Saturday 30 July 2011

New Improved Clara

2CV Llew shows up at 10 with the Boris, Rosie and the 2CV which he's been re-fettling ready for her 'brand new life' under Project Erroll. He has done loads of repairing around the scuttle vent including a new vent flap and an anti-insect mesh (something she's never had before), 2 new rear doors (the old ones had sagged beyond the point where they'd 'strike' correctly) and a new rear body section below the bootlid. Ex factory they have a multi-layer 'box' section here which rusts badly. Llew chops this out and replaces it with a single angled strip which gets painted in inner and outer side so there's nowhere for the water to get trapped. Clara also gets a re-upholstered driver seat and an MOT. The feeling is she is now fit to go.

Dad then introduces 9 month old pup, Boris to the delicate art of having your hair cut. He's a bit phased by this and wriggles mightily to start with so progress is slow, but eventually he seems to realise no-one os actually trying to harm him (and it's not a game) and he's actually better with the clippers than the scissors. Within the hour he is changed from a scruffy and portly-looking adolescent reminiscent of a white 'Dougal' from Magic Round-about, to a handsome and trim white westie shaped dog similar in size to me, with a felty coat and a nice shaped head.

Mum and Diamond head off to Brighton to visit a mutual friend in hospital, who's had a minor stroke, while Dad, Llew, Boris and Rosie head for Llew's workshop where a) Llew has left his car and b) the guys need to move a boat. Dad then returns in the 2CV and we get our walk round the Cemetery and the Rec. Dad nips off for a bit of shopping and then the rest of the day is spent mooching around here. Dad creates a big chilli-con-carne for the girls when they return which might be quite late from Brighton.

Have a good weekend


Friday 29 July 2011

Hay Barsss!

Today we're in the garden and attacking all the long unweildy stuff, bagging up bags full ready for a dump run. Ken next door points out that our prostrate juniper out front is starting to undercut the low brick wall (and he, being a brickie, should know). None of us felt it would be nice for them as new neighbours to have to bring this to the attention of the new resident, so we had at it with secateurs, then pruning saw, then a bigger saw, then a crow bar, then cold chisels and a lump hammer. Ken and Dad 1, prostrate Juniper Nil. You'd now never know it had been there, all covered over as the root stump is with soil, membrane and gravel. The mortal remains were removed to the tip in the car in a builder's bulk-bag.

Dad heads for Chatham to the dentists. It was a sensible place to have your dentist when Mum and Dad used to live there 18 years ago! All around this goes a texting conversation where the new workplace are trying to get Dad to move funds from the earlier workplace social club to the new (till Project Erroll) site social club. Dad has to drop in on the branch nearby and then, it turns out, has to go back to his workplace of 18 years to retrieve a cheque book.

He has not worked there for months but is still fondly remembered by all the Gurkha security men, with whom he used to get on well. "Hey Boss!" they cry, as he appears but pronounced more like "Barsss" ..... "Hey Barsss... Good to see you Barsss .... You looking well Barsss! ..... We don't see you no more, Barssss! .... How you get on , Barssss?" It takes a while to escape.

What it is to be popular!


Thursday 28 July 2011

How Bizarre?

The world's gorn mad. Mum is sitting at the kitchen table with her foot in a gumbo pot. Haggis was running around sniffing with great intent at nothing we could discern, following a very definite trail from back door to front and back again before going out into the back garden and doing strange AROOOOO! barks. In Haggis's case we all actually worry for his sanity as he is becoming increasingly bewildered and given to strange wanderings off and changes in direction on walks, and I must admit to growling at him tonight, maybe a bit upset by the bizarre behaviour.

Mum's though, we can explain (but it's less fun that way!). Her blisters which erupted on the foot during the narrow boating are now healing and have spent the day 'drying out' but the doctor recommended a salt-water soak tonight to help the healing. The gumbo pot is the only thing we have deep enough to contain the up-the-ankle ones without requiring gallons and gallons of water.

Haggis we may have an innocent explanation for also. Dad clipped his dew-claws and one of them bled a little (oops), so there may have been blood spotting or scent and the 'trail' which H missed on first pass but then picked up 2nd time through, leading him to believe he was on the trail of a bleeding, wounded beastie which if he could just catch up with, he'd have himself a heroic kill on his hands.

Haggis, by the way, is a magnificent 15 years old on Sunday 17th Aug, just over a week from now. Torchwood is just over 20 minutes from now, isn't it Mum?


Wednesday 27 July 2011

Pud Lady and the Forest

We are enjoying having Dad around since the end of the narrow boat holiday. Yesterday we were off down to Pud Lady's in Hastings, for Dad to take her to a charity garden party she wants to attend. Dad knows that one of his character "failings" (if you like) is the inability to stay anywhere he's visiting for longer than it takes to have been seen to be there and to have ticked all the boxes. If he needs to attend a function he arrives, does all the necessary meet and greet, eats the food, drinks any proffered refreshments and then sits around not quite drumming his fingers on the table waiting for an excuse to leave. Been there, done that, bored now!

