Saturday, 31 March 2012

Renewal and regeneration

  30th - 31st March 2012

Boatwif had woken up with a start on Friday morning: sunhats... don’t forget the sunhats! The assembling of “stuff” vital for an Easter cruise was pretty well complete, and once loaded, she and the Captain headed the 150 miles north to the Macclesfield Canal. Usually the journey is via the M6 route but on Friday the route which goes further north towards Derby and then west towards Stoke-on-Trent was chosen. What a surprise at Meir, a Stoke suburb. Where there had been a derelict garage, demolished and cleared, now there is a shiny four storey NHS centre.  Further on, where there had been quite the most depressing of rundown housing estates, its petrol station closed, its pub trashed, houses torched, now new homes have been built and a flicker of stability and hope has appeared.  May this area prosper...

At her mooring Cleddau sat low in the water, filled up with both fuel and water two weeks ago. Operation Unload proceeded at a pace: food staples for a fortnight, full wind and waterproofs, the mint and the basil pots, fresh bedding for the Relief Crew, clothing to withstand temperatures from 70 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 4 degrees C) and, of course, the medium length pole, so painstakingly painted at home. (Pole-painting and a pootle) At 2.30pm the boat pulled away from the pontoon and a three goose flypast swung low overhead as if in farewell! Cleddau was off on her Easter cruise, destination the Anderton Lift and the River Weaver. Few other boats were moving on a now cold afternoon, although just before Bollington a weather beaten boater pushed his craft away from the bank and pronounced his intention: “I’m going Macclesfield to do dancing.” Through Bollington we passed, observant of recent improvements on the aqueduct towpath: not here the usual swampy quagmire, rather now a bright and dry gravel path! Further on a stretch of Kerridge towpath had been renewed too. On we chugged, fire smoke in our faces, but  not sunhats, instead fleece hats on our heads! We squeezed into an overnight mooring at Gurnett Aqueduct, closed up the boat and warmed up...

An early start on Saturday morning: 0810. It was damp and the visibility murky at best. But by the time we had shoved open (and closed) the Broadhurst Swing Bridge, operated the electric Royal Oak Swing Bridge at Fool’s Nook and  the 12 locks at Bosley conditions were brighter. While the southern canals are suffering water shortages, it is not so here. Waves gushed down the side weirs above each lock; waterfalls raced over top and bottom gates while at Lock 11 an inch or so of water covered the lock sides too... Then came the Bosley to Congleton stretch – catkins and fresh reed growth, butter yellow forsythia, trees greening in the higher branches, magnolias bursting into bud, birds competing as in a song contest and an artist’s palate used by a child to splodge a mass of  daffodils along a bank - the natural world in regeneration!

A mid-afternoon mooring at the Ramsdell Hall railings. Through the windows on the towpath side can be seen the black and white railings, and black and white cows – a perfect pastoral scene.  Nearby a sign outlined a footpath route to Little Moreton Hall, so Boatwif,  equipped with mobile phone (switched on), walking pole (extended) and National Trust card (in purse), traipsed across a range of dry and lumpy fields – to find the house not open. Well, not open until 4th April. But such a house: from our narrow little home on water to a grand house surrounded by water. “Cheshire’s most iconic black and white house – Tudor skill and craftsmanship at its finest,” proclaims the 2012 leaflet. And while Boatwif was strolling back along part of the South Cheshire Way what was the Captain doing? Why, painting his longest pole, of course!

Tomorrow, on to the Trent and Mersey Canal, to start the descent of Heartbreak Hill...

FRIDAY: 8.82 miles, 0 locks, 0 swing bridges
SATURDAY: 13.5 miles, 12 locks, 2 swing bridges

Monday, 26 March 2012

A waterway in the making

Sunday 25th March 2012

            In October 1811 a group of businessmen met in Bedford to discuss the prospect of a canal connecting the (then) Grand Junction Canal which runs through Buckinghamshire and the River Great Ouse at Bedford.  John Rennie, the famous canal engineer, was commissioned to compile a suitable route.  He found two, prepared presumed costs, although in due course his preferred route was used to develop the Bedford to Bletchley Railway.

