Friday, 31 May 2013


At the water point at Autherley Junction today we met a family doing the four counties ring in a week, nearly at the end of their journey.

There was 9 year old Elissa, her friend Chloe, her dad John, and her Grandad who owns the boat. Now Elissa is not a common name. In fact I know only one other girl called Elissa, and she's also 9, and she's my granddaughter! And she and Sam are coming to see us on Erin Mae in August, and we can't wait!

Something else special happened today. We started down a totally new part of the network.

On the left is Oxley Marine, the people who fixed our alternator. Ahead is Oxley Moor Bridge – pastures new, the gateway to who knows what. After half a mile we passed Aldersley Junction, 

with the first lock into the Birmingham Canal Navigations,

 but that's for another day. We pushed on to Compton Lock,

which, says Nicholson's Guide, was "the first that James Brindley built on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in the late 1760s".

and have tied up in the evening sunshine at Wightwick. 

Hang out the washing, have a cuppa, brush out the boat, rustle up a stir-fry, get out the accordion…

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Far to go

Only two thoughts in our heads this morning – don't start too early 'cos that was when it was going to rain, and stop at Brewood to do a small shop. In the event we also popped into the florist in Brewood to say Hi, since they'd been very friendly on the journey north when I bought some freesias for my best beloved.

So we tootled along and eventually tied up for the night on the Park Bridge moorings south of Brewood. There we found ourselves just behind Thursday's Child, whose owner assures me is cerise, not pink.

The owner turned out to be Brian Holmes of the Shropshire Union Canal Society, and he turned out to have had a hand in getting moorings established along the canal, and practical experience in putting them in. So we had a bit of a natter about what  determines the distance between the mooring rings. I flippantly suggested it might be length of the boat owned by the person specifying the distances, but Brian had some far more technical insights. Later a googling turned up some interesting articles which refer to him: here and here, for example.

Go to it, Brian. Looks like you've been doing a great job. As a true Shroppie evangelist, he also gave me a leaflet about the society, insisted that I take it to Erin Mae for my best beloved to have a read, and no doubt I will be hard pushed to get away in the morning without becoming a life member, or at least making a donation.

And the title of this post? "Thursday's child has far to go." So do we – the road leads ever, ever on…

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


The mileposts on the Shroppie yesterday showed Norbury Junction creeping closer as we tiptoed past miles of moored boats. Today they showed it receding into the past, as we continued our journey towards Autherley Junction.

As you might expect, Autherley Junction is 10 miles down the canal to the right. Back on the Montgomery, however, things were different. Adjustments to the space-time continuum meant a reversal of direction as well as a step back in time.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Welsh Frankton was behind you, Newtown ahead of you. But you'd be wrong. On this canal the place name you see as you approach the marker is the place you're going. It's either a different logic on the part of whoever set up these posts in the first place, or else a cunning plan by the Welsh to confuse the English in the event of an invasion.

Today, as the sun shone in the morning, this bunch of happy hirers invited us past. They were having a great holiday.

They didn't always get their directions right either!

But who am I to talk, after yesterday's kerfuffle at Tyrley bottom lock?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

And all for a fender…

First time we'd done the Tyrley flight on the Shroppie southwards. You come to the bottom lock through a narrow cutting in the sandstone rock.

(picture by Geoff Cryer and found on the Geograph Britain and Ireland website
© Copyright Geoff Cryer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

As we approached I noticed that the front right fender had slipped off the gunwale and was hanging down – a sure recipe for losing it if the lock is a tight fit. The gates weren't quite ready, so I left Erin Mae in the slowest of tickovers, nipped down to the bows through the cabin and brought it in-board. Back to the tiller in no time at all, only to find that the press of water coming down the side-channels had pushed me over to the left side of the channel, hard up against the rock face. I reversed back down the channel, but no amount of tiller-work would bring the boat away from the rock.

I went forward again and threw my best beloved the front mooring line. She and a passing stranger hauled the bows across as I worked up into the lock. Unfortunately, as they took the line up the side of the lock, it snagged in the timbers of the gate. Erin Mae's momentum pulled it tight before I could reverse, and no amount of manipulation from above would free it. So, for the third time, it was down to the bows for me. Brute force freed the line, at the cost of a nasty bang to my elbow on the boat's roof.