So he's amused when Pud Lady (who, you'll probably already know is actually his aged Mum (84)) does exactly that. He brings her to the Garden Party, she sits down and dutifully eats the cakes and the proffered coffee, buys a plant and a book at the sales table, stuffs a wad of money in the collection box, chats very briefly to those at the table and then, turning down an offer by Dad to walk her round the garden (she's using a wheelie-Zimmer but is fairly nippy with it) she's off back up the side passage to the road home. Dad is briefly left in the back garden looking around at people and saying, rather feebly... "That was my Mum, we're going now... byeee". He jokes with Pud Lady out in the front while he gets the car, that he can see exactly where he gets it from - it's definitely hardwired into the DNA.

Today's entertainment is a walk in the Challock Forest, where we've not been since bluebell time. Quite a lot has changed, especially in the are of the woodland sculpture from Stour Valley Arts being taken away - the 'Cloud Chamber' (= log igloo) has gone, as have the last remnants of the 'Giant Baskets', the 'Dinosaur Ribcage' and the Nightjar Picnic Table.

It's all go

Heading Home

Apologies for the state of these pics, by the way. With the death of the trusty EOS we are reduced to using the camcorder on single shot. High quality optics and high capacity data processing it is not.

Now that we are done with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal we can link back up with Dave and Fran (and Bonnie, of course) for some lock pairing. The weather returns to overcast and raining. Young M Silverwood has been promised a chance to steer when we're on a wide bit even though he's not quite tall enough to see over the cabin when standing in the steering position. We have really only one days sailing to do but 2 days in which to do it, so we decide to do it in 2 mornings, the first as far as Brighouse, the 2nd 'home' (well, home for Dave and Fran, who are giving their boat back on Sunday night; we have ours till Monday morning so we will moor in Salterhebble for the traditional Murder Mystery Night, leaving Dad with a 40 minute, lock-free chug to the Sowerby Bridge Basin on Monday Morning).

These last days enjoyable though we've done these bits of canal before. We especially like the chance to do the River sections where you can open up the engine a bit after 11 days of not much more than idling, feel the clamour of the engine, get a lovely "V" of bow wave going, blow some cobwebs out. OK, you're still only doing about 5 knots but Dad enjoys it and so, apparently, does Dave on Oxford.

Here we get M up on deck and give him some instructions and help. He's hampered, as I said, by not really being able toi see ahead but he does OK, clinging onto the tiller like grim death as the prop tries to "walk" the stern to starboard. We carve a rather meandering course up the river but we don't hit anything and he throroughly enjoys it. Everyone cheers as he stands down and hands the boat back to Dad as they come in to the berth below the lock out of the river (Calder) back into canal land.

At Salterhebble on the Sunday we bid a fond farewell to Dave, Fran and Bonnie having exchanged email addresses and promises to swap photos where we've pictured each other after our various camera failures. They've been a real blast to travel with and made the holiday even more enjoyable. Good Luck you guys. Perhaps we'll meet again; who knows?

Our boat becomes a mad frenzy of repacking ready for tomorrow and some last silly games and singing with the little ones before they get packed off to be and the serious business of Murrrrrder can begin... Aye! Mrs Silverwood dunnit - poisonned him with belladonna in a mushroom risotto, y'know, just like Lucretia Borgia.

It's always the quiet ones!


PS, on the final morning, last half hour of the holiday, Mum finally sees a kingfisher after 6 years of trying. She had come to believe that they did not in fact exist, and were only ever seen by believers, a bit like ghosts. "A Mythical Bird" she would counter to every suggestion, and it had become a boating holiday in-joke. Well now she has.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Nurse! The Screens!

Leaving behind the excitements of the "Stan'idge" we steal a march on the Oxford boat, somehow finishing our breakfasts and shepherding the children round the Marsden Visitor Centre and then getting under way before Commander Dave and Fran fire up their engine, so we are first into the fast paced succession of locks down the Marsden Flight. Lock 42 East down to 23 East, they come in quick succession.

In theory you are bring down a lock full of water with you, so you should never run out. In practise these are the poor condition locks with leaky gates including the one with the broken cill 'threshold' which led to our need to do this circuit anticlockwise in the first place, so we are all supervised down by British Waterways guys including BW Terry, our tunnel guide from yesterday.

One lock has such leaky lower gates that the guys cannot fill it enough to allow easy opening of the top gates, and 5 of us have to lean on the beam to persuade it open against the 10-12 inch water level difference. One further down still has no BW help and we are advised to tow it open with the boat in reverse. It needs full power and a bit of a (gentle) run-up to break the water's grip enough that water can leak round the ajar door and fill the chamber.

