About Me

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After thirty years of hiring, I finally bought my own 50ft boat in 2005, which was built in 2001 by Andicraft at Debdale Wharf. I mostly cruise single handed and have no problem with that, although it does take a little longer than with a crew. My mooring is on the Wey Navigation, so I have a choice of routes on the Wey or the Thames.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Stronghold on Tour 41.

Wednesday 12th October.

A day of rest again for me, with a few odd jobs thrown in, so not a lot to report.

In the evening I decided to have a meal at The Bookies again, as it was so good yesterday. I was early, so there were plenty of vacant tables. Having only a small appetite, I decided to go for two starters and chose soup de poisson with garlic bread and aioli, then moules farcie – a dish that I used to do at home with surplus mussels that I had picked and had to freeze. I must say that both were very rich dishes, the latter swimming in garlic butter, but absolutely delicious. How I wish that this pub was closer to home.

Thursday 13th October.

Another rude awakening this morning when a fast boat came past and pulled out the mooring pins at the front end. Suddenly the bow was on the other side of the cut. Slipping on trousers and sweater over pyjamas, I hastily took off the centre line and hauled the boat back to the bank, driving the pins back in. OK, so the ground was very soft, but speeding boats again?

The coal boat Dusty right opposite last night, but no one was around this morning until 09.00, when Jock and Kati appeared from home, which is another boat moored in the marina. I hailed them and asked for diesel and a bag of house coal. Although I had Phurnacite on board, it was difficult light from scratch and I thought coal would enable better ignition from the start of a new fire, which proved to be the case.
About midday, I let go for the moorings at Osney, just a short way away on the Thames. Plenty of space there at that time of day. This was where I met up with the Narrow Boat Trust pair of boats about five years ago, so memories were restored of that time.

A short walk to The Punter pub on the corner, which had changed considerably since my last visit, being now very busy in early evening. Beer prices were high though at £4.00 for a pint, so back to London prices it seems. The cheapest of all on this trip was £2.05 – bargain!

Friday 14th October.

It took me about an hour to prepare for travelling on the Thames. Moving the anchor, chain and cable to the stern end and tying the anchor upright with string, ready to be quickly cut free if necessary. Making sure that the chain is shackled to it and the warp tied to a stern dolly. The longer centre line was attached to the centre tee stud, which enables me to hold the boat on a bollard whilst descending the lock. Most lockies are happy for me to hold the boat in this manner, providing there are no other boats in the lock as there is no turbulence when going down.

I was pleased to see a lady lockie on duty at Osney Lock, that eased my mind at the first hurdle. She also made out a one week licence for the boat, costing £52. Another lockie was on duty at Iffley Lock, but Sandford was unattended, so I filled it and walked back to board Stronghold. Just at that moment a man was seen closing the top gates. I pressed the horn button and then he realised that I was waiting, so opened them again. So then I understood that two boats were waiting to come up, so no need for me to return to close the bottom gates. All good so far. At Abingdon, I could see the lock keeper talking to someone, but I had to water up first – the first time since Banbury. The lockie pointed out a recently vacated mooring, but I was hoping for one on the offside closer to the Town and sure enough, there was one there. So the first day on the Thames had gone well in my favour so far.

Saturday 15th October.

A late start to the day, but hoping to get to Goring in five hours for a free mooring.  It really was a beautiful day with sun out most of the time, making it feel pleasantly warm.

A I thought, Culham Lock was unmanned, but there was a hire boat coming up, so I asked the steerer if he would see me through the lock and close the gates after me, to which he agreed. It took twenty minutes for the lock to fill and in that time another narrow boat came and moored up behind me – problem solved, as he also had a crew of one to help. I explained my problem and he agreed to help by working the locks ahead, although the next two were manned.

Plenty of these to be seen in the good weather.

An delightful little folly.

On exiting Benson Lock, I was confronted by a narrow boat in the shallows, almost surrounded by green buoys and obviously aground. A man was standing on the bow waving and holding the bow line. Why he was on shallow ground, when it was obviously buoyed to that effect, I never got to know. I offered to tow him off, but the following boat waved me on, as he wanted to let another boat into the lock. He then took the bow line off the stranded boat and tried to tow off in reverse, but ended up in the hedge. Taking the bowline to the stern of his boat was a better solution and he pulled the boat around the green buoys successfully. Why the other boat had gone aground I never found out, but the green buoys were obviously put there to mark it out and he was amongst them. He looked like an experienced boater, so should have know that green means keep them to starboard going upstream.


Stemmed up in the shallows being approached by nb Kilgharragh.

Kilgharragh tows forward.

Getting there.

Free at last!

I eventually got to Goring an hour later than planned. There were plenty of moorings at the far end of the bank, but as usual, there were metres of space wasted between boats and there was probably enough room for two or three more boats there. I fail to understand if these people are either selfish or unthinking.

Sunday 16th October.

My younger daughter was coming out to crew for me today, which was very welcome, except that the rain was lashing down. We set off in the wet, with her taking the helm and giving me a chance to catch up with the blog. Later in the morning, the sun made and appearance and it was really pleasant. We made good progress heading for somewhere beyond Henley. At £9.00 for one nights mooring, it is beyond belief, which I would imagine puts a lot of boaters off stopping there.

