Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Free Range. 19th March

Wheaton Aston

P1250647smBy this morning most of the snow had melted, the birds were busy at the fat balls, when Tilly wasn’t near! The local Sparrows had her sussed and sat high above her in the sideways trees watching until she moved elsewhere then they would take it in turns to peck away until she returned. We ended up with quite a crowd, Robin, Mr and Mrs Blackbird and getting on for 14 Sparrows.

P1250651smThe sun was out, but the wind was still quite biting. We’d already made the decision to stay put today long before we had a notice about a tree being down ahead of us. Being beside a road leading to the service block we’ve also taken the opportunity to place an online food order. Originally it was due to arrive today, however the website had got confused about a couple of vouchers it said were out of date and we had to remove them from our order. All fine, except they were nowhere to be seen to be able to remove them! We tried and tried but had no luck in finding them, so Mick raised it with their online help desk. Sunday afternoon we received a call from them, they would process our order for us which they did straight away, shame they didn’t pay for it. But by now all the delivery slots for today had gone off the website, so it was arranged for Tuesday instead.

Sitting about we decided to open up our wallet and pay for Oleanna’s new C&RT license. Making use of the 10% early payment discount (this will be reduced in the next few years to 5%) we handed over almost £1000. Next will be her insurance and hopefully new batteries (fingers crossed), the next few weeks are going to be expensive ones.

P1250657smWith Tilly back indoors we headed out to buy some broccoli for our dinner. A walk into the village isn’t far, but we decided to go the long way round.

P1250659smP1250668smAlong the towpath heading south, passing the lock and through the first bridge. A boat was just pulling away, we hoped that the fallen tree had been cleared ahead of them. At the second bridge we crossed over the canal and walked along a track which then took us into a narrow wooded area between fields. The sun low in the sky cast shadows and gave an ethereal feel to the spinney.

P1250678smP1250685smAt the other end we joined a path that led right across a field busy growing green shoots. We started to be glad that we’d bothered to pull out our walking boots as under foot was somewhat sticky, but nothing compared to Stockings Lane which was to lead us back to the village. Here we could have used waders to get through the thick sticky mud. Walking through the puddles in the end proved to be the safest route.

P1250687smP1250695smAs we came into the village up ahead was what at first looked like a very trendy barn conversion. The old frame seemed to have different coloured smoked glazing in it’s wonky gaps which caught the light in different ways, all melding with the darkened oak frame. But as we got closer I wondered how good the prescription in my new glasses was. There was no glazing, just holes in a very old barn that stored various bits of farm machinery!

The village has two shops, our route brought us out by the Spar shop opposite the church. Here a good selection of fruit and veg greets you as you enter. They also seem to stock quite an array of non standard things. Local meat in various marinades, aspargus (not popular with the locals), brioche of every shape you could think of. They sold us our broccoli and we were on our way.

Passing Bridge Farm we decided to purchase some of their free range eggs from the farm house. We’ve been moored opposite these cluckers for a few days, so had to sample their produce. Considering there are a lot of chickens on the other side of the winding hole, they are all very quiet.

P1250650smDue to the breach NB Halsall has had to change their normal route. This is usually the Four Counties ring with added bits once a month, down onto the Weaver and up to Chester. Now their route will be the Four Counties U which they will cover once a month. They had been part way up Heartbreak Hill when the breach happened and our bows were set to cross early this week. With their new schedule they have turned back to cover the north east side of the U first, so won’t be with us for another week, by which time we need to be further south. So having seen that Turners Garage had just had a delivery of Calor Gas, he also sells coal, we will stock up here tomorrow before moving off.

0 locks, 0 miles, 2.6 mile walk, 12 birdies taunting  me! 12 month licence, 1 head of broccoli, 6 free range eggs, 4 boxes on order.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Sunday Flicks. 18th March

Wheaton Aston

P1250635smP1250641smA couple of inches of snow joined us to the towpath this morning. There was nowhere near as much as we had in December up on the Llangollen. Mick went out to clear the solar panel and check on the fat balls in the hedge. P1250610smTilly became very brave and ventured ashore. There had to be some friends in need of assistance below the white stuff. She didn’t find any and the wind put her off being out for any length of time, so instead she spent much of the day crouched down by the windows keeping an eye on the fat balls and those that came to feed from them.