A funny sort of day, overall. Soggy on the Shroppie. I was really grateful for the wet-weather gear lent by our friend Christian. Fortunately it wasn't windy, so I joined the rather ridiculous ranks of those who were steering under the protection of a golfing umbrella. We made it to Norbury Junction in time to stock up on solid fuel and diesel, and to get an anchor in preparation for some river navigation.

We are glad to be inside, warm and drying, catching up on the day's news and emails.

Monday, 27 May 2013


Love it when you learn something new and unexpected. Our Sunday steaks, bought at Nantwich market, were from Dexter cattle. In my ignorance, I'd never heard of them, but the stall-keeper was able to talk a bit about this breed which, apparently, is making a come-back and is great for traditional beef. Seems Pam Ayres keeps some: "If you’ve got a bit of land, a breed like the Dexter can work out a lot cheaper than the supermarket, plus they do a pretty good job of mowing the lawn." (cited by Wikipedia).

A week ago, at the home of new acquaintances John and Hilary, I discovered something else new. I'd always assumed hot-air balloons went wherever the wind took them, while the pilot took pot-luck. Not so. Apparently as you go up the wind will change direction at certain heights – the knack is to remember the changes. By adjusting the height of the balloon, you have some control over the direction of travel (says Hilary, an HAB pilot). Not so new was the confirmation that any landing in a balloon is basically a more-or-less controlled crash!

So the Erin Mae adventure continues to enlarge our horizons. We left our mooring at Audlem…

saying farewell to NB Robin, on which The Boat Band (Cajun roots) had been staying.

On our way up the remaining 12 locks of the Audlem flight we were helped by CaRT man Dick…

 and by Pam, who runs a dairy herd and sells excellent cakes from a stall at the top lock. She knew all about Dexters!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Audlem = awesome / bedlam

Decided to stay put at the festival today, and we're certainly at the centre of things – just across the water from where local boys, the loudest band so far, are playing R&B on an outdoor stage. I usually enjoy R&B in the right context…

View from the top of Erin Mae

Can't really hear myself type. Bit of a change from The Boat Boys playing Cajun roots earlier, and who are also due at the Shroppie Fly later. Their beat was as compelling, but distinctly foot-tapping rather than ear-plug inducing. Not surprised they're down as "Glastonbury regulars".

This morning we enjoyed Andrew Lobb, from Northumberland, singing a couple of his songs about Aidan and Cuthbert as part of the morning service in the parish church. Probably the only place all weekend where he's appreciated but not applauded!

It was interesting to stop and chat with Colin "the painter", in NB Sun Dial, on our way back to Erin Mae. He paints houses, not boats (except his own) but he'd also painted the bridge over the entrance to Overwater marina. Said he'd seen oil (baby oil!) used on boat paintwork to good effect. I wondered if anyone else had experience of this?

As I finish this off, a new band has just started playing – The Reads. First impressions are very good. They're down as Indie, so we shall see. Later on this evening it's Natalie Mcool, and then Poyzer, Fluff and Farrell, a folk band billed as "one of the must-see occasions of the festival!" Doesn't sound as though they'll be lulling us to sleep.

It's been a lot of fun to be moored up here today.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


Nantwich was as sunny as last year, when we were first surprised by this town. A visit to the market, coffee and a supermarket trip took up the morning, and by then we'd finally decided to head south and make for the Avon via Tewkesbury. So after a late lunch we set off down the Shroppie and, what with some queues up the Hack Green locks,

reached Audlem about 6.30.

It was immediately apparent that something was afoot – large numbers of boats and visitors that not even the bank holiday could really account for, and the sound of music. Turned out that Audlem has an annual arts and music festival, and we found ourselves right in the middle of it.

To our surprise, we found a space just long enough for Erin Mae (well, nearly) at the end of the 5 day moorings opposite the Bridge Inn.

A stroll into the village in the evening sun furnished a couple of pictures of the Grade 1 listed parish church,

and a festival programme.