Roll forward two hundred years and talk of boating between Bedford and the Grand Union is very much back in the public arena. The Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway grew out of an idea in 1994 – and now the designated route through two counties is protected, and bit by bit plans are being laid to bring the vision to reality.

            On Sunday the Captain, Boatwif and a local canal-minded friend joined about fifty other curious folk for a guided walk, the purpose to trace the intended canal route as it skirts close to Wootton, a village south west of Bedford. The group set off from the Black Horse pub at Potters Cross and made its way behind the village for about half a mile to the first of several stopping points where route description was offered and publicity photographs taken. The hike then took the walkers over the Blue Bridge (for pedestrians over the new A421 dual carriageway) from where a good view of the canal route could be seen. Next a short walk westwards alongside the old A421 (now local) road back towards the village brought the group to a viewpoint behind the Persimmon housing development. Further along the walkers crossed into Berry Wood, a recent plantation, there to be shown the waterway underpass* constructed under the A421.

What new information did walkers glean about the project?

·        The area being prepared as a light industry park on the edge of Wootton will be built with connected lakes, eventually forming between one and two kilometres of waterway.

·        Digging out the above lakes should be started in 2013.

·        Developers, Persimmon in Wootton, and another developer building behind Hastingsbury School, will be providing funds towards the Route 51 cycle path which will also serve as the towpath.

·        About a dozen locks are envisaged to take the waterway up to the Ridge Road level and down to the river at Kempston.

·        The underpass will bring the waterway from the eastern end of Stewartby Lake.

·        Whether the route through the Forest Centre territory will use the lake (shared by sailors and water-skiers) or a cut alongside has yet to be decided.

·        A B&MK Waterway trip boat is planned; it will run on the Great Ouse from Bedford with a passenger capacity of about 60. A contract for building it should be signed shortly and it is hoped the boat will be in service from Spring 2013.

Informing the public and B&MK Trust members of the latest developments is important: the next Talks Evening will be held between 7-9pm at Box End Park, Kempston on Tuesday April 24th.

In the heart of Berry Wood, beside a dipping pond, the guided walk ended. Shorter distance participants headed back to a Black Horse lunch while sturdier types continued westwards towards Wootton Green, past a garden harbouring several Shetland ponies, along a lane, through a horse-occupied field, past the WI Centenary Copse, towards the church and the village centre.

It might be twenty five years before we can float past Wootton in a boat: family members and relief crews prepare to winch us on board... But what's really important is that the vision to create the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway is kept alive and the project supported in every way possible . To find out more go to: Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway Trust .

 (*underpass correctly identified by us just a year ago... boatwif-turns-detective )


Monday, 19 March 2012

Pole-painting and a pootle

Friday 16th to Sunday 18th March

It's when the evenings grow lighter that the symptoms start, an itching to be out and about, tramping the towpath, working some locks, steering the boat, peeking round the next corner... To cope with the longing to be afloat Boatwif is inclined to make impulse purchases: recently a new mop was bought (easier to operate with its shorter handle), then a second hand vase (to replace last year's Hawksbury Junction casualty), and even a couple of dried flower sprigs to refresh the existing display. The Captain's traditional reaction to longer days is to throw himself into route-planning: A to B via C, so many days at so many hours, miles, numbers of locks, sunrise and sunset all taken into account. This year, though, the Captain has found another means of treating his boat yearning symptoms: pole-painting.

It started with the bringing home of an enormous pole, attached to which is a hefty brass boat hook (possibly "removed" from HM Dockyard back in 1926). It's often served its purpose (notably when Cleddau struggled up the weed-clogged locks of the Northampton Arm in August 2010). Here the hook was detached from the pole and then days and days were spent sanding, priming, varnishing and painting. Most of the action was outside until rare rain drove pole and painter indoors. Finally it was finished and driven last Friday 150 miles back to the boat. There it now lies on the pole rack, the red painted end shiny and bright.

