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.

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.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Stronghold on Tour 36.

Thursday 1st September.

I was planning on an easy day, but as always on a boat there is always something to be done, but first I had to publish my blog, as it was so behind on the web. The only way to do this at this location was in The Navigation Inn, so I bought a coffee and made a start. I just had to paste in the pre-written text, which is the easy part, but then to add all the photos was the time consuming part. All in all, with other internet business, I was there for more than two hours, accompanied by a lunch and a pint.

Later I set about touching up the scratches to the paintwork on the hull – another hour at least. I had intended clearing the one way valve in the bilge pump line, but that will have to wait another day as will rinsing out the pre-soaking washing.

Friday 2nd September.

It was time to move out of the basin with the intention of visiting Whaley Bridge, but when I got there, there were only three moorings for visitors under the trees and next to a very busy road, so I winded and abandoned that idea, stopping at the junction to stock up at Tesco, which was very close to the towpath.

Moving on, I returned to Marple Junction and found a favoured mooring opposite the CRT services, where I intended to stay until Sunday. I had previously reserved a place with the North Cheshire Cruising Club for moorings whilst I took a trip back home.

Saturday 3rd September.

It began raining at 09.00 and continued until 16.00, so I was going nowhere. More internet activity, ordering vital supplies before going home, so that I would be there to receive them.

John Suggit paid me a visit in the afternoon to discuss my mooring at the boat club and we had quality boating conversations, as one does with other boaters. He even recommended the best pubs close to the boat club, with hand drawn maps of the area, as well as directions for the railway station – how helpful is that?

Narrowboat Alton came by in the afternoon to deliver to the next boat and I had a few words with Anne-Marie. I had met Brian before at Wheelock, but not his wife. Alton was once owned by the Narrow Boat Trust.

Sunday 4th September.

It had been a very wet night and a lot of water was in the engine hole. I suspect it had got in through the lifting latch, so it had to be mopped out. I was due to meet John at bridge 11, so that he could guide me into the arm through a narrow bridge hole. It was like nothing I had seen before; there were shanty boat houses built out of corrugated iron each side of the cut and I was to moor between two of them. John explained that these boat houses were built before and during the war to protect the wooden boats that people had way back then. The jetty was OK from the stern of the boat, but dangerous further forward, so had to be avoided.

Shanty Town boat houses.



Dodgy jetty.


John took me on a tour of the premises and even out onto the road to find the bus stop and the local pubs and there were four within striking distance. Back on board, I did some preparation for my departure in the morning and found a good TV transmitter to tune in to for later, although I did watch a good film for the rest of the afternoon.


There will now be a lull in this blog for a week.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Stronghold on Tour 35.



Sunday 28th August.

Manchester and beyond.


Interesting areas beneath the railway at Castlefield Junction.







I met up with Pete and Ali on a hire boat, moored further along the basin and they were travelling up the Rochdale Nine Locks the following day, starting at 06.15, so I asked if I could tag along with them. Although Pete had been boating before, it was several years ago and he was rather rusty. Ali, on the other hand, was a complete novice, so it was going to be slow going.


Being a Sunday, very few places were open in the City, so it was rather pointless sightseeing and my dicky hip would not be an asset after doing the Wigan flight. Instead, I opted for a mini pub crawl to places that James had recommended the day before. The first was the Peveril of the Peak, which stood alone amongst the more modern buildings and was clad with glazed bricks or tiles. A good choice of beers on handpump, but the interior decor had little to recommend it, apart from the bar. Several groups of guys came in at intervals, had a quick pint and left, which I thought rather strange.





By now I was rather peckish, so popped into The Knott for a pint of Atlantic Plum Porter, which was nearly a meal in a glass and some delicious chicken wings and BBQ sauce with blue cheese dressing. The wi-fi code was “weknowourbeers”, which was very true.

Monday 29th August.

I was ready and waiting for Pete and Ali to cast off at 06.15, after which I had to wind Stronghold at the end of the basin, going slowly and as quietly as possible at that time in the morning. Pete had set the bottom lock, but Ali was copying everything I did, until she got the hang of it. She was on auto pilot after that and actually opened the bottom paddles at an empty lock, until Pete corrected her. The first four locks took us two hours; slow going indeed!  Around the Canal Street area, most of which is under buildings, there were shady characters along the towpath, which could only be recognised by the shadows they made. I found this very threatening and I was pleased to be going with another boat. All the gay bars along Canal Street were closed of course, but there were still security staff watching us over the railings. The state of the water was indescribable, with plastic and bottles covering the surface. This is somewhere I never ever want to go again. ‘Disgusting’ is an inadequate word for it.

The Rochdale Nine Locks.





People even sleep here!


Amazing that a heron would fish here.


Ancient and modern high rise.


Gay bars in Canal Street.


Eventually we reached the junction at the top and turned right for Marple and the Peak Forest and Ashton Canals. Now the atmosphere was completely different, with modern apartments and clean water. The locks were now single, so no doubling up was possible and it was one boat at a time. Fortunately for me, the following and leading boats helped with the locking, so I had only to open a few paddles here and there up the Ancoats Three, Beswick Four and the Clayton Eight. 

Marple Aqueduct.


Railway viaduct in the background.


Glaucous Gull ahead.



After these, there was a lock free pound until Marple Bottom Lock. I had now teamed up with another hire boat called Glaucous Gull, with Patrick and Cathy and their son Adam and daughter Jess, who were tremendous help to me with the locks. We moored up for the night out in the sticks for some peace and quiet at last.



Tuesday 30th August.

The big flight of Marple Sixteen loomed ahead and once again my favourite boat crew turned the locks around, saw me in and then filled each one in turn. Jess was my heroine for the day and never seemed to tire. I can’t imagine how I would have done them alone, unless a volunteer was on duty; although there was one, but we didn’t see him until close to the top.


Deep locks on this flight.


Stonemasons' marks in the locks.




Cathy and Jess, my invaluable locking crew.


I had promised the crew a drink when we got to a pub and there was the Ring ‘O Bells at the junction, so it was my round and very grateful I was for all that assistance.

I moored up for the night in the Bugsworth Arm, after two days of heavy locking.

Wednesday 31st August.

For the first time on this trip, my mooring pins were pulled out by inconsiderate speeding boaters and they were not hire boaters either. This is something that really annoys me, because I always slow down for moored boats. I even had a spring line out to stop Stronghold moving along the bank when another boat passes. They moor on the bank, so they must know what it is like – selfish bastards!


The hire boat went off towards Marple and I turned onto the short branch to Bugsworth Basin, with four movable bridges to cope with on the way. 


Marple Locks.


Just a part of the Peak District.


Short tunnels.


There were plenty of moorings available in the three basins and after cruising through them all, I decided for the one furthest from the noisy road. After watering up, I moored up and had a look around this interesting area, which was originally a lime burning industry. The canal was proposed in 1791 and opened up export of the lime to the cities, ports and factories of the nation. The area is maintained by The Inland Waterways Protection Society and is immaculate and well worth a visit. More details here:- http://www.bugsworthbasin.org/


The lower basin.


Middle Basin.


Remains of the tramway.


Middle Basin leading to the Upper Basin.


Remains of the lime kilns.