About Me

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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Harvest thought

Piglet and I needed to move today. We took the boat down to the water point and breasted up to Oasis Too who was watering as well. This was one of the boats that had an unfortunate mishap last July when she was stranded across mud bar above a weir on the River Avon after the dramatic rise on water levels tore her from her mooring. Obviously and fortunately there was no permanent damage.

We went on south to turn at the winding hole above Nell Bridge Lock and have lunch there to return in the early evening. The weather was wonderful today and we enjoyed being out in it. Piglet steered the boat at the locks and I did the lock wheeling. There was surprisingly very little traffic on the canal. We enjoyed the birds: kestrel, buzzard and cormorant were spotted along the way. Anglers were checking out the grass snakes that often take to the canal in the hot weather, rather than their catches.

One striking thing was that it was this week of the year that we had the incident with a lift bridge that had been left down because the harvest was coming home. You can see from the photos that the harvest of both corn and rape is not started in the fields along the canal in this part of the county. The weather recently has obviously been too bad to harvest the crop. We need some fine weather, not just for boating but to get the wheat into the barns or, no doubt, we will see another sharp rise in the price of bread!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Flying Maggots

One thing that has not been too good this summer is the amount of fish that have been caught on the trip.

I fish from the boat. But I don't catch much! It is relaxing to get a rod out and watch a float for an hour or two. But it is also frustrating when there is no interest in my bait, usually bread, corn or a worm. Maggots are not allowed since a tub of "pinkies" escaped in the fridge and a in a separate incident a bait box of gentils was spilled into the bilges at the back of the boat. The former escape was dealt with by cleaning the fridge out and collecting the little critters, the second resulted in a bluebottle infestation that took some time (days) to clear with "Raid" and a vacuum cleaner.

Yesterday I was fishing and my frustration at not getting bites may have been showing. A local fisherman stopped and sympathised advising that "white maggots are good along here". A hire boat, loaded with mature crew passed and asked "Any success?". My negative answer brought an unexpected response. "Try these!" and the illustrated maggots flew through the air and landed on my roof. I did. No fish caught but an almost immediate bite resulting in the loss of one of these gelatenous plastic imitations.

I will report on any future developments.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Counting the Cost

Boating holidays are not cheap.

I have been told that it can cost over £1000 to hire a boat for four days now. That figure is unconfirmed and is hardly believable.

However, at the boat yard this morning there was a hire boat with seven on board, pumping out at a cost of £14.00 (including a litre of blue), which I do not think is bad value, but were complaining that this was only their third day aboard. On our recent cruise, with four aboard most of the time, we have pumped out 3 times. Prices varied: £15.00 plus blue £3.00 , £10.00 (self serve BW card) plus blue £3.00, £18.00 inclusive. Total £49.00.

Other costs include diesel. This morning I replenished the tanks to the tune of 253 litres @ £0.83/l, £209.99.

I also needed stern tube grease and engine oil to add £19 to the bill. We have used a cylinder of Calor Gas on heating and cooking and this is another £23.40

The above adds up to just over £303. If I add mooring fees (£1300 per annum) and license (£700 per annum) and divide by the four weeks we were out cruising find the total is £575/week. I have still spent less than if I had hired!

Of course, we have the boat as a pleasure resource for 365 days a year and there are many other costs like hull blacking and painting. More about those at another time!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Milton to Banbury, 10-20 August 2008

Not much of a blogger am I? Cannot even keep you up to date with the Summer Cruise.


The power supply to the laptop FAILED. Amid crackling noises and the smell of electronic components frying, the little green light waxed and waned and the battery power fell to zero, the machine hibernating for the last time!

Without a computer, the dongle was useless with or without signal. I attempted to get a new one in Rugeley but found that the quaint little market town has only one outlet that could possibly help with a computer power supply and it was closed as it was early closing day. We didn't divert into Coventry or another metropolis just for this.

So what have I been doing for the last ten days. Dodging showers, some heavy and some thundery as predicted by Mike MBE, the lock keeper (now lengthsman) at Atherstone locks. We have had various incidents with boats in bridge holes and have been passed at speed by some very expensive looking boats.

Pub visiting has been very limited and moorings have been mainly rural. We have heard song birds singing, cockerels crowing, cattle lowing and a bull bellowing, swans hissing and trains rattling past. In the main we have remained relaxed and enjoyed some very early starts and some very late finishes. Some days have been shortened by rain and some washed out completely. There have always been bright periods.

