Friday 26 December 2008

Family Boxing Day

Friday 26th December 2008
Calf Heath to Coven

6 Miles
2 Hours

What better way to blow away the Christmas cobwebs than a canal trip to the Fox and Anchor. The weather forecasters were right - a clear blue sky but a penetrating cold easterly wind.

As this was a "whole family" trip I went to the boat first with Tilly, after making an obligatory trip to Game to sort out a malfunctioning Christmas present. The idea was lunch on the boat followed by a drink at the Fox and Anchor. We got all the covers off Wand'ring Bark, lit the fire, turned on the water and the electrics and finally loaded on the food and drink. No sooner had we completed all the tasks than Jeff bounces in, ready for the off.
These Christmas trips are great if the weather is kind. No ice this year but I don't think the blacking could take too much of last years punishment. We set off into blinding sunshine and soon came across more of BW's tree thinning efforts. The logs we had seen two weeks previously had all been hoovered up by heat hungry boaters, but the latest works has resulted in a huge pile of logs, all 12" long and just ready for drying and splitting. We half filled the front well deck on the return journey, enough to keep our home fire burning right through to the spring. Cheers BW!

We were not alone in our plan to visit the Fox and Anchor, two other boats were out from Calf Heath, Phoenix (resplendent in a new red and green paint job) and a short tug. The pub was rammed with punters, but a table was found near the fire and a drink imbibed courtesy of my father in law.

On the return journey Belle and her mother decided on a towpath stroll, getting back on at Laches Bridge. Unfortunately, as I reversed to recover them I picked up a travel rug on the prop, virtually bringing the boat to a standstill. A boaters nightmare - air temperature 2 degrees, water temperature little better and a fouled prop. There was nothing for it but to take a trip down the weed hatch.

Luckily the blanket was well rotted and it tore free leaving just the border hooked under the shaft. The water was so cold my hands were in agony within one minute - its a good job it was a quick fix or we would have found ourselves bow hauling WB back to the marina!

We returned (weighed down with a huge stack of logs) just as the sun was setting. What the trip lacked in length is made up for in quality of company and incident.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Waterways World Guide to Narrowboat Planning

Waterways World Guide to Narrowboat Planning by Graham Booth
Book Review

I picked up a copy of this guide whilst aboard Black Prince's Kiwi, shortly after we purchased Wand'ring Bark.You may wonder why a hire boat after buying your own? - and that's not a stupid question.

Wand'ring Bark was a compromise in terms of length (shorter then planned), layout (cruiser stern not semi trad), price (more expensive of course) and age (about 15 years younger than expected). Wand'ring Bark was therefore not exactly what we wanted on day one, and needed a lot of work to bring her format and spec up to that which we desired. The good thing was that as soon as I altered the main saloon to accommodate two single berths as an alternate configuration to the existing double cross bed, we were in business and ready to cruise. However, there wasn't time to complete this work in time for our 2006 holiday so we used our Tesco's vouchers to hire Kiwi to do the Cheshire Ring.

Whilst I have strong carpentry skills, I need design ideas to feed off and that's where this book comes in. It would certainly be very useful if you are planning to commission a brand new boat but even if, like us, you are looking for inspiration and ideas to upgrade / refit and existing boat Graham's insights are excellent. He comes across as a hands on DIY boat fitter with several vessels to his name. His ideas are therefore both functional and stylish.

The book covers all the main types and layouts you are likely to encounter and weight the pro's and con's of each. If you are thinking of commissioning or altering a boat spend a few hours reviewing the ideas this book contains. Wand'ring Bark may be 80% my handiwork but the credits for the concepts are largely attributable to the worthy Mr Booth.

ISBN 187000294 - 6

Narrow Dog to Indian River

Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington
Book Review

Follow up books, like tricky second albums, often fail to live up to expectations.

Well, I am glad to report that Terry's second "Narrow Dog" book eclipses the first in every way.

Whilst there are no screen shots of them entering Chesapeake Bay, having just sailed the North Atlantic in the Phyllis May, their 1100 mile adventure down America's Intracoastal Waterways is gripping none the less. I have been aware of this waterway for years and have hankered to follow its easterly course ever since an acquaintance made the trip to the Gulf of Mexico from the Great Lakes in a converted trawler. I have also seen it from the air en route to Florida and its exposed aspect looked an unlikely place for a flat bottomed narrowboat to venture.

But venture they did, for nine months through stifling heat, tropical storms, nasty insects and hungry looking crocodiles. Whereas Narrow Dog to Carcassonne was at time difficult to follow, this second book really took me with them, I could almost smell the salty air and hear the whine of the mossies. I was struck by the overwhelming friendliness they encountered brim the locals they met and the number of people who threw themselves into the endeavour, giving up time and effort to get the Darlingtons down to Fort Myers.

This is a splendid travel book. Thanks for sharing your memories with us Terry.
See you at Tixall Wide sometime.

ISBN 978 - 0 - 593056 - 91 - 2

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

Narow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington
Book Review

Terry and Monica Darlington's escapades with their whippet Jim in nb Phyllis May are the stuff of legend. Two pensioners with a lust for life and an unhealthy disregard for health and safety sail the Chanel bound for Carcassonne in the South of France. The TV footage of their entry into Calais in the face of an outbound Sea Cat probably delivered enough publicity to sell 30,000 copies.

