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.

Saturday 31 August 2019

Freedom of the Cut 2019 - 20

Minor Mishaps

Thursday 29th August

I had time to spare now, so pulled the pins and headed for Rugeley. which is an old market town with a wealth of supermarkets, including Tesco, Morrison’s and Aldi as well as a myriad of smaller shops and all of them are just a short distance from the cut.

I was waiting for an hour and half to enter Middle Lock at Fradley, being the last of six boats, but once through, there was only one boat ahead on the next lock layby.

Very narrow bridge 'oles on the T&M.

The other piece of bad news was the bow caught on a projection on the sill of Shadehouse Lock and snapped one of the supporting fixings on the tipcat. It is designed to break if it does catch up, as it is held in position by a piece of cord, but the tipcat was now hanging in the water by the two side chains and would be better removed, rather than left hanging there and the sooner the better, so I pulled into the layby and managed to release the side chains and get it off, being that much heavier than normal after being in the water. I can fix it back on easily enough, if I can support the weight on the stern of another boat

Apart from that the remainder of the trip was uneventful and in sunshine most of the time and I arrived in the town about 5pm. Having been here several times in the past, moorings are normally hard to find, especially this late in the afternoon, but surprisingly there were many free spaces. 

I found Wetherspoons in the town and as it was Curry Night, I indulged with a Chicken Korma, because the Lamb Rogan had sold out. Although I tried out their Table Service of ordering by using the ‘Spoons app, but abandoned it after it refused to show an alternative offered on the printed menu and went to the bar instead. Although it was only Thursday, the place was extremely busy.

Friday 30th August

It was to be a sincere shopping day at Tesco in Rugeley. I was living from hand to mouth on board, not having been to a decent store for ages, so two shopping expeditions where to be made. It is fortunate that the store is very close to my mooring. On the way back from Tesco, I saw a guy that I knew from some previous time on a mooring and then remembered his boat is called Namaste and placed him last at Willington where we chatted about his boat mostly and his Gardner engine.

Having now stocked up, it was time to move off, but first I had to wind the boat at the nearest winding hole, which was a mile away across the River Trent aqueduct. All went well until I tried to turn Stronghold, but the wind at that point was extra strong with no trees or bushes to slow it down and kept undoing what I had just managed to achieve. I did get round eventually, after holding up another following boat and headed back the way I had come, which took just over an hour to get back to where I had been moored.

I have passed this boat every year somewhere on the cut,
 but never talked to the owner or ever seen him.

A famous crime committed at Brindley Bank.

Crossing the River Trent aqueduct.

Someone has a sense of humour.

After that saga, things went well and I pulled in at Woodend Lock layby, as there was a projected part that I might be able to utilise to refit the tipcat, which took about 30 mins with a little help from another boater who had pulled in behind.

Belt and braces to make sure I don't lose it.

Refitted at last.


Fore end now complete.

Shadehouse Lock cill - what projection?

After that success I continued to Shadehouse Lock and moored up for the night, satisfied that something had gone the right way for a change and walked down to The Swan for a pint.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Freedom of the Cut 2019 - 19.

An Impressive Visit to the National Brewing Centre.

Sunday 25th August

Time to move on again, as well stocked up with shopping for a while and seen enough of Willington, what there is of it.

I found a good mooring just a little further than Shobnall Fields, behind some houses, but with hindsight I would have been closer to my goal at the Fields. My goal being The Bass Museum or National Brewing Centre as it is now called. Having tracked it down on Google Maps, I set off to walk there, which turned out to be 1½ miles away. It was an extremely hot day with little shade and I reached the Museum at 14.30. Fortunately it did not close until 17.00 and I spent a very enjoyable two hours there before finishing in The Brewery Tap, where I had three tickets to cover three thirds of a pint each and there was a good choice of ales on offer.