Coming back today was very much coming home. The familiar sweeping bends and narrow towpaths of the South Oxford, the familiar wooden lift bridges and the overhanging willows all looked much the same as always but the sky was far angrier than when we left. 117 miles, 6 flg and 64 locks. 3 moveable bridges this leg. The total cruise was 266 miles, and 156 locks and 10 moveable bridges

Now is the time to do all the things that need to be done after a cruise. We need to re-paint the gunwhales! Brushes with lock sides, piling, a boat called Sarah Jane (on a bend after a bridge hole when she didn't seem to want to turn at all) have left their marks. We need to locate and seal all the small leeks that rain and wind find out. Around windows and the swan hatch in particular. We need to replenish the diesel tank and re-stock with stern tube grease; an engine service wouldn't go amiss and an oil change is essential. A niggling diesel leak still needs attention.

Really, it's back to more of the same!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Froghall to Endon, 8/9th August 2008

We departed Froghall and headed northwest to return to the potteries. We loved the valley down which we were traveling. It seemed better this way. The banks are clad in Indian Balsam. It was described to me yesterday as a weed. How could any flower that has such subtle blends of pink and cream be considered a weed!

Once again, it seemed we had the valley to ourselves. The canal is so narrow in parts that two boats cannot pass, so really this is a good thing! When we reached the part where the river and canal coincide we met nb Bliss They are from Kent and have moved to LLangollen. We enjoyed a cuppa and chat with them.

We needed to press on after this and headed for Cheddleton. Here we had been recommended a restaurant called "Castos". When we stopped at The Boat Inn, near the steam railway station, we were told that they thought it was in the same village but no-one was sure exactly where! The pub grub was recommended and we persuaded the Maitre D to let us have a table. The restaurant looks large but a mirror wall only gives that impression. It was "fully booked". The meals were terrific. We all enjoyed ourselves and ordered a second bottle of wine and the cork!

The pub is so popular that the jollity didn't die down until after 2am! Next time we will moor some way from the pub and the car park!

Today it rained solidly until 2pm. We then moved on to Endon for an essential toilet pump out and an overnight mooring close to the Stoke-on-Trent Boat club.

We all hope that the rain passes over and lets us make some progress tomorrow. The next decision may be whether to head more directly for Birmingham than via Middlewich as originally planned.
[12.5 miles, 8locks]

Wednesday 6th August 2008, Hazelhurst to Froghall

We set off after adjusting the tension on the Generator Drive belt. The screaming stopped and the voltmeter reassuringly indicated that it was generating at 14v.

We then entered the Hazelhurstlocks. However, we were unable to exit the second lock because the pound was so low. We had to take water through the lock to make progress. From then on we were in relatively low water all the way.

At about ten o’clock the generator belt broke. I spent some time trying to get a replacement on but eventually gave up and fitted a belt that was slightly larger. The generator light extinguished we were under way again.

I lost count of the number of times we went aground or almost came to a halt under a bridge. However, the scenery is idyllic and we share a valley with a steam railway. It is in steam because it is Wednesday! The river Churnet joins the canal for a period (or vice versa) and there are no roads. The flowers around were amazingly beautiful.

Getting to Froghall was a disappointment. We are only allowed to stay 24hrs! I met a man taking photos of the large Bolton factory that is under demolition. He started work there and mourned the loss of 1200 manufacturing jobs. He could not understand how we could give up our heritage and lose all these skilled men to ‘redundancy’.

We are moored next to nb Electra, a Wilson shell bespokenly fitted out by Louis and Joshua. It boasts more electricity than I could ever dream of with an 11kW generator, electric cooking, tumble dryer and even a ventaxia in a porthole! The owners are really lovely and we shared a few tales with them.

I confess! We overstayed. As we needed to collect our other crew member from Uttoxeter on Friday, we had little option but to do so.I noted that the lucky people with shrunken boats that fit through the tunnel are allowed to stay 48 hours in Froghall Basin!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Monday 4th,/Tuesday 5th August 2008 : Milton to Hazelhurst via Leek

The first job this morning was to walk up the hill to Moorland Leisure and get a gas refill as one of our gas bottles is empty and the other is very low. Another 21.30GBP

Then we set off toward the head of navigation. I saw a kingfisher diving for fish a couple of times this morning and a heron flying overhead. The sun was shining until we started to go ascend Stockton Brook locks. Here the lock sides have been adorned with sculpture as part of the regeneration of the Canal Corridor.

We stopped for lunch aboard at Stoke Boat Club just after bridge 27. Just before the bridge there is a mini roundabout in the middle of the canal. Anyone know why?