Mid-afternoon we stopped off at the Tesco mooring just below Caversham Lock to stock up the wine cellar and adjust the gear control once again. This time the gear was not engaging until the revs were quite high, causing a jolt to the engine with less control. It was a case of fine tuning really to get it just right.

After Shiplake Lock, it was starting to get cold and the sun was about to set, when I spotted a familiar mooring passed by several times in the past, never having stopped there. Just further down was nb Kilgharah, who did the boat rescue a few lock back. Taking my camera down to the boat to show the owner the pics of the rescue, I asked if he would like me to e-mail them to him, which was received with enthusiasm. It appeared that he had had a run in with a Le Boat hire boat earlier, when they insisted on overtaking at full speed on a bend, confronting another boat in the process. Despite warnings made by him and other boaters, they pressed on at full speed and came very close to a head on collision. Why is it that they think they are indestructible by showing such ignorance?

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Stronghold on Tour 40.

Saturday 8th October.

I let go later than intended to get as far as Aynho, stopping on the way at The Pig Place, just above Nell Bridge Lock. I had been here many times before and knew that I could get good home cured bacon from their own pigs. I had a long chat with the lady owner about boating and the Wey Navigation, which she knew quite well from having lived in Surrey at one time. I thought their pork chops might be worth a try too, rather than the usual supermarket lack of variety.

I had had a slight problem with the reverse gear on the boat, so thinking that a connection may have slipped a little, but on checking it all seemed OK. I did make a slight adjustment to the gear box end of the cable, so that the lever moved a little further and was more positive. That seemed to work fine, but returned to the previous condition a little later and I could not reason why.

I took the short walk to the Great Western Arms, which is on my list of the best canal pubs.
However, it appears to be much more of a restaurant nowadays, than a drinkers’ pub. Thinking about it later, it was a Saturday, so would naturally be popular as a place to eat. As I entered, an attractive young lady asked if I had booked a table, assuming that I was going to eat there. When I replied that I just wanted a drink, she pointed out the one and only small table not set with cutlery. The young farmers arriving a little later, had to stand at the bar, as did other drinkers after that.  A good choice of Hooky Ales on tap to chose from and I managed to update this blog, despite the restaurant atmosphere.

I phoned my mate Peter Darch in Kidlington to see if he fancied a boat trip the following day, to which he agreed with enthusiasm. Not only would it be good to see him after a year, but I was hoping he was fit enough to do some locking for me.

Sunday 9th October.

I had to be up early for a change, as Peter was to arrive at 09.00 and we set off immediately, with him steering. He sold his boat last year, so is like prisoner, so the saying goes. He is still having thoughts about buying another one though. It was good to catch up on things between us and he did a total of seven locks and two lift bridges between Aynho and Thrupp, stopping at The Rock of Gibraltar for a pint on the way, which turned out to be a very good move. Mooring outside close to nb Columbia, Peter guessed that Kevin and Ingrid would be inside and sure enough they were, so a grand reunion took place at the bar, although we had met briefly at the Braunston show in June. Ingrid explained that she had her car there and was only to pleased to give us a lift anywhere. Peter explained that we were stopping at Thrupp and would appreciate a lift back to his house then. In the meantime he had invited me for a Sunday roast, which was an offer I could not refuse. Sure enough, Ingrid arrived at Thrupp and returned us both to Kidlington.

Peter steers Stronghold.

Making the exit from Sommerton Deep Lock.

Peter’s son, Matthew took his dad to collect the car from Aynho, after which he returned me to Stronghold, after a delightful roast beef dinner cooked by Anne, his lovely wife.

Monday 10th October.

Today was deemed a day of rest after the ten hours cruising yesterday, despite not having to get off the boat. I was up late after another sleepless night and just relaxed watching some day-time TV. A very late breakfast of scrambled eggs done in the micro-wave, which proved just how much of an improvement the new sine wave inverter was over the old one. The engine does not even miss a beat when the load comes on, whereas the old inverter really slowed it down.

I had some washing to rinse out and dry and hoped to complete a long overdue engine oil change, but after writing this, I could only get one item done and as the engine had been run for an hour or two and was hot, that took preference.

I hobbled down to The Boat Inn for a pint later, but it was almost dark when I returned at 7pm – the nights are drawing in.

Tuesday 11th October.

I did get the washing rinsed out at the service point this morning. Ken Haynes was there watching Dusty take delivery of a load of solid fuel that had been delivered to the wharf side and be loaded onto his boat. Ken now has his boat moored close by and is assistant warden for Thrupp Canal Cruising Club. We had a chat about various things boating, before I spotted Peter Darch back for another session of lock wheeling to Oxford.

We let go immediately and all went well through the four locks and the four lift bridges, except for Kidlington Green Lock where the boat had to thumbline the bottom gate, putting Peter on the ground with his back to the beam. Why is was so stiff, neither of us could work out.

The reverse gear was now engaging fully every time, so there remains another mystery.

After three hours we arrived at Jericho and moored close to the footbridge, being the nearest mooring to The Olde Bookbinders on the offside. After tying up, we walked to the pub, which was unfortunately closed until 4pm. Not to be outdone, as it was my turn to buy Peter a pint, we walked further to the Jericho Inn, which was open. Afterwards we said our goodbyes and Peter walked off to catch the bus back home.

I have to say that his presence eased things considerably down all those single locks and would have taken a lot longer without him. Having sold his boat last year, he considered it a rare opportunity to go boating for two days, but to me he was invaluable.

