Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ashby Canal. Coventry Canal. Stoke Golding to Polesworth.

Gosh what a busy month! We’ve managed to get ourselves involved in no end of endeavours.

To start with we gave Lindsay and Paul a hand with their new mooring. They’ve only been there a few weeks but they’ve made tremendous progress. They’ve turned what was a hawthorn and bramble covered slope down to the canal into the beginnings of a garden with a parking space and steps down to their boat.

We gave them a hand piling the support posts in and making a tidy edge between their plot and the new roadway.

On board Legend we now have a shiny support for the new log box cover.
It is not fixed in place so it can come down for low bridges if needs be. Later on, when we stop using the fire and the log pile recedes a bit, it'll get decorated with colourful diamonds to match the cratch window and (eventually) the front doors.

Our next good deed was for the Canal and River Trust. Stoke Bruerne locks were having a major refurbishment as part of the scheduled winter maintenance program,
and upon draining one of the pounds on the flight a gaping hole in the bank was revealed.
As the works were already running late and no time had been allocated to repair it, a very short notice (ie. tomorrow) call was put out over several canal related Facebook groups for volunteers to go along and help. As we had nothing of vital importance on our calendar, we grabbed our steelies and scruffy clothes, packed some sandwiches and were ready and willing in the museum car park the following morning.
Half of our party was tasked with filling sandbags with a ballast/cement mix and loading them onto a truck, which was then driven down to the site where the rest of us were waiting to pack them into the hole. We can tell you with good authority that sandbags are really heavy, and really uncooperative.

Getting the bottom layers in wasn’t too bad, but trying to squeeze the top ones in between the previous layer and the concrete was nigh-on impossible. However, we persevered and after a good deal of kicking, thumping and whacking with spades the end result looked pretty good. We also got to see our friend Katherine who lives in one of the lock cottages, and got a free coffee in the café. It was a small insight into what the maintenance teams get up to in the winter and we seriously take our hats off to them.

Then along came Doris Day! Or, more precisely, the day after our Stoke Bruerne workout the UK was visited by Storm Doris. We huddled inside, played cards and watched films while all around the tree-tops danced back and forth in ever more frenzied excitement. The next morning it was a different world; calm, serene, and perfect for boating. Before we set off we picked up all the kindling that Doris had so kindly deposited on our roof and all over the towpath. We were quite concerned that she would have caused more severe disruption on our route from Basin Bridge to Hartshill, and we were right.

She’d brought several trees down, but luckily the only one that had gone right across the navigation was in Nuneaton, and that had been promptly dealt with by CRT’s contractors before we got there.
Another day helping out followed; this time at Mum and Dad’s house where the old willow tree that had been in their garden for half a century - and that had been Ann-Marie’s swing support, den, and climbing frame - had fallen down.
 By amazing good fortune it had come down the day before the storm and landed smack in the middle of the lawn, missing the fish pond, the shed, and next door’s fence by inches. If the wind had brought it down a day later it could have been a very different story.
Karen, Andrew, and Alex came round as well and we all pitched in. By lunch time we’d got the trunk in bits and away to the tip in two trips in Karen’s hard working Berlingo.

We stayed overnight at Karen’s so we could go to not one, but two parties. The first was our friend Coops’ leaving do. He’s going to Japan for two years. We took one rather rubbish selfie to mark the occasion.
Goodness knows what the Japanese will make of a giant wearing a bow tie.

The second party was for Ann-Marie’s Uncle John’s 90th birthday.

There was lots of catching up with cousins, and lots of promises to keep in touch more often, followed by a long drive home to a cold boat.

After all that it was nice to have a bit of a rest. We couldn’t put our feet up for too long however, as two days later we were off again, this time to Stanstead for a flight to Bordeaux and a week In Jussas with Frankie and Harry. We left Legend at Hartshill with loads of time to spare, but it was still rather un-nerving to find ourselves stationary on the A14, wondering when, or if, we’d start moving again. By the time we got to the airport we’d lost half an hour, but nothing we hadn’t made allowances for, and we were still at the front of the queue at the gate.

We had a lovely week with Frankie and Harry, they took us to Blaye on the banks of the Gironde Estuary where we had a walk around the Citadel before a delicious lunch in a little cafe...

 then into Bourg, a little further upstream on the Dordogne...

