Monday, 19 October 2020

A Little Bit of 'Normal'

On the whole life has been quiet for us since we returned home in early September.  We have had two notable boat related outings - both to meet up with our friends Sue (Boatwif) and Ken on their boat nb Cleddau.  On both occasions the weather was perfect.

14th September 2020 - Norbury Junction

As we drove north by road they were heading north by boat.  They arrived and secured a mooring a while before we got there - we were at the mercy of the M6.  Communications en route worked seamlessly and it was agreed we would phone when we arrived.  Ah, the vagaries of modern technology - we had no signal!  We did, however, manage to find them.  Adjacent tables were found in the pub garden and we enjoyed a meal together whilst maintaining good 'social distancing'.


As an added bonus and entirely unplanned, whilst we were there two fellow boating bloggers (albeit now back on dry land), Carol and George from Still Rockin arrived, so it became a '6-way bloggers socially distanced catch up'.  Good luck with the house move, George and Carol.

Then it was back to Cleddau and a tow path cuppa.

plus some water for Monty


A perfect end to a perfect day.  

On our way home we came across this - I suspect he has crept under here many times, but it did take a lot of 'toing and froing' as he lined himself up and snuck under.  It reminded us of our many trips under the M5 Culvert in Droitwich.

22nd September 2020 - Rode Heath

We had enjoyed seeing Sue and Ken in 'real life so much that we decided to do it again.  This time they were heading south on their way back to the Macclesfield Canal.  No communication problems this time and once again we enjoyed a good meal in a canal side pub garden before heading back to Cleddau


Monty and I found a lovely walk before we headed back home down the motorway.  We have talked with Sue and Ken most weeks on Skype since March, but it is not the same as seeing them in person.

Our main task since returning from our boat trip was to prepare the boat which is booked in for bottom blacking and other jobs with Crafted Boats.  A lot of stuff has been brought home for sorting out.  I have been assured it won't all go back on board in the Spring!  It is horrifying how much you can store on a narrow boat - it seems to increase each year!  It is a good job we have a conservatory that is too cold to use in the winter.  We have a king size ottoman bed the base of that is full as well.  The boat itself is very bare.

The dry dock is about 7 miles from our marina, however there are 45 locks, so not an easy trip.  We have another set of friends who have rolled up their sleeves to help us with Tardebigge before now.  We had planned that they would come and stay for a day or so to lend us a hand.  We were all waiting on tenterhooks for the announcement from Boris last Monday - would we be able to 'mix households' or not?  We were, so they arrived Thursday afternoon.  We had a quiet Friday just enjoying the novelty of being with friends.  They are the first people to enter our house since lockdown started way back in March.  Well apart from a couple of men who delivered a new washing machine.  Did we ever imagine just how wonderful it would be to spend time with friends - it was always good, but now it is even more special and something I will never take for granted again.

Saturday 17th September 2020

Droitwich Spa Marina to The Queen's Head, Stoke Pound

4.5 miles, 15 locks

Fortunately we were blessed with good weather - dry, with some sun and not too cold.  We set off from Droitwich at 10:25.  As you can see it was calm with a lovely blue sky.

The first three locks are just around the corner at Hanbury - the first time Jane and Chris have come across locks with side ponds.  There were two voluntary lock keepers on duty and a steady stream of boats up and down, so it was a speedy transit.

Jane and Chris with their dog, Kiera (Monty's best friend) at Hanbury in the sunshine

The six locks at Astwood were all ready or nearly ready for us to enter and we were the only boat on the move, so again it all went very speedily.

We had time to enjoy the views 




to sit and relax as the locks filled

and try to get Monty and Kiera to pose whilst looking at the camera!

Try being the operative word!

Perseverance almost paid off!

We had two stretches today where we were all be on the boat - a chance for a cuppa and then later some lunch on the run.  Tomorrow will be all walking for the three of us working the locks.  A rare shot of Chris and I together!

I guess they had swapped places at the helm when this was taken!

By the time we got to the last six of the day (Stoke Flight) it was getting a little chillier, but it was still dry and fairly bright.

At the top lock we came across a nice young lad who was visiting friends in what used to be the lock cottage.  He had lots of questions about how locks work and why he could not open the top gate when the water was not level!  All was explained and he happily opened and closed the gate once the lock was full and we were then on our way.

Round a bend and under a bridge and we moored right opposite the pub - not something we would dream of doing, especially on a Saturday night, if we had been staying on board.  It is lighter there with more people to notice if anything were to go awry, so ideal as we would be heading home for the night.  

The trip was the fastest we have ever done it in - 3.25 hours.  It is amazing the difference it makes with two extra pairs of hands and feet.

Sunday 18th October 2020
The Queen's Head to below lock 58, Tardebigge
2.25 miles, 29 locks

Once again it was dry and not too cold - well not for those of us working the locks!  Chris was well wrapped up, but was still a little chilly when we got to the top.  I am going to start this part with the information that last time Jane and Chris did Tardebigge with us we went from top to bottom (so an extra lock and quarter of a mile) in 2.5 hours.  Would we be so lucky today?

We set off at 10:10 and were in the bottom lock by 10:15.  A smiling Jane - would she still be cheerful when we got to the top?