P1250624smAn incognito hire boat came past, all it’s crew wrapped up the best they could against the elements. The engine was slowed, they were going to wind. The winding hole has a boat moored along one side of it and we are on the last rings on the towpath side, so swinging the stern of a boat round with the wind we had today needed to be timed well and done with some umph to get the stern round far enough for the wind to help rather than hinder. Try as they did the wind just held them along side the moored boat. The chap at the helm wasn’t giving the throttle enough to get them off. Poles came out and a lot of pushing was going on, crew jumped off the front with poles too, still no luck. In the end after much discussion between themselves, and watching on our part, they reversed back and then swung the bow towards the towpath, at last giving the engine some umph they turned the boat sufficiently to get the bow to turn with the aid of the wind. Congratulations all round, especially as they hadn’t crashed into anyone, just a bit of gentle nudging of the boat in the winding hole.

IMAG0358smIMAG0362smAfter sorting out a supermarket delivery, we settled down to watch some telly and after watching about a colossal hotel in Singapore with a swimming pool on the 54th floor roof (you’d never get me in there!) we then watched a classic Black and White movie. Sunday afternoon flicks all cosy and warm. In homage to my Hitchcock season quiz last year, when I spent all day everyday sat on the sofa with my broken ankle, I took a couple of photos. Can you name the film? We’d never seen it before but it is a classic and very funny.

Across the way on the side of the chicken shed is a banner advertising Momtaj Spice, the villages Indian Restaurant. The offer on the banner was for a meal for £9.95 Sunday and Thursday. I had a look on their facebook page and there was another offer for 50% off food when you dine in. We decided to give them a go and risked the crunchy pavements to walk to the other end of the village.

IMAG0364 (1)smIMAG0366smIMAG0369smPositioned above a pub you walk in through what feels like the back door and up a chilly staircase. A warm welcome greeted us and we were shown to a large table which they moved to nearer a radiator for us to warm up and melt. There was only one other couple seated , so not the busiest of nights for them. The huge menu took some reading, especially the dishes we’d not heard of before. We chose a Lamb Rogan Josh, Mushroom Bahji and a Chicken Palak. Everything was very nice especially the Palak which we’d not come across before. Some Indian chilled medication finished off our meal and with the 50% off it was well worth the very chilly walk there and back. Highly recommended, especially if you check their facebook page for any offers.

0 locks, 0 miles, 2 inches, 4 paws, 1 tail still attached, 3 moving boats, 7 attempts to wind, 3 fat balls, £250 a night to £3500 for a suite, 1 classic, 3 famous faces, 2 false starts, 1 scalping, 1 puddle, 2 cobras, 2 poppadums, 1 pickle tray, 2 curries, 1 side, 2 rice, 1 kulfi, 1 cheese cake! 50% off very nice.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Hot Paw Buns. 17th March

Wheaton Aston

The wind gradually grew last night and did it’s best to keep us awake, but we managed to get some shut eye. We woke to snow in the air, followed by sunshine, followed by snow, by sun etc. for much of the day. The snow melted almost as soon as it hit the ground, well until the sun went down when the world started to gradually whiten around us.

Mick popped to the OneStop shop for our Saturday paper and some bacon whilst Tilly tried to brave the gusts of wind. She didn’t venture far and came home frequently to warm up and have a snooze.

The days two main tasks other than staying warm were baking and photograph hunting.

P1250576smI’ve been wanting to try out a gluten free Hot Cross Bun recipe for a couple of years, but they involved so much rising time that it had put me off, also last year I didn’t want to stand in the galley with my broken ankle for long. So today was the day. The recipe was for ten buns, so I halved it so that we’d not get bored of them after all there was a chance that they wouldn’t be tasty. I still don’t trust gluten free recipes to come out risen and with flavour other than that of potato.