 ...before going back to Blaye for an evening wine tasting.
The manual labour continued in France with more construction works. Paul wanted to turn the pile of rubble that had accumulated from the restoration of both houses into a decorative top around the well that they had discovered in their garden. Dave and Harry made a clear space around the hole while Paul mixed concrete for a new plinth.
The hardest part was getting the two concrete drain rings we were going to use for the form off the back of the truck...
...but with a little help from the winch in the workshop and a lot of pulling by everyone, we got them safely to the floor...
...then rolled them into position.
Dave &  Angie and Graham & Dawn stopped off at Jussas for a couple of nights on their way back to the UK from a winter in Spain in their motor homes, so they all pitched in with the stone work.

 ...and in no time at all it was looking like it had been there for ever.
With everyone mucking in we got the rest of the rubble pile loaded into the truck for couple of trips to the tip. All in all a very satisfying few days’ work.

The weather wasn’t the best in France; it was cold and wet for quite a lot of our week and we had to do the concreting and building work between showers. Happily, in the end karma came to the rescue with an Air Traffic Control strike that gave us two extra days holiday, during which the sun came out and it was glorious. That was lovely; as well as getting sunburnt while helping with the planting of the Jussas vinyard...

...we had time to tidy up the stonework round the well and make a wooden cover for it.
We also managed to move all the leftover big bits of rock to make some raised beds for a little kitchen herb garden outside J&P’s door.

When we got back to Legend, spring had sprung and our roof boxes were a riot of colour from the daffodils and pansies.

You’d have thought that after all the graft from the previous couple of weeks we’d have had a few days relaxing, but no. Our sofa has given us sterling service for the last six years but just recently it's started sagging and looking a bit drab, so we’ve been looking - and failing to find – a suitable replacement. There just isn’t one available that does what our old one does in the simple and effective way that it does it. So after lots of research and watching of Youtube, we decided that as the frame was still serviceable and it was just the springs that had failed it wouldn’t be beyond us to re-spring it. We ordered new springs and clips, jute cord to lace them together and some hessian material to cover them, then Dave started dismantling.
By the next day it was on its way back together again with ten new springs in place of the previous eight, sturdier lacing and a far stronger covering.
 Dave's table leg spring stretcher in action.

By that evening he’d got the cover back on over some new wadding and it was better than new.
We’re quite sure it’ll last for at least another six years and hopefully a lot longer. The next thing we’re going to do is make a removable washable cover so that we can keep it looking cleaner than it does at the moment.

After that we thought it was high time we did a bit of boating, so on a beautiful spring morning we set off from Hartshill towards the locks at Atherstone.
Kim and George came down with us making it the third time we’ve had them aboard to do this pretty flight. With George smiling happily at the cheerful lock-keepers and our roof full of colourful flowers we celebrated surviving our sixth winter on the cut.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Ashby Canal. Basin Bridge to Stoke Golding (Via Sutton Cheney)

Our flight from Gatwick for Caleb’s christening was interesting. First, upon boarding the plane, Ann-Marie couldn’t find her passport or phone. We thought she’d left them at the departure gate so she was escorted off the plane to try and find them. While she was gone Dave rang her phone and discovered it was in a pocket in her handbag that she never uses! Once she’d suffered the walk of shame down the aisle back to her seat we took off for a very fast and lumpy flight over the Irish sea and landed in Belfast half an hour early.
Chloe and Shandy only live about ten minutes from Belfast International so as soon as we landed we gave them a call. Twenty minutes later Chloe rang us back to say that as there was no-one waiting at Belfast City, she was now on her way to the right airport. We went back into arrivals for a coffee.

The christening and the days around it were fabulous. Every day more relatives arrived and by the weekend Chloe had a house full with the overspill in a rented cottage. On Saturday evening we had a big chilli dinner with 14 happy people round the table, then on the Sunday morning Chloe and Shandy did a scrummy Ulster Fry for a similar number. After that we all got into our Sunday best and convoyed off to the chapel where Caleb got put into a dress and had about a million photos taken.

The afternoon celebration was at the golf club and carried on well into the evening with a further extension back at Chloe’s.
It was brilliant to see all Shandy’s family again and it was sad to have to leave the next day. By co-incidence Jan, Paul, Sue and Brenda were all on our flight back so we had a nice bit of time with them before we took off and said goodbye in baggage reclaim at Gatwick.

Before returning to Legend we drove down to Portsmouth for a night with Fran & Sean. Elaine and Steve came over and joined us for dinner and we spent a lovely evening eating and chatting. In the morning we said goodbye and returned to Gatwick. Frankie and Harry had five hours between landing from Belfast and taking off again for Bordeaux, so we whisked them out of the airport and took them for a pub lunch. Frankie said she felt like a naughty school girl playing truant.