If you sometimes wish that the UK's inland waterways went a bit further then this is a book for you. Its a great account of a nine month voyage taking in Paris, the Saone and the mighty Rhone if not in their stride then at least in a stylish stumble.

For me it was a must read book given its subject matter. However, I do have one significant reservation about the book. Terry does like his poetry which is inserted into the text at regular intervals. Personally, poetry in all shapes and guises really turns me off and merely served to interrupt a good read - a bit like academic references peppering a technical document. For me it detracts rather than adds to the read. That said, Belle is very much pro poetry (you should see the shelf of poetry books in our loo!), so one mans meat is another's poison!

I take my hat off to the Darlingtons. They inspire me to an active and adventurous retirement. I also have to mind my P's and Q's in my comments as I regularly pass their base at Sone, and have been known to frequent Terry's beloved Star for a jar or two.

ISBN 0 - 593 - 05311 - 7


Saturday 13 December 2008

BW and the Boat Boys

Calf Heath to Coven
Staffs and Worcester Canal
13th December 2008

6 Miles
2 Hours

You have to grab boating opportunities when you can at this time of year. In spite of a diabolical forecast and a long list on unbought Christmas presents, the return of Chris, one of my best friends from the distant north (Morpeth) inspired us to have a day on the boat "come what may". Our wives deemed us mad to venture out in the face of such rain, but we both heeded the Outward Bound saying - "its never the wrong sort of weather, just the wrong sort of clothes!" and donned our most water resistant wet weather gear. A detailed inspection of the local weather map suggested that the worst of the rain would pass by 11.00 so we set off, hoping for the best.

With all the rain, the water levels in the Gailey summit pound were very high and some kind soul had loosened the ropes on WB. They are a good bunch at Calf Heath.

We had been thinking of making a descent to Penkridge but given the adverse weather and limited light we opted for a more leisurely trundle along the Staffs and Worcester to the Fox and Anchor at Coven. Imagine our delight when we discovered that BW had been thinning the offside trees and had left logs everywhere. We stopped off three times on the outward journey and noted some additional likely locations for the return trip.

I usually only hear about these free wood bonanzas after the event, by which time all my friends have stripped the smaller logs clean leaving only the huge ones which are too big to handle, let alone saw up. Not this time, today I was the first on the scene and enjoyed the rich pickings which were available. BW had been so thoughtful that they even left one supply neatly stacked up on a dredging barge.

The Fox and Anchor offered their excellent Scottish beefburgers all washed down with a pint of John Smiths and topped off with a festive Bread and Butter Pudding.

The return journey saw more timber collections eventually covering the rear deck and weighing in at about 1.5 tons! The added load caused the boat to settle several inches, such that we became firmly grounded and it took us a good 15 mins to break free.

After returning home and relieving the groaning car springs of their excess load, there was just time for a wash and brush up before the Capt and Belle departed for a Christmas meal with old friends (all poshed up in our DJ's). This group gather at the start of each Christmas and the male contingent
form the core of the Boat Boys, the group that used to relay Honey up and down to London.

Andy, The Capt, Tony, Kev, George and Dave

With Honey off the radar the group have now migrated to Wand'ring Bark and can often be seen chugging around the canals of the West Midlands and the BCN. Give them a wave if you like, but they prefer a bottle of Port!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Narrow Boat Painters

The Art of the Narrow Boat Painters by A J Lewery
Book Review

If A J Lewery's "Signwiritten Art" was too general and not sufficiently canal focused for you , here is the perfect supplement.

For over 200 years narrowboat artists have been creating floating works or art, making beautiful the utilitarian workhorse of the industrial revolution. Styles varied across the country and because the end results largely pre dated the camera and endured a harsh life little first hand evidence remains, making the subject a challenge for academic study.

AJ Lewery is the recognised authority on narrowboat art, basing this book on accounts given to him by the people who worked the canals and painted the boats in the various boatyards. It's a fascinating walk through the world of canal boat painting, putting things in perspective and showing how the art for evolved over time and how the end result changed according to the area, fashion and the fleet owner.

You will finish this little book both wiser and more informed, able to recognise the authenticity of the paintwork on the painstakingly restored traditional boats such as Gifford or Saturn, but also able to see the over stylised pastiche applied to many new "traditionals".

If you are thinking about painting your narrowboat you could do worse than read this book. It will give you some good ideas which you can incorporate into your design and whilst I wouldn't' recommend the slavish reproduction of a very traditional scheme on a modern boat, it gives me pleasure to look at the design I applied to the bows of Wand'ring Bark and know that the scheme was inspired by the design used on Saturn.

ISBN 0 - 7153 - 2140 -4

Paint Roses and Castles

Paint Roses and Castles by Anne Young
Book Review

A "how to" guide for aspiring waterways artists.

This is a great book for boaters looking to apply their artistic talents in a watery environment. It explains, in a step by step fashion, how you can create a reasonable rendition on the roses and castles theme.

Visit any gathering of narrowboats and you will find examples of vernacular waterways art, echoing the liveries and decoration which adorned the working boats on the 19th and early 20th centuries. For some the retro look is all a bit too twee but in my opinion, a painted tradition feature here and there enhances any canal boat, and adds colour and life to the whole canal scene.