Early evening I walked to The Bookies as the pub is known locally, and had a dish of Coquilles de fruit de mer au gratin, served red hot on the traditional scallop shell. I was hoping for moules frites, but that is only served on Fridays. I should explain that the proprietor and his son are French chefs and the food is always excellent here.

"The Bookies" in Canal Street.

An unusual feature of the pub, 
which would be more appropriate in Brighton.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Stronghold on Tour 39.

Wednesday 28th September contd.

Only one hand pump on at The Wharf; rather disappointing as there is usually a wide choice here.
Sitting in the back bar, I was nearly at the end of my pint and about to go, when a voice said, “What are you drinking then Ray?” I looked up to see Vic Wadley (Lord Victor John Wadley) standing there with a big smile on his face. I think we were both as surprised as each other. Vic used to have his boat on the same mooring as me, on The Wey Navigation and fitted out his boat from a sailaway about four years ago. We often used to drink in The Pelican at that time and got to know each other pretty well. We chatted about boating in general and where he had been in past four years.

Whilst the chat was going on, I was looking over his shoulder at a man sitting on the sofa with his wife – he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him, until I walked over on the way to the bar and said, ”I know your face, but can’t think where from.” His wife then piped up with, “Most people know him as ‘Snowy.’” At that point I realised that he worked for Malcolm Burge at Alvecote marina and boatyard. He also lifted the engine into Nuneaton with the digger bucket, which was impossible to do without it.

Thursday 29th September.

Now travelling south in the direction of Oxford, I came to the five Claydon Locks and pulled into the layby as there were two other boats also waiting to go through the lock. After a few minutes Vic appeared with a windlass in his hand to assist me through; how thoughtful and really appreciated. He warned me of the shallows near Slat Mill Lock and pointed out several boats that had stemmed up there.

After the bottom lock, Vic left in his car, which was parked nearby. Only three locks left to do before Cropredy, where I decided to stay the night, as I was well ahead of my schedule. A continuous cruiser was behind me and helped by drawing the paddles and opening the bottom gates of each lock. At Elkington’s Lock however, he moored on a slack centre line and as he drew the top paddles the stem of his boat got far too close to my stern for comfort. At the next lock, he threw the gear into reverse and hit the bank, bounced off and ploughed into the bushes on the off side. He explained that sometimes that was the only way of stopping. I was now on the alert for him mooring astern of me, so raced ahead and got into Broadmoor Lock before he got to the layby. He complained about the propeller not having the power to stop easily, but I think he was also inexperienced.

This mooring was once connected to the cut, but maybe CRT objected,
 so the guy closed the entrance.

I pulled into a mooring at Cropedy and had a pint at The Red Lion, as I always do there, before returning for a meal and bed.

Friday 30th October.

No sign of my help today, so I had to cope solo with the four locks into Banbury. All went well, with me bow hauling the boat out each time, closing the gates before getting back on board.

Passing slowly through the outskirts of the town, I passed nb Herbie and gave them a toot on the horn; sure enough Neil poked his head out of the hatch and we made instant arrangements to pay The Olde Rein Deer and visit in Parson’s St. later that evening. I also passed Molly M, Maffi’s boat, but he was not on board, so I texted him about the pub arrangements that evening.

As usual, the mooring for the lift bridge was on the towpath side, but there was a bollard on the off side close to the bridge. I headed for that and slowed to a stop, so as to be able to throw a line over the bollard and get off. Just as I reached for the line, someone opened the top paddles of the lock below, causing a flow towards the lock and the bridge. I managed to keep the bow away from the bridge, but was now too far from the bollard. Seeing my difficulty, a young passer bye offered his help, so passing the windlass across, he was then able to open the lift bridge and I was safely through.

Mooring close to the Tramway Moorings, I did a heavy shop at Morrison’s, resulting in two separate visits to get all I needed, before moving closer to the town below the lock.

A very entertaining evening at the pub with Neil and Cath, but Maffi did not turn up until I was on the point of leaving, as he had been to a Kate Saffin show in Tooleys Dry Dock and got rather side tracked.

Saturday 1st October.

I had a walk to the town market in the rain, but there was little activity and few stalls. I bought a new switch for the shower pump, which had been faulty for a while and would switch off the main pump without warning.

The afternoon was devoted to training for all the volunteers. The bank crew were all in one boat and the steerers in the other, so we all took turns of steering the “sack of potatoes”, as I call them. They just do not handle like a longer boat and the reverse gear is abysmal, with no power to stop unless the engine is at full revs. I don’t know who made the rules, but the stern line has to be looped over the tiller pin, which is not only dangerous in the event of it dropping in the water and getting wrapped around the blades, but a cardinal sin according to all the old boaters, the IWA, CRT and the Marine Federation, according to Maffi.
Emergency evacuation in case of a fire was put into effect, but no man over board this year, as I understood happened last year. Shortly after winding the boat, Nutfield and Raymond appeared around the corner at speed, but slowed down on approaching the moored boats. Alice Lapworth was steering the butty Raymond and we had brief chat as she passed, telling me that had remembered the David Blagrove books that she previously promised me.

After a couple of beers with Maffi in The Mill, I retired for a nap, before making my way to Tooleys Dry Dock for fish and chips and entertainment at “The Boaters Bash”. I managed until 20.30, before heading back to the boat after quite a tiring day.

