Wednesday, 29 June 2016


Last year we never saw our roses, though everyone said they were very good. This year we're back home again, preparing for Norwegian grandchildren to come over on Saturday. The roses are past the best of their first flush, but it's still been nice to see them – the climbers at the back…

and the bushes at the front.

That last has the most amazing, deep, rich scent. You can perhaps see the rain-drops on the petals. We're not sure yet how the weather might affect our plans for what we do with the boys. We'll spend some time on Erin Mae, not least because they're eventually flying back home from Manchester, but might need to curtail that if it's still raining a lot at the end of next week.

Sunday, 26 June 2016


Our three week trip to Kinver and back has provided the first test in the wild of the changes we've made to Erin Mae's electrics. The purpose of these has been to minimise our use of the Victron inverter / charger (Phoenix MultiPlus 3000), since that seemed to be the chief culprit in draining the batteries. I would find they were well down every morning, sometimes damagingly so, necessitating running the engine at 8 a.m. to charge them. So:
  • We installed a 12 volt fridge in place of the old 230v model
  • We installed a 12 volt TV in place of the old 230v model
  • We installed some 12 volt sockets for running / charging various devices
  • We bought 12 or USB-voltage chargers for devices that didn't have them
  • We bought an expensive electric toothbrush that will charge from USB
  • We re-wired the batteries to match SmileyPete's scheme
  • Not part of this activity round, but a year ago, we installed a 330W BenQ solar panel
The result: during this trip we have not had to run the engine at all for charging batteries, in spite of having some days just moored up and the weather often being cloudy. The only point at which the batteries dropped to anywhere near 50% SOC (state-of-charge) was one evening when I forgot to turn off the inverter after using the grill. By the time we went to bed the SmartGauge was reading 51%, which was when I realised what I'd done and turned the inverter off. In the morning the SmartGauge showed 50%, but the solar panel was already doing its job. On every cruising day, the SOC has been up near 100% after cruising, and still well up in the 90s by 11 p.m. The SmartGauge people are very clear that the reading is only a guesstimate while the batteries are charging, but gets more accurate during discharge. Typically, it is showing upper 80s by the morning.

We've watched a fair bit more TV than usual during this period, what with the tennis, the football, the referendum, some good dramas and one or two other things. The combined drain from the fridge, the TV-on-standby and the Zoom mobile broadband / local wifi gizmo, which are on all the time, seems ridiculously small compared to when all of them needed the inverter to run.

The 12 volt charger for my MacBook is doing very well. 12 volt to USB converter plugs are now commonplace and cheap, and are successfully powering my best beloved's iPhone and iPad, and an AA / AAA battery charger. That charger is the most disappointing device, since it doesn't seem to pump up the AA batteries for my Garmin as much as the mains charger did. My own cheap phone needs mains to charge, but I hardly ever use it and have no intention of replacing it. I'll have to get used to plugging it in when we run the washing machine (while we are cruising). I think the grill and the oven need the mains supply to work safely, but will go on experimenting with that.

The Philips toothbrush sounds and feels like a wasp in the mouth. It's taking a bit of getting used to, though it's doing an excellent cleaning job. Amazingly, after three weeks it's still going strong on its initial USB charge.

Overall, I am delighted with the outcome. I check the SOC regularly, but have completely stopped worrying about it. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Traffic jam

We packed up sharpish this morning, guessing that quite a few might be moving. We were facing the wrong way, and last night another boat had nosed up very close to our bows. As I got the canopy down and lines untied, the man in other boat was doing the same. I finished just a bit before he did, so he held his boat steady while I pulled out. I don't think he realised that I was going to do a big circle in Tixall Wide and head out in front of him!

At Great Haywood junction we turned right, away from the marina, to go down to the Taft Wharf for fuel and a gas bottle. Approaching Haywood lock we found we were right about the traffic.

It naturally took quite a while to get down, but you'd have thought the queue would have sorted itself out by Colwich lock. Not so! Another wait, before we could push on to fill the tank. By the time we'd done that, changed the gas bottle and winded at the next hole it was time for a lunch-time sandwich.

The few miles home were much more straightforward, and we're finally back in the marina. I've re-connected the mains hook-up – but I'll report in a future post how the revised electrics have done during our three-week cruise.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Leave or Remain?