Anne demonstrates that painting roses and castles doesn't have to be difficult and is within the grasp of most amateur painters. What is more, there was never one style of painting and the images produced varied across the country. The local variations can be attributed to the house styles of individual boatyards and the tendency for the apprentice to copy the style of the master - thus perpetuating a particular style. So it dosen't matter if your "stye" is a bit different form Annes - or any one else's for that matter. Have a go, create your own variation on a traditional theme and put the end result on display for everyone to enjoy.

The author has lots of ideas about things you could paint and use to liven up to your boat, everything from the traditional Buckby Can through to coasters and house numbers to remind you of the waterways when not actually afloat.

Perhaps my favourite application are ideas on how to paint roses and castle on raised panels, which can be completed at home and then applied to my boat doors when complete. This approach has the added advantage of allowing me several attempts to follow the instructions and "get it right" before putting my efforts on display for all to see.

This is a good book for crafty types willing to experiment during the long winter months, emerging blinking into the spring light armed with new artwork for the first trip of the year.

ISBN 0 7153 1618 -4

Birmingham's Canalside Industries

Birmingham and the Black Country's Canalside Industries by Ray Shill
Book review

This is an encyclopedic tome detailing the minutiae of the industries which grew up, withered and died alongside the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

It has been painstakingly pieced together by Ray, drawing on local history archives and brought to life with a good assortment of photographs. The photo's and engravings depict long gone industrial scenes and the only clues to their locations is by close examination of the bends and bridges on the relatively unchanging canal bed.

Birmingham was built on coal and metal, and needed an infrastructure to move these heavy commodities around in a cost effective manner. As Birmingham sits high on a sandy plateau with little surface water, the natural river system offered few options for water travel. The ingenious local industrialists therefore developed network of canals to join the collieries, mills, mines and works together and then to access the surrounding canal and river navigations. Without the canals Birmingham and the Black Country couldn't have prospered and they were therefore instrumental in shaping the face of the West Midlands we see today.

This is no easy read as it examines the businesses from archive material and includes many tables and lists of items moved. That said, it is a rewarding read for those with a interest in the the history of Birmingham and its surrounds, and in particular an interest in the impact the BCN had on shaping the industrial heartland of England.

ISBN 0-7524-3262-1

Saturday 6 December 2008

Canals of England

Canal of England by Martin Evans and Robert Reichenfield
Book Review

If you suffer form SAD (Seasonal Adjustment Disorder) during the long winter months away form the waterways here is the perfect antidote.

160 pages and 130 glorious colour photographs covering the best of the navigable canals and some which remain under restoration.

Its a coffee table book I return to again and again, each time being refreshed by the fantastic photos of Robert Reichenfield and the absorbing narrative of Martin Evans. If you cant get out there on the canals, and you have exhausted the scope of my blog this is the answer.

If you don't have a copy, search one out. I can't do the photos justice - you will need to check them our for yourself.

ISBN 0-75380-533-2

Signwritten Art

Signwritten Art by A J Lewery
Book Review

As you travel around the canals of England and Wales you can't help but notice the names painted on the sides of boats. The quality varies enormously with some craft carrying amateurish scrawls but others enhanced by magnificent sign writing echoing back to the days of commercial canal carrying fleets and No1's.

Sign writing as a craft is now virtually dead, replaced by quick and easy pvc letters, cut out by computer. A few pockets remain where traditionally applied sign writing is valued, such as historic pubs, fairgrounds and of course on the sides of narrow boats.

This book provides an authoritative commentary on the history of sign writing and how the craft evolved. It is technical and not entirely devoted to boat painting, but if you are interested in the heritage of our waterways and understanding why boats are painted the way they are this is a book for you.

AJ Lewery is one of the latter day greats of sign writing, inspiring quality in sign written art and an appreciation of a job well done. A word of warning - if you read this book you won't be able to tolerate a shoddy set of plastic letters on your boat. You will be compelled to spend the extra and have a "proper job" done by one of the jobbing sign writers, who still ply their trade around the canal system.

ISBN 0-7153-2103-x

Thursday 27 November 2008

Which! Waterways Mag?

Which! waterways magazine

I like to subscribe to a regular waterways related magazine, but which one should I choose?

Belle is a great advocate of the benefit of letting things "settle", which is really just another take on the old adage of "lets sleep on it". Selecting a waterways magazine isnt exactly a life changing decision but I have certainly slept on the issue and let it settle. In fact I have given the matter about five years of fragmentory thought and, having thought finally reached a decision, I figured that I had better "show my workings" and maybe get bette
r marks. Does my recent trip to a schol parents evening show?

Belle discovered my early stash of illicitly purchased waterways mags in my bedside drawer, and brought the matter to my attention during a dinner party.

Belle announces to all who will listen:
"Guess what I just found in the Captains bedside drawer?"

The room goes silent - whats coming next the
y all wonder between mouthfuls of Delias's calorie free chocolote Bread and Butter Pudding?
" I found a huge great pile of Glossy Magazines (emphasis on the Glossy of course), thats what I found"

The Captian noticed a sudden move to inhalation rather than mastication.
"Actually I found 10 much thumbed copies of Waterways World".

