Friday 29 August 2014

Trent & Mersey Canal. Coventry Canal. Fradley to Huddlesford.

Well, Dear Reader, over the last month or so a lot of plans have been laid and a lot of important things have happened, and despite the inherent unreliability of both the British weather and the British themselves, everything has gone like clockwork. We think this is something to be celebrated.

First there was Chloe and Shandy’s wedding in Antrim.

We’d decided to make a holiday of it and have a few days either side, so we sailed from Holyhead overnight on the Monday before the do. Before that, however, we drove over to Chloe’s Grandparents’ house near Stowmarket to pick up the wedding cake that Granny had made, using Granny’s delicious fruit cake recipe, and that Granny’s friend had beautifully decorated with a garland of sugar flowers cascading gracefully down the three tiers.
We placed the boxes containing the cakes and the flowers, along with a big gold cake plinth, very carefully on top of all the camping gear in the back of the car and waved goodbye. Our mission was simple, but involved driving almost the entire length of both the notorious A14 and the equally horrible A55 whilst trying very hard not to think about the responsibility of it all or, indeed the consequences of failure. (Images of a stand-in cake in the form of Sponge-bob Square Pants, because that’s all that Antrim Morrison’s had on the shelf, were shoved firmly to the back of our minds.) As our route took us within spitting distance of the boat we’d factored in a rest stop to say goodbye to Legend and to our friend John who was looking after it for us. We gave him a comprehensive rundown regarding on-board systems operation, or to put it more simply, showed him how to change the loo and start the genny.

We managed to get a couple of hours kip on the ferry, and the drive from Dublin up to Belfast was a breeze, but it was a weary pair of travellers who turned up on Kevin and Pauline’s doorstep 24 hours after leaving the boat the day before. The cake, happily, was perfect.
No Sponge-bob for this wedding!

The rest of the wedding was perfect as well; the ceremony was in Antrim Castle Gardens
and the reception was at Ballymena Rugby Club in an amazing triple tipi.
Dave looked very smart and very proud walking his daughter down the aisle.
And Ann-Marie looked gorgeous as well.
In the days afterwards we had a very small tour of the top right hand corner of Ireland, and if that’s anything to go by, (and everyone assures us that it is) we’re going to love the rest of it. Now our daughter and new son-in-law live there we’ll be regular visitors and intend to make the most of every trip.

After such a hectic time away it was lovely to get back to our calm little boat.  John had watered all the plants and left the place spotless so we were able to chill and do nothing for a whole day. Bliss.

Our next move was to Fradley where we stopped for a week above the locks. Fradley is one of the more popular spots on the waterways; not only is it the junction between the T&M and the Coventry canals, but there’s also a CRT office, a caravan site, a famous pub, a cafĂ© and a flight of locks. It’s always busy. It's busy when the rest of the network is deserted and it's positively chaotic when the weather’s good and the kids are off school. This makes it a really great place for boat - or more accurately - boater watching. By the third week Granny and Granddad are questioning their sanity, and the idea of doing the Coventry ring with the grandkids is rapidly losing its appeal. They’re seriously considering sneaking them into a young offender’s institute in the hope that no-one will notice until it’s too late, when they come round a corner and there before them is Fradley junction and a four hour queue. It kept us amused all week. With this in mind we made a seamless departure down the locks and onto the Coventry at about 8am. Even then there were three boats coming up; no doubt all with the same idea as us!

After filling up with water we carried on down the Coventry to Huddlesford Junction where there was a very convenient car park and some very safe looking moorings. As we would be leaving Legend there for a while we tied proper knots in the mooring lines and put the bird table up. Huddlesford Junction hasn’t really been a junction for sixty years or more. It used to be where the Wyrley and Essington Canal departed from the Coventry and wound its way up through more than 30 locks to the BCN and eventually the top of the Wolverhampton flight. Sadly the section between here and Ogley Junction was closed in the 1950s; the remaining quarter of a mile or so still in water is now used for private moorings. Happily, under the more relevant name of the Lichfield Canal, the derelict part is subject of a very energetic and quite well advanced restoration scheme.
There’s a lot to do.

