining the Homebrew Boat who is already in situ. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Destination Droitwich - Kinver Calling

Destination Droitwich Day 2
Botterham to Kinver
April 2014

A boating day nearing perfection - Warm, sunny, almost no other boats and great company!

I thought boat volumes were picking up when two came through Botterham staircase before 9.30 but it was not to be. Maybe I passed five boats all day, certainly no more. Effectively we had the canal to ourselves and I indulged in a spot of Wild Garlic and Nettle picking at the boat sat in the lock with little fear of interruption.

Bluebells on the Staffs and Worcester Canal

Things were also slow at Bratch. The asst lock keeper, and my recovery crew for this trip, advised that they had seen just five boats by lunch time.

Helen was busy below decks working on 20 jars of Wild Garlic Jelly followed by 20 jars of Red Onion Marmalade with a couple of loads of Nettle Cordial on the way. None of this is for sale at Droitwich as he have no label printer aboard so these will come home with us ready for our trip to Eritrea (sorry Helen struggles with Etruria!) at the end of May.

So we drifted along, mostly with me working the locks solo but at the back of my mind I keep expecting to see Phil Clayton on Marsh Harrier ploughing up the canal behind me, also on the way to Droitwich. There are some similarities between us - we do jam whereas he is a musician and likes to jam!

Rock outcrops alongside the canal

Good news on the Butty front - Montgomery will be ready for collection on the 17th May. I cant help but keep glancing over my shoulder and wonder how it will be with 24ft of iron and steel hanging behind us.

So we rocked into Kinver at 4.00pm and with Helen busy cooking I set to on the right hand side of the boat, working away hard with G3 compound which stripped off the dull layer of green and brought it up like new. Its a bit of a sweat but beats repainting the side. I will leave you with my final photo of the day - one I have just taken as I sit here in the bed and type up today's blog post.

Kinver orse ole

Destination Droitwich 2014

April 2014

We are finally on our way, the first real trip of 2014 en route to the St Richards Festival in Doritwich.

We are making a slow run down the Staffs and Worcester and out onto the Rover Severn before climbing up into Droitwich via the Barge Canal. Six days to do what can be a three day trip.

Wild Garlic and an interesting Cratch Board

Saturday was a bit of a write off in cruising terms as we had to sort ourselves out after the wedding in Scotland and then back for a three day festival plus cooking utensils for the nettle cordial, wild garlic jelly and red onion marmalade to be made as we travel. Safe to say the car was at its limits and the boat in riding an inch down along its length.

The Bratch

In the event we moved maybe three miles to Coven in the howling wing and settled down for a quiet night in a shallow cutting whilst the storm blew itself out.

Sunday suffered from a terrible weather forecast, heavy and unrelenting rain from noon onwards. To take full advantage of the good weather we set of at.... 11.00am! However, whilst the shy was very Black over Bills Mother's to the east it never did more than a couple of light showers which hade the sight of dripping crews coming uphill all the more remarkable. Our heating fuel is a bit low and I was delighted to chance upon a big pile of sawn 2x4 offcuts - plenty for a few evenings fires.

The Bratch Geyser

As you can imagine, I am a bit of a Butty field at the moment, gathering ideas for Montgomery which will be complete in a couple of weeks. First task will be to prepare the hold and cratch to make it watertight with temporary sheeting.

Plan one was to get to Compton but this stretched to Dimmingsdale and then to Bratch. In the event we carried on to Botterham when the charmed dry weather did ebb and we moored just as a terrific storm hit and drummed on the roof for a couple of hours. With the raindrops growing in size and frequency I did the bad thing and moored the front rope on the last of the lock bollards with the stern in the stinging nettles. Not that there has been any significant traffic on the Staffs and Worcester.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A Scottish Wedding

A Scottish wedding in Ayr
April 2014

I have to admit that there is something rather romantic about a Scottish wedding.

The happy couple

Maybe its the skirl of the bagpipes, the twirl of the tartan or the heady aroma of Scotch Whisky - of maybe a bit of all of them seasoned with the marriage of family. One way or another the Scottish do a good wedding, and nowhere better than Brigadoon.

Nice day for a white wedding!

This week saw Helen's side of the family make their way north in an assortment of planes train and automobiles and congregate in Ayr to celebrate the long awaited wedding of Heather (Hedge) and Del who somewhat perversely now live in Brighton (long story).

A selfie for the record
Brigadoon offers a setting one could only dream of and as luck would have it the event was staged under wall to wall spring sunshine, a day so unseasonably warm that I was too hot outside even wearing a lightweight summer suit.  Anyway, I took my trusty Canon SLR along with me and this is all just a preamble for a few photographic memories of the day. 

Ayr Harbour

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Jam Butty update Late April

Jam Butty progress report
April 2014

Before I start this post a non boating reader recently asked me what the Jam Butty thing is all about. So, for the non boaters among you a short explanation. 

 Montgomery stern

A non powered canal boat which is towed is generally referred to as a butty. By contrast the craft which tows it is known simply as the motor. The plan is to use the butty Montgomery as a base to sell preserves and so whilst the craft will be registered as Montgomery, it will be sign written and referred to as The Jam Butty. Simple, memorable and with a twist of humour.

Over-plating on the bows

Its a month or so since my last update when some over-plating work was dictated by a hull survey. The hull was marked up by the surveyor and the sheet steel was ordered in - but inevitably this means that the delivery date has been pushed back a bit. This delay is no real hassle as we are not planning to move the boat till the summer and its far better to take delivery with the hull in tip top condition and good for decades more in the water than have expensive trouble a few years down the line.