You would think that the revalation that they wern't Penthouse, Knave or Mayfair (I may be revealing my pornographic age here) would be something of a relief. However, the titters whch replaced the shock were soon supplanted with "you sad old bugger" looks. I had to conclude that there would be less stigma attached to a stash of recent prorn th
an back editions of boating magazines. I will ponder that a bit more.

So. The big question - which mag should I subscribe

There are three blushing damsels sitting on the bookshelf trying to catch my eye, all in some ways similar, but uniquely different when you get to know them.

Lets start with the biggest and therefore the most popular girl (sorry, magazine) on the bench:

Waterways World.

  • This has been running since Noah started recommending boat travel.
  • Has a circulation of something north of 30,000 I believe, mostly sold by annual subscription and over the counter at chandleries / hire bases etc.
  • Is based in Burtion on Trent
  • Also publishes an even more niche historical can mag :
I subscribed to WW for several years but ultimately found it dissatisfying. Its main focus is in profiling new boats which can become tiresome if you dont own a new boat or aspire to buy one. It's a middle of the road magazine, based in the midlands, focusses on the midlands narrow canals, aiming for a middle class, middle income market.

WW's worst failing is an apparent inability to respond to correspondence. They are truly aweful - but at least they did publish one of my "Tixall in the snow" photos in the Q4 IWA magzine. Thanks WW - I will cash the cheque real soon.

Canals and Rivers

The next girl on my dancecard. If WW was
too much of a Midlander, surely the addition of free flowing fresh water (rivers) would add spice.
  • Potentially this was a match made in heaven as the publication hales from my native Norwich.
  • So here we have a girl with all the attibutes I find attractive, and she speaks witha Norfolk accent. "Cor blas me bor, loook at thaaat - bootifuuul". (sorry - cant resist)
  • The problem is that whilst this girl likes boat maintenance, her main experience is on the GRP stuff she encounters on the Broads.
  • She also obsesses on the broads most months. I love the Broads, I spent most of my youth on or in them, but like a the subject of my adolescent romaces, I dont maintain any ongoing interest. Beverley Wiltshire, if you are out there I am sorry to break it to you so hard.

Canal Boat

So this brings us to the last of the thee hopefuls
  • She looks ok, but is rather strangely proportioned being both taller and wider than her rivals who diet to maitain a strict A4 profile. However, they say that our unique beauty is found in differences.
  • She dosnt get around as much with a circulation of just over 13,000
  • She has several regular feature writes each of whom are allowed to maintain their very individual styles
  • Her back end is completely devoted to the nerdy canal boat maintenance, which I love
  • Her boat profiling is a split between new and second hand.
All in all this is a canal boaters magazine, written by canal boaters for canal boaters. It kind of does exactly what it says on the cover. I two timed WW over the summer so see if my attraction of Canal Boat was a passing crush or the real thing and have concluded that she is the girl for me. I went to Pendeford in August looking for their stand and was greeting by an actual pretty girl armed with freecopies of Nicholsons. The discounted early editions were nice to have, but I was already sold.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Inland Waterways of England

Book Review
The Inland Waterways of England by LTC Rolt

Woa Captain, you are entering deep and turbulent waters here. You cant go criticising the late great Mr Rolt himself, founder and single handed savior of all things canal.

Rest assured that I am not about to do a knocking job on this, or its companion, Narrowboat.

Mr Rolt's impact is undeniable, but he aint God neither. People tend to glorify the the past and its this that really gets up my nose. There's only one God, and he resides up above, a nd probably has as much interest in the preservation of some muddy ditches in England as he has over the results of the next World Cup.

This pair of books have been on my shelves since the 1970's, bought by my father (Captain Snr) and served as an inspiration for his relentless cruising during the dark days of the 1970's.

This book is a technical manual about the evolution of waterways from the earliest of rivers through to the canal era. It also provides detailed information on the construction of locks, weirs, bridges etc together with sections on boat building, boat people, motive power and top tips on water travel. The style is blatantly dated as is the "Pathe News" clipped language, but as the canals don't change much, the contents of this book are as relevant and useful as they were when written in the 1940's.

I have read this book at least three times and continue to unearth gems I had previously missed. Its not the easiest read but is a "must have" item as it represents a watery right of passage from interested participant to enthusiast.

ISBN 004 386006 0

Narrowboat Dreams

Book Review
Narrowboat Dreams by Steve Haywood

I have been aware of Steve for some time as a regular reader of Canal Boat, who recently covered his passage through the Standedge Tunnel in a brief extract. The snippet was sufficiently amusing that the book was promptly added to my Christmas Present list.

There the matter would probably have remained (my Christmas Lists are rarely actioned) save for a chance visit by Belle to the Stratford Oxfam shop. There on the shelves lurked a good quality version for the princely sum on £2.49 (face price £7.99) and, never one to miss a bargain, it was snapped up and returned to my fevered grasp as a prize possession and a gesture of her undying love.

I love boatey books. None are too nerdy to be cast aside and I was immediately all over this one. A book I wanted to read, offered up for absolutely nothing - excellent.

Steve decides to try and identify where South ends and North starts, I believe Winnie the Poo did something similar in search of the North Pole. In this case his destination is a single handed circular tour of the recently opened Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals, exploring this ring shortly after their reopening.