We descend into Slaithwaite (pronounced more like "Slaw-it") - a truly beautiful village where the canal runs down the high street and the high street has prospered as a result - artisan bakers, deli's, organic fruit and veg shops, chocolate gifts, fancy hair dressers. Here we meet the Darlingtons , famed narrow boaters and authors of the "Narrow Dog" books. Dad goes and schmoozes them up a bit, enthusing (genuinely) about the books and making a fuss of famed 'narrow dog' Jim (a whippet) and his new partner-in-crime (another whippet) but comes back rather alarmed to report witnessing a rather beginnerish aborted attempt to moor up and throw ropes etc.

Mum at this point gets excused lock-wrangling on the grounds that some bad insect bites incurred early on in the holiday have suddenly exploded into big half-a-grape sized blisters. Mrs Silverwood is renamed "Nurse-the-Screens" due to her heroic efforts at medical intervention and we use Slathwaite's pharmacy to buy dressings and stuff, but Mum is reduced to flip-flops which are not the safest lock-busting equipment. Em-J and J-M step up to the plate and become heroic lock-wranglers, impressing everyone.

We are sadly now, definitely on the way home, and Friday 15th (Day 12) sees us descending to the bottom of the Huddersfield Narrow and emerging into Aspley Basin (in Huddersfield itself) and back to territory we have covered before.

All good things must come to an end


Monday 25 July 2011

Thanks Terry

Dad collects a small dent in the side of the C4, thanks to "posh bloke" in Peugeot 406 coupe who obviously needs more practise parking. Posh bloke was looking like not reporting this and seemed to have his eye on some kind of cash transaction to make it go away. Dad is having none of it as the terms of his 'lease' involve the main dealer doing the repair and the associated insurance company being fairly feirce but it all works out Ok in the end. Posh bloke does notify his insurer and claims responsibility, so dealer waives Dad's excess and all is sweetness and light. This is handy given that C4 will likely get chopped in as part of Project Erroll.

Talking of which, a mountain of paperwork arrives from the conveyancing legal beagles, and Mum and Dad have to sign away in detail what's included in the sale. How many people seriously decamp with their loft insulation bagged up under their arm? They even had to sign they were taking Albert who is legally a 'garden ornament' (HA! ROFLMAO! as we teenagers have it*). Mum and Dad must also prove they are not money launderers, although quite how you'd launder the profits of a highly visible house sale into a more legal format, I know not. Perhaps we all have too innocent a mind to think up anything so devious.

Meanwhile we are up at the allotment weeding yet more onion patch today and we meet up with all those folks who we never used to see when Dad was in full time employ, John G and the rather portly "Maxie" for one, Dave P and his scruffy terrier, Drayman Nick and the new plot holder who lives on a boat in the Iron Wharf who Dad can not currently remember the name of.


*Rolling on floor laughing my a** off

Standedge and Marsden

Dad, never one to hide his light under a bushel, reckons himself a pretty good helmsman. After 6 years of driving these 56 foot beasties ("like driving a bus with rear wheel steering and no brakes") he does a pretty good line in slotting the boat into narrow locks, doesn't hit many things (or hits them soooo gently if he does hit them), manages to avoid the sides of tunnels and moors up with a glancing kiss to the bank.... mwah! OK, there are detractors who might point out a certain faux pas with an aqueduct 'kerb' (caught on in-boat video) and an occasion when the opening of floor paddles sucked the boat in harder than intended towards the closed upper lock gate (boing!) but generally, we hope everyone agrees, he has climbed out of 'beginner muppet' class and does a reasonable job.

However, both he and Commander Dave found the Standedge tunnel something else. It is very narrow, extremely dark and quite twisty as well as being given to random widenings and re-narrowings in the 'rough hewn' (un-lined) bits. Rear deck crew are required to wear a hard hat for very good reasons, mainly unpredictable and not-easy-to-see reductions in tunnel width and height. Northumberland is an old boat with a clattery old diesel engine and only enough inverter to power phone chargers, so we have a pathetic headlight trying to light the dark sandstone from the foredeck and the glimmer of cabin lights shining out sideways to light the walls you have already missed (you hope). The only way to keep the front 'corners' off the walls is to swing the back corners even closer to those walls 56 feet behind which is only possible if

a) the back end is in a wide enough bit of tunnel

b) you have seen the narrowing rock outcrop coming at the front (some of them are under water, anyway!)

c) it is safe to stick your own head out beyond the profile of the boat at the back end (ie to look over the roof or round the sides).

d) the Waterways chaperone (BW Terry, in our case) has let up from his enthusiastic and non-stop explanation of the tunnel's history for long enough for the helmsman to start concentrating on the job again, after yelling "sorry? pardon? didn't catch that!" over the yammering diesel noise echoing back off the tunnel.

e) you have not collapsed with exhaustion from concentrating for nearly 2 hours

f) you have not whanged your head and hard-hat off the roof so hard your neck is reeling, your hat's fallen off and you are trying to grab the hard hat before it rolls off the back deck.