We took in about 5 minutes of a reasonably talented folk blues singer in the Lord C, but the crowded pub was not affording him the courtesy of much attention (big contrast with the crowds at the Swanage blues festival in March). And then the venison pie we'd bought in Nantwich market began to call us home.

Not sure what the forecast is for tomorrow, but today was like you might imagine a Saturday in May to be. So, while the pie was cooking, I took the accordion into the cratch and softly played "As I roved out…". (Softly, in part because it's a sad song, and in part so as not to offend Audlem's very cultured visitors this weekend with my as yet untutored playing.) And I also wanted the accordion to suggest the second part of "Martin's Farewell to the Montgomery Canal". When it's done, I'll see if I can put it up on this blog.

Friday, 24 May 2013

…and now to the Llangollen

Farewell, that is. This was the first canal we experienced in borrowed NB Jireh,  9 or 10 years ago. That was a glorious August week of wall to wall sunshine. This has been 20 days of very different conditions, but memorable for all sorts of different reasons – meeting up with family and friends,  repeated trips across the aqueducts, getting to know Chirk, exploring the navigable section of the Montgomery, the folk session in the Navigation.

We found Hurleston today much as it was when we started up the Llangollen – blowing a hoolie to make transitions and turns difficult. But lock-keepers Martin and Richard helped us down cheerfully, and the view back up the locks as we left showed something of what the meteorologists are promising us for tomorrow.

But the question is not yet settled – where will we go now? Down the Shroppie, on to Tewkesbury and back up the Avon to Stratford? Or across to Middlewich and an exploration of the Macclesfield and the Peak Forest canals. Hm…

Another day…

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Two arms and a leg

We were running a bit low on diesel, and the price at Ellesmere marina was steep. So on the way back east yesterday we called in at Whixall marina down the arm of the Llangollen known as the Prees branch. I think this is one of the oddest places we've so far come across.

It starts with a couple of awkward lift bridges, and trickles down for about a mile through the middle of nowhere until it suddenly terminates at the marina.

We scratched our heads trying to think who would moor here. The lift bridges are a real pain, and negotiating them is a non-negotiable if you want to go anywhere.

Even odder, there was no one around and the offices were all shut up. This was Tuesday, early afternoon, so why they were closed is a mystery. We left them to it, knowing we could fuel up further along. Unfortunately, this turned out (today) to be at the Viking boatyard at Whitchurch – helpful people but the prices were as bad as Ellesmere's.

Rather than do yet another lift bridge, we decided to take the turning just before it, and go down the Whitchurch arm. This is so short there was no time for a picture and, more to the point, the wind was blowing hard enough to make manoeuvering quite a challenge. We managed to wind Erin Mae and then reverse down the final 40 yards to tie up right at the end of the section, without damage to ourselves or others. Nicholson's guide said Whitchurch was worth a visit, so after a late recovery routine (homemade bread / homemade soup), we headed off into town.

The guide was right – it was a long haul. But the path avoids the roads…

and  passes this garden in the Jubilee Park.

Once in the centre it was intriguing to see the architectural styles (corporate image?) of the different banks. HSBC and Barclays…


The Tudor style we noted in Cheshire last year was much in evidence – here it's not only the pounds that are stretching.

The parish church, St Alkmund's, at the top of the High Street, is more recent, celebrating this year its 300th anniversary, with a difficult-to-photograph banner in the entrance ("Jesus Christ, the same yesterday (1713), today (2013), and forever (2313, 2613…", or words to that effect).

We finished with a quick visit to Tesco, and legged it back to the boat again in the evening sunshine.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Farewell to the Monty

At the Edinburgh Folk Club in the early 70s I met some of those who would form the band Silly Wizard. One of the tracks on their album Caledonia's Hardy Sons is "Jack Cunningham's Farewell to Benbecula". I never remembered to ask, but I imagine Jack was the father of Phil and John, or perhaps some other relative. The idea of a tune that is a farewell is well established in Scottish folklore and, for me, resonates also with the Portuguese music known as Fado, which echoes the sense of loss and nostalgia never far from the Portuguese seafaring heart.