Three locks on and we had caught up with a boat going up ahead of us.  There were only two of them, but they were working well, so kept up a good pace.  She was locking ahead and I ended up closing the top gate for them which helped them out and kept us going as well.

We were the only two boats going up, however as we were ascending we were told about others coming down.  There were only about six, but there was a lack of water, so it meant quite long waits to avoid turning locks unnecessarily. 




The lady on Pippi Longstocking really suits her boat - she always has a very cheerful happy smile.



There were two Voluntary Lock Keepers helping the second hire boat.  They only took the boat over at Alvechurch on Saturday, so these were their first ever locks.  Tardebigge is a bit of a baptism of fire. Everyone was very friendly and patient and it was a pleasant run up even if it did take us four hours which is not a bad time for such a long flight.

The only thing I hate about this flight is going past a house we call 'the dog house'.  Up to this trip there have always been two dogs tied up in the front garden that leap at the wall barking like mad.  I have to put Monty on the lead as he 'answers back' and it is always my fear that their teeth will meet one day.  It now appears that there is only one and he was in the field at the back, so it was a quieter transit. Monty, however, remembers and is always stressed out and very agitated, but we survived!

The closer we got to the top the less water there was

Even the reservoir was very empty, especially considering all the rain we have had lately

As I approached the reservoir I could see a shape in the distance that looked like some sort of gun enlacement.  It turned out to be a fisherman's 'kit'.

I guess he had been on the top of the reservoir for the weekend and had packed up to go home for Sunday lunch!  

Boaters are used to hold ups - queues at locks, broken locks, boats that have come adrift, canoes, regattas, swimmers and various other things, but never before have we had to wait whilst a couple out walking with their dogs lost control of them and they both leapt in just above the lock we were in.  They called in vain and eventually one came over and was hauled out - only to jump straight back in again!  The second dog ended up floundering around in the reeds on the far side.



It did eventually make its way over to the lock and the man was able to haul it out.  They went on their way firmly attached to their leads!  The black lab is Kiera who loves to swim, but knows better than to try a canal.  She even resisted the urge to have a dip in the reservoir this time.  When your master says NO, then no it is.

This is Jane at the last lock of the day and she is almost smiling!  Seriously, she was as cheerful as ever and it is wonderful to have great friends who are willing to come and subject themselves to two days hard graft.  Thank you both.

We moored below lock 57 - there are rings there which are more secure than pins, especially when she was going to be left.  Again we would not normally moor opposite a boat, but there was plenty of space for passing boats and it meant there was someone to keep half an eye on her.

The dogs were rewarded with a long drink - true friends share a bowl!  No worries about social distancing for them.

We all headed back to our house, Jane and Chris packed up their things and headed home up the motorway.  We put their bedding and sheets on to wash then collapsed in a heap.  After three nights of good food and wine all we needed for dinner was cheese on toast and poached egg and very good it was too.

Monday 19th October 2020
Below lock 58 to Crafted Boats Dry Dock, Tardebigge
0.25 mile, 1 lock

This morning we had had a cuppa, put the bedding and towels on the line and had left the house before we usually get up!  The boat was expected at the dry dock between 8 and 9am.  The lock is a 'leave empty', so we opened up on our way down from the car and could therefore sail straight in.

As the second deepest narrow canal lock in the UK at 11 foot deep it takes a while to fill, especially when there is only one paddle working.  There was plenty of time to stand and admire the view and the start of the autumn colours



The deepest in the UK is Tuel Lock on the Rochdale Canal.  It is 19 foot 8 inches, so wins by a long way.  It set me thinking what is the deepest lock in the world.  I was amazed to find it is 138 feet deep!  It is Oskermen Lock which bypasses a hydro electric dam on the River Ertis in Kazakhstan.

We were able to sail straight into the dry dock and Malcolm closed the gate behind us.

It took a while to drain and some encouragement from Malcolm to stop the leaks, 

but we were eventually safely settled on the beams and could think about getting off with the last bits to take home.



New anodes are required and a new bow button, but the stern one is still in good condition, so will be given a good clean.  They are also going to check the rudder out after it came out of its cup at the beginning of our summer cruise.  Whilst the dry dock was emptying we did not help matters as we had the taps open to drain the last of the water from the tank!  Another 'to do' job is someone is going to get in the tank to clean and then paint it!  

The blacking will be done by Friday and they are then going to take her to their main premises at Stoke Works, so they get the pleasure of the first 36 locks on the way back to the marina.  We were supposed to be going to Wales next Saturday.  A large house was booked for us, our two children, their spouses and the five grandchildren.  It was not to be. 

When we got home we discovered that we are soon to join the 21st century as far as internet is concerned - they have been working on fibre connections around the estate for some time now.  At last it is being connected to the houses.  I guess it means much better broadband to see us through what I fear will be a long winter.  We have, however, each other for company, pensions coming in each month, a house and reasonable health, so we consider ourselves amongst the lucky ones.  Our children and their partners are all still in good jobs.  There are so many worse off than we are.   Sadly, we have not seen our son and his family since Christmas and only at a distance our daughter and family.  With two teachers and five children in school they are too much of a risk for Chris who is vulnerable.  Despite this we know we are still better off than many people. We can only hope for everyone's sake that things start to improve in 2021, but it will all take time.

So I will say farewell for now and I hope you all stay safe and well over the coming months.