Now this may sound, says Dad, like a load of excuses or 'managing expectations'.... It is. They got through in an hour and 45 minutes but I doubt there's much paint left on the wales or chines of that poor boat. Never mind - BW Terry said Dad did OK and was even encouraging him to greater speed in the lined bits and they all had great fun. The front deck crew enjoyed the bits where they weren't ricochetting off the sides. The boat's progress is tracked from one of the disused rail tunnels using a van to shadow you and report in periodically, and that guy was also happy with us.

Mum, incidentally, had opted out of the tunnel fun and games and taken Max and I in a taxi over the top. She was there waving like mad as the boat emerged into the light at the eastern (Marston) end with its bunting hung up in celebration and ice creams handed out to all. Dad shed life jacket, hi-viz and scarred hat, and slipped BW Terry a tenner for the brilliant ride.

That was it for the Wednesday - we moored up in Marsden, planning to visit the Visitor Centre on Thursday morning.


Sunday 24 July 2011

Back to the Allotment

Back to more prosaic stuff today after all the excitement of watching the Thames Barge Match yesterday. Mum is away at Mazy-Lou's in Richmond (where, unfortunately, M-L comes down with a stomach bug which rather puts a damper on the proceedings). Dad gets up at 0630, wondering if he'll ever lose the early-bird work-ethic, and takes us for an early walk out past the allotments. This mainly to check on the state of play, none of us have been up there since before narrow boating and we fear it may be a jungle. In fact it's not too bad, but badly in need of a mow. The weeds in the onion and spud areas are all annuals, so a few hours on hands and knees will sort them out.

Dad takes off after breakfast to start this attack. One man went to mow. He is determined to do a couple of hours early every morning now that the decorating is (nearly) done till the plot is brought back under control. Neighbouring plot holders suggest he is mad as he will be leaving it soon as part of Project Erroll, but he prefers to hand it back in a fit state and is also eye-ing up the big fat onions and the healthy potato foliage with an eye to getting some crop off it before he hands it in.


Stepping Stones and Saddleworth Moor

Our Boating Story is now in day 9, the 12th July and Mum finds a superb place to stop for lunch in Uppermill where a gap in the towpath wall gives onto a path down to stepping stones across a wide, shallow stream. The stones let you in to a lovely park with swings and slides for the little ones, ice cream vans and acres of mown grass. The stream itself invites wading, splashing about and eventually some knee deep "swimming" till all children are soaked and in need of changes of clothes. Nice one Mum.

Our cast of characters is joined here by "The Magnetic Fisherman" (or, as Dave would have it, "Professor Pat Pending"). We first meet this aging hippy, his wife and their boat 'Thistledown' at the grassy halt in the Peak Forest Canal, walking towards us along the towpath dipping a weighty item into the water on a line while his wife followed along with clipboard and pen, taking notes. He looks a bit professorial so we assumed he was a researcher for the Waterways, doing some kind of techie survey of the state of the moorings. Nothing of the sort. He's just an old bloke supplementing his income by fishing for lost mooring pins, pin hammers and windlasses which he then cleans up and sells for a few quid from his boat. When he told us all about it (amused that we thought he was doing a survey) his wife adopted a slightly pained "what are these people going to think of him?" expression.

We move on to Dobcross where we are intructed to stop overnight as the next stretch, the "Diggle" flight of 10 locks up Saddleworth Moor (famed for the Moors Murders but stunningly beautiful) is another controlled section and allegedly locked. The Magnetic Fisherman poo-poo's this, susses out that the locks may look padlocked but actually are not, and chugs up 3 locks before running aground. He then breaks all the rules in the holiday boater's instructions by letting water down through the locks himself (we're meant to seek BW help for this) so that he can keep going. He'll not get through Standedge any quicker, so we and Oxford decide to be law-abiding and await the morning

Tomorrow, the dramatic Standedge Tunnel (pronounced "stannidge") awaits - The longest (3 miles, 418 yards), deepest (638 feet below ground at the summit of the moor) and highest (645 feet above sea level) canal tunnel in the country. Almost 2 hours underground chugging gently through, BW chaperone and guide on the aft deck, hi-vis clothing, life jacket and hard hat(or a 5 minute taxi ride over the top if you don't fancy the subterranean lifestyle).

Can't wait


Saturday 23 July 2011

Thames Barge Match

Dad has a real treat today, booked with his fellow Cambria painter volunteers onto the trip boat Pocahontas which works out of Gravesend Pier. Normally assigned to river trips, today is is following the progress of the Thames Barge Match which happens to be the first race in which the Cambria is entered. The Pocahontas is a nippy old girl easily able to out-pace the barges and then to run rings round them allowing all the barge fans and photographers on board good views of each barge competing.