Having brewed my own beer from scratch for any years, I found the whole exhibition fascinating, especially the Burton Union System of brewing and it is only by seeing it first hand that it is more easily understood. Sadly it has been supplanted now by a more modern system, which needs less manpower to operate, as have many other brewing processes nowadays. However, I do believe they still use it to brew Pedigree beer. The other most interesting item on display was the Robey tandem compound steam engine and I had a chat with the engineer in charge, who even let me into the enclosure to look at the valve chests on the other side. What I had not seen before was the condenser that also created a vacuum when the cold water was sprayed inside and was inline with the piston rod and added extra power, making the whole thing 20% efficient. Both power cylinders were inline too and not side by side which is more usual. Best explanation is here:-

Two cylinders in line, along with the condenser at the far end.

I had spotted a far larger Burton Union System outside the museum, but could not get a photo of it, as I was now locked in! The only way out being through the Brewery Tap.

The Burton Union System explained.

How many of these breweries have you sampled?

An example of the interior in a Victorian pub.........

......and the beer taps behind the bar.

The working micro-brewery in one exhibition hall.

The last remaining saddle tank locomotive of which there were many.

The blue wagon is actually a diesel loco.

A Morris Cowley with a two gallon spare can on the running board, which is very similar to the one I have on board.

Can you count the barrels in this stack?

Monday 26th August

Another very hot day was forecast so I set off for a pub by way of Shobnal Basin, where Jannell’s is still in existence after all these years. Long ago they used to have a hire fleet, although I never used them. I had a look around their extensive chandlery and their strip LED’s in particular, but they were more expensive than Midland and did not have the sophisticated dimming switch.

Walking along the main road, I got to The Compasses, but it was evident that it had been closed for some time. Realising now that I was walking in the wrong direction, I retraced my steps to the canal bridge and passed the front office of Marston’s Brewery and shop where the brewery tours start, but I knew they only did tours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, which had to be booked in advance.

Continuing on, I eventually came to The Albion, which is the Marston’s Taphouse and is considerably different from the usual Marston’s houses, in that the handpumps were at the back of the bar and all exactly the same, also the beer was run along pipes in the ceiling from a rack of barrels in a glazed chiller in another part of the room, but that is where the difference ends, because the menu was much the same and there were fruit machines and muzak. I did at least know that the beer had not travelled far from the brewery.

Beer pumps draw the beer from .......

......this stack of barrels.

Tuesday 27th August

I walked up to Shobnall Basin to get another copy of Towpath Telegraph, as I had left the previous unopened copy in the pub and while there, I enquired about a weeks mooring, which to my surprise was only £43 and it was within walking distance from the rail station, so far cheaper than Mercia and no bus ride involved.

I let go later and cruised only for 2 miles, but passed Bridge 33e without thinking about stopping to go to Morrison’s until I got to Branston, where the famous pickle first made an appearance. By now Morrison’s was too far to walk, but there was another Co-op in the village where, just as before the produce was very limited.

I was in a pub when the landlady said, "Is your little friend not drinking then?".
To which I replied, " He has had his fill at the Co-Op across the road."

This is a good quiet mooring spot with rings and there were only two other boats visible, but no wi-fi was to be found anywhere. There were two pubs within walking distance and very little traffic along the towpath, but rain was imminent in the next few days and I needed to move on just in case the Trent went into flood again, although I did stay one night.

One of my good luck stories is that I found another £5 note today beside a lock; this is the 2nd one, as I also found one at Braunston during the historic boat rally.

Wednesday 28th August

I set off under a cloudy sky, that promised sunshine earlier and the day was much fresher with a slight breeze, but it was not long before the rain set in as showers, although some were prolonged more than I would have liked

I set off for Fradley through several single locks, some of which were operated for me, but most were done using the “Jacko Method”, whereby I step off the stern as the boat enters the lock with it out of gear to drift slowly in. Walking up to the top paddles with a windlass, I wait until the boat is within 10ft or so of the cill and then draw half a paddle off. The boat stops at the top gate, while I walk back to close the bottom gates, which are aided to close by the slight current of water through the lock chamber. The top paddles are now fully opened to lift the boat up.