There tends to be little or no kneading required, which is just as well as the dough tends to be far far stickier than conventional bread dough. The recipe suggested mixing the dry and wet ingredients together with a folk and then a light knead to remove any streaks with your hand. I kept on going with the folk instead, I’ve been covered in gluten free gloop too many times now, it takes a lot of time to remove it! Sitting on the bread rising shelf for an hour it doubled, fruit (apple and cranberry, no flies or slugs in my buns!) and spices mixed in and left to rise again for another hour. Next came the tricksy bit splitting it into five and rolling into bun shapes. With some added flour and a spatula I actually managed to not cover the whole work surface with dough and could still make out each digit on my hands, for once they hadn’t become a doughy webbed mass. The tray I chose to bake them on was small enough to sit on the rising shelf, where they were left for another hour to prove.

P1250583smMy Mum used to make Hot Cross Buns with marzipan crosses on the top, which I adopted along with adding a small blob in the centre a few years ago. Today I left out the blob in the centre knowing that the added taste wouldn’t be worth the added stickyness and swearing. Tilly was helping watch so they naturally became Hot Paw Buns and her efforts came out far better than expected, the paw prints stayed put. Once baked and a sugar glaze added they were left to slightly cool before we sampled them. Verdict very good. They have the slight dryness that gluten free flour tends to give things, but the addition of buckwheat flour means that they don’t taste as potatoey as they would otherwise. Next time I just need to remember to cover them with foil for the last five minutes so the paws/crosses don’t get burnt.

Ben and Emily's WeddingDuring the three hours waiting for the buns to rise we hunted through digital photos on our computers and facebook. There is to be a celebration of the life of Mick Hughes at the National Theatre on what would have been his 80th birthday. We won’t be able to attend, but wanted to add to the photographic presentation of his life if we could. Having our old kitchen computer on board meant that we had quite a lot of photos to go through. I managed to find a few show photos that he’d been Lighting Designer on and one or two from social occasions. He always used to make the effort, despite living on the south coast he joined us in Scarborough for weddings and birthdays.

If anyone wants details for either the celebration at the National or wants to add their own photos let me know and I’ll pass on the link.

DSC00045This also meant that we came across photos from way back, including one of me holding onto the centre line of NB Winding Down on our first trip out on her. This was taken at The Queueing Lock in September 2009, more commonly known as Minshull Lock on the Middlewich Branch. I suspect the queues there won’t be as big this summer. There are even rumours that C&RT might close the locks on the branch to help manage the water whilst works are on going at the breach site. Hope they let all those in the marinas out who are wanting to head off on their summer cruises. Today a fish rescue was mounted in the almost empty pound, getting on for 10,000 fish were caught and released into the Trent and Mersey canal.

0 locks, 0 miles, 17 snow flurries, 1 newspaper, –1C outside, 1 warm cosy boat, 2 chilly for cat bums! 4 hot paw buns, 1 hot cross bun, 5 photos, 10,000 fish, 4lb eel, 3 hours of photographic memories.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Big Hole. 16th March

Norbury Junction to Wheaton Aston Winding Hole

29249113_10158043099001515_8030739174434799616_nWe woke this morning to pictures all over facebook of a breach that had occurred on the Middlewich Branch overnight. If you are a boater you are more than likely to have already heard about this, but other readers won’t have. I’ve taken the photos from various sources on facebook so it’s hard to know who to credit. 

29244184_10155072044542331_3925731878140641280_n‘A short section of embankment containing the Shropshire Union Canal, Middlewich Branch, has collapsed overnight, causing water to drain from the canal into the river below. Our emergency engineers were on site all night dealing with the breach, and the canal is currently drained between Stanthorne Lock and Wardle Lock, on the south side of Middlewich town centre, a distance of just over three quarters of a mile. The towpath has also been closed along this stretch. Between 15 and 20 boats are within the drained section and we'll be contacting all the owners today with offers of assistance.
Engineers are on site now trying to understand the cause of the breach and will be making an initial assessment regarding how to progress repairs, likely timescales and costs.’ C&RT information from facebook.