At the water point at Park Lane Bridge I fell into conversation with boaters who had been up the Froghall branch and were visiting the facilities before going up the Leek branch. They convinced us to go up the Leek branch before the Froghall. So at the junction we turned right and then crossed the canal again by aqueduct. We had had enough cruising by now and moored for the night at Hazelhurst, overlooking the valley.

We found out way to the Holly Bush Inn for recommended bar meals. "Don't have the soup!", the boaters on the next mooring advised. We didn't and were very satisfied.

The only problem today was that the canal is shallow in places particularly under bridges. I checked the draught and the depth and think that at some points there is less than a foot of water below us which needs to be squeezed past. Our engine is having to work hard.

I am getting used to the squeaking of the generator drive belt now but will have to change it very soon.

I also had to check the diesel tank today just for peace of mind. We have five eighths of the usable capacity remaining so will have no problem getting back to the main Trent and Mersey to fill up. I do not want to put extra weight on the rear of the boat and increase the draught even more.

We left it until 10am, and a break in the rain, on Tuesday morning before heading for Leek. The run here, although in the wet, is stunning. The remoteness of this canal has a real beauty in its own. There are so many greens. Also, the way the canal hugs the valley side reminded me a little of the Mon and Brec which is, similarly, very slow.

At Leek we got 3 phone reception back so made some calls, checked mail and posted. We go back into the etherless countryside ion about an hour!

The only downside today was the distance of the town from the canal. Not fun in the rain. We got a bus back to the boundry of the Ladderedge Country Park.

Safety First?

Here is a lovely new life jacket that we have bought for the grandchildren to use when they are on the boat.

You will see that it has a thigh or crotch strap to fasten between the child’s legs. This is there, quite simply, to prevent the child slipping through the jacket when in the water if they lift their arms, which is quite likely if they cannot swim.

On Sunday we were followed through Etruria locks by grandparents with their grandchildren smartly attired in the same bright orange life jackets. I pointed out to them that these straps needed to be fastened. The smaller child didn’t want it done up and burst into tears.

Yesterday they still were not using these straps making the life jackets ineffective.

I sincerely hope that they do not learn “the hard way”. Their boat is called “Jolly”, I hope it stays that way.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Shaking hands with the Famous

Just to say that I met Jim Shead today.

I noticed a gentleman with a very costly looking camera and asked him what he was doing. "Just taking photos of boats and locks" he said. "Do you publish?" I asked. "Yes, in articles in Waterways World and Canal Boat." he replied. "Who are you?" I asked. And he told me.

We conversed for a little while and he showed me his Canon digital camera with everything that the professional photographer could want by the look of it. "It gives me so much more time to compose the photograph", he informed me telling me about auto-exposure and auto focus and almost twelve mega pixels and lots of other stuff that my mobile phone doesn't have!

I enjoyed meeting you Jim. Keep snapping.

3 August 2008, Continuous Cruising: Stone to Milton

Well that is how it felt!

We slipped our mooring just before Meaford Bottom Lock on the Trent and Mersey at 0630h after being kept awake by a local celebration barbeque and fireworks show that commenced at 0030h.

The morning was glorious and the wild life seemed to respond. Kingfishers were darting to and fro from bridge 100 to 102 and buzzards and hawks wheeled overhead at intervals. We stopped for breakfast at Trentham lock and almost regretted it as a hire boater discovered that he was unable to steer in reverse. He missed our boat but seemed to think that he had hit it! Here are a few pictures of Sonflower at Trenham Lock.

Onward toward Etruria Junction. There were queues at every lock and the locks seemed to fill slowly. Having an average ten foot rise may have had something to do with it! We turned into the Caldon Canal and stopped for water.

Then we moored and headed for a pub, hoping to get some lunch. Neither the Bird in Hand or the Shoulder of Mutton served food. Both pubs looked as though they needed to do more than add a coat of paint to get them into the 21st century bit a coat of paint would help. Probably the mist complementary I could be is "dives". We returned tothe boat with an ice cream bought from a 24/7 store and decided to move on, hoping for dinner later.

Ascending the staircase locks 1 and 2 was interesting but uneventful. It is very nerve wracking sitting below a 20 foot high gate with water behind it.
All went well and the Best Mate found a couple of local ladies to chat to in the lockside.

Then on to the Caldon Canal with its low headroom bridges and amazing views. The whole scene seemed to change at Bridge 6 when a panoramic vista across the valley opens up in front of one. The canal is under a restoration and improvement programme and much of the towpath is being improved. Here is a length before Ivy House Lift Bridge.