All went well, except that I was now very wet once again as I got into Fradley moorings below Junction Lock and there were plenty of spaces at 15.30. I pulled in on the water point to fill the tank, but another selfish, inconsiderate, bastard boater insisted on passing by at some speed, thereby drawing my unmoored stern into the centre of the cut and almost into his own boat, despite me hanging on to the centre line as hard as I could. These people must have moored up with others passing by them, so why are they so bloody thick when doing it to someone else? If I see another boat without a mooring line fastened off, I slow right down so as not to disturb the other boat, because I know how much it affects them.

With dry trousers now on, I walked to The Swan for a pint and some relaxation and a browse through their menu. I hope the ‘specials’ are changed for Saturday, when I go there to eat with my daughter again.

These bridges cannot be taken at full speed.

My Road Pro 12v fan found in 
Braunston Marina laundry - a life saver in a heat wave.

Saturday 24 August 2019

freedom of the Cut 2019 - 18

Return to Willington.

A few more notices like this could be useful to novices today

Tuesday 20th August

The only place to shop for food was Shardlow Village Stores, which was 1 mile along the main road that crossed the cut, so it was time to investigate, not that I was expecting much. Not a pleasant walk alongside the traffic, but I needed some exercise. True to my expectations, it was more a boutique type of shop that sold a minimum of foodstuffs along with birthday cards and gifts. I did locate a couple of expensive lamb chops to BBQ and that was it. I caught the bus back and had a pint in the Clock Warehouse, where Marston’s have done a good job of restoring the interior, but ruined it with an imitation wide beam barge in the loading arch below, which is looking somewhat tired by now.

The Clock Warehouse.

I cooked both chops on the BBQ and will keep one for tomorrow if I don’t eat out again.

The bricks in this boundary wall are so soft that birds have pecked nesting holes in it. They also go behind the adjoining brick so the nest would be hidden.

The brewery bottling store built in 1780.

Used for unloading boats at the bottling store.

Wednesday 21st August

I let go about 09.30 to wind the boat in Dobson’s boatyard opposite and head for Shardlow Lock hoping to follow another boat in, but when I got there he had an offer from a boat already waiting in the lock, so I had no alternative but to do it solo although it was only 4ft 5ins deep. The next lock was Aston where I had moored previously and although 8ft, I did this one as well. The following lock was Weston and this was 10ft 11ins, so more daunting and despite getting Stronghold in and tied up fore and aft, I could not close the offside gate, as it was just too heavy and had to ask a dog walker to add some weight behind the beam. Just as I was about to exit that lock, another boat appeared behind me, so I offered to wait at the next one for them – any help making things that much easier.

It was about here that I saw my second ever terrapin, but no chance of a photo as it dropped back in the water as I went past. The last one had been in the filthy water of Paddington Arm last year.

Instead another boat appeared behind me at Swarkstone and got me through with the help of mother and two girls, but they were pulling in at Barrow, so that didn’t last long. Eventually I got back to Stenson and what with the bridge over the tail of the lock and it being 12ft 6ins deep, I was just not going to chance the slippery ladder that far up, so I hung around on the layby waiting for the previous boat, which was twenty minutes behind me and they took me through to moor up again by The Bubble Inn. That was quite enough for one day and the 9 miles took me 7 hours of cruising, bearing in mind that I had to fill most of the locks before I could pass through.

I did not feel like cooking by the time I had moored up, so went to The Bubble Inn for a Greek beef stifado, with rice and Greek salad. It was not how I remembered it in Greece and was rather dry with none of the recommended spice flavourings or the baby onions. Anyway, it was all washed down with a couple of pints of Cornish Tribute.