There's a railway line to get under and a several roads to cross.
A new section of canal to cut to avoid a housing estate. 
But there’s a lot already done.

When it’s complete it will make a very useful cruising ring and a short-cut to Wolverhampton and Birmingham. We have every hope that when we come back up this way again (10 years is our estimate for a return trip) if it’s not finished it won’t be far off.

On our trip away from the boat this time we were in Mate Helping Mode. First stop was John’s in Woodlesford for a de-brief on boat sitting. And cake. Very nice cake. After that we went to Kate and David’s in Keighley. They’ve bought a Mercedes Vito van which they’re going to convert to a camper.
Before all the insulating and furniture building that will ensue at a later date, the first job was to fit the pop-up roof which David had bought on-line. Dave had agreed to help him fit it, or to put it another way, cut a large hole in the top of a perfectly serviceable white van, which, unless the fitment of the pop-top was successful, rendered it worthless. No pressure then. Despite it being a quality piece of kit and very well made there was a dire lack of understandable instructions, so there was a good deal of ‘measure twice, cut once’ with extra measuring on the side.
When the boys were absolutely sure it was all in the right place and at the right angle Dave climbed up with a jigsaw. When he’d completed the jigsaw he cut a hole in the roof with an angle grinder. Boom Tish. Sorry.
After that they positioned the supports and tensioned the canvas and fixed it all in position. This is the finished result.
Obviously there’s still a long way to go but it makes the rest of the conversion seem achievable.
From Keighley we drove to Gorefield in Cambridgeshire where Glen, Steve and Holly live, to look after their menagerie while they were on holiday in the Pyrenees. We’ve had plenty of experience with chickens, ducks, cats and dogs so that was no problem; it was the ponies and goats that we were a bit apprehensive about. Glen had left us four pages of very comprehensive and very useful instructions, but it was still a short, steep learning curve. On day one the goats ate the ponies’ tea, on day two we woke up to find a pony in the garden and then the ponies ate the goats' breakfast, but after that we all settled down and had a very amiable week.
Even the goat/rose bush incident did little to spoil the fun. By the end of the week we were well into the routine and Dave and Bart-the-pony had a bit of a thing going on.
When Glen, Steve and Holly came back we gave up our role as staff and stayed for a couple more nights as guests to help celebrate Steve’s birthday along with a few of their other friends. We had a smashing barbeque followed by an evening of classic films. Predictably “Airplane” went down a storm – we all joined in with choruses of “Don’t call me Shirley.” and “It’s a big building where doctors work, but that’s not important right now.” However the mixed family audience concluded that, with hindsight “Midnight Cowboy” was, perhaps, a seedy bus-ride too far.  Never mind, it was an excellent evening.

Before we’d left Legend, we’d taken measures to stop the plants drying out with, we found on our return, varying degrees of success. After lots of soaking and a good deal of pruning we put our stunted collection of withered foliage back on the roof and hoped that it would get better soon.
What won’t get better soon is the log burner. Sometime between January when we had our Boat Safety Examination and August when Dave deciding to apply some stove blacking, this happened.
We think the sequence of events went something like this; when we had the leak in the back boiler last year, the water got into the rope seals between the cast iron panels. Then when we stopped using it in spring rust developed and swelled the joints resulting, when the pressure got too much, in a crack in the bottom right hand corner.

We’re not sure what to do about it. You can’t have a BSC with a stove that’s been welded up, no matter how well it’s been done, so obviously at some time we’re going to have to have a new one. The questions are when and what. It doesn’t leak (we’ve tested it and the crack is below the firebox meaning that even if wasn’t air-tight it would draw in rather than leak out) so we’ll probably hang on till next year, but do we replace it with another Morso Squirrel or with something cheaper? Unfortunately anything else will require re-aligning both the chimney and the plumbing (that’s if we can find anything that small with a back boiler) so we’re reluctantly coming to the conclusion that we’ll end up biting the bullet and shelling out the fat end of £700 for the genuine article. Hey ho, at least we’ll have a nearly new stainless steel back boiler to fit in it.   

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