Friday, 30 September 2016

Wonky Tudor

Yesterday I saw that we weren't far from the National Trust property of Little Moreton Hall, and that it was possible to get there by bus. So that's what we decided to do today, rather than continue up the Cheshire locks. At 9.30 we were waiting at the indicated bus-stop, only to see the bus come down a side-road 50 yards away and head off in the opposite direction. Three minutes later a different number bus stopped where we were, and a discussion with the driver and the only two passengers indicated that this one would take us to a point where we could catch the other, which goes all round the houses to get anywhere.

Tony got off at the same place and showed us where to wait. Thanks, Tony – very helpful. 20 minutes later we caught the bus we thought we'd missed, and were dropped off by the Hall. This place has to be seen to be believed.

It was built on a stone slab foundation, and the slabs steadily settled into the positions they have today. This, combined with the effect of the green oak used in the construction drying out, has led to the mixture of angles that has left engineers amazed that it's still standing.

We were fortunate to find Julie leading a 40 minute tour, just as we finished our coffee.

She was an excellent communicator and we learnt many things, including the story of the unexpected discovery of some Tudor wall painting previously covered up by panelling.

There were examples of red and green designs (no stencils allowed!),

and, across the top of the wall, several panels depicting the story of Susannah and the elders.

The Moreton family had apparently done very well out of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, and had a fair amount of wealth to spend on windows,

state-of-the-art toilet facilities (a straight drop into the moat where the fish were farmed),

and upper storeys.

The NT had commissioned an exhibition by a local artist, which consisted mostly of sets of translucent, coloured panels, intended to reflect the original glass in the windows. My best beloved enjoyed it, but I wasn't really convinced. The building's artisans had created enough interest themselves.

There is a small family chapel,

and a delightful "knot" garden behind the house.

The fortunes of the family took a turn for the worse when they chose the Royalist side in the Civil War, in spite of living in a largely Parliamentarian area. They continued to own the house, but had to let it out to tenants, and there was neither finance nor opportunity for further development. However, that is precisely why it remains today as a fine example of Tudor architecture. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


Lock 66, just out of Wheelock, is the first of the long series that takes you right up and away from the Cheshire plain.

Like many on this stretch, it is a side-by-side pair though, as here, one of a pair is often temporarily or permanently out of commission. They come in rapid succession.

The higher we climbed, the windier it got! When doing normal cruising speed, Erin Mae copes fine with wind, provided it's not too strong. The difficulties come at slow speed and, especially today, when emerging from a lock on a bend.

With the wind from the right, there's little problem coming out of the right-hand lock. But if you're in the left-hand chamber, even a slight right-hander just ahead can see you pushed to the side with no hope of escape!

You go down the side to push the bows off, but by the time you're back at the steering position the wind has blown them in again! At one lock I had to get off onto the central pontoon with one of the centre lines, to pull Erin Mae well out into the main channel. With the wind we had today, that took a fair amount of effort. However, as they say, it's a ill wind that blows nobody any good.

We'd run a wash-load while coming up the hill, and in no time at all after mooring up at Rode Heath it was out on the Vango whirligig with the sun / wind combination doing a fine job of getting it all dry. Rode Heath is a nice spot with mooring rings, about half-way up "Heartbreak Hill", very convenient for those who don't fancy doing it all in one go.

We've tied up just by the entrance to "Rode Heath Rise", of which Nicholson's guide says "Once the site of a salt works, it has now been landscaped and restored as a wildflower meadow."

From up here, there's not much sign of wildflower proliferation, but perhaps it's the wrong season. And it looks a long way down the path. At least, should we decide to explore it, the wind will be blowing us back up the hill on our return!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


Walking down the towpath this morning we encountered a boat that could have been named for us!

We'd left our overnight mooring and cruised into Wheelock, from whence it's a short bus-ride into Sandbach.

We've never visited this market town before. It's central square is very pleasing, with the war memorial at one end and some famous Saxon crosses at the other.

On one side is a café serving the best flat white that I've so far had in an independent.

The café apparently used to be a bakery, with the ovens resulting in the intriguing name for the road – Warm Walls. On the other side of the square is a path leading to the parish church.

We walked through, only to find the church itself, disappointingly, locked up. I feel an email to those in charge coming on. We walked back to the Town Hall, a building of a very different vintage.

Taking the lift up to the 1st floor, we rather surprised the operations manager who came down to find out who was invading his territory. In the event we stood with him on the landing and had a good natter about the history and present nature of the town. Interesting info, but not half as engaging as our conversation about urban and community renewal with a very committed official in Middlewich a couple of years ago.

Just down from the Town Hall were some chimneys in the style that had surprised me yesterday.

There was a certain amount of activity in and around the town centre, and evidence that the shops were doing reasonably well, for the most part. But we found most action going on in the town park.

