Thursday, 7 May 2020

Odyssey on test, and our Coronavirus diary

The June edition of Canal Boat is out and includes my boat test on Odyssey by Boating Leisure Services, plus a piece about the build up to abandoning our big trip when the lockdown happened.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Annual Report

Today marks the ninth anniversary of taking ownership of Briar Rose.  Our miles and locks are a bit higher this year, because we had a longer trip in September plus the shortened trip this spring; the figures should have been a lot higher!

This year we have travelled on the following waterways:

  • BCN -- Old and New Mainlines, Gower Branch
  • Bridgewater Canal Leigh Arm
  • Coventry Canal
  • Droitwich Barge and Junction Canals
  • Grand Union Leicester Arm
  • Grand Union Mainline
  • Leeds and Liverpool Leigh Arm
  • North Oxford Canal
  • River Avon
  • River Severn
  • Shropshire Union Mainline
  • Shropshire Union Middlewich Arm
  • Staffs and Worcester Canal
  • Stratford Canal
  • Trent and Mersey Canal
  • Wardle Canal
  • Worcester and Birmingham Canal

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Lockdown jigsaw

Adrian got me this for my birthday a few weeks ago — and now he’s completed it!  Points for anyone who can identify the mooring.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Ovation Boats and the Weed Fleet

The May edition of Canal Boat is out and includes my boat test on a spec boat by Ovation Boats.  There’s also an article of mine about the Weed hire boats based in the past and again now at Weedon.

Finally, the 20 Questions is my former BBC colleague Andy Griffee, who has a new novel out now.  River Rats is the follow up to Canal Pushers.

Thursday, 26 March 2020


Another beautifully sunny day.  We packed up this morning and loaded the car, taking far more off the boat than usual.  We had quite a lot of fresh food on board as we hadn’t been expecting to end the trip so soon, and we raided the can cupboard, taking home lots of staples so we don’t need to try to find them in shops.  We left just after 9, and with the roads being very quiet had a good drive home.  We noticed, though, that the roadworks on the M6 were still being worked on, with apparently no rules on social distancing being observed; if it turns out that transmission rather among construction workers are high, we’ll know why.

It’s been an unusual trip — much shorter than planned, without reaching any of the places we’d planned, and ending in a completely different place from where we’d planned.  With lots of discussions and agonising about what to do and when to turn back, it also hasn’t been as relaxed as usual.  But we have seen a few miles of new waters, and we’ve had some fantastic days of boating in pretty good weather.

When we’ll get back to the boat is anyone’s guess.  It would be nice to think that at some point we’ll be able to make the most of its temporary northern home.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 19

Another beautifully sunny day, which got really quite warm later.  It would have been fantastic going across the Pennines in weather like this.  We set off at 7.45.

There are lots of nice mooring places along the Middlewich Arm, and many of them had boats sitting out the lockdown.  At Minshull Lock a grey wagtail posed on the bridge railings.

We passed a hire boat going the other way just above the lock, so sure enough Cholmondeston Lock was in our favour.  Just above it it we paused to have a chat with Pip and Mick on Oleanna — at a safe distance of course.  In fact the distance got safer and safer as we slowly drifted past!  They are in a good place, with quite a few miles of lock-free water for a change of scenery, shopping and services at Nantwich, and three water points.  With the day’s two lock way, we had our final mid-morning hot cross buns of the trip.

There were more lines of moored boats up to the junction, where the Jolly Tar pub has been replaced by new houses.

We turned left onto the Shropshire Union Mainline, and soon reached Hurleston Junction, the start of the Llangollen Canal.  The bottom lock has been rebuilt over the winter as it’s been getting narrower and narrower.  Below the lock we passed the coal boats, Mountbatten and Jellicoe, who told me the lock should open on Friday or Monday.  They used to do the coal run on the Llangollen, but came down the locks some time ago and then couldn’t fit back up.

A boat going on tickover the whole time waved us past, then we soon arrived at the entrance to Nantwich Basin.  We cruised and the guys told us where we could moor.  I turned the boat around and reversed in.

We caught up with Bill (at a safe distance) and he then gave Adrian a lift to Crewe station.  He’d already bought a ticket which was downloaded on his phone so he didn’t have to touch any ticket machines, and after a slight pause at the barrier while he refunded that one and bought one for the correct day (!) he caught a train to Stoke (which went alongside the Cheshire Locks) and then onto Milton Keynes.  A taxi took him to our marina where he picked up the car and drove back to Nantwich, arriving just before 4.30.  We’ll pack up and head home tomorrow.  We’re very grateful to Bill for his help in fitting us in and making the car retrieval so much easier.

8 miles, 2 locks.  (261 miles, 105 locks)n

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 18

As we watched Boris Johnson lock down the UK last night, we realised we’d be implementing Plan B rather than Plan A: we wouldn’t be able to return to our home marina, and would have to leave the boat up north instead.  Fortunately we’d already been in touch with our good friend Bill who owns the Nantwich Canal Centre, who said he had room for us.  We considered his other marina, Uplands, which is closer, but it’s more difficult to get to a station from there.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were awake early and set off just before 7am.  It was a beautiful morning.

I thought I’d worked out what time we needed to leave to cut down the waiting time at Preston Brook Tunnel, which only allows southbound from half past for ten minutes.  However, we ended up having to wait for half an hour before going in.

Once inside the tunnel we were back on the Trent and Mersey Canal, and CRT waters.  We were also back the land of mile posts, which reassuringly count your progress.

Saltersford Tunnel is another one which can only be used from half past the hour when heading south, but this time we had just ten minutes to wait.  By the time we set off, there were three boats behind us.

In fact we’ve seen more moving boats today that pretty much any day of the trip; we reckon a lot of people were caught out by the sudden implementation of the lock down, and are returning home or moving somewhere with good services.  One of the permanent moorers at Acton Bridge summed it up: ‘At least the weather’s nice,’ he said, ‘the world’s gone to sh*t but at least the weather’s nice.’

We made another touch and go visit to the bins at Anderton — the Bridgewater is terrible for services, in fact we haven’t seen a bin since we last came through Anderton.  We had lunch on the move, just before going through the chemical works, which if anything looks even more impressive going this way.

Back out in the countryside, we saw our first kingfishers of the trip — in fact there were two, but only one stayed still long enough for a photo.

We passed a boat shortly before Middlewich, so were hopeful the locks would be in our favour.  They were, largely.  Adrian worked Big Lock, then I took over for the flight.  Andersen Boats at the bottom had lots of boats in, and I guess it will stay that way.

There’s a right angle turn between the middle and top lock.

I walked up to the junction and found a boat about to come down Wardle Lock.  Adrian waited until he was down and had made the turn before bringing the boat through the junction bridge into the lock.

Another boat was waiting at the top of the lock, and another boat arrived below.  A bit further along, we came to Stanthorne Lock, which is more than 11 ft deep.

We carried on until just before Church Minshull.  Last time we spent ages trying to get into the side, so this time we decided to stop where there was a bit of piling to moor against.  It was 5.15 so we’ve done another long day.

25 miles, 7 locks.  (253 miles, 103 locks)