At Tixall Wide, we took a stance diametrically opposite to that of the UK as a whole. We thought about leaving, but decided to remain. The bank is low enough here to make polishing Erin Mae a bit easier, so yesterday we polished her right side.

Today we turned her round and polished the left. Or attempted to. I was eating a lunch-time sandwich as I recovered from applying Meguiar's Gold Class from back to front when the rain started to lash down. Nothing to do except listen to the cricket. Hopefully, the rain will stop and stay stopped, the warmth will dry off the surface water and I'll get to polish it off.

The BBC commentators on the 50-over international against Sri Lanka started the day with all sorts of funnies based on the referendum result but now, after 35 overs, they're back to the normal comment and banter. Listening to them reminds me that, in spite of the result, some things might remain. Analyses I've seen suggest that the Leave majority was a combination of people who like listening to the cricket and hanker after some imagined past in which Britannia figures large, and those who feel disenfranchised by the "London elite" and have no personal experience of the economic recovery we're told so much about. I certainly hope that the message of marginalisation gets heard by those at the centre. A new politics dominated by compassion, thoughtfulness and two-way communication rather than sound-bytes would certainly be one of the better outcomes of last night's result.

Meanwhile, we do need to leave, even if it won't be this afternoon. We've got to fill up with diesel at the Taft Wharf before the sudden collapse in the exchange rate puts the cost up by 20p / litre.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Not going home

While the nation went about its business and voted in this undesirable referendum, we found ourselves cruising gently back towards Great Haywood in the sunshine, having sent off our own votes long since. We passed a rather remarkable treehouse that wasn't there two years ago.

Not being in any hurry to slot into our marina berth again, we called it a day at Tixall Wide, where the view through the side-hatch is considerably more pleasing.

A Great-Crested Grebe occupied itself fishing just a few yards away

All very peaceful (except for the fish, of course).

Here we shall stay overnight, and who knows whether we shall stay tomorrow as well, even though it's only half-an-hour to the marina? There are certainly worse places to get over my annoyance that the referendum is happening at all, let alone whatever emotions are stirred up by the result when it is announced.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


The last few times we've come through Penkridge we have nobly the resisted the temptation to walk down to Jasper's. Today, however, we just felt we wanted someone else to make our lunch. Jasper's it was!

Of course, with ten minutes for me to walk down, a few to queue and buy our (absolutely delicious) rolls, and ten more to walk back to Erin Mae, my best beloved would have had ample time to produce two of her own exceedingly good ham / cheese salad sandwiches. But Jasper's is Jasper's, and they also do a very nice line in Belgian buns and vanilla slices – precisely the reason we normally have to resist the temptation!

We've done nine locks today, so a little bit of indulgence hasn't gone amiss.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

In or Out

"Better out than in" said some rude person, in a context that we shall pass over quickly. But nothing could be more true when Erin Mae's poo tank light comes on, as it did this morning. I'd noted on the way down a couple of weeks ago that there was a yard offering a pump-out more cheaply than anyone else I know and, lo and behold, not long after setting out this morning, we passed it.

I pulled over and a man on crutches came down the wharf from where he'd been enjoying a coffee with some of his colleagues. Yes, they did pump-outs and, yes, they were open, and he called someone down to organise it. That was when things began to get a bit complicated.

One of their own boats was moored up right where the pump-out apparatus was situated, and Erin Mae's pump-out port was on the wrong side. Their hose simply wouldn't stretch the distance. They suggested it would work if I angled Erin Mae right across the cut, completely blocking it to all other traffic, but I thought that probably wasn't the Christian thing to do. So we bid them a cheery farewell, left them to their coffee, and got it done later at Gailey, for an extra fiver.

In or out is, of course, the UK's decision of the week. I know we're not the only ones to have found the level of the debate deeply frustrating. We're used to politicians using cheap sound-bites, when they reckon those will persuade people to their position. But, with this once-for-all choice looming, such tactics have seriously cheapened the discussion. Un-nuanced figures statistics have been thrown into the arena from all sides, while words of warning get dismissed as scaremongering. Surely, a warning is usually about something scary – that is exactly the point, and to be considered, not dismissed.

In the end, I think it has to be about your vision of how you want relate to others. I would rather adopt an open-faced, inclusive and welcoming approach. In an inter-connected world, I can't see that retreating to the margins is in anyone's benefit. Boaters encounter many people who have themselves retreated to the margins, and the results are often not pretty. Are there things that are wrong with the EU? Absolutely, but I would rather see us working on them from the inside.