Dad's own camera, the trusty EOS was damaged when bounced on the narrow boat mid holiday so is currently in the repair shop, so these are taken on Mum's diminutive Praktica, which does OK-ish. Dad was also given Mark C's (Kess's Dad's) camcorder to play with and got to take over an hour of lovely footage, especially of the Cambria at speed.

To get involved with this, Dad has had to cry off a weekend away with Mum who's visiting chum "Mazy Lou" in Richmond, but Mazy's a sailing nut herself, so she understands Dad's angst and wish to be excused her delicious fish pie (Dad's slumming it on sausages, mash and beans tonight!). Our compensation, when Dad does get home, is a rather poor walk in the Rec.

Courage Brother


Peak Forest Canal

If you're on schedule and OK for time by this stage in your circumnavigation of the Pennine Ring of canals, said our guide, it's worth taking a short diversion to check out the Peak Forest Canal. We have just had 2 days hard locking and need access to some 'services' so we pause at Portland Basin for a (chemical loos) pump out and then wander down on a small explore. We find this delightful grassy area to moor overnight where dogs and children can run off some energy and play a while. Maxwell read rather too much into the "run off" bit of this but little M Silverwood (4) proves quite adept at dog-wrangling; Max does not seem to see him as something you should keep a distance from, unlike adults in pursuit shouting "MaxWELL! Stay!"

Monday delights with warm weather and also by being the day we'd have had to hand the boat back if this had been the normal one-week holiday (Yay! It isn't!). We chug gently into Stalybridge, which turns out to be twinned with Armentieres. Regular readers will know Dad's association with the old 2CV twinning gift from N Kent town Birchington to Armentieres's neighbour La Chapelle d'Armentieres. Stalybridge is also home of a famous deli "Say Cheese" and a famous eaterie, the (Railway) Station Buffet Bar where everyone gets to eat superb warm roast pork muffins and Dad and Mr S try out a couple of unusual beers including a superb porter. The children fancy a home made ginger beer, but this turns out to be rather too gingery for some.

The day finishes with the 200 yard "Scout Tunnel" which proves to be a taster for the 3 mile Standedge tunnel to come, including some lined and some rough-hewn stretches. We moor up near Mossley where Max tries another canal swim and has to be hauled out.


Friday 22 July 2011


Here are a couple of pics of we two dogs and Maxwell, both from the recent holiday. In the top one we are all waiting outside a delicatessen called "Say Cheese" in Stalybridge while Mum buys some superb cheeses, meats and something called "Duck Balls" (which turn out to be a duck based meat loaf which you can slice into salad or base a delicious pasta sauce on). That's H having a lie down, me facing the camera centre and Max to the right.

In the other picture we are all three indulging in a doggie bundle which was quite a common form of riot on the boat. This is, I think, me coming off worst (left) while the H is wrestling me and Max is behind, trying to get involved. The H loved the extra attention he was getting from Max (Didn't he just!) and seemed to be rejuvenated like when Boris came to stay. There's life in the old boy yet.

We have both parents at home at present, Dad doing some decorating and Mum resting and elevating a poorly leg (nasty insect bites which blistered up rather gruesomely). Dad is applying top coat emulsion to walls and de-snagging various bits of worktop and plumbing. Those of you who also read Dad's barge-blog on will know of the red-toned grey barge undercoat which was known affectionately known by the painting volunteers as "Rosie Glow". They all joked that it was such a good colour and so evocative of barge hulls that they'd use it on their houses. At one point during the decorating here Mum came downstairs, poked her head in rather nervously and joked "Thank Heavens for That - you are using the pale lemon... I was worried you'd be slapping on Rosie Glow!"

The Deefs

Canal District

We are now at Day 6 of the Canal boat adventure and the story is all about locks, lock after lock after lock descending into Manchester through Newton Heath (location of Man United's footie ground) and Miles Platting. We do 19 locks in 4 miles and about 4 and a half hours using our finely tuned teamwork system where our own lock-wranglers (Mr Silverwood, Mum, sometimes Mrs S and the two girls Em-J (13) and J-M (11) plus Fran from the Oxford and occasionally little M Silverwood (4). The girls are now big and strong enough to be really handy around locks, windlasses and paddle gear so while one half of the team wrangles your current lock, the other walks on ahead to set up the next.

This section of canal is closely controlled by the Water Board, partly because it's in the big city but also because some locks are leaky and holiday boaters cannot be trusted to close them correctly and could make the problem worse, so we are let in at one end and let out again at the bottom, the BW guy padlocking the gates shut behind us.