Thursday 22nd August

A slow start this rather miserable morning with overcast skies and a strong wind, although no rain is forecast and the Bank Holiday weekend is looking good. I motored up as far as Mercia Marina to visit Midland Swindlers again and moored outside this time. I wanted some Morris oil for topping up, some Duraglit and a deck chair. Duraglit has now been replaced with Brasso wadding in exactly the same type of tin as the original make. There was only one type of chair on sale and that was too heavy for carrying any distance, so that was off my list. Besides, it was more expensive than I wanted to pay. I also bought some toilet bowl cleaner as mine is now very badly stained despite scrubbing vigorously in the past, it has remained so. This Jabsco concoction is made by the pump manufacturers and is biologically safe, so should not damage the biological action of the Silky RX in the waste tank.

I looked at some LED strip lights housed inside an aluminium extrusion and was given a demo by the salesman. Not only is there a touch switch on the end of the strip, but if a finger is held on it, the lights are dimmed. After switching off, they remain as the same setting when switched back on – clever stuff and I must admit to being tempted to replace the fluorescent strips over the galley work area.

Whilst on that mooring I went into marina reception to make enquiries about getting a temporary mooring for when I went home next. It was £67 for a 50ft boat for a week and no reservation required, so that was easy. There is also a bus service every hour from a stop outside the marina to Burton. Not as cheap as Rugby Wharf, but still fairly reasonable, compared to some other places I could mention.

Moving on, I soon arrived back on the Willington moorings and there was one space left on the edge of the winding hole restrictions. In all cases, there is no mooring opposite a winding hole, although I have seen hire boats and liveaboards there many times.

I did some shopping in the Co-Op, which is better stocked than the ones I am used to and popped into The Green Man on the way back. Surprise – it was full of locals eating and drinking and it was only Thursday. There were six popular ales on tap, but I restricted myself to one pint of Bombardier. 

Back on board, I had to do something with the remains of the beef stifado, a small piece of fillet steak and a lamb chop previously cooked on the BBQ. I had bought a tin of oxtail soup so it was all mixed together with some boiled potatoes, leftover mushrooms and some broccoli and carrots, flavoured with some tomato puree, Worcester sauce and seasoning and simmered for a while. Surprisingly, it was very tasty and produced enough for about four meals.

Friday 23rd August

A leisurely day on the mooring with not a lot to do. At last the constant wind had dropped this morning and it looked like a warm sunny day for a change. Blogging and generally wasting time this morning, but another visit to the Co-Op was due, before another visit to The Dragon for beers outside and the garden was packed with people.

Not many tables free on a Friday evening at The Dragon.

Visitor moorings full up on the towpath. 

Saturday 24th August

Yet another visit to the Co-Op, but the problem is that I can’t carry too much shopping in one go in a knapsack, unless I take the wheels.

Andy Belton stopped at the waterpoint opposite and we had a few quick words. He had been up the Caldon and was now on his way back to Nottingham, so he missed all the hanging about for the flooded Trent.

I got into conversation with a boater on the towpath after he remarked about how good The Anchor pub was after spotting my tee shirt. We talked for a while about pubs and beer and he did complain about the cloudiness of the two pints of Boot Ale that he had and that the Doombar was now off. We compared notes on various waterway pubs and I showed him my database of 120 pubs on the cut, many of which he had been to in the past. The Boot ale was now off, so I had Clod Hopper instead, which was a light ale with slight citrus flavour. Strangely enough, another punter at the bar, said, “That’s a bloody good pub,” referring again to The Anchor at High Offley. So two people had remarked on it within the space of five minutes.

It is extremely hot again this afternoon and I spent a lot of it sitting out with a book and the fan going full belt to keep cool.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Freedom of the Cut 2019 - 17.

Onwards to Shardlow

Wednesday 14th August

The rain just got more intense as the morning wore on, so it looked like a ‘stay where you are’ kind if day. Reckon the short River Trent section will be in flood today with all this rain anyway, even if I did want to return to Fradley.