Will the world fall apart if we vote to leave? I don't suppose so. There may even be some positive aspects – though I don't believe the rhetoric about reclaiming this or that, and I doubt whether the government will immediately cut the tax on the red diesel for propelling Erin Mae. But it is working collaboratively that brings the biggest benefits to all. Issues need to be resolved by talking round the table, not by shouting through the window.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Sunshine and showers

There were two targets for today. The first was not to get too wet – boating in torrential rain is a limited pleasure. The second was to moor up somewhere with reasonable TV reception, so we could watch the footie. The weather forecast suggested the first target would not be reached if we set out too early. In fact, since we had good reception at Wightwick, we were tempted to stay put and avoid the rain altogether. But it seemed to cheer up about 11.30 so we decided to move.

The first bit was fine – and then the rain returned with a vengeance. We quickly shut the hatch to protect the kitchen area and steamed ahead regardless. After a while, and a thorough soaking, the rain stopped. We followed the charity boat NB Ernest Thomas II up through three locks, and by the time they came to wind at Aldersley Junction, the sun was shining again.

In need of re-stocking the larder, we stopped just beyond Autherley Junction, from whence it is a short walk to Morrison's at Pendeford. When we got back the sun was still shining, and an aerial test showed that all was well with the airwaves, so we've settled down for the night. Now all we need are victories for England and Wales. I have to put that last bit in since, come August, I'm expecting to become grandfather to a babe who will be half Welsh! Sunshine in large doses!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Fathers' Day

I thought we were onto a good thing – the Mermaid Inn at Wightwick has a link to some sort of gourmet club. The first three months' membership is £1 / month, and for that you get 25% off your bill for food and drinks. That sounded like icing on the cake for our combined Fathers' Day / best beloved's birthday celebration. Then I noticed that you had to tell them at the time of booking that you were a member – but I thought perhaps I could unbook and then rebook. Then I saw the exclusions – Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, December, and anything that wasn't part of an à la carte menu. That ruled out today's meal on at least two counts, so I kept my pound in my pocket. But lunch-time found us being greeted warmly at this easily-accessible and friendly pub.

When the starters came, they looked good and tasted delicious, while the rustic bread was suitably rustic. The roasts, on the other hand, left something to be desired in terms of presentation (messy), temperature (too low) and the over-cookedness of the veggies. The beef part of my "roast platter" was so tough as to be inedible, though the waitress unhesitatingly brought along an extra slice or two of pork to compensate. I always feel a bit cheated when a meal I'm paying somebody for is nowhere as good as what I could produce myself, even on Erin Mae.

But this is not a day to be sad! Hamilton finished fifth, but Andy Murray won at Queen's. It's raining again outside, but we're dry and comfortable in the boat. I don't really approve of Fathers' Day, since I think it was probably invented by the greetings card industry, but I remember my own father and what he was and did. And I think of all that being a father has brought me. It's a day to be grateful.

Saturday, 18 June 2016


The Bratch being what it is, with hidden side-ponds as reservoirs between the three locks, you have to be careful about the order and timing as you operate the paddles. It's the only structure we've encountered so far where they are colour-coded – blue for the paddles on the top gates, red for those on the bottom gates. You can maybe just see the paint in the photos.

It doesn't do to think too much about the weight of water held above you as you come in from below.

We were assisted (and supervised!) by Andy, a CRT volunteer. As ever, he was cheerful and helpful and made sure we didn't drown. Thanks, Andy, you're a star!

So we've made good progress retracing our steps northwards, in spite of having to get down the weed hatch at one point to remove bits of plastic bag and half a ton of grass cuttings from around the propellor.

I told this little fella what had been happening, as we passed, but he seemed to have his mind on something else.

Friday, 17 June 2016


Last night I felt Erin Mae was listing more than would indicate a full poo tank, so I checked the mooring lines. Sure enough, the canal level had risen and the lines had tightened, holding down one side of the boat. Slackening them off restored equilibrium, and we had a good night. The purpose of coming up the Stourbridge Canal was to cruise the arm that goes into the town centre – a section we'd omitted three years ago. So we set off, and found ourselves behind a boat belonging to a local college, giving students an experience of something or other.