Having safely bridge we cruised on. Just before Milton I spotted a grass snake swimming in the cut. We started to think of an overnight mooring and just the spot presented itself at The Foxley Inn, advertising overnight mooring, restaurant, children welcome. Except that they do not do food, children are not welcome in the bar and the mooring is a little too shallow for us to moor alongside the bank. We moored anyway and asked where we could eat. We were directed to a new pub called The Horn and Trumpet. A ten minute walk but we enjoyed the meal. We returned to the Foxeley for Karaoke night and Feyernoord v Celtic on the TV! The Best Mate sang, the Lock Labourer watched to fill a void in his routine. I just had a couple of pints.

We now need to stay overnight because we have an empty gas bottle and near the pub is a caravan centre that can fill that need.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

1st, 2nd August 2008 Hopwas to Stone

We continue to travel north up the Coventry Canal away from the big cities and into the beautiful countryside. Traveling as we are in sunshine most of the time, we can appreciate how green and pleasant our land is. At times we are passing woodland that gives some shade, at others the harvest is beginning to be brought in as tractor and trailer follow the combine through yellow fields.

We observe numerous different species of tree and so many different flowers. I cannot dentify most of the and don't really have the inclination to do the necessary research. There are some lovely pinkish spikey flowers that attract many many butterles. We have seen many different birds including one exotically coloured green and yellow small parrot that had evidently escaped its owners.

In Handsacre we crossed a previous cruising companion in nb Legend. We shared locks for about four days on our way back up the Grand Union from London and our children have kept in touch. They have just been on the Llangollen. Maybe our paths will cross again soon.

Once Armitage and Rugely are left behind the industrial landscape becomes beautifully rural.

We have also seen other friends. We stopped at "The Taft" between bridge 69 and 70 for tea and a slice of birthday cake. Thank you! Now, in Stone, we have moored behind nb Covenant Connection who we met last year during our cruise. We have also been leapfrogging a Canal Time boat with first time hirers who have had to wind in Stone to return to their hire base. We have passed a few very pleasant chats along the way. They have enjoyed the experience and hoped to see us again.

After passing Great Haywood Junction (post a letter; changover day for "Ownerships") and the slow section past Shugborough Hall,(preparing for a Concert and Fireworks extravaganza: we were offered tickets for 60 quid each) we re-entered the countryside and moored for the night just past bridge 80 at Weston upon Trent.

Today we carried on up the Trent and Mersey. Stone was a lovely place to stop in. We needed to get provisions and found the Farmers Market a wonderful place to browse and buy. We arrived in Stone just before twelve and so were in town for lunch. We chose La Favorita in the High street for a two course set lunch @ 8.50GBP per head. We couldn't eat it all. The most deliciously prepared fresh ingredients and herbs were used in the cooking. We had to ask for the pizza to be wrapped to take home! One customer, however, did bot appereciate the fresh herbs, He thought he could detect mint instead of basil although the chef assured him that he didn't even buy mint! I thought that the chef didn't need to take that sort of grief. The food was lovely. I told him so. The service was excellent too!

After lunch however, we had to return to the boat. I had to spend some time in the engine hole tightening the generator drive belt to maintain battery charge. Then we worked up the locks to moor a little way out of town. We hope that it is quieter.

Gone Fishing

There are various takes on this subject that are relevant to the current cruise.

As we left our mooring one morning we saw the German crew of an Anglo Welsh hire boat fishing around the back of their boat with a boat hook. I asked "Have you lost something important?" "The bar that hold down the weed hatch" came the reply. Yes that is rather important. I reversed and came alongside, disappeared to the cupboard that holds everything and re-appeared with the sea searcher magnet. "This will pull up a motor bike" I said. He pointed the boathook at the place where he had located the strongback, I dropped int eh magnet and- hey presto! another weed hatch sinking was averted.

The second bit of fishing came just after we had moored for a morning and the Best Mate had taken the opportunity to do a bit of washing. We left the boat for a few minutes and when we returned I noticed that Pooh's Real Madrid football shirt, recently acquired in Spain was not hanging to dry on the swan hatch doors where I had left it. My turn with the boat hook. A gust of wind had whipoped it into the canal hanger and all. Fortunately it was recovered intact and just needed re-washing.

Of course, I have been trying to catch some of the real fish with rod and line. Not so successful though. Only two good fish (roach) caught.