 A "floating cottage" weekend had been planned to prepare the boat for April's Cheshire Ring / Weaver Navigation trip – and to paint number 2 pole, the very long barge pole. On Friday afternoon at the moorings the winter routine swung into play: unload car, start up engine, reverse out of mooring, turn boat around, motor to water point to fill the tank. A long fill it was and then after 4pm Cleddau sallied through the bridge, heading the mile or so on to Adlington. Moored securely nearby was the 70' of Sanity Again, its owners currently moving another Braidbar boat from Crick on the Leicester line back to Poynton. The temperature dropped, a sharp wind blew. The routine continued, the stove being lit. It was Friday night and the Miners' Arms was busy. While the Captain and Boatwif supped on  Specials Board Fish Pie the locals jovially planned their rugby Six Nations viewing...

Rain almost stopped play for the Captain on Saturday: an ingenious X frame device had been made last week to support a pole during painting and he was eager to use it. The long barge pole (replacement cost £38 at Bailey's Trading Post) was trimmed, sanded and base-coated twice - and twice during Saturday night heavy showers thundered on the roof. Sunday dawned dry and sunny, perfect pole-painting conditions, except the pole was still soaked from the rain! By mid-morning a visitation had arrived, Cheshire Mum and the Cheshire One, hopeful of a boat ride. And so, for no other cause than just enjoyment, Cleddau pootled off. Just a short pootle it was, north to High Lane, a turn at the North Cheshire Cruising Club arm, a run back past the Poynton playing fields (adult footballers very much in action) to turn again and cruise back to the mooring. For a while Cheshire Mum steered ("That gap is small," a spectator remarked as Cleddau was brought painlessly through a bridge-hole.) At High Lane the deep thud-thud of a low geared engine signalled the approach of working boat Hadar, (see picture on their blog). Back at Poynton ears captured another distinctive sound. Think of strolling and kicking your way through the shallows at the sea's edge. All members of a wellington-booted family slooshed and paddled their way along the towpath. "It is really deep!" yelled the Dad.

Later, after a Mothers' Day dinner cooked by Techno Son-in-law, the phone rang.  From five thousand miles away Welsh-educated Cal Son taunted his English brother-in-law.

"You plastic Welshman!" was the reply." You only wear a red shirt when it suits you! And did you REALLY watch the match?" Given the current seven hour time difference perhaps he didn't...

Time ticked on: with Venus and Jupiter bright in the night sky the car was pointed south, Boatwif sharing the passenger seat leg space with one end of pole number three. As you might expect pole painting has resumed.

FOOTNOTE for readers of the previous blog: the iron cooking plank was found, quite unexpectedly, in a very different cupboard from its usual place...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Things found (and found out)