Back at the boat it was the all too familiar routine of fire lighting, generator running, shopping putting-away and an early night with hot water bottles.
Next morning we were back in boat mode; wood wombling, a short move up the cut to Stoke Golding and a squelchy walk back down the towpath to retrieve the car. No matter how exciting and adventurous our trips away are, it’s always nice to be home.

We had a last trip out to Great Haywood for an afternoon of ginger nuts and coffee with the Margees before they leave their mooring. Mick & Pip from Nb Lillyanne came over and joined us. (Pip's blog is well worth a read; her output is far more prolific than ours, and she's far more eloquent too.) The idea of leaving the snuggly cabin of Large Marge and going out for a walk was discussed more then once but each time, upon looking out of the window at the grey and blustery weather, the idea of more coffee and ginger nuts seemed a lot more desirable.

We also had a last trip to see Bob and Mandy at Debdale before they tucked their boat up for six weeks and headed off to New Zealand.
We are terribly jealous; NZ is the one place we’ve been that we’d rather go back to than going somewhere new. We had a lovely walk down the Leicester Arm to Foxton locks and back and probably babbled on about NZ far more than necessary.

Continuing our life of owning a narrowboat, but not spending very much time on it, we had a weekend in Essex with Martin and Yvonne. In the morning before we left, Dave put the gennie on for a bit which upset the fridge, causing it to detect a voltage surge (which there wasn’t, the fridge is just too sensitive sometimes). Anyway, we turned the fridge off, intending to switch it back on again just before we departed, and it was only when we were half an hour down the A5 that we remembered. We could have turned round but as the ambient temperature was due to hover around 3˚C all weekend we chose the crossed fingers option. As soon as we arrived at Marin and Yvonne’s they sat us down for lunch, then we were out for a  lovely walk in their local woods and fields. We got back just in time to watch the rugby, while those non-rugby watching types disappeared into the kitchen to make cheese.
Something got lost in translation between recipe and mixing bowl so it didn’t quite curd properly and ended up as a slightly coarse cream cheese which, with the addition of garlic and herbs, was decidedly nicer than the mozzarella that it was supposed to have been.
It was delicious anyway, especially with Yvonne’s home-made rosemary crackers.  We like to think we’re quite active, but these two put us to shame. Before we got up the next morning Yvonne had already been out on her bike and Martin was busy designing the new house that they are planning to build in their garden. Next day was a lovely long eleven mile round walk from Honey Tye through the Suffolk countryside.

 We stopped for a picnic in the vestry of St Stephen’s chapel, then went out to have a look at Bures dragon on the other side of the valley.

In the afternoon we came across this, which has Lister written on the side of it, Dave thought it might be part of some sort of water pump, but we really have no idea of what it is.

We drove back to Legend with our fingers still crossed, but we needn't have worried, the frozen stuff was still frozen, and nothing in the fridge looked any worse than it had when we left. So, we now know that as long as it’s not going to be too warm, we can switch the fridge off for a day or two with no ill effects. Handy.

We noticed a while ago that the driver’s seat in the car was leaning to one side so, as we had a nice car park close to the boat at Stoke Golding, Dave decided the time had come to find out what had happened. What should have been a simple job requiring the removal of two bolts and lifting the seat out took all morning and involved carefully drilling the bolts out and recovering the threads, but fortunately he discovered that with the judicial use of a welder it could be fixed. 
That afternoon we walked round the southern half of the Ambion Way.
A couple of days later we tackled the northern half, which included Shenton Station and Bosworth Battlefield.

That afternoon we went over to Kim and Luke’s to say hello and to attack the car seat with Luke’s welder. The drive back to the boat was a lot smoother!

We've worked out a timetable for the boat moves we need to do to get us into Hawne Basin for our bottom blacking week at Easter and realised we don’t need to kill any more time by going further up the Ashby. It is a lovely canal and we do like spending time on it, but there seemed little point in rushing up to the end and back, so we went as far as Sutton Cheney and turned round. The turn was text-book perfect, however reversing back to the water point had its moments! After we’d filled up and emptied out we tied up on the 1 hour moorings outside the café and went for a shower in the amenities block, hoping that they’d be nice and hot and powerful. They were none of those, but we saved a bit of gas by using them. We had lovely sunny afternoon with  hardly any wind, and as we boated back to Stoke Golding spring was definitely in the air.