The early sections therefore introduce us to his boating pedigree and take us with him as he sails North from Banbury, carried along on a sea of reflections of canalling in days gone bye. This was very well done and was much enjoyed. I particularly liked his explanation for his aversion to the Tidal Trent. Normanton holds dark spectres for many of us.

By the time he reaches Manchester he is clearly in "The North" and encounters the usual native hospitality associated with the Ashton Flight. As the book moves onto the Huddersfield Canal and Steve enters new territory, he assumes a more traditional travelogue tone describing events in an A to B to C linear style, pausing for a while half way along to attend to a family crisis. On this return to NB Justice he hurries round the remaining portions of the circuit in the failing autumnal weather, ending up on the Peak Forest Canal which became his base for a number of years.

So was this an item to bring to the book group? Well possibly if they are all as canal mad as me. Mind you, I didn't try it on Belle or her bookey friends cos it wouldn't hit their spot. Anyway, one of them christened me Captain Ahab so I don't see why I should share a gem with her!

Yes, its a lovely book but certainly one of two halves. Its not end to end action but neither is it a no score draw.

Update 18.4.09

I have recently completed the South Pennine Ring, inspired by this book. I am therefore re reading it and now realise that a first read merely provided an overview of the trip, sort of whetting ones appetite. Having actually seen it, done it and won the tee shirt the book now comes to life. I suspect it will justify another blog entry when the accounts of our travels are complete.

ISBN 978-1-84024-670-4

The Water Road

Book Review
The Water Road by Paul Gogarty

I am reminded on that classic song about New York - so good they named it twice.

This book is so good I have owned it twice! First time around Belle bought me a copy and I was extolling its virtues to a literary friend, who was considering a similar project. This conversation ended up with the book being lent out and sort of disappeared to Prague, along with the friend!

I was therefore delighted when my erstwhile colleagues bought me another copy as part of a leaving present. They knew about my nerdy fascination with all things canal and were very pleased with themselves for having winkled this gem out. I didn't let on that I had read it before...

The author is a professional journalist and that shines through this chunky 350 page read. He is a man with a mid life crisis on his hands and sought solace, you guessed it, in the arms of the Inland Waterways. This is a very good approach and so much cheaper than the usual, you know - buy sports car and trade in the missus for a new, younger model. If the petrol bill doesn't kill you the private prescriptions for Viagra certainly will.

As to the book, Paul sets off in Caroline, an ancient Adelaide Marine hire boat in early 2001, the year of foot and mouth. His aim was to do a huge figure of eight from London to Birmingham, then to Manchester and over the Pennines via the Leeds Liverpool. His return route was back down the eastern side on England via the Yorkshire waterways, the Trent and then across to Oxford and complete the journey via the Thames. It make me weary just to think about it!

Paul really immerses himself into life on the cut and his witty and insightful accounts of the characters he meets along the way are three dimensional and at times make you LOL (laugh out loud to non text speakers). He has the predictable ups and down with local natives, which we all experience from time to time, but the book holds you in its spell throughout the journey. I love it when travel accounts cross over each other, and there is a cracking one here where Paul on NB Caroline passes The Tuesday Night crew on NB Earnest in Lincoln's Brayford Pool. If you havn't visited the Tuesday Night Club's (TNC) website you should - its a gem.

All goes will till Paul takes an enforced stop in Oxford to attend to a family commitment. At that point, the book comes to an abrupt halt. I don't know if the break in continuity caused it, or the altered personality of the Thames was to blame, but the book never really gets back into its stride. It feels like a dash to finish a project with some pre arranged "meetings" thrown in to add spice. The heart just isn't there.

But this book shouldn't be remaindered just because the last section is below par. The rest is a triumph and well worth a read, once, twice or maybe more.

Paul - if you are ever in the Midlands and fancy a pint give me a shout.

ISBN 1-86105-515-3

A Boy off the Bank

Book Review
A Boy off the Bank by Geoffrey Lewis

I encountered Geoffrey in the depths of the BCNS tent at the Pendeford rally in August and, on a whim, agreed to buy the above book - the first of a trilogy. I have his signature inside the front cover as proof if necessary.

Other pressing reading material pushed BotB to the bottom of the pile but a sudden burst of man flu left me with time on my hands. This time, coupled with a limited amount of reading material within arms length caused me to alight on the book in question.

Without spoiling any of the plot, its a heartwarming tale of a lost and abandoned boy who finds a new life in the arms of the extended canal family. The book covers his rescue, his early days on the narrowboats and on into young manhood up and down the Grand Union. A full quota of life events is thrown at our young hero including births, marriages and death to all the elements are there for a gripping read.

But, and you knew there was a but coming, it wasn't the page turner it could have been. Geoffrey clearly wanted to be as authentic and accurate as possible, as is evident from his acknowledgements. The sad thing is that the literary maxim "never let the facts stand in the way of a good story" are very true and some artistic license is needed to sweeten the pie.

The book provided a thoughtful and well researched insight into life on the cut during the war years. However, it reads as a storyteller trying to stitch together a number of disparate facts ferreted out by a researcher. A prime example of this was a red herring story line which dragged the characters down the Birmingham Worcester Canal as far as Tardebigge Top Lock, just to have a chance encounter with Messrs Rolt and Aickman. As I said, a slave to historical accuracy.