The dirty clothes were piling up again, so time to do some more washing which will keep me occupied for a couple of hours. I am not bothered about drying it outside, because of limited space, so it stays on hangers inside for usually two days in the bathroom out of the way.

I had decided to eat out for a change tonight and walked to The Dragon. Surprise – there was only one large table free, because I had not booked. Although booking is advised, I though it unnecessary on a Wednesday as there were so many tables, but they were all full, which is of course a very good advert for any restaurant. So, there I was, feeling somewhat guilty at having so large a table to myself, that another guy with a pint of Coke was looking around for somewhere to sit and I asked him if he wanted to share the space, which he did. Not so surprisingly, he was also a boater and came from Lancashire, but trying to make conversation was like getting blood out of a stone – he was so dour, although I did get a laugh out of him before he left.

I am very prone to mussels when they are on the menu and they were too, in a Massaman curry sauce with folded light pancakes on the side. It was a large portion and enjoyable to the last, before I chose a white chocolate cheesecake with mango and passion fruit – pure indulgence to say the least and I was bloated. It is a long time since I have eaten so well. The full menu is worth drooling over and is here.

Thursday 15th August

The day was chilly off to a start, but the rain had cleared at last, so time to move on. As usual, I did an engine check, only to discover that the header tank was almost empty, which after having new core plugs fitted and the system sealed, was most unusual. Searching further, I discovered a split Bowman rubber connection at the stern end of the engine, where it connected with the skin tank – not good news, as this is a restored 1970’s BMC engine of the type fitted to London Black Cabs and I could foresee it being difficult to source a replacement part.

Mercia Marina was about half a mile further on, so with the tank topped up, that was the next port of call. When I was through the entrance, there was no indication where anything was, so I moored up on a wooden jetty close to the shops and found the reception office. They advised me to try Midland Swindlers or the workshops of Streethay Wharf, which has a yard on site here as well as the one at Streethay. I found Midland and asked for a spare part, not expecting them to have any at all in stock, but to my surprise they did stock several different sizes, which I never realised how many there were. After returning to Stronghold and measuring and getting the serial number of the split one, I returned to find that they actually had one on the shelf, so I took it back and fitted it within the hour - job done. Sometimes things just fall into place, but this surpassed my dreams of almost instant success.

Well perished after 18 yrs!

The new Bowman connection in place.

To celebrate, I had a pint in the marina bar, but what shops were here on site were either cafes or gift related, which is not my scene at all. As there was a tap close to the mooring, I took advantage and filled the tank. I would not be at all surprised if I could have moored here for the night and no one would have commented.

Mercia Marina - more shops than boat services.

I exited the marina and cruised as far as the top of Stenson Lock, which is double width to take the barges originally to and from Burton from the River Trent. It is also very deep at 12’6”. If I am going to tackle that, it will be with another boat or volunteer only. There was one mooring space left here, so I got in quickly before someone else took it.

Friday 16th August

Yet another wet day! This must be one of the worst summers for some years. I can probably count the really hot sunny days on fingers of one hand this year. Looking at the forecast however, the next week or two appear to be sunny spells every day in this area.

After a leisurely breakfast, it was time to write up this blog and I had a few days to catch up on. I also had considerable e-mails to read and reply to as well, which all consumed most of my day. While the rain continued to pelt down non-stop. I think there were only four or five boats that went through Stenson Lock all day, so the volunteer must have had a boring time of it.

12ft 6ins to the bottom.

A pint in The Bubble Inn was enjoyed later before the meal on board.