Sunday 2nd October.

Banbury Canal Day.

Another bright day, just like all the preceding Canal Days that I have been to in the past five years. There was no rush for me, as I was not on steering duty until 12.30. Dressed in boaters’ Sunday Best as always, I presented myself a little early and Boat No.3 was at the turn round point in the basin, with Mark Parris on board. We agreed that he should do another trip, which would take 50 mins in total, so in the meantime I went to the lift bridge and had a chat with Graham Scothern and John Boswell, who were in charge of bridge operation.

A tight squeeze with the trip boat.

Packed as always.

Return trip to the basin.

John Boswell operated the lift bridge.

Boat No.3 reappeared at 13.10 and I stepped on board to take my first customers to Sovereign Wharf, where they disembarked for another ten people for the trip to the winding point and back to Sovereign. Another exchange of passengers for the return to the start point, where I made a hash of winding too late and almost wedged the boat across the cut, but that was the first and only time. It was a long afternoon and I did four complete trips, carrying thirty passengers on each, so a count of 120. With four boats operating, that was 480 free trips in the day.

As on previous occasions, the good weather brought the crowds in their thousands, often making it difficult to walk along the wide towpath. The theme of the day was ‘Bubbles’ and a lot of boats were decorated with white balloons. Quite a few children had bubble machines of various types as well, but it was quite a difficult theme to interpret easily.

I retired to the General Foods Social Club with John Boswell and a guy called Andy, who was also helping at the bridge, after leaving the boat in good hands to be moored and closed up after a very successful, but tiring day. A double shift is too long really and in future, I will aim for a split shift of two and a half hours, giving me a break in between.

Monday 3rd October.

I decided to move up to the town mooring mid-morning, once the majority of boats had moved on. Mooring just ahead of nb Herbie, Neil and Cath came out to help me tie up.

I found the disability shop by the car park and asked for an elbow crutch to assist my walking, but not only did they not have any, they were only sold in pairs so, I bought a walking stick instead. In the shopping mall later, I bumped into Maffi, who said that he had three elbow crutches on board and I was welcome to one or two. I accepted his offer of one and it made things even easier than the stick. Pity I had not asked before, but who is to even think that a friend might have these things?

I had arranged with Neil and Cath to pay a another visit to The Olde Rein Deer after a meal in the evening. Maffi was invited of course, but after a pint and a glass of red wine, I was feeling very uncomfortable with the aching hip and made my excuses to depart. I heard later that they had a very enjoyable time and too much to drink. Perhaps leaving early was appropriate!

Tuesday 4th October.

Fitting the new inverter now demanded some attention, so the old one was removed and some thought had to be given to how to fit the new one, because these things are never straight forward. Not starting the job until late afternoon, I was considering several ways of fitting the heavy duty battery leads, because the ones already connected were too short to reach the battery. If I could undo the cable clamps, I could then use the existing cables, but undoing the clamps was the problem without the right sized large spanner.

At six pm, I had had enough, so walked up to the social Club for a pint, but it did not open until 7pm, so that was that. I made up a Thai chicken curry, which would probably do five meals in total – far too much; however, if I froze some, I could eke it out over the week, rather than eat it every evening.

Wednesday 5th October.

Having slept on the problem, I now came up with two solutions. The first was to join the two cables together, with the joint encased in heat shrink sleeving, but that might involve some voltage drop. The second was to beg or borrow a suitable spanner. Maffi was the first port of call and he had an adjustable that I could use.

Knocking on the boat later, he said he couldn’t find it, but the basin wrench in his hand was the correct size and sure enough it pitted perfectly, so now I could connect the original cables and keep the length shorter.

Working in the confined space beneath the back steps was almost a Houdini affair, trying to avoid standing on the plastic water pipes as well as reaching all necessary parts. Eventually it was in place, with just the mains lead to connect to the special plug. However, when the time came to plug into the fixed socket on the bulkhead, the mains lead was too short. Not to be denied this final moment of success, I unscrewed the socket from the bulkhead and could now fit the plug into it – bingo! It worked fine, although there was a last minute panic when all the LEDs came on together. I think that this is an indicator, similar to a car dashboard, where everything illuminates to indicate that all is working. Just need to fit a longer lead now and all will be completed – well almost. The remote switch needs fitting below the instrument panel, which will mean cutting a larger hole in the bulkhead and without a jig saw, it could be time consuming and end up with a ragged hole.

Thursday 6th October.

Another chilly start to the day, but after a while the sun appeared and cheered things up considerably. I walked into the shopping area and patronised Poundland, which is unusual for me. Then it was off to Robert Dyas for a longer mains lead – 3m this time. The guy who served me said that he had turned off the anti-theft device at the entrance, because the coil of wire would set it off, as well as in other shops – now that was news to me.

On the way back to the mooring, I bumped into Vic again in the market place. He had come by car of course and Lindy Lou was still at Fenny, where we met in the pub.

A boater appeared on the scene the day before, asking if I was leaving tomorrow and if so, would I wait until he brought his boat up from below the lock. The reason being that his engineer would be arriving the next day and need to park his van on that side. We agreed to the arrangement and I moved up to the winding point to turn the boat and then moor up on the other side of the cut, which saved me the walk across the bridge to the shopping centre.