29257502_364894817321970_765824150987079680_n29313081_364894803988638_7307229109967388672_nThe pictures of the breach kept on appearing during the day from various angles, up high from a drone, below the aqueduct where it had happened, from the towpath (brave people to stand there). One boat was very close to the incident and the chap on board was helped onto dry land by the police in the middle of the night. We know of one Carefree Cruising boat that is in the pound. The chap on board got up to make a cuppa and wondered why the boat was listing, looked out the window to see no water. Luckily no one was hurt.

29261247_364894867321965_8414602739803226112_n29339750_10155678296064121_6651349902645264384_nThe Middlewich Branch connects the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Shropshire Union Canal and forms part of a popular cruising ring called the Four Counties Ring. At the moment the Cheshire Ring, another popular cruise is closed due to a lock on the Marple Flight being rebuilt, this is currently due to reopen at the beginning of May . These closures mean that many boaters will have to rethink their summer cruises. Hire companies in the area may well loose custom.

There are rumours that C&RT plan to put in means for single file traffic so that the navigation can reopen for the summer, closing over winter for a more permanent repair. These rumours are suggesting it will reopen in 3 weeks! Just sorting out an engineering solution, then getting it to site will take a lot longer surely.

Fortunately for us we were well away from the area. We may have to look for a new Bonfire Night mooring for this year though. Where we have been the last two years is in the pound above the now drained one. We could get to the mooring overlooking the flashes, but the reverse to the nearest winding hole would be over a mile and through four bridges. Anyhow we haven’t planned on where we’ll be come November yet.

P1250453smP1250467smP1250481smOnce we’d put down our phones and turned off the computer we started to continue on our way. Today was meant to be wet, but we only had the odd small shower. The sky had enough blue for a table cloth as we pootled along the remainder of the pound to Wheaton Aston. Through Gnosall and Cowley Tunnel (all of 81 yards) where it’s not worth going into tunnel mode. A tree had fallen at the entrance and a group of high vis clad chaps were waiting to put a floating pontoon into the cut to gain access to it, but there was enough room to get round so it didn’t bother us.

P1250507smP1250519smAlong more embankments and through  cuttings where the tree canopy created a guard of honour for us to pass through. Many flowers were out, daffodils, crocus and primroses brightening up the banks, hope they survive the weekend. Day boats came towards us, managing to regain control and stop zigzagging to keep a straight course as we crossed bows.

P1250544smOn reaching Wheaton Aston we pulled over onto the mooring by Turners Garage. Here they sell Red Diesel for farm use and to boats. The original owner when he first took over the garage supplied his friends and then he opened it up for other boaters. Here the diesel is some of the cheapest on the network and we’d be foolish to pass by without filling up. If it had been in the summer we’d most probably not have filled up a couple of weeks ago as the price was 62.9p compared to 76p on NB Halsall.

P1250562smI walked over the bridge to see what moorings were available, there were two so we pulled through the bridge and positioned ourselves furthest away from the road bridge as we could. With the forecast being for strong winds and temperatures around freezing with snow, we shall stay put for the weekend. We have a service block in front of us, shops in the village and plenty of coal to keep us warm.

DSCF7114sm0 locks, 1 in view though, 7.48 miles, 1 short tunnel, 71.55 litres, 1 gas bottle still gasping it’s last flames, 1 very funny tree, 2nd towpath with vans! 2 useful shops, 1 gardeners crack, 1 paper on order for tomorrow, 1 very big hole in Cheshire, 20 dry bottoms.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A Long Wait. 15th March

One side of Norbury Junction to the other side of Norbury Junction

P1250414smWith one empty bottle of gas and another soon to finish we decided to get a new one today from the Wharf here, hoping to replace the second one from NB Halsall when next they pass. The forecast for the day was for showers so we hoped we’d not get too wet. After breakfast we got on with a few chores, mostly to do with our toilet. Then as the rain seemed to have stopped we decided to pull through the bridge and head for the diesel point for a bottle of LPG. A couple of boats had passed us this morning and one of them had beaten us to the wharf.

P1250416smWe pulled in in front of the Junction Pub, tied Oleanna up with her centre line and started to wait. Across the way they were having the works, pump out, diesel, and a bottle of gas, so we patiently waited. The boat runs helmsman courses, the couple on the course had been sent off for a coffee to the cafe whilst the boat was being filled and emptied. We waited. One job after another was done and when all was in hand the tutor disappeared into the chandlers to pay. We waited. The couple returned and stood around. We and they waited. She went off to use the facilities. We waited. She came back. We waited. They took photos of each other. We waited. She went into the shop to buy something. We waited, both of us stood looking across, but obviously invisible. At least it wasn’t raining!