We are now in Manchester's famous Canal District, the first real open, proud and affluent gay district in the UK, first real flowering of the 'pink economy'. Now developed, shiny and renovated into chic apartments and very clean, neat communal gardens, cafes and socialising areas, it felt like a privilege to be allowed to moor there. This was a Saturday evening and as the locals came home from their shopping and started to think about the evening's parties or food it was very obviously peopled by couples of very smart, fashionably dressed, buffed, groomed young men.

Em-J broke out the treasured "Converse" knee-high boots and all of us felt we should do best behaviour and clean, rather than grungy boat-folk. We needn't have worried about the party-noise either; the small gathering of barbeque-ers on our local green dispersed soberly to do the washing up by about 20:30 and we could only hear one restrained party going on in a balconied apartment overlooking our foredeck, this one mainly very smart affluent looking young ladies enjoying some one's flat and balcony, occasionally strolling out onto the balcony to get some air, clutching a glass of wine and chatting.

On the Sunday we turn the corner at Ducie Street in Manchester, from the 2-boat-wide Rochdale Canal, and start our ascent of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, where locks are so narrow that only one boat will fit (but also that the boat is held so neatly in the lock you do not need to rope on each time). We split up temporarily with the Oxford, following them up about an hour behind.

For historic 'dodgy area', vandalism reasons, BW recommend you do the whole ascent through Ashton in one hit, not stopping overnight, so we jokingly name it 'Bandit Country' but honestly we think this may be a fading problem - most of it is getting as new and neat and developed as Canal District and we got no hassle anywhere or even felt threatened but BW know best so we do as we're told and it's another 18-lock grind which again, takes us a solid 5 hours or so climbing up to Fairfield and then enjoying the relief of a lockless cruise for 2 miles to the Portland Basin.

More on Portland and Day 7 tomorrow.


Thursday 21 July 2011

Voles and Water Rats

We breakfast at the same jaunty angle as we slept and await white van man from British Waterways to let some water down to refloat us, so that we can be on our way up over the summit. It's now Thursday 7th July and day 4 of our adventure. We are aground because of the poor state of some of the lock gates on this ascent (same applies on the way down) but BW are now spending a great deal of money gradually improving this situation, working their way round starting with the worst bits.

The BW guy tells us that one pair of lock gates we see cost £20,000 and there's a bigger pair further down which cost £30,000. Dad notes that many of the joints and parts of new lock gates bear a striking resemblance to work done by the shipwrights on SB Cambria - caulked joints, metal strapping, spikes sunk in as if countersunk to hold planking to frame. It's as if the gates are actually made by shipwrights.

We chug gently across the summit and are helped on our way by the BW bloke who gives us some advice on avoiding some underwater obstructions lower down. We pause in Benthouse for lunch. There's a lovely little boat size inlet here and some safe hard standing so the kids can let off steam. There were originally plans for them to camp out a night but it's chilly and black clouds loom so that gets vetoed. We part company with Commander Dave for now.

In one lock a small mammal catches every one's attention swimming around in apparent confusion and peril as we move the boat and fill, then empty the lock. There is a debate about whether he's a water vole or a brown rat but Mum and Mrs S note the snubbed nose and declare him a vole. Dad's not sure whether a vole should have a tail that long, but subsequently checks in the book and agrees he should. Nice one! (And none of we dogs ate him). We all know that "Ratty" in Wind in the Willows is a water vole, which adds to the confusion.

We moor up just short of Rochdale for our overnight for a quiet evening of food, drink and (not so quiet) card games. Day 5 is a late and leisurely start in which Commander Dave in Oxford passes us while we are still mid breakfast (making us all feel slightly guilty!). We will pass down the Slattocks flight together, saving water.

It's today that Haggis decides to join the swimmers, leppin' off the poop deck just as we emerge from an underpass under a main road near the M62. Dad shouts "Haggis is in!" to Mum, who happens to be also on the deck at that moment comparing map readings. Haggis swims for the nearest bank, a very steep concrete 'plinth' with shrubbery and hooks himself in by his elbows. His shivering makes that part of the bush shake, so we can see where he is, even though he's out of sight. Anxious moments.

Dad slams the boat into reverse to stop it, and backs up towards the underpass. It's important not to suck the dog in under the boat with propeller-wash. Mum leps over the back rail, swinging herself onto the plinth by the conduit's hand rail and then shimmies along the concrete bank on her haunches till she can reach into the shrubbery and feel for Haggis and then his collar to haul him out and swing him, dripping, up under her arm. Hugging him tight she scrambles back aboard, by which time the fore-deck crew, alerted by the frantic activity aft and the boat's bizarre course, have arrived with dog-towels. No harm done, except that Mum, who had just emerged, fragrant and freshly clothed from the shower, now needs another change of clothes.

By this time Oxford are way ahead and have no idea of the drama they have missed. We chug on down alone to close by a recommended pub called the Rose of Lancaster in Chadderton, though we both misread a sign and sail right by and drop down another lock (64, Failsworth) into a bit of canal with no decent moorings by mistake. We make the best of a bad job mooring in a weedy old read patch.