Like ourselves it turned right at Wordsley Junction, where the Town Arm leaves between the bridge and the first lock of the Stourbridge flight. We followed it slowly down a section that didn't really match Nicholson's description. There was indeed a mooring by the Tudor crystal glass works, but it was decrepit and uncared for, and there was little sign of life in the dilapidated buildings backing onto the canal. Perhaps the fronts are more inviting, but the whole place reminded me of pre-renovation Stoke and did nothing to inspire a visit. So we pushed on to the town centre.

We passed a couple picking up litter as they walked and, near the centre, found a volunteer team out doing some serious clearing.

Once we reached the basin, the reason for their activity became clear. With all the rain, the Stour had burst its banks yesterday, cascading into the canal basin and flooding it to a depth of several feet. Although the water level was now back to normal, its colour was muddy yellow, and it was not a pretty sight. A number of people were in clean-up mode.

Only one boat appeared to have suffered from flooding – it was unfortunate that it was moored on the left at the point where there is triple parking on the right. We were asked to go very carefully past it – they feared that a bit more movement might sink it completely. We did so, and went on down to the winding hole by the building that Nicholson's did get right – the bonded warehouse that is now the headquarters of the Stourbridge Navigation Trust.

On another day we might have explored the canal shop there, but we think they may have been under water last night and there was naturally little sign of them wanting visitors. We felt for them, but there was nothing we ourselves could do, so we winded and retraced our steps to the Staffs and Worcs.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

St George and the Dragon

We tied up last night an hour or so out of Stourbridge itself, and thought we might have cruised in this morning. But (a) we slept in – all part of the recovery process, and (b) the weather forecast didn't exactly encourage an unnecessary move. And in addition (and the least of all reasons, of course!) we've got reception in this spot and the England were playing Wales at the Euros. As a result, we've had a quieter day, apart from a bout of baking and a couple of hours of nervous tension until England won the match St George beat the Dragon with a minute to spare.

So, with the rain keeping us in, I thought I'd put up a couple of pictures from yesterday of Hyde lock – the first one as you come up away from Kinver.

It's a picturesque spot, but what makes it rather special are the garden gates to the dockside cottage.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Not a wasted trip

The phone call from Mr Wilson Jnr didn't come last night, so we assumed that was that and we would have to find some other way of repairing or replacing our pram hood cover. When the morning's rain stopped we walked into Kinver village to post our referendum votes, bought a few groceries, and had a slightly early lunch before packing up to make our way back to Great Haywood. We needed to turn Erin Mae, so sauntered down to find the winding hole south of Kinver. It wasn't quite where the guide implied, but was worth the wait. Winding hole with summer house and floral border!

Coming back to Kinver lock, what should we see but NB Matthew Flinders, which occupies a marina berth just three down from Erin Mae's. They must have arrived while we were winding.

We drew attention to ourselves, but nobody appeared, so we pushed on up the lock. Another boat was coming the other way, and my best beloved got chatting the way she does, with the subject turning to boat covers. It transpired that just yesterday they had had a cover mended by Wilson's, and they gave us Keith Wilson's mobile number. We rang him – and he said he'd be with us in 5 minutes!

It seems that Keith himself, having been simply an employee and not a director of the company that defaulted, had been able to set up on his own account. He had absolutely no obligation, of course, to do anything about our cover, but it was something he accepted. He took it away there and then, repaired the section where the fabric had torn and had it back with us after an hour. I think that deserves an honourable mention on this blog – accepting corporate family responsibility when he didn't have to.

So our trip down to Kinver was not wasted, after all. We've started the return journey, but are taking a slight detour to see Stourbridge, since we didn't go up the Stourbridge Town arm when we passed three years ago.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Kinver blues

We'd planned our present trip months ago, with the intention of combining at least a nice run down the Staffs and Worcs with getting Wilsons, the manufacturer of Erin Mae's pram hood cover, to look at the material, which is showing early signs of undue wear. We'd rung them at some point and they'd said to call in as we were passing through Kinver. It was when we got to the Bratch a few days ago that the volunteer lock-keeper told us that Wilsons had gone into administration, a warning repeated by Mike in a comment on this blog a day later. Such an event would obviously render useless the 5-year warranty that they'd given.