Later in the day, I asked Maffi if he would see me through the lift bridge and then the lock, which he was happy to do. Molly, his dog, came to of course.  

Strange tender to this boat.

I completed wiring the mains lead and fitted it and the plug to the bulkhead, so just the remote to do at a later stage.

This boat owned by an ex teacher and ex civil servant. Last seen two years ago at Rugeley.
Do you know what the initials stand for?

Friday 7th October.

It was a rude awakening this morning at 05.00, when the local Swan Foundry started up the furnace and associated fans, before continuous hammering of moulding flasks to extract the previous day’s castings. It would seem from their web site, http://www.swangroup.co.uk/news.php?s=british-airways-i360  that Swan have associations with the British Airways i360, that has just been completed in Brighton. Having moored opposite the foundry on previous occasions, the early start was as expected.

A lazy morning doing very little, watching most boats pass me at speed, rattling the boat against the bank, despite yacht fenders and tight lines. About one in ten took it gently, as it should be done. Why are people so bloody inconsiderate?

Time for another food shop at Morrison’s, just to vary my diet of Thai chicken curry over the next few days.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Stronghold on Tour 38

Friday 23rd September.

The Anchor was little different from the last time I had been there, except that there were now four Everard’s ales on hand pump instead of just Tiger. There is now a marquee up in the garden, which appears to be set up for band. I did not realise that there was a restaurant there with an extremely extensive menu, which in my book does not say much for the quality of food. In my experience a small, eclectic menu means that what appears at your table is freshly cooked to order by a caring chef.

The Anchor Inn.

Four Everard's ales on tap.

Onward then towards Sutton Stop, with a short shopping break at Bridge 21 in Nuneaton, where there is a Sainsbury’s Local, as well as a corner shop and a chippy close to the gridge.

I had a field day with the camera as I passed Charity Dock. Apart from all the scrap cars, boats and anything else that may be worth money one day, the dressed mannequins are always worth a picture or two. I know from a recent Towpath Talk article that they are dressed by the lady of the house, who obviously has a good sense of humour. The dry dock is advertised on a board, but I would think it would need at least a day to clear all the boats that block the entrance. I wonder if it is ever used nowadays.

Charity Dock.

On the way, I also made a note of the entrances to the Griff Arm, leading to the now derelict Griff Colliery, south of Bridge 18A, as well as the entrance to the Newdigate Colliery, immediately south of Bridge 13. Both these coal mines feature in historic tales of the old boaters loading coal there for transport to towns and factories across the country.

Arriving at Hawkesbury at 13.30, I expected there to be plenty of free moorings – not so. I realised that I would have to go round the turn and moor up on the Northern Oxford, when right at the end of the line of moored boats there was a space on the end, right opposite the old engine house and in pole position for observing the antics of Noddy boats negotiating the 180 degree turn into the Oxford – result!

Earlier, I had phoned Alice Lapworth to see if she fancied a drink at The Greyhound later, to which she agreed. We met up at 8pm and she brought along a childhood friend, called John Best. The name rung a faint bell in my head and when he said that his dad was Alf Best, I realised just who he was. Like Alice, he was also born in a back cabin and had spent most of his working life afloat in the fifties and sixties on the Ovaltine boats, two of which are still afloat, I believe.

Alice, John and Ray.

Saturday 24rd September.

I welcomed a day of rest at last, with no boating involved. I got a few jobs done that were overdue and cooked up the blackberry and apple, which was delicious with a little double cream on top. It is a pity that there are so few blackberries in the hedgerows; they just don’t seem to have filled out and are very small or have just died off.

It was a grey day with wind and I had the central heating on for the first time, but only enough to take the chill off. Time to clear out the Squirrel stove and refit the chimney for the chillier weather to come.

My eldest daughter and partner came aboard in good time to go to the pub. They came on the motor bike, so she wanted to change out of her m/cycling leathers before going to eat at The Greyhound and it was an excellent evening, needless to say. We had last met on Fathers’ Day in June at The Admiral Nelson and it was great to see her again.

A good time at The Greyhound.

 Sunday 25th September.

The fuel boat Auriga came along in the morning and I decided to have a couple of bags of Phurnicite off him, as the nights were drawing in and getting decidedly chilly. Rick Cooper was on board and we had a chat about the Alvecote Festival and historic boats in general. The fuel was old stock, so I got it for £12/bag.

Nb Crane was moored up near the services point and I asked Geoff (with a G), if he was a mate of Jeff (with a J) Holman, as I remember Jeff being on Crane a couple of years ago at Braunston Historic Rally.

It was time to get ahead once again towards Banbury for the annual Canal Day. Although I am scheduled to travel for five hours a day, I like to do a bit more, just in case something unusual crops up, or there is a stoppage somewhere on the system. I headed for The Old Oak, where I knew there was free wi-fi, if I could get close enough to the pub, but I ended up on the services mooring for the chandlery next door, which was reserved for refuelling. Being Sunday, there was no one to ask permission to stay there.

Monday 26th September.

The first thing this morning was to fill up with diesel at the adjacent pump. The tank appeared to be half full, but took 82 litres and at 60p/litre was the cheapest I had found so far. They had run out of self declaration forms, so I got it at that price.

It was a miserable day with rain most of the time. Passing Clifton upon Dunsmore moorings, I was hailed by a man with a paintbrush in his hand, saying something about red paint. I didn’t recognise him at first, until he said his name, Dean Box, who did the sign writing on Stronghold.