It's all go


Wednesday 20 July 2011

Under Offer

The estate agent contacts us and let us know that we have received an offer. Not as much as we would have liked but that is currently the state of play, so Mum and Dad decide to accept the bid. Project Erroll can now move on a-pace as the legal beagles do their stuff, searches and so on. We are not 100% certain which of the many viewers made the offer but we think it was a nice young couple; him a mad keen fan of American football but a less unsuccessful player of same so that they arrived with him with leg just out of plaster and walking on crutches. I had to shout at the crutches, which got me wrangled out of harm's way; upsetting of viewers is frowned upon.

As you can imagine, this limited his ability to see round the loft and garden bits, for example but the young lady was delighted with all she saw and was also able to convince him that the garden, currently choc-a-bloc with verdant burgeoning plant life was actually reasonably low maintenance as they were "all perennials". It sounds like one or the other also have serious-gardener parents so there should be no shortage of advice and help. Being a bloke, he also loved the shed with new roof and power, currently full of bloke-ish kit like mower, rotovator, tools, etc.

Even though the place is now effectively off the market, Mum and Dad are proceeding with the interrupted (ha!) decorating, so Dad had at the top of his to-do list today, to strip the wallpaper off the Panini room (yes, that same room which was created in November 2009 by knocking the kitchen through into the dining room and which has not been decorated since!). Natch, this meant the removal off all 'stuff' and the taking down of shelves and picture hooks etc, so we now have another small pile of packed goodies (mainly books) but our worries that tonight's viewers might wince at the state of the place are solved, our estate agent has cancelled them now that we are under offer.


Falling Royd Tunnel

Days 2 and 3 of the narrow boating saga and the adventure begins in earnest. Our first choice to do the Pennine Ring of canals clockwise is thwarted by a broken lock cill (more accurately the threshold of the cill) near Huddersfield which will have closed the canal just when we wanted to ascend through it, so we are on plan B, the same route anticlockwise. We must ascend to the summit of the Rochdale canal where we are booked through on Thursday.

But first, let me introduce young Maxwell who readers nwill have only seen as a small ball of white fluff curled up among the cats at Steak Lady's abode. Look at him now - a fine figure of a man at only 7 months old, almost the same size as me. That's him on the right. He's good fun and great company, all be it I have to shout at him now and again when he gets a bit too uppity or tries to take over my Dad's lap or his bit of the seats. Green Eye? Moi?

Here too, we meet two human characters and another dog, who will be very much part of this circumnavigation. "Commander Dave" and his wife Fran, plus collie cross Bonnie are in a baby-sister ship the "Oxford" and are doing the same route as us with the same bookings through pinch points, so the rules are we should pair up through locks to save water. It is brilliant, in these cases, if the paired boat crew are good, nice people as you are going to spend a fair amount of time with them and co-operate. Conversely it is a real pain if they are incompatible, as we have seen in the past but superbly, this time, we get lucky and Dave and Fran are great fun, easy to work with, a lovely couple, and we dogs quickly get on with Bonnie, who is a natural at hopping on and off boats and nipping round locks, bridges, towpaths etc.

So, on Tuesday we leave Brearly and chug gently upwards in good weather through Mytholmroyd (where Dad is proud to have not hit anything in the first big helming challenge, Falling Royd Tunnel - from blazing sun to pitch black just as the canal, in the dark does 4 turns inside the narrow tunnel!) and Hebden Bridge as far as Todmorden, where we moor by the "Great Wall". On Wednesday we move on again up through Gauxholm to the pre-summit pound from where we can walk back to the famous Grandma Pollards chippie (an annual treat).

This pond is very low, with great dry mud banks either side on top of one of which is perched a cruiser completely high and dry. We plough the mud and manage to get our bow against the bank so that we can get on and off, but the stern has to sit out mid channel on a long rope and we all sleep the night at a rather jaunty angle, bows high and listing considerably to port!

At one stage both Maxwell and Bonnie try swimming for a laugh, Max lepping unseen from the back deck into a lock so that Dad, helming, is only aware of his going from the sploosh noise, but can quickly wrangle him back onto the deck, grabbing him by the collar - no harm done. Bonnie does hers trying to leap from boat to boat and we all see her go.

Lucky we brought dog towels


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Narrow Boating

Yes, readers, You'll know by now that we have been absent for 2 weeks on our standard family holiday, narrow boating round the canals of Yorkshire with the Silverwoods with, this time, two extra passengers.