Their boat furniture business is a separate company and, ringing them, we got through to Ralph Wilson who said he would come and see if there was anything that could be done. But when he'd seen it he said not. A problem with stitching could perhaps have been managed by the furniture people, but this was basically a fabric failure. As I write, based on something Mr Wilson Snr said, I'm awaiting a possible phone call from Mr Wilson Jnr, whose boat covers company it was that failed. I doubt if there's even a partial solution to our particular issue, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, my bout of something disagreeable is not our only recent experience of coping with ailments while boating. My best beloved has been having some dental issues and a root infection decided to flare up. Being out of shouting distance of your own dentist is discomforting when that sort of thing happens. We looked up Kinver dentists on the internet and, yesterday afternoon, on our walk to the High Street, called in to see what might be done. The result was an 8.30 appointment this morning, a very helpful consultation for just £25 including an X-ray, and an antibiotic prescription to calm things down till we travel back home in a week and a half. Very nice service!

So we're surviving these present troubles – just part of the Erin Mae experience. Rough with the smooth, and all that. If it gets really bad, I can always get the guitar out and seek a bit of 12-bar solace.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Mostly quiet on the Western Front

Finally resuming our journey to Kinver this morning, we found we were virtually the only boat on the move. Just this lone encounter with a quartet of hirers as we neared our destination.

It was also, fortunately, much quieter on my own personal Western Front, even though last night was not entirely tranquil. We decided my body jolly well ought to cope with the rigours of a few hours' boating. The Met Office couldn't seem to make up its mind whether we were going to face fierce, thundery downpours or merely a bit of cloud. Whatever, we weren't going to drown and, anyway, it's my best beloved's birthday! So we had to do something.

This part of the Staffs and Worcs is delightful. We've been on a section where the canal is also the River Stour, so at every lock there is a means of taking the general flow of the water down the necessary drop.

The conduits are mostly round or octagonal, though we found one designed slightly differently.

Along this stretch is Stewponey.

Wikipedia hazards a couple of guesses as to the origin of this name. What seems certain is that it was the name of the ancient inn that was here, passed on to become that of the local area. On and on a bit, and you come to Dunsley Tunnel which, at 25 yards, must be a challenger for the shortest tunnel on the network. Approaching from the northeast it looks like a wide brick bridge.

Halfway through, and then looking back, it's clear how the red sandstone was indeed tunnelled out.

So, in due course, we came to Kinver and tied up on the visitor moorings. A walk up to the Post Office furnished my best beloved with various happy mementos of this momentous day. We have also made certain unexpected discoveries and arrangements, but I think reporting on them can wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 June 2016


Generally I don't do sick. Must be all this clean living. But in the middle of Friday night my stomach began to heave – I  think that's enough detail! By Saturday morning I felt as you do when you've been up half the night, and went back to bed. It rained most of the day so it wasn't as though we were longing to be cruising the final few miles to Kinver. From time to time I would emerge and try to do something, before deciding that I needed to be in bed again. Nothing to eat apart from a poached egg and a small piece of toast in the evening. Most of it stayed down.

I could sense another restless night coming on, so made up the bed in the dinette. At 8 o'clock I felt OK to watch the first part of the England game, but by half-time was so zonked I turned it off and went to bed, and the night was much as anticipated. Today has followed much the same pattern. I can't remember the last time I found Test Match Special too exhausting to listen to! Half an hour, and then I needed to sleep for a while.

All very odd, and I don't know what's causing it. Writing this post is going to need some more horizontal recuperation in a minute. On the bright side, we've been stuck in one place for two days under rather gloomy conditions, which is exactly was was needed to test the new electrical configurations in the wild.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Poppy fields

We wondered at first whatever the helicopter was doing. As it came low overhead it threw up fifty times as much grass cuttings as a CRT strimmer, and blew a fender off Erin Mae's roof. It was as it landed in the field opposite that we realised it was an air ambulance, and that there had been an accident on the road bridge just back from where we had moored at Wightwick. We heard later that, sadly, there had been a fatality.

After that it was a quiet night (apart from watching more referendum debate on Question Time), and this morning we continued on our way to Kinver. As red as the ambulance, though of a slightly different shade, was a field of poppies.

Seeing them through the trees out of the corner of my eye (all attention on my steering, of course) I'd taken them for a long, brightly-coloured industrial building, until my best beloved said "Did you see those poppies?" My incredulity was matched by her desire for a piccy, so I pulled over and walked back to see. She was quite right!

On to the Bratch – this extraordinary feat of water engineering that has three locks very close together, with the pounds between only a few yards long, but leading off to hidden ponds where the water is stored as you move up or down. It's a most attractive and well-kept site, and a favourite place for students of industrial architecture to visit.