I got to Braunston in two hours and immediately headed for the marina, reversing into the arm alongside the laundry and refuelling point. The bed was stripped and put in the wash and then into the dryer, before making the bed again. The whole operation took me three hours, before I moved out and onto an empty mooring outside The Boathouse, for more free wi-fi and a relaxing afternoon.

Tuesday 27th September.

A later start than intended this morning. It was certainly busy there and I was in a three boat convoy to Napton. With a strong oncoming wind in my face, it was not comfortable boating. Surprisingly, there were plenty of available moorings below the locks, which was fortunate, because I had now run out of food and intended eating at The Folly, were the Narrow Boat Trust crew had been two nights previously.

Not long after mooring up, nb Guelrose passed by, with Mike Moorse at the helm. It was only at the last minute that I realised who it was, so no time to say hello unfortunately. Mike and Jenny are continuous cruisers and we have met up on several occasions.

I walked up to The Folly and asked about eating there, but had I reserved a table – well, no I hadn’t. I was offered a place at the bar, which I reluctantly accepted. By the time I had finished my pint, I had changed my mind and was about to leave, when the barmaid said that a table was now free, so I ate there after all

Wednesday 28th September.

I let go at 10am and asked the two volunteer lockies if one would be willing to accompany me up the nine locks, to which one volunteered to do so. I did explain my difficulty first of course.

The locks were very busy and almost everyone had a boat coming down, so It was not too strenuous for the lockie, but there was a lot of waiting time while they locked through.

Looking down Napton flight - sans windmill for a change.

After three hours, I reached the top lock and after waiting for a Noddy boat to make four attempts to get into the full lock from around the bend. He did apologise and blamed his inexperience.

I remember seeing this boat in it's own mooring a while back......

........but now it is no longer open to the main canal. 
Might as well have a caravan instead. 
I reckon CRT had a hand in closing the opening.

After clearing a pair of underpants off the blades, I was motoring along the winding summit of the Southern Oxford, reaching Fenny Compton at 17.00. With a mooring close to the two bridges, it was a stone’s throw to the pub and wi-fi.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Stronghold on Tour 37.

Monday 12th September

Back on Stronghold this afternoon after a seven hour journey, the best part being First Class travel on the Pendolino Virgin Train. Although Standard class gives me a reserved seat, it is nearly always full with little leg room and little choice of which seat, so for another £8.00 I could travel First. At Euston there was a Virgin First Class lounge with free tea, coffee and cookies and somewhere comfortable to sit and wait. On the train, I had my choice of seat, steward service for a light lunch (soup and warm roll, although there was a choice), with a large glass of red wine and more coffee, biscuits and pretzels on offer. There were plenty of empty seats, so no intrusion at all.

Strangely enough, the First Class ticket from Brighton to Victoria was 50p cheaper than Standard Class.

Back on board I found that the boat was listing heavily to the port side, so realised that the water had dropped by a couple of inches during the week leaving me well and truly on the mud. There could be a problem getting off in the morning.

I did some basic shopping and had a pint in the Dog and Partridge, being tempted to have a carvery meal, but feeling that I would not do it justice that early in the evening, so opened a can of chicken curry when I got back later.

Tuesday 13th September.

Sure enough I had a problem getting off the mud this morning. With both mooring lines off, there was no way I could budge the boat bodily, so I started the engine. More problems; it started OK and then died, as though out of fuel, so that was checked and was virtually full. Try again – several times. Although it started, it only ran for a few seconds and died again. Eventually, it ran up to full speed and all was well - now to get off the mud. By rotating the propeller alternately in opposite directions, I managed to scour out the mud until I could get the stern into deep water. Only then could I reverse into midstream and start forward to the winding hole, before making my exit through Bridge 12 and into the main line.

The Macclesfield Canal certainly lives up to its reputation as being very picturesque, with distant views of the high peaks ahead. Having said that, it is also fairly shallow and one has to keep in the centre channel. It was another rare hot day when I could wear shorts again and there haven’t been many of those days on this trip.

After about four hours cruising, I decided to pull over by the aqueduct at Bollington, where there were decent moorings in deep water, within sight of White Nancy on the hill and Clarence Mill with its imposing brick chimney. Not a lot of action this afternoon, just a siesta in the heat, before an early evening thunderstorm to clear the air, which precluded a visit to the pub and the highly recommended Italian restaurant.

Clarence Mill, now converted into retail and business units.

White Nancy on a nearby hill.

Wednesda 14th September.

Having been living out of a tin since getting back, it was time to stock up the fridge at Macclesfield. I was quite amazed at the liberal mooring spaces on the welcoming pontoons just after the winding hole. Not only that, but three days mooring were allowed here.

Three minutes walk away was a Co-Op, so I stocked up with the basic essentials there, before walking the three quarters of a mile to Tesco for the more eclectic items. I was about to run out of prescribed tablets in a couple of weeks and I certainly was not going on another trip home just to get those, so I sought advice of the pharmacist in the store. Strangely enough after looking at the prescription she told me that she used to live there when at university in the town – small world again! The outcome was that she would phone my surgery and ask for a prescription to be faxed back for dispensing in the morning – it was as easy as that!