The end result is an excellently executed backdrop but an unconvincing storyline. The decision to write the narrative in colloquial Brummie meets Boaters speak was a challenge, even for a longtime resident of the midlands fair city.

So am I dissing the book? Well yes, and no. I don't think it has the legs to become one of the great sagas but it did add some historically accurate colour to the Brentford / Birmingham route with which I am so familiar.

The key question is what about books two and three? Well, with No1 having a cover price of £7.99 (ISBN 978-0-9545624-6-5) I guess I will use up the last few pounds on my Waterstones gift card and learn more of the declining years during the 1950's. As for No3, well as at September there were a few chapters waiting to be written so maybe I will look that one out in time for Christmas 2009 - but then again, maybe I wont...

Sunday 9 November 2008

Leeds Liverpool Canal 1981

October 1981
Heath Charnock (Chorley) to Skipton

106 miles
70 locks

6 days

This trip was undertaken by the Captain before he was promoted to such an exalted rank!
As can be seen from the grainy photos taken on 110mm
film (do you remember that short lived format?), I was barely 20 and accompanied the then Capain (now deceased), his wife (my Mother) and my Aunt.

The overriding memory of the three surviving crew was rain, rain and more rain. As I recall, it rained every day for most of the day and always heavily!

Maybe this is par for the course on the western side of the Leeds Liverpool, but it went down as one of our less successful boating trips and we spent a whole week in a state of mild hypothermia. However, it must have stopped raining as some points to allow the following photo's to be taken.

The Captian working Stegneck Lock

I recall the scenery being somewhat dull but even in 19

81 my father and I were both canal fanatics and enjoyed the trip. Its funny looking at a very young me all togged out in my Troll waterproofs, but clearly happy to sit out in the pouring rain day after day plodding along a lonely stretch of canal. Some things never change, and each year you will still find me in exactly the same position, happy as a pig in muck!

For this trip we hired nb Rivington from a now defunct yard at Rawlinson Lane in Heath Charnock. This is about an hour or so above the Wigan flight and just before Botany.

The photos don't include the name of the hire company but (I am reliably informed that it was Leeds & Liverpool Cruisers - see comments below) the boat was approx 50ft , steel with GRP superstructure and decked out on a particularly bilious orange livery.

Happy viewing.

Mooring at eastern end of summit pound near Gargrave

Were it not for the images captured on this film I would deny ever
having visited this stretch. This is good news because whilst I have technically "done it", it remains effectively a virgin canal ripe for exploration.

Approaching Skipton

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Little Onn to Calf Heath

Tuesday 21st October 2008
Little Onn to Calf Heath
Shropshire Union and Staffs & Worcs Canals

14 Miles
2 Locks
6 Hours

After yesterdays rain it was a delight to see the day dawn clear and bright. The seemingly unoccupied boat behind me did in fact have a crew on board, one that are currently unhappily based at Otherton Marina, and who are active members in the escape committee seeing refuge at Calf Heath!. We have heard so many bad reports about the way boaters are treated at Otherton it is hardly a surprise that they are barely 2/3rd full.

The day was truly exceptional with bright sunshine and gentle winds, but more boaters than one generally expects this late in the season.

I made an obligatory stop at Wheaton Aston filling station and topped off the diesel tank (62p per litre) and was advised that the 60:40 split is by no means obligatory, it is all down to self declaration, which the garage is happy to accept. When applied, the extra tax will cost an additional 50p per litre, which sounds a lot but when considered on an annual basis, it is not enough to dissuade us from boating.

From Diesel I moved on to the self service pump out only to discover that both my pre paid meter cards have been used by friends who have borrowed the boat and replaced the cards, fully used. Its not the money that matters, it’s the inconvenience of only finding out when all connected to the machine! Grr. In future I will hide my BW payment cards.
Whilst “not” pumping out I encountered another of the genial solitary male continuous cruisers sailing aboard “Directors Cut”, selling some lovely photos to supplement his pension. It is interesting how the linear village throws you into contact with complete strangers, most of whom display a warmth and willingness to engage which you never find on land.

The stretch from Wheaton Aston to Brewood was a stunning show of autumn colour – the best I have ever witnessed. This left the cut clogged with leaves, of course, but that was a small price to pay for the experience. And anyway, you always get there in the end.

As it’s the last trip of the season I tried to get a pump out at Autherley, but the staff had all gone out to rescue on of their cruisers leaving a cleaner to man (actually it was “woman”) the shop. Her remit didn’t extend to pump outs so the holding tank got a good dollop of Blue and I will keep my fingers crossed that the new tank ventilation system via the rinse pipe continues to do the trick. If it lasts all winter without stinking I will become a true convert of the maxim that “a well ventilated tank is a non smelly tank”.

Finally made it back to Calf Heath at 4.30 and said a sad goodbye to WB and the last proper trip of 2008.

Monday 20 October 2008

Market Drayton to Little Onn

Monday 20th October 2008
Market Drayton to Little Onn
Shropshire Union Canal

7 Hours
18 Miles
5 Locks

It blew a gale overnight and I awoke to pouring rain so I had a lazy start to the day and finally got on the move at 11am. I immediate fell in behind a rather slow boat and dawdled my way to the Tyrley Locks, letting some space build up between us.