It's a bit more complicated to operate than normal, so Philip was on hand to make sure we did nothing disastrous!

He also gave a welcome helping hand with his windlass as we dropped down over 30 feet.

This morning Erin Mae was dry even though it had rained very hard in the night. We travelled in the dry,  but it's hot and muggy and pouring again as I write.

Thursday, 9 June 2016


The turn on to the Shroppie under the bridge at Autherley junction is very sharp. We managed it perfectly, only to find there was a crew-less boat in the stop-lock – she'd been dropping off rubbish while the water went down its normal 6 inches. So I reversed out of the bridge-hole to let her emerge. We were only going up there for water – Nicholson's Guide says the next water point down the Staffs and Worcs canal is a long way away, and we were needing to fill up, but the only tap at the junction is about 50 yards up the Shroppie. This can make taking on water a long procedure. The stop-lock often has a queue, and today was no exception, and then the next winding hole is about two miles further on.

Although, as I noted yesterday, we're in no particular hurry, I decided I wouldn't go up and wind. Instead, I reversed back to and through the stop-lock. There's a boat-hire agency here and lots of people doing things, but we managed to negotiate the space between the various boats and emerge with them, and Erin Mae, unscathed. Very satisfactory!

Back on track we stopped at Oxley Marine to get some machine screws replaced in the back-door lock. We hadn't met Dave (who did it) before but I was kicking myself afterwards for not having got a photo of him doing it. It seems mandatory for all the engineers at Oxley Marine to have long white beards. Orph and Phil have them and Dave's, if anything, is the longest of the lot. I wanted the evidence on the blog! That's twice in three days I didn't think quickly enough about getting out the snapper.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

No particular hurry

We're heading for Kinver to get Wilson's to look at the pram hood cover. But we're in no particular hurry. So we allowed a few boats to pass as we packed up this morning, and then followed them at a leisurely pace. It was all very pleasant. The only excitement was at one of the bridge / sharp bend combinations on this stretch, where a 35-footer was approaching far too fast what was, for them, a blind corner. I saw their bows appearing, slowed and tooted. They slammed on the brakes, slid to the outside of the bend and didn't seem very aware of the difficulties with the angles they were creating as we came through. La-de-da and lackaday – what did it matter on a nice, sunny morning?

In spite of going at a relative dawdle, we nearly caught up the boat in front as they were about to enter the quarter-mile narrows on the run down to Autherley Junction. We'd noticed when they passed earlier that they had a Silsden boat – we got to know their base in Yorkshire pretty well last summer.

They're a long way from home if they really are hiring. But perhaps they bought a retired boat and hadn't yet got round to removing the Silsden Boats plaques on the side. Anyway, they and we came through the narrows without meeting anything coming the other way. We needed to visit the supermarket, so tied up on the armco just beyond bridge 67.

I still remember finding this spot the first time we came this way. We could hardly believe we were in Wolverhampton!

There's a large area of grass and trees between the canal and the Pendeford estate – it's all very pleasant. So after a walk to Morrisons and back we ate some lunch in the shade of a tree – and then the downpour came. It was all positively Brazilian and we felt justified in deciding to stay put. After all, we're in no particular hurry!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Not going anywhere

We slept well in this delightful, quiet spot and, having thought about it briefly, decided we should stay put for the day. We could relax, and get a few jobs done, and the evening meal was already in the fridge. It wasn't long before we were joined in our solitude by a visitor.

It turned out he'd brought his missus with him.

All very idyllic it was, but the peace was about to be shattered!

Such canoe-groups have become commonplace around this time of year. I'm sure parents who want to argue for the right to take their children out of school during term-time for a holiday could use them as evidence for something. You hear them long before they come round the corner.

The teachers would no doubt argue they are learning, though they might find it hard to specify exactly what. One child here was undoubtedly learning to swim – all part of the serendipitous activity of a school trip.

I don't think anyone could argue successfully that they were learning team-work. This photo (from Erin Mae's side-hatch) needs a sound-track – they were lined up across the cut, completely blocking the navigation and not going anywhere as two narrowboats approached, one from each direction! They were, however, having a stunningly enjoyable time. I expect that, for most of them, it beat the socks off learning how to spell leptospirosis.

Now they've just retraced their steps and, I have to say, they went past much quicker than the first time. Perhaps they did learn some team-work after all.

And peace reigns again.