So tonight, sitting in Ellesmere launderette, waiting for the sheets to tumble dry, I began to pen a Farewell to the Montgomery. A tune was there, in the head, waiting to be committed to paper, and fortunately we had a pencil and a little pad of sticky notes. It's a challenge – trying to evoke a sense of this canal on the English / Welsh border, and make it a farewell without making it too Scottish. Make it happy-sad to reflect both the joy of the canal snd the sadness of leaving. Perhaps tomorrow evening, in some remote part of Whixall, the accordion will come out and help me to finalise it.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

More at Maesbury

Well, we did moor at Maesbury! Walking past the final winding hole, you come to the end of the navigable section, and a barrier across the water under the bridge.

Down to the next bridge, and things are clearly happening.

It's the Montgomery restoration section of the Shropshire Union society hard at work to put this bit of the Monty under water, which they hope to do by the end of the summer.

They laughed when they saw the camera, and told me to take a picture of the bloke in the dump-truck. Which I did.

Turned out he was an Air Vice Marshall, having a relaxing break from whatever AVMs do! Further down the path, the size of the restoration task became even more apparent.

There's a plaque on one of the bridges, commemorating one of the men who worked tirelessly to make the restoration of the Monty a reality. The wording was along the lines of "he moved mountains". You can see why and how, and be grateful.

The weekend continued well. Last night we went, with our friends Roger and Mirjana, to the home of John and Hilary whom we'd met at the session at the Navigation Inn on Friday. Enjoyed a great plate of spaghetti, and a great deal of music with melodeons, guitars, accordion and one or two other instruments. Thanks for your hospitality, folks. A brilliant time. Hope the visit to the guitar festival went well today, John.

This morning, as a prelude to lunch at the Navigation, we strolled up the road to see "the flatpack church", the parish church of St John the Baptist.

Rumour is that it was ordered from Harrods, some time in the 1930s, in an era when they would supply anything! Just down the road we found this…

and wondered whether Harrods had thrown in a church hall as an extra!

So we returned to the Navigation, and I am happy to report that the food, like the music, is definitely better than the brickwork. We also found ourselves on a table next to IWA trustee Alan Platt and friends, and that led to some interesting and helpful conversation.

Tonight we've come north and tomorrow we must say our farewell to the Monty. It's been a delightful few days.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Maesbury Marsh Music

Not "marsh music", you understand. The village is called Maesbury Marsh, and the music in the Navigation Inn was very much better than its brickwork (see yesterday's post).

There were traditional English tunes on 3 melodeons, Irish jigs from fiddle and flutes. Along with obligatory drinking songs and seafaring tales were some classy mining songs written by the singer himself (Alan  Stan, on the left below). I contributed a couple of items, and even managed to give the new accordion an airing with this very tolerant group. They really weren't quite as depressed as the photos make everybody look. Think of it as deep reflection and the corporate pain of shared social injustices, coupled with the effect of taking pictures indoors without a flash!

And then we got an invitation to go tonight for food and more music to the home of the couple who organise the session, along with our melodeon-playing boating friends Roger and Mirjana.

So far, a very good weekend.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Gently to Gronwyn bridge, Gronwen wharf

Even when roads are not far away, the Monty has the feel of being miles from anywhere.

You cruise along, often in your own little bubble / time warp, but usually with views through the trees of this fairly flat landscape to some small hill in the distance. It's unusual to meet other boats – the only two today passed us, going north, before we were out of bed! 

The lock-keeper told us yesterday that restrictions on going down onto the Monty are not so much because of the Llangollen losing water (which is what I'd imagined) and more because the Monty itself does not know what to do with a lot of water coming from above.

Conditions mean you travel slowly and, anyway, today our destination is not far and there's unlikely to be any pressure on mooring space. So we pushed on past Maesbury Marsh, under the lift bridge…

and winded at Gronwen wharf, which is as far as you can navigate. It seems it's Gronwen for the wharf, but Gronwyn for the bridge just beyond.

So now we are tied up, facing the right way for the return journey – but that's not till Sunday.

There's a folk session tonight in the Navigation Inn, and the prospect of something good from their excellent menu at some point during the weekend.

Hope both are better than the brickwork!