Saturday 17th August

Another chilly start to the day, but it gradually warmed up as the morning progressed. I had a chat with a new boater behind me to see if he was going through Stenson Lock, but not so. I had been waiting around for another boat to either come down or up for forty minutes by now and decided that I was going to have to do it on my own. However, there was a bridge below the tail of the lock and although I could pull the boat through on a line as far as that and then let go, there was the bywash outlet to contend with at the bottom on the towpath side which would push the boat away from me and into the trees. I could not win without some help, so walked back to ask help from the previous guy on the moored boat. We walked back to the lock and then lo and behold another two boats appeared behind me and one at the bottom waiting to come up - just like London buses, nothing for hours then they all turn up at once!

Not the sort of cill to catch the boat on!

I was now on my way with nb Lock and Roll and we did the next three locks together. They were on their way back to Nottingham, so had to go on The Trent after Shardlow, but the river was in flood and Cranfield Stop Lock was closed, which meant that Shardlow moorings would be solid with boats waiting to go on the river. They decided to stop above Aston Lock until it was clear, so I followed suit and moored up astern of them and had a chat later, before walking down to the lock. I had been on the lookout since the beginning of the month for ripe blackberries and here they were, not very big but back along the towpath there were a few really large ones that I ate there and then. These I will cook up with the Granny Smith apples that have been waiting for a few days on the galley shelf.

Sunday 18th August

Another dry day with sunny spells and another rest day. No news on the River Trent in flood, so Lock and Roll is staying put, but may have to move tomorrow as they, like me are running out of food. It would seem that there are no food shops in Shardlow. I decided that I would try out The Malt Inn at Aston, which was ¾ mile from the lock and I was surprised how busy it was, but then a several pubs are on Sundays. Tribute was on, which is one of my favourites. An interesting feature of this pub is that they have a Barter Board, with a few fruits and veg on and if you donate any of these to the kitchen, then they are worth a pudding or a free pint in exchange – unique I would think, but an excellent idea as growers often have a surplus at this time of year.

Terry, from Lock and Roll came up later to explain that they were not going to move tomorrow, as the Trent was still in flood.

I had a BBQ this evening, as I was well away from any other boat and the present charcoal smokes considerably on starting up. That is the last of my food stock, so it maybe a case of dining out later.

Monday 19th August

Terry was kind enough to see me through Aston Lock and it was only my a short distance to Shardlow, where I expected difficulty finding a mooring, but that was not the case and I got one just below the lock and opposite a boatyard. There were several boats tied up here waiting for the river to subside. I had only been here an hour and heard a shout outside – it was Mark and Maggie Young on nb Forever Young. I grabbed a windlass and walked up to help them through the lock, catching up on their travels in the meantime.

On getting back to Stronghold it was time to do an oil and filter change, which was a few hours overdue – a messy business as the plastic milk bottle I used on the end of the oil pipe to catch any residue had split and was leaking oil. Lesson learned - not to use those in future. 

This barge can only go as far as Burton.

Being out of food now, I had to eat out somewhere, but finding a suitable place was not easy as most of them had inconsistent reviews on TripAdvisor. There was supposed to be a Thai Kitchen at 3 Wilne Lane, but when I got there it was a boarded up old house, so I went in The Navigation to see if they did food, as there was nothing published recently, although they did have a working kitchen some time ago, but the answer was no. I asked a couple in the garden and he recommended Smithys Marina Bar at Shardlow Marina, where he knew they did food, so I chanced it. It would not be a place I would naturally have gone for food, but they did a reasonable blackboard menu and I chose deep fried squid with a chilli and garlic salad, which was very tasty and served within a few minutes. The beers were Smithys Pale Ale and Doombar, which were priced at £2.70 as it was Happy Hour, so I did well in the end.

Just done a bit of shopping!

Shardlow is a very well preserved inland port, used for transhipping freight from the widebeam barges that came up The Trent from the docks, to narrowboats and onward to the rest of the country. The town has about 50 buildings dating from 1770 when Brindley developed the area, similar to his only other inland port at Stourport-on-Severn. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shardlow#Transport_hub

Restored crane for loading at the brewery bottling warehouse.

The warehouse behind the crane.