Saturday 10th March 2012, A "Grand" walk
Recent events have included "a bit of turning out". That phrase swam into Boatwif's head last night: it doesn't indicate anything as large-scale as Spring cleaning, more an activity which involves the complete emptying out of a box or a cupboard... It was while in search of the inherited heavy iron cooking plank, needed for making Welsh cakes, that a few odd items appeared. First was the key, a fine-looking, serious door key, but which door? Which property? The combined wracked brains of the Captain and Boatwif could produce no answer. If it isn't a key for this residence (a residence of sixteen years) might it be from a previously owned house, sold to tenants in the mid nineteen-nineties? Should we post it to that address...? Currently it rests on a worktop, its destiny still to be decided.
Then there was a large ring binder, originally a container for someone's student notes. Within it were recipes, many printed, taken from magazines or picked up in supermarkets. Several were handwritten, passed on by friends, decades ago. There were newspaper cuttings, dated 1970 – and, surprisingly, two Baby Weight Cards, on which had been recorded the weekly progress made by an infant nephew and niece, more than four decades ago. Would the named person on each card take kindly to a battered blue or pink card arriving in the post, of which certainly they would have no knowledge or memory? No, better to return to the mother, for her to file or recycle...
Next appeared a plastic bag containing all manner of baby safety equipment - drawer safety latches, electric plug shields, protective corners for furniture, door jambs – all purchased to protect Cal Guy and the Cheshire One in their toddler days. Aha! There is a brand new babe (and brand new grandparents) in the family: divert bag to the New Parents, aka recent bride and recent bridegroom in Boatwif2010Aug31.
Then, during a hunt for something completely different, a photographic guide to the River Avon surfaced. It was a book loaned last year to swell Cleddau's on-board library during her summer Tewksbury to Stratford cruise. TICK!  Book now dispatched to lender.
But strangest find of all was a sealed package, addressed to Techno Son-in-Law, hidden neatly, very inconspicuously, between wall and large wicker basket in the walk-in cupboard. The postage date was 2010... Opened up it revealed an order made, 23rd September, 2010. Inside was Jennifer Aldridge's Archers' Cookbook. Had this been a present intended for the Captain's September 24th birthday? Apparently not. It is known that this is an Archers' household and Techno Son-in-Law had made an impulse buy, maybe a gesture to ensure that from time to time he can still raise enquiry about a character's back story or an evolving plotline. Perhaps the next culinary experiment will be Jennifer's Easter  biscuits. And as for why the package had been hidden away for eighteen long months: "Well, I did tell your husband I was ordering it and it was for him to give to you - probably he wasn't listening!"
All these finds came back to mind during a walk when not one, but two, other finds were made. Locked indoors for weeks it has seemed, incarcerated by chest infections and desk-bound admin work, Saturday was a day to pull on the walking boots and sniff the outdoors.  A 25 minute car trip to the Soulbury Three Locks (over in Buckinghamshire) was the start, the plan to walk up to the ridge, along through Rushmere Country Park woodland, drop down to the canal at Heath and Reach, pause at the Globe Inn for some lunch and then take the towpath back to the car – about a six mile circuit. Off we set, up the hill, the Three Locks golf course to our left over the hedge. Cars sped past. On we climbed until a white golf ball was spotted on the right hand verge.  Ten yards or so further on and there was another golf ball.  Pity any car driver coming down the hill receiving an unwanted missile from the neighbouring golf course! The two finds were picked up, pocketed – and will be offered to the golfer who has offered his services for the through Manchester cruise next month.
It was a balmy walk, past snowdrops and daffodils, fishing lakes and llamas, back towards the familiarity of the canal. But during the walk something unexpected was found out. The Captain had enjoyed a secret browsing session on the computer, looking up distances, lock numbers and restrictions of the northern canals. "I think we should have two feet cut out of the boat length next year," he stated. Boatwif's jaw dropped, her mouth large enough to contain both golf balls... What? Why? Lose precious space; lose precious airing cupboard storage space? The cost... Another project...The topic hung in the air, largely unexplored.
Lunch (and a long wait for indifferent food) at the Globe, then the flat mile or so walk back to the Three Locks. Passing the church and the bridge at Old Linslade we recalled our last time here, last November, tea and coffee with Les and Jaq on board nb Valerie. Back at the Soulbury Locks we gazed down the flight. There were new unpainted beams on the bottom two locks – and in the middle lock was a boat, going down. Drawn to lock action we trundled down and offered help. "We are boaters, we used to be moored just along from here at Willowbridge," called the Captain. And so the single-handed boater passed Boatwif his windlass, climbed back down to his boat - and the Captain and Boatwif at the end of their walk got to push some gates and wind some paddles. Perfect!  Another discovery, of the finding out kind: the Cleddau crew are ready and eager to cruise again!

FOOTNOTE: The cooking plank remains undiscovered: if any friends or relatives have information about its whereabouts please get in touch!