P1250430smAt last the tutor came out from the chandlers with a shiny new windlass and a pot of stern gland greaser. Hooray! He put the lid back on the gas locker, chatted to the couple. We waited, still invisible. He then disappeared down below. We waited. Just what was he doing down there? We waited and waited and waited, then gave up. Over an hour had passed, so we decided to give them some space, we didn’t want to hassle them! So with loud comments from Mick (in a Geraghty manner) such as ‘We’ll go to Wheaton Aston for diesel then!’, which fell on deaf ears, we moved on to the water point.

Ten minutes or so later the students were down below and the tutor moved the boat away and headed southwards. Once Oleanna had had a good drink we pushed ourselves over to the wharf, our waiting was over. Except they were all on lunch! This was a far shorter wait and we soon had a bottle of gas. Mick rearranged the gas locker so that the nearly empty bottle would be the easiest to get out next. Now that we were done, the heavens opened up just as we pushed off! We’d considered staying put for an hour to have our own lunch, but thought that would be unfair on anyone wanting to use the services.

Not far on we pulled in with a view from the embankment, let Tilly out to enjoy the rain. Despite the sun coming out we decided to stay put for the day and move on again tomorrow.

IMG_20170315_090236371_HDRsmP1000219smToday is the anniversary of Oleanna being craned into the water in Sheffield, getting a wet bottom. She’s had a year of floating, minus a few hours out of the water in a dry dock. So because of this we headed to the Junction Inn for a meal in the evening. On Thursdays they do a special offer of a couple of main courses and a bottle of wine for £25. Sadly we hadn’t spotted this before we ordered a couple of pints. We both had a burger and chips, mine with a gluten free bun, and enjoyed our meal.

P1250432smDSCF7114sm0 locks, 0.21 miles, 1 empty pooh bucket, 1 empty wee tank, 2 empty bins, 1 full water tank, 1+ hours waiting, 1+ hour lost on a training course, 1 new gas bottle, 3 hours of embankment frolics, 2 burgers and chips, 2 pints, 2 puddings back at the boat, 1 year of Oleanna floating.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Close, But Safe, Encounter With The Margeless Margees. 14th March

Norbury Junction

A busy morning giving Oleanna a clean and spruce up as we had visitors coming to meet her. Mick hovered throughout whilst I finished baking a Bakewell Tart and removed as much of Tilly’s fur from curtains and upholstery as possible. The summer duvet was packed away again under the bed, now surplus to requirements. It may have to resurface at the weekend though if ‘The Beast II’ comes our way.

With as much fur and dust removed as possible we both made use of the copious amounts of hot water and gave ourselves a spruce up too. We were ready for them. Just a shame they had had to turn round back towards home!

DSCF5241smWe first met Alison and Laura a couple of summers ago on the Chesterfield Canal (link to Lillian’s blog). We ended up spending weeks with them and cruising the tidal Trent and Ouse together. Last year we called in to see them at Great Haywood Marina where they had moored for the winter. It had been good to meet them, (link to Lillian’s blog) but ended up with me visiting A&E in Stafford with a broken ankle! Last year they cruised the Kennet and Avon, bought a house in Shropshire, sold NB Large Marge and moved back onto land at the end of the year. Since then they have had a list of things go wrong with their house, the latest being the Rayburn stopping working. Today we’d arranged to meet them for lunch  at The Junction Inn, but they’d had to turn round to let an engineer into their house. Still determined to meet Oleanna they turned round again and came to meet us, sadly a bit late for lunch.

P1250406smIt was the first time they’d been on a boat since selling NB Large Marge. I think they were suitably impressed with Oleanna, Alison at one point suggesting a house swap.