It was another red hot day and the walk up the hill back to the canal (yes it is at the top of a hill), was a bit of a struggle having bought more than I intended as usual. Catching a bus crossed my mind, but not one appeared in either direction in the thirty minutes it took to walk.

I had a pint in The Puss in Boots across the road, locally known as The Puss! Not a very impressive collection of ales; all being national brands and nothing local – could do better.

Thursday 15th September.

I looked up the trip from Macclesfield to Banbury on Canalplan AC and found that I could get there easily in two weeks by travelling five hours a day, so my estimate of timing was very close to reality. Banbury Canal Day is of course centred around the area of the town where the canal passes through and I have captained one of the water taxis there for quite a few years. Every year that I have been, the weather has been glorious, which draws the crowds in their thousands. Although the taxi day boats are akin to steering a sack of potatoes, I enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie of other boaters that I know there.

Well, after saying that getting a prescription filled away from home is easy, the opposite appears closer to reality. First of all, the pharmacy would not answer the phone, so I decided to risk it and walked. They seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I asked at the counter, until someone remembered that the pharmacist I spoke to yesterday, who had a day off, had told someone else that I would be in. Looking on the computer brought no indication that it had been faxed through, so they phoned my surgery again and to my relief it came to light. It would seem that this pharmacy is as well organised as my one at home. Are they all like this I wondered? The whole operation took well over two hours.

The original Hovis Mill.

A turnover bridge, also known as a snake bridge on the Maccy.
This enabled the towing horse to change towpaths from one side to the other, 
without unhitching the tow line.

Original mile post.

The hill known as "The Cloud"

I moved on a few miles in the afternoon to a very pleasant rural mooring out in the sticks. No road noise, no trains and no planes – idyllic. On the way I came to Royal Oak Swing Bridge, which is used by a minor road, but fairly busy at that time of day. Being all electric, I closed the barriers from the offside, there being a convenient footbridge to cross back to the towpath. At the same time, a white BMW stopped to wait with an attractive blonde lady driver with halo eyes. I asked her if she would like to close the bridge after I had sailed through, which she did and seemed chuffed to be asked, as well as speeding her on her journey.

Shortly after, I spotted nb Alton moored up at their base and so stopped for a pump out by Anne-Marie. We chatted about various boating things and mutual friends we both knew on the cut. She also remembered my boat when refuelling another boat close by at Marple a few days ago.

Friday 16th September.

Bosley Locks were on the list for today – all twelve of them. The rain that was forecast began about 9am, so it was a late start when the rain stopped two hours later. No chance of any help from another boat, as they are single locks, which are quick to fill and empty. There were no footboards across the top pair of gates, so it was not possible to make that “leap of faith” and save the walk around each lock to work the opposite gate. It was a day off for any volunteers too, so it was all down to me and hard on my dodgy hip too. On one or two locks I could bow haul the boat out, close the gates (double gates both ends of each lock), before boarding at the lock tail. Most of them however, did not have anywhere to get back on board at the lock tail and any jetty on the offside was taped off as dangerous, so it was a lock ladder job and every lock was a deep one.

Four hours later I reached Lock 12, the last one. There were good moorings with rings just beyond the lock waiting bollards and that was enough for me for today.

Saturday 17th September.

A very pleasant sunny morning greeted me for a lock free day; well almost, just a one foot stop lock to negotiate near the end of the Maccy.

A better example of a turnover bridge.

Not a lot to report for this trip, but I have to say that the Macclesfield Canal lives up to its reputation of being one of the most attractive the system has to offer. Credit must go to Thomas Telford for the high tech design at the time of all locks in one place and a level stretch of water sustained by cuttings and embankments throughout. The views of the Peak District to the west are splendid and the towns are mostly by-passed, so without a map to show where they are, they are almost invisible.

Arriving at Hardings Wood, which is the southern terminus of the Maccy, I made enquiries of a passer-by if the Bluebell Tavern was open, so with a positive reply, I moored up temporarily to have a pint at this well known inn. When I say well known, that applies to CAMRA aficionados who enjoy a well kept pint or two.
I had stopped here two years ago and know from experience that the pub kept strange hours. It seems that it is under new ownership and is now open from midday from Tuesday to Sunday until eleven pm (closed all day Monday). The collection of real ales on hand pump were both extensive and eclectic and I enjoyed a pint of Church End brewery’s Gravedigger at 3.8%. With the landlord’s permission, I took a couple of photos inside and had a chat with one of the locals about cameras.

The Blue Bell.

The Bar.

Spoilt for choice.

I had looked at the times for traversing Harecastle Tunnel and it appeared that I would be OK to get the last passage through that day. What I missed was that the times change after September 1st, so I was an hour too late. Moorings here are somewhat precarious in nature, being prone to local banditry, so I reversed away from the tunnel entrance and decided to take a chance on a permanent mooring on the offside, opposite the junction. I could be moved on if the owner returned, but it was worth the risk and I was only going to be here for one night. It was also in the setting sunlight, so was extremely attractive.

Sunday 18th September.