Over-plating on the stern

A visit to a seemingly deserted Stretton yard revealed all the over-plating in place, some tacked into place and some fully welded into position. The steel for the knees is to hand so it wont be long before the whole thing is shot basted and painted.

 Doors onto the bows and cabin

With delivery getting closer my thoughts turned to stuff needed to connect the two craft. Of course some rope is needed for the cross straps which is easily sourced from Midland Chandlers - 16mm nylon rope at £2 per metre. But then we need fenders, a big one for the stern of Wand'ring Bark and a rounded one for the bows of Montgomery. Expensive items but necessary.

 The elum awaiting repair and the tiller handle in the workshop

My best guess it that we will take delivery in about a months time. There are a lot of people looking forward to seeing this curious craft afloat.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A bit more North Walsham and Dilham

North  Walsham and Dilham Canal - the Eastern bit
April 2014

I continued my review of the North Walsham and Dilham by tracing its course though to Dilham, pausing at Briggate along the way.

Briggate Lock April 2014

Briggate Mill was burned down in an arson attack in the 1970's, but the brick lower level survived and has been cleared out recently which provided access to the old wheel chamber for the first time.

Briggate waterwheel pit

Further down we drove through Dilham and whilst not canal related their curious little church caught my eye. It appeared to be in an unusually good condition which was explained by the fact that it was rebuilt in the 1930's.

 Dilham Church - Norfolk

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Watcher in the Shadows - book review

The Watcher in the Shadows
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
April 2014

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a quality writer and having previously read The Shadow of the Wind I found myself tempted by this book as I browsed the bookshop at Birmingham Airport en route to Armenia.

I like to have a good supply of reading matter for to occupy the long hours in the air and I bought this one with the return flight in mind (I already has The Bookshop that Floated away for the outbound leg).

This is a gripping, if slightly sinister tale set in 1937 which is one of Zafons early works. Its by no means as complex or as good as his later Shadow of the Wind, but it is aimed at a teen market which explains the less developed characters and the fact that I read through the 250 pages in less than four hours.

Its a dark and almost magical storyline where a mother and her two children find themselves deeply involved with a mysterious employer in his creepy gothic castle. Dark sinister going on's abound with a counterpoint love story to balance things out. Eventually good faced down evil and comes out victorious, but only after many skirmished and battles.

In some ways thew creeping darkness present in the book foretells the shadows the Second World War cast over Europe, a genie which cant be put back in its bottle.

All in all a good, fast moving book which works for an adult reader, but dont expect another Shadow on the Wind.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Yearning for Yerevan

A few images from Armenia
April 2014

Another month another country... 

I hate to think what my carbon footprint looks like at the moment, I fear I am doomed to a lifetime of tree planting to atone for the miles I have spent in the skies in recent months.

Central Yerevan, Armenia

This month's trip was to far flung Armenia, a destination which will probably have you reaching for your school atlas or if your are more technically minded clicking onto Google Maps. But for the rest of you Armenia is the next county beyond Turkey, just above Iran, next to Azerbaijan and just below Georgia - does that help?

As you would expect, its an ex Soviet country but one which has picked itself up, dusted itself down and with the aid of its massive diaspora (population which live abroad) it is in the process of rebuilding itself into a great little nation.  Its small - just 3m people and similar in size to Belgium and landlocked with pretty unsettled relations with three of its four neighbours.

Armeina has suffered more than its share of trials and tribulations over the centuries but even recently it suffered a Genocide at the hands of Turkey in 1905 with a million inhabitants killed and many more fleeing to safety elsewhere and so forming the hugely loyal Diaspora which now number more than the current population, and who faithfully plough huge amounts of cash back to the homeland (shades of the Jewish community). Even more recently they were at war with Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union and today the country plays host to refugees from the troubles in the neighbouring middle eastern countries like Syria, whose number plates are a common sight among hoards of ageing Lada's which rattle over the rutted roads.

As you can imagine, its reconstruction is a work in progress, with its capital Yerevan leading the way. Half the population live in Yerevan and its centre has been developed very tastefully, although the state of the roads is a shock absorber manufacturers wet dream! Beyond the central zone the picture is more varied with the brutal ex Soviet remains all around. A bit of a post industrial nightmare in places, but Rome wasn't built in a day and they are getting there with real gems emerging form the industrial ashes.

And then there is the culture. It was the first nation to adopt Christianity as their religion and there are many churches dating back to the third century - an orthodox strand of mainstream Christianity with subtle differences from Catholicism (but dont ask me to define them!).

Above and beyond that there is the underlying geography of the place. Yerevan sits next to a huge fertile plain in the shadow of Mount Ararat, a snow capped dormant volcano and source of potential seismic unrest. To the north there is a magnificent high altitude lake which forms a gateway to a spectacular area of tree clad mountains as you approach the Georgian border. This area is a popular holiday destination in the summer and not dissimilar to the Lake District.

Of all the "exotic" places I have visited on business Armenia is perhaps the one I would most like to revisit for a holiday. Certainly not a laze by the pool sort of destination, but a country with immense variety, culture, interest and perhaps most importantly, a welcoming population who embrace visitors and are wildly enthusiastic to share their passion for their country.

Oh, and before you ask - yes I did do some work whilst was there, but I took every opportunity I could to sample the country, and its most excellent Ararat Brandy!