DSCF4250smDSCF5049smTilly had been kept in so that she could say hello, But they’d come without my tasty friend! No point in staying in if Jaffa wasn’t with them. They had a full guided tour, when the conversation could be steered back to the matter in hand! Plenty to talk about and catch up on. After about three hours we all managed to breath again as we walked them to their car, to make sure that they both left, I think Alison would have tried to stow away if we’d let her.

It was lovely to see them again and hopefully we’ll meet up when we’re further south near Worcester later this year.

P1250407smWe waved them goodbye and carefully made our way back to Oleanna. This visit we’d survived without injury.Just hope their Rayburn was mended when they got home.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 attempt at a pub lunch, 2 visits from an engineer, 2 pilots, 1 bakewell tart, 0 Jaffa, 1 chuntering cat, 2 Margees, 0 Marge, 2 home owners with a pump out!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Magical Cuttings. 13th March

Tyrley Top Lock to Norbury Junction Visitor Moorings

P1250189smFor the next 17 miles we will be on the flat to Wheaton Aston Lock. Not being a contour canal the Shroppie has long straight sections, crossing the countryside along embankments and through cuttings. Today we were to cruise through long stretches of cuttings. First up was Woodseaves Cutting. Here trees cling on for dear life to the steep cut rock slopes. Many have long since given up their fight and now lie rotting away on the slopes covered in bright green moss with the occasional scattering of Scarlet Elfcup Fungi. I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the bright red cups so here is a link.

IMG_20180313_201223_783High bridges cross over the cutting and the lack of leaves at the moment made for some wonderful views along the mile long straight. The amount of birdsong was amazing, if only we’d been on a silent boat, horse drawn the atmosphere would have been amazing.

Popping out the other end we were greeted by the ‘BEEP BEEP’ of a reversing wagon somewhere, shattering the moment.

P1250250smP1250290smCrows were high in the trees, busy weaving twigs into nests. The sun was out and views across the fields towards The Wrekin and beyond were wonderful.

Long lines of moored boats slowed our progress and today we saw the most moving boats we’ve seen in one day for months. Having noted in our Nicholsons guide where the Shropshire Union Canal Society moorings are we knew one was coming up by bridge 47, so we pulled in for a lunch stop.

P1250291smWe were soon joined by the newest of the Carefree Cruising Shareboats NB Otter, someone has been breaking ice and I suspect the winter maintenance has been completed for this year! Interesting that the hull is cream underneath the blacking.

P1250303smOn we continued, now along Shebdon Embankment. When we passed here last year all the trees were in full leaf and views were hard to grasp, today it was easier. Three birds of prey circled overhead above the trees keeping our attention for much of the way.

P1250319smP1250333smThe Anchor Inn looked shut up for the afternoon. We’ve managed to time our visits twice with the front door being open, but today we wanted to get a few more miles under Oleannas hull. The 6X will have to wait for the next time.

P1250350smP1250358smGrub Street Cutting next, wider than Woodseaves, but just as atmospheric. The two boats are still moored here offside along with the lovely blue car which is kept under cover. An old Land Rover is almost at one with the landscape and a couple of vans seem to have joined the collection of vehicles under the trees.

P1250377smAround the next bend is the photo opportunity of the Shroppie. How many photos have been taken of High Bridge? I know I’ve taken hundreds! The wallpaper photo on our trip computer is one of the first I took of it back on NB Winding Down.

It was getting chilly in all the shade of the trees, so we were glad when it gradually opened out again and we could see the sky and sun. Plenty of space presented itself before Norbury Bridge so we pulled in for the day. I took the opportunity to give the starboard side a quick rinse off in the sunshine as Tilly did her best to create interesting patterns on the roof. Jumping onto the pram cover is great fun and the view from up there is so good. But the best bit is, if I have enough mud still between my toes, sliding down the window part to get down. I could do this for hours!

P1250395smWe resisted the lure The Junction Inn with it’s beer and excessively large pies and stayed in to enjoy my version of a chicken junction pie.

DSCF7114sm0 locks, 9.49 miles, 2 amazing cuttings, 1 long embankment, 3 birds of prey, 1 heron, 1 owl, 8 boats moving today, 1 winey whingey woofer who so should shut up! 1 day ahead of plan, 1 pie between 2 instead of 1 each!