A quiet night with no problems and I was awakened by a boat reversing hard as it came out of the Maccy at the junction.  A quick cup of tea and on to the tunnel waiting area, where there were three boats ahead of me. After the usual briefing by the tunnel man and some required reading, which he repeated anyway, we were on our way at two minute intervals. An added requirement this time was to have a torch at the back end so that the reductions in roof height could still be seen by the steerer after being shown up by the headlight. I think that this was the problem that caught out the steerer a couple of years ago, who was probably using a headlight only. This meant that after illumination by the headlight, the white marking showing up the reduced headroom becomes invisible to the steerer. It was so low in a few places that I had to duck down from a standing position. I have often seen steerers sitting on bar stools at the stern of the boat and this is asking for trouble even in the open air. I use a powerful 12 volt light plugged into the electrical system on Stronghold, which has saved the back end of the boat striking the tunnel wall on several occasions. I would not like to pass through a tunnel without it.

Cruising through the desolate potteries was fast in a wide and deep canal, until I passed the Caldon Junction and came to Stoke Locks – single again. Fortunately, I had some assistance through all five and could descend all of them on board the boat. Meaford and Stone Locks were much the same on this busy stretch, but I was on the move from 08.00 to17.00 and am about two miles and seven locks ahead of my schedule to be at Sutton Stop on Saturday.

Moored by a centre line only around a tree on the towpath. 
This is so dangerous to towpath users, even with hazard tape on the line. CRT?

Bargees? Who are they?

Moorings in Stone were rare at 5 pm, but another single handed boater offered to move his boat to give me space and then helped me moor up, for which I was very grateful after such a long day.

Monday  19th September.

It was shopping time again, so a visit to Morrison’s was necessary. I stopped on the way back for a bacon and cheese Shropshire oatcake and coffee at the Oatcake Cafe. The chandlery was a walk back towards the lock, so I paid them a visit to browse the inverters – what a disappointment; they only had one. It has to be Midland Chandlers then at Braunston.

I did not set off until 2pm and it took four hours to get to Great Heywood, with a few well spaced locks in between, all of which were all set in my favour as I met boats coming the opposite way and had help passing through at several of them.

Reaching Great Heywood at 6pm, I had a pint at The Clifford Arms, which brought back memories of other happy times there.

Tuesday 20th September.

Only four single locks to do today, so not too strenuous to get to Fradley Junction. Dry weather again, so another lucky day to do five or six hours cruising. I passed nb Dexta, where cheap diesel was to be had, so I checked out the fuel level before getting there and I was still fairly full.

I think that this is the first time that I have ever passed through Rugeley without stopping; there are good moorings here very close to Morrison’s and Tesco, but time was of the essence this week and I had no need of victuals.

Attractive waterside gardens at Rugeley.

And other things to lighten the day..............

........so no speeding!

I had to cope with two of the three locks at Fradley, but had assistance with the third, so got back on board to take Stronghold out. Coming around the junction, I made a decision to stop for the night and have a look at The Swan, which had been taken over by new people a while back and not before time either, as the kitchen was closed down for hygiene reasons when the previous tenants had it. There is a wider choice of ales on hand pump and the menu looked much more tempting than the previous one, so things are looking up. The Swan aka “The Mucky Duck” is known for being the most photographed pub on the waterways, I restrained from taking one, but you can see it here:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fradley_Junction

Wednesday 21st September.

A later start this morning than intended and mostly a lock free day, apart from the two at Glascote. It was overcast most of the day and sometimes chilly in the wind when there was no tree shelter.

Through Streethay and past the boatyard and workshops, where the A38 traffic roars noisily past, so hardly the best place for a quiet night. It was then through the village of Hopwas with its two pubs, neither of which I have been in so far. Maybe one day.

At Fazeley Junction I came across nb Gabriel moored up and slowed down for a brief word with James, having last met at Saltaire, but no moorings available, so I couldn’t stop.

Eventually The Samuel Barlow came into sight at Alvecote and I pulled in close to the pub, hoping that I could receive their wi-fi signal on board; I was lucky again, so could actually publish the blog after so long in the wilderness.

Thursday 22nd September.

I had a rude awakening this morning at 06.00 with what sounded like gas bubbles from under the boat. This I had heard before when moored over rotting rubbish, but not to the same extent as this. I pulled open the window for a look alongside the boat and there was a duck frantically trying to get out of the water and on to the bank. The problem was that it was trapped in a 6 inch gap between the hull and the piling, caused by my large inflated fenders, which blocked an exit at both ends. It appears that it did extricate itself somehow, because there were now three ducks on the bank, instead of two. How it got there in the first place, I failed to understand – maybe the other two ducks pushed it in the water!

Before slipping the moorings this morning, I phoned Roger Hart, NBT member and Atherstone Locks volunteer, to see if there was the possibility of help up the Atherstone Flight of eleven single locks. He assured me that help was available and got to work making arrangements. Sure enough, a phone call later confirmed that John Radcliffe would take me up the flight, meeting at Bradley Green service point at an appointed time. We both arrived at the same time and Roger introduced me to John. After exchanging a few words and dumping my rubbish, John and I departed for the bottom lock. As always with a stranger, we soon established a rhythm of working and did the flight in 2hrs 20mins. Without John assisting, it would have taken me twice that time, so I was extremely grateful to him.
Strangely enough, nb Pompey Chimes from the Wey Navigations was moored up close to the bottom lock.

John radcliffe, my very helpful Lockie up the Atherstone Flight.

After stopping above the top lock for a bite to eat, I moved on to The Anchor pub, which I had heard had been taken over by new tenants in the last year and had been reflourbished, so I was keen to see what changes had been made.