I remember watching some crown green bowling on the TV years ago, but I had never seen it live until today. The green itself is slightly raised in the centre, forming the crown. And there's none of your straight up and down routine. You roll the jack wherever you want, even across the line of an "end" being played by another group. It was good fun to watch, and even more fun to play – less staid than typical bowls down south. Then we walked on to see other parts of the extensive and central park.

We enjoyed our visit to Sandbach, but there was something indefinable missing. It's market day tomorrow, and perhaps that will give it more feeling of the bustle that's normal for a market town.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

More than expected

First thing we were down Middlewich's Wardle Lock to moor up at the Kings Lock Chandlery. Our Webasto diesel heater has so far done us very well, and it was time for a service.

It was duly removed and taken away to the workshop for a good checking over. Meanwhile Mick used some lower tech procedures to drain and flush the radiators, calorifier coil and associated pipework.

Everything got a clean bill of health, and I got a bill for a considerable amount of 5-year rated antifreeze! Meanwhile our friends Adrian and Chris Dann appeared – they're moored just above Kings Lock. So they came in for coffee while the Webasto service was proceeding.

I'd also asked Mick to check some electrical things in the engine control area – the rev counter had stopped working, various warning buzzers and lights have been on duty only intermittently, and the control panel's voltmeter's readings have seemed rather odd. Steve the owner suggested from experience that there could be a problem with the ignition switch, and we decided to change it.

That sorted out the warning lights and buzzers (yes!), but not the rev counter and voltmeter (groan!). Looks as though I may have to change them myself at some future date. So, for the moment, it was farewell to the good folk at Kings Lock, farewell to a sizeable amount of cash, and farewell to Tilly the dog, whose life's mission is to take away the pain.

As we started our journey south, the sun came out and it's been a very pleasant early evening.

We encountered our usual quota of unexpected things we didn't remember from last time we were here,

and the clouds made patterns in the sky.

We decided it would not be a good idea to get as far as Wheelock and find it chockablock with boats, because from there it's straight onto the locks of Heartbreak Hill, so we've tied up in the middle of a very rural stretch somewhere on the outskirts of Sandbach. The sky is red, so hopefully there'll be more of the same tomorrow.

Monday, 26 September 2016


A day like this is a reminder of how few of them there have been during our travels recently. Not a storm, just a constant stream of wet from the Middlewich sky, blowing on the wind. Even if we hadn't needed to be here tomorrow, there would have been little temptation to move on. And knowing this in advance meant we adapted in advance. Everything was late – getting up, breakfast, coffee, lunch (those small events by which a creature of habit measures the march of time). Even the state of charge of the batteries conspired to make us late running the engine for hot water and some electrons – it's more efficient to let them drain a bit further before charging them up. So the washing up was late as well!

It was getting on for late afternoon before I walked down to Kings Lock Chandlers to make arrangements for a service of our Webasto heater and the replacement of the antifreeze mixture in the heating circuit. Steve, back on duty after a number of weeks recovering from a collarbone fractured while mountain-biking on Snowdon, was able to book that in for tomorrow, Then we went down to Morrisons for the provisions that will see us up Heartbreak Hill over the next few days.

It was, naturally, rather late when we got back. My best beloved stacked things away in the fridge, the cupboards and her favourite veggie bucket, while I got on with lighting a fire. That meant opening a new bag of Supertherm, whose contents have been busy collecting or exuding moisture, or so it seems. So even the fire has taken its time to get going. As I finish, however, a warm glow is spreading across the interior of the Squirrel. A warm glow is spreading the face of my best beloved as she sits down with her job done. And a warm glow is… no, I have to get up and make the tea. But here we are, as the drizzle continues to patter on the roof, dry and snug inside, and soon to be well-fed. In comparison with what millions of people across the world are currently facing, what's a little drizzle?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Not the antiques roadshow

You never know what you'll find as you travel and stop, travel and stop. In Middlewich for the weekend, we found that Fiona Bruce (the MP) was speaking at an inter-church event tonight, and we decided to go along. It was neither a political speech nor a sermon, but a talk about her life and work as a Christian in Parliament. Now I'm not a natural Tory voter, but I have to say she was very impressive in her understated way, especially when talking about cross-party activity over social justice issues.

She spoke about her four guiding "Cs" – Conscience, Constituents, Country, Conservative. And she spoke out of a verse in Psalm 84 in the Bible, focussing on the symbiosis between working hard to make the differences that you yourself can and, as a Christian, trusting God to use it, amplify it and, at times, amaze you with what actually happens.

