Monday, 25 April 2016

3rd Week (w/e 25/4/2016)

Three weeks ago we said farewell for a time to our brick home and started our long-term cruise on Captain Hastings our ‘Dutch barge style’ narrow boat. The three weeks have slipped by really fast and just to remind ourselves of where we have been, here is a re-cap of our trip so far (ignore the next few lines if you have been following us): Kings Bromley to Fradley, Fradley to Alrewas, Alrewas to Barton Under-Needwood, Barton Under-Needwood to Branston, Branston to Burton on Trent, Burton onto Willington. Then we returned back to Fradley, Fradley to Streethay, Streethay to Whittington. Then we returned back to Fradley, Fradley to Rugely, Rugely to Great Haywood, Great Haywood to Stone, Stone to Barlaston, Barlaston to Stoke on Trent, Stoke on Trent to Kidsgrove, Kidsgrove to Wheelock, Wheelock to Middlewich, and finally Middlewich to Barbridge, – so far!

This week we have had some really good weather on our journey and this helped us keep a smile on our faces as we have had to go through the Harecastle Tunnel (almost 2 miles long) and the ‘Hearbreak Hill’ set of locks (some 26 locks spread over a few miles). Fortunately Sandra’s confidence returned regarding driving the boat into the locks, so we were able to take it in turns throughout most of the locks. Unfortunately, this meant we ‘both’ had aches and pains afterwards as muscles we haven’t used in a long while were rejuvenated.

We left Stoke on Trent after spending a few days in Festival Marina, which was lovely. We were able to charge our boat batteries which the previous week had been a worry to us and also re-set the Mastervolt readout. In the mornings we took advantage of a traditional English breakfast in the close by Toby Carvery which was excellent value for money and during the day we took advantage of the glorious weather and I found time to do some more creative writing. On one evening we enjoyed a trip into Stoke City to attend a concert at the Victoria Hall. Overall we were pleasantly surprised with Stoke and the canals going through were in quite a good state of repair – and deep!

Once the batteries had been sorted we headed off towards our end of week destination of Barbridge. We had plenty of time so we were able to do this at a leisurely pace – the only real pace for a boater! Our first challenge was the Harecastle Tunnel. It had been quite a few years since we had gone through the tunnel and it was a first for us to do it on our own. We had to meet up with the Canals and River Trust guy first, so he could go through the health and safety aspects of the tunnel, he checked our horn and ensured our light was working effectively. He also told us what to be prepared for. This heightened our anxieties further, so when we actually entered the tunnel we were both really apprehensive, we certainly didn’t want to scrape the sides of the tunnel, break down or lose power to the light, as it was extremely long, cold and very dark. The first thing we noticed was how close to the ceiling of the tunnel we were. On many occasions throughout this 1.75 mile tunnel we both had to crouch down so we didn’t bump our heads. We were really pleased when after 45 minutes or so, we could see ‘light to the end of the tunnel!’
After exiting the tunnel we realised that the next challenge would be surviving ‘Heartbreak Hill’ some 26 locks over a number of miles – deep locks! Amazingly we found it not too bad! and soon we were mooring up at Wheelock, with only a few locks to complete the following morning. It was mid-afternoon when just as we were mooring, something almost stopped the engine; we had something trapped around the propeller (again!). This was all we needed. Fortunately the weed hatch lid was easier to take off this time - unlike last week when a ‘parka’ coat had been wrapped around it, this object wasn’t being budged. I felt around the propeller and finally I realised what it was – a rubber fender. The rope from it had twisted around the shaft and no matter how many turns of the propeller, it wasn’t moving. In the end after many attempts, it did come free after using a really sharp serrated kitchen knife. Afterwards we both decided we would have a hot shower and then treat ourselves to a few beers at the Cheshire Pub in Wheelock village along with a Chinese take-away. We ended up having a good night after a hard day.
The following day after a late start we headed for Middlewich, the landscapes along the way were mainly industrial, although we did find the Salt plant interesting, especially the salt mountain kept under a giant metal structure. Soon we were at Kings Lock which turning left took us onto the Shropshire Union Canal. As we passed Kings Lock pub we saw a group of lads drinking from cans and one of the mature men decided to blow his nose – without a hanky – and from both nostrils, just as we drove passed them. A nice welcome to Middlewich we thought!

Immediately after the lock we found a nice mooring spot, we thought it prudent to moor close to many boats, especially as it wasn’t far from the pub and being in quite a built up housing area. We settled down and Sandra cooked yet again a beautiful meal. She really is getting used to cooking on the AGA, although she won’t admit to this! At 9.00pm we heard the most terrible language and high engine revving of a narrow boat. I immediately went out to look and to my horror, there was an Anglo Welsh hire boat coming past the boats at such speed – heading towards us! Three men were hanging on the side at the rear and a few were at front of the boat. All of the crew were very drunk indeed. Thank heavens there were no available mooring spots near to us – or we would have had a sleepless night.

What super weather we were afforded and what amazing views there were , absolutely spectacular, a few miles along once we set off the following day. We were also amazed by the condition of this canal and the well maintained tow paths. Along the way there were specific mooring spots with rings, lots of benches and seats and many even had specific BBQ’s for use by boaters. This stretch of canal is an exemplar of how all of our canals should be kept!

We took our time getting to Barbridge and stayed overnight in the open countryside, which was beautiful. We used our Kipor generator to top up the batteries and to allow use of some of the on board ‘heavy juice’ electric wise goods – such as the washing machine, microwave and the like. On the following day as we neared our destination we stopped for water (free) at the Venetian Marina and met the friendliest manager there, who was eager to pass on more than the time of day – he chatted forever, but it was great banter!

We managed to find mooring outside of one of our favourite pubs ‘The Olde Barbridge Inn’. This was our ‘local’ pub which we used to use frequently many years ago we moored our boat close by. In the evening we participated in a few of the excellent cask beers to celebrate the fact we were still on schedule. We also and enjoyed a traditional Sunday roast meal – finished off with a super cheeseboard. Not the cheapest of places, but quality and worth it.
Next week we will be moving onwards towards the famous ‘Aqueduct!!’ in Wales. We will also be joined by two of our dearest friends for a few days – Colin and Heather. Can’t wait!

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