It happened that a crew were descending, so I waited and fell into conversation with the owner of the boat in front, who was a continuous cruiser and had been aboard for for five years, slowly making his way around the system accompanied only by his dog. He was a quiet but friendly man who graciously lifted a bottom paddle on exiting the lock and so eased my passage. His boat was called “Inky and I” so I guess I was talking to “I”. Mind you, I am sure he called his dog Spot which was curious. Maybe boats live for longer than dogs… I followed “I” right through Woodseaves Cutting, which was made ponderous by the huge number of leaves brought down by the overnight winds. There was no danger of breaking the 2mph speed limit today. We finally parted company with waves and greetings at Goldstone Wharf, with me on my way to Calf Heath and him to his winter moorings half way up the Bradley Arm of the BCN. (see log entry May 2007).

The passage up the Tyrley Flight and through the cutting had been sheltered and in sunshine, but all that changed as I left Goldstone behind. Dark grey clouds streamed in carried by a gale force wind which sent WB crabwise up the cut and became wild as I crossed the lofty Shebdon Embankment. Just beyond the old Cadburys works a boat pulled out when I was less than 100 yards away and then veered from side to side. I quickly realised that this was the same boat that has been making a total hash of things in the area the previous day so pressed on and passed by without delay.

By the time I reached Grub Street cutting the clouds opened necessitating a quick stop to don full waterproofs, have a pint of water and stoke the fire – all whilst the boat continued at tickover and without touching either bank. This is not a trick to play when there are other boats around.

From here on the rain never let up and I passed a sodden Norbury Junction with few signs of life, apart from a curl of smoke from the residential boaters. I had the canal to myself all the way through Gnosall, but was constantly reversing to clear the clogged prop. The surface debris was so bad that at times the prop was fouled the minute I started up. Progress was therefore very slow.

I decided to press on a bit further and stop at dusk, hopefully stopping at Little Onn, just before the Rye Hill Cutting where I had noticed a good mooring spot after bridge 24. The spot was also recommended by a walking boater who helped me with Tyrley Top Lock. I arrived in the failing gloom to find plenty of space and a sheltered haven for the night.

The evening was spent drying off in front of the fire and watching a few episodes of Dads Army, followed by an hour of The Water Road, an excellent canal travelog by Paul Gogerty which I have been rereading whilst away. Whilst it follows the established theme of “man takes off in a boat and finds both himself and the lost England”, PG is a travel writer by profession and therefore writes very well. He explores the people around the cut and therefore introduces a rich seam of human life interest, which is engaging, bringing the trip to life.

The rain cascaded down, the wind howled and I settled in for a cosy last night aboard.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Gnosall to Market Drayton

Sunday 19th October 2008
Gnosall to Market Drayton
Shropshire Union Canal

14 Miles
5 Locks
6 Hours

This second day is a relatively short leg and given the inclination and a crew, you can reach the bottom of the Audlem flight quite comfortably. However, this is a laid back single handed cruise so no need to set a challenging timetable.

The overnight rain had lifted and the day broke clear and bright. Just the opportunity I had been looking for to service the engine! I had passed Seethay Wharf in the car on Friday so had purchased the necessary consumables, together with some new sump pump brackets from Beta Marine so all was set. Nothing is simple on boats is it? The brackets turned out to be too big to grip the pump but hey presto, Duck Tape to the rescue. Four turns round the barrel and it was snug and secure.
With oil / filter changes, batteries topped up and an additional 5ltrs of anti freeze added I was off at noon.

The Shelmore embankments provided a good view of the Wrekin in the distance, followed by a stop at Norbury Junction to take on some food supplies and extra coal for the fire. The Norbury area was awash with fishermen who were evenly spaced for three miles, yes three miles – all the way from 1 mile before Norbury to the northern end of Grub Street cutting. I have a policy with fishermen, I pretend that they are moored boats and therefore pass them at dead slow and straight down the middle. I don’t make much progress but I do attract plenty of nod, winks and "watcha’s" from this normally taciturn breed.

Hunger forced a stop at Park Heath Wharf where I retreated from a growing gale to stoke the fire - both the one in the grate and the one in my belly.

Woodseaves was an absolute delight and taken with the lovely Tylrey flight made a great end to the run. Woodseaves was a riot of autumnal colour and on this occasion I had it to myself. This space allowed me to stop under the bridges and take some excellent photos. This run offers the best of the Shroppie’s cuttings and of all, I love Woodseaves the best. As a child my parents took me on canal holidays and these must have included the Shropshire Union. Throughout my teenage tears I used a mental image of an endlessly straight cutting with a magnificent high bridge at the end as a picture to help me get to sleep. I would lay there with my slowing heartbeat being the rhythm of the boat engine driving me oh so slowly towards the bridge – but I always fell asleep before I got there. I assumed it was a amalgam of various canal images, but was shocked to discover it was a real place – Woodseaves!

Tyrley Locks where delightful with their cute workers cottages at the top. Fortunately I met two boats coming up which is always a bonus for a single hander.

I rolled into Market Drayton just as darkness was falling and a fine rain was in the air. On the final run in I encountered a turtle. Yes, a turtle – you know a scrawny necked creature that pokes its head out of its shell. In this case it was the boating variety who felt that my slow wasn’t slow enough so out popped this withered head on a stick and all ranting and gesticulation. Poor old bugger, he can’t have much of a life if that’s all he has for entertainment.