The Silverwoods brought along their new dog, Maxwell, he of the night time commando raids covered in this blog 6 months ago. This poor little mite has now been bought, rejected and moved on several times in his short life, so the Silverwoods have now adopted him and agreed with everybody involved that this is now for ever and he is now owned by them so that he can have a secure and safe home for ever more. There's no more "Oh, we think we might like to try him back now". Also on the trip came that bl***y gnome. I'm going to have to have words with him. Thinks he can take over my blog, huh? We'll see about that.

So, it was the usual set up. We hire the boat from Shire Cruisers in Sowerby Bridge who are, as always, brilliant. We cannot praise them highly enough for their boats, friendly service, booking all the 'pinchpoints' like access over controlled summits and through restricted tunnels, etc. We hire the 56 foot 8-10 berth job 'Northumberland' because we like the fact that you can see straight down the length of it from the central front door to the central rear companionway, so it's easy for the humans to count children and dogs in a hurry. Other boats have doors to the side of a corridor which moves from port to starboard, but that's just our preference. The picture here shows her in the basin at Sowerby Bridge waiting for us to load.

The first day is all about packing the car, loading dogs and driving North - it's about 4 and a half hour's driving, Kent to Sowerby Bridge and on this occasion we get there before the Silverwoods, who are coming over from Ireland, so we're embarked and stuff stowed, sitting having a coffee and then the pre-flight briefing when they arrive. There is thorough training but now after 6 years we only get the refresher version, sign all the paperwork and take over our boat. We are doing the Pennine Ring anti clockwise, so we're off round through Tuel tunnel lock and on up to Brearly for our first, quite easy day. We moor, as usual by the school playing fields, so that kids can let off stream running round on the grass and paddling in the stream, and we dogs can get to know Maxwell.

Properly under way tomorrow.


Farewell, Old Chance

It is with regret that we pass on the sad news of the passing away of the Silverwoods' old old dog, Chance at the ripe old age of about 18. He was a young dog when we first knew him, when Mr and Mrs S were first getting together back in the UK and became a great friend of Megan and Haggis. His name 'Chance' comes from the fact that they rescued him from a dustbin in a sorry state and gave him a new break. That's why no-one knows his actual age.

Lately, though, he'd been showing his age and was increasingly infirm, so the Silverwoods were actually getting to the point where they'd have needed to take that hard decision, so it's a mercy that he's picked his own moment, though sad for them that it happened while they were not around, being on the narrow boat with us.

Fare well then, old friend. Rest in Peace. We'll miss you.


Monday 18 July 2011

We's Back

Yes, guys, we're back.

We've all been on the standard annual holiday, crammed 8 humans and 3 dogs deep in the good ship Northumberland plying the canals of the Pennine Ring; Sowerby Bridge and over the summit at Todmorden and Littleborough, down into Manchester, back up via Ashton and the 2-hours-underground Standedge Tunnel to Huddersfield, Brighouse and 'home' to Sowerby Bridge.

I will do as I did last year, and tell you all about it in the form of a 'Captain's Log' running over several days, mixed up with the usual 'real time' reports of the progress of Project Erroll.

Tonight, though, we're only just back and we're all too tired to do anything meaningful except get washed and cleansed from 2 weeks of grunge, ply through a small mountain of emails and get sorted, so I'll make more sense tomorrow.


Saturday 2 July 2011

Oy! You Lot!

OK, You Lot! I am officially serving notice that I will be taking over this blog. Deefer is all very well, but there's only a limited number of stories we blog-readers can take about walking in the Rec and getting clippered.

I will let 'The Deefs' as you all affectionately know her, carry on for another 40 posts or so, so that she can hit the 1000-posts milestone, but after that I may be moving it onto another website so that we can cope better with the enormity of Project Erroll.

You've bin told.

Albert G

Friday 1 July 2011

Out on the Cambria

So. How does Dad decide to spend his first day of leisure? On the Cambria, of course! He's down there with mate Dave B today as it is a bit of an "all hands on deck" last few days preparing the barge for her first session of chartering, which she needs to do to get some money pouring back into the coffers after all the (£1.4m) spend restoring her.

This is a sail training session for disadvantaged yoofs, a character building experience for them with a bit of hard physical work involved. That, in theory, is Monday. The barge, in fact, still looks like a building site in the last panic stricken hours before the house buyers turn up. Dad and Dave are helping by dragging lots of no-longer needed tools and hydraulic jacking equipment up out of the hold / "classroom" to stash them in one of the sheds. This earns them a cup of coffee from the Project Manager, William Collard, and permission to stay on board while the barge is towed out of her moorings, taken a few hundred yards upstream, and then turned round so that she can leave for her charter in a more dignified bow-first direction. So Dad can hardly contain himself - he has technically "been out on Cambria" all be it within the Creek and only for an hour. Never mind, though.

Then the ol' bu***r came back and clippered us to within an inch of our lives. Well, within 5mm of our skin, anyway. We are now very white and super-cool doggies, ready for whatever the next few weeks of heat-wave throws at us.....