The other Fiona Bruce is presenting AR as I write – with far better people behind the camera! But I don't think (should we turn it on) that it will give me quite as much to reflect on.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Middlewich dog

It's one of those heart-sinking moments. Busy in the cruiser stern shortly after tying up for the day, your eye is drawn to a brown, sticky disgusting blob of something on the gunnel, just where you come on board. What's more, it carries the imprint of a trainer sole, and you know you've just been in and out of the boat in the last few minutes, doing stuff.

A quick call down to my best beloved inside confirmed the worst – it had been tramped at least half way through Erin Mae's interior. And a quick check confirmed that I had also walked it all down the gunnel on the right-hand side, when I had gone down to set the TV aerial for this new location.

Dog poo presents one of the more severe challenges to my faith. I can understand that it's all part of a fallen world, but I wonder what's going to happen with it in the new heaven / new earth scenario (I'm not one of those disembodied, harp-playing, sitting-on-a-cloud types, you see). Rabbits, of course, aren't disgusted by their poo. They eat it. But dog mess somehow seems to belong in a different category. As far as I can see, there's going to have to be serious redemption, either of the stuff itself, or of our approach to it. In the meantime, there's the other, more immediate challenge of managing my extreme anger at the people who allow their dogs to pollute the Middlewich towpath in this way, when there's a bin for it just 30 yards away.

My best beloved, being more holy than me, just donned a couple of plastic gloves and washed Erin Mae's floor from front to back. She said it needed doing anyway. I got the mop off the roof and swabbed all exterior surfaces and mats. Then I knelt by the canal, dealing with the trainers with a stiff brush and a screwdriver. I discovered that Vibram's latest trainer sole has all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies, and a definite unwillingness to see all its crevices washed completely clean.

Apart from this it's been a very pleasant day!

Friday, 23 September 2016


We met one or two people at the locks today, including a German man who lived in West Berlin before the wall came down. He was admiring my windlass holster, but it was far more interesting to talk about the days when he and his wife were wondering if, within their lifetimes, they might have the opportunity of walking over the bridge into a different sector. That was 1987, and everything changed just two years later.

There was hardly any other traffic at all as we meandered towards Middlewich,

on yet another fine morning.

At the first place we had thought to moor up we couldn't get near the bank because of the "Shroppie shelf" – a concrete ledge just over a foot below the waterline. So we pushed on to the second spot we'd earmarked, overlooking Winford Flash. We were just finishing tying up when who should arrive but Adrian and Dawn in NB Chalico, our next-door neighbours at Great Haywood marina.

We all sat out in the sunshine, reading books, playing guitar (yours truly) or getting a haircut (one of them)! A chance for a natter. But, meanwhile, Adrian had his camera out because he'd spied a special visitor on the front of Erin Mae.

It had never struck me before that kingfisher colouring and Erin Mae's paintwork might complement each other. Nice one, Adrian!.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sunny days, chilly evenings

We've had the fire lit the last couple of evenings. Clear skies in the day have been great, but have led to chilly evenings. As I first got the fire going I found that the sealing rope round the lower (ash-tray) door was no longer doing its job.

The chandlery at Nantwich marina was able to sell me a length of fire-door rope and the glue to stick it in. The last time I did this job it was on the actual fire-door, and a very helpful guy at Penkridge sold me the right rope and gave me some tips on how to do it. I’m hoping that what I’ve bought today is going to be right size. We shall see!

North from Nantwich is the start of the Llangollen canal.

We debated turning up towards Wales, but decided to leave it for another year. On to the junction at Barbridge and another decision – straight on to Chester or right to Middlewich? We stopped just before the junction and considered the options while eating some of my best beloved’s excellent soup, taking on water and chatting with the volunteers painting bits and pieces around the CRT station.

By the time the water-tank was full, the decision was finalised to turn down the Middlewich branch, and we’ve tied up just before the first lock.

Now I shall have to see if I can do the job with the fire-door rope in time to get us warm tonight!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Stepping into Nantwich

Nantwich has become one of our favourite stopping-off places, but we've never before had a convivial evening here with other boaters as we did with Rex and Margaret from NB Amy Em last night. That was good. Then this morning we walked down into the town to do some shopping. The buildings never fail to please, even on this rather cloudy day.

Malthouse cottage wouldn't look out of place in a country village, whereas the Savings Bank building, dating from 1846, looks solid and very Victorian urban.

We headed first for the bookshop / café where you can sit upstairs in overstuffed chairs, enjoying the coffee and reading the papers, or a book you might or might not purchase later.

They've managed to keep the floor reasonably horizontal, but I'm sure it's the only bit of the architecture that is. After coffee it was down to Morrison's by a slightly different route, with glimpses of St Mary's as we went.

We saw notices of an event in the church tonight with a well-known speaker, so we might just walk in again when we've eaten, if our legs tell us they can stand the exercise. What's that they say about 10,000 steps a day? I'm sure most steerers don't get that. But we haven't yet decided…