Settled on my now regular moorings alongside the school playing field, consumed a hearty salad and sardines (I know how to live... actually I also know how to lose weight - two stone in two months thanks to the Cambridge Diet and self control) and settled down to watch Bond's Goldeneye.

Another great day aboard WB.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Calf Heath to Gnosall

Sat 18th October 2008
Calf Heath to Gnosall
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

18 Miles
2 Locks
6 Hours

Index of posts in this series:
1. - Calf Heath To Gnosall - this post

2. - Gnosall to Market Drayton
3. - Market Drayton to Little Onn
4. - Little Onn to Calf Heath

This is the Capt’s annual autumn solo cruise. However, solo does not always mean alone!
On this occasion the Capt is accompanied by Jeff for the first day and as Belle was away for the night we decided to sleep on WB after Jeff finished youth club. We arrived at Calf Heath at after 11.00pm and promptly set a fire to take the chill off the boat and settled down to a peaceful night in the marina.

We woke at 9.00am and were ready to meet the Chairman (and wife) of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust when they arrived at 10.00 am to take some photos to publicise the Capt being the 2000th member of the Trust (see IWA National Festival). The resulting photo will probably grace the front cover of the Trust's newsletter, so I will post a copy in the log as and when it appears.

The weather forecast for the next four days is mixed so I have opted for the relatively lock free route to Market Drayton, which will make for an easier home run if the rain sets in. This route is particularly beautiful in the autumn as it includes the vast wood lined cuttings of the Shropshire Union. I have done this run a number of times before and never tire of it.

The first day is a regular trip to Gnosall. Initially it was sunny and mild but a freshening north westerly wind picked up as the day progressed. We paused for some lunch at Autherley Junction, mooring up on the rings created to the IWA festival at Pendeford Park. The weeds are already running riot and the moorings will have returned to their normal wilderness state by next season.

Whilst it was a Saturday, there was very little traffic on the move, just a few hardy souls overnighting on the popular sites South of Chillington Wharf and Little Onn. We pressed on to Gnosall arriving in the gathering gloom and moored up alongside the Navigation Inn. The Capt is on a determined weight loss campaign (1st and 2lbs since May) so whilst Jeff tucked into a huge curry, I had to “enjoy” a hearth mixed salad with tune. Ho Hum.

Belle was due to pick Jeff up at about half past eight but had trouble on the journey from Nottingham so we watched 3 classic episodes of Dads Army on my new company laptop. Jeff finally left at about nine thirty leaving the Capt to his three days of solitude.
Perhaps I should say something about this solitary thing. I am normally a very sociable sort of man but there is a strong solitary part to me that needs a bit of space once in a while. Satisfying this need is probably the hardest part of parenthood, but thankfully Belle recognises the need and is happy to give me this space each Autumn. It’s a really special time for me and spending the time away on the boat for the last run of the year really hits the spot.

Saturday 30 August 2008


Saturday 30th August 2008
Day trip through Autherley

Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

14 Miles
2 Locks

6 Hours

Mud, Moorings and Minds

Festivals are funny things. I have attended all sorts of gatherings in all sorts of locations and I am always struck by the transformation when the event is over. How something that seemed so significant can disappear like the morning dew, leaving so few traces behind

On this occasion I am thinking of the IWA National Festival which took place last weekend at Pendeford Park. I had another unexpected day to myself and rather than spend it doing the sensible thing (painting the front of the house), I decided to take a solitary trip through Autherley to the winding point beyond Wolverhampton Boat Club, have lunch and then return.

It was odd to pass the site of the festival and see so little evidence of its passing. It has all seemed to busy, so permanent at the time and all that was left were some muddy patches on the grass and a line of new mooring rings along the newly trimmed offside. It got me thinking (being alone I had plenty of time to ponder). What is the legacy of the festival, or any other gathering of that sort? It has to be more that the muddy footprint in the park, which will fade within a month, and also more than a trimmed bank, which nature will reclaim within a year or so.

No, I guess that the legacy will be in the minds and hearts of the attendees. Relationships which have been built and minds which have been broadened will have a far more profound impact than the insubstantial marks left on the ground. There are little or no physical remains of Jesus, but look at the impact he worked through the minds of his twelve disciples. The jamboree may have come to an end but the work of this group of waterways enthusiasts rolls on, gathering momentum with each passing year.

On a more mundane level, the day was warm and dry but not very sunny. There were very few boats moving and Autherley was back to its normal quiet self. Napton Narrowboats being cleaned ready for new holidaymakers and Viking Afloat crews making a last dash to get back to Gailey on time.

Whilst the legacy of a trimmed bank may be a transient thing, it was lovely to see Pendeford Park reconnected to the canal, with its areas of grass sweeping down to the water. It was also good to see the moorings so recently vacated by festival boats being used by local boaters.

Although it is only the end of August, summer has nearly gone. The leaves on the trees lining the canal are starting to turn and some craft are already being mothballed for the winter. For Wand'ring Bark there is still quite a bit of season left with a couple of weekend fishing trips on the calendar, as well as the end of season solo run, which will probably be a return to market Drayton.