Monday 31 July 2023

West Stockwith to Hayton Winding Hole and Back. Chesterfield Canal.

Dave got up early in the morning at West Stockwith to find to find the RIB, that had been moored behind us, adrift under the bridge with the lock and cable that had been securing it to a mooring ring lying on the ground. The lock had clearly been attacked with bolt croppers and it was only later that we found out that the cable had also been round an outboard motor. Encounters with the nastier side of life are usually quite rare on the waterways, so it was a bit of a shock to come across another theft so soon after our experience in Goole. Also shocking was that it happened just behind our boat while we were in bed. All this is just making us more wary and cautious, but it also makes us wonder what the point of more padlocks is, when the thieves all have bolt croppers.

Life, as they say, goes on and we had a road trip to organise. We put the camping chairs and the paddleboards in the car along with our overnight bags and set off in the boat for Wooden Beck, a quiet little mooring about 2 miles from West Stockwith. We’d planned to run back, but ended up jogging/walking most of it, picking blackberries along the way. Back at the basin we saw the owner of the RIB, so we told her what we’d seen and gave her our contact details. Then, after a shower and a change of clothes, we jumped in the car and set off for SALfest II at Sutton Courtney. “SAL” stands for Smith’s Lady, Andelanté and Legend; the three boats that were moored together for seven months during the floods and the first covid lock down in Wallingford three years ago. Last year we had a reunion and it was so much fun that we decided to make it and annual event. Steve and Annmarie have a beautiful mooring on a partially wooded three acre field on the Thames behind Culham lock. They moor Andelanté and Barking, their holiday hire boat there. This year they’ve expanded their holiday business to include two glamping bell tents, so we were really excited to see how it was all working. We’re happy to report that it was truly amazing.

They have put so much hard work into making a little slice of paradise by the river. Colin and Julia had brought their camper, but we had luxurious accommodation in one of the bell tents. We arrived in the afternoon to lots of hugs and chatting with some of the nicest people we know.

That evening we had a huge barbeque and then sat round the fire pit with one or two glasses of something before retiring to a lovely comfy double bed.

In the morning after breakfast we blew the paddleboards up, then had a day pottering about the campsite. Dave helped Steve tinker with, test, break, and mend their speedboat...

...then once it was working properly, went off to salvage an abandoned Norman 27 GRP cruiser. With Dave on the bow of the cruiser and Steve driving the speedboat, and with lots of weaving from side to side, they managed to get it back to the campsite and tied it up to Andelanté.

Steve’s going to go through all the salvage procedures with the Environment Agency, and either end up with a bounty or a boat. It’s not in bad nick under the grime, so with a bit of work it could end up as part of their hire fleet.

After lunch we had an SUP session. We've not got them wet much this year, so we were a little wobbly to start with, but we soon got back into it.

We went all the way past the weir to the end of the backwater and had sneaky butcher’s at the really posh bit of Sutton Courtney (which is all very posh anyway.) When we got back Steve had a go on Ann-Marie’s board and fell in three times in quick succession before he got the hang of it.

Everyone was really impressed by how well he got back on, but it put them all off having a go themselves, so that was the end of that. Later on we all walked up to The Swan for a meal, followed by another happy, chatty, slightly drunken night round the bonfire.

When we woke up Ann-Marie couldn’t open her left eye due to having been bitten by a mosquito on her eyelid in the night. It was all swollen up and looked like a Beano shiner, so she got a lot of sympathy and lots of “Ooh’s” and “Aaah’s” round the breakfast table. Before we left we tried out the shower in the woods. No smelly campsite shower block, this. Steve and Annmarie have built a beautiful enclosure, with plants on the pebbled floor and trees above and lots of lovely hot water from a gas fired shower unit.

We could have stayed in there all day!

Then there were more hugs, promises of return visits (which will happen because we can pop in on our trips down south) and we were off. There was an accident on the M1 which slowed things down a bit, but we finally got back to the Chesterfield and parked at Drakeholes. It didn’t take us long to walk back to Wooden Beck and bring Legend up the two locks to join the car, so by tea time we had everything shipshape again.

The next day was our 22nd wedding anniversary. Who’d have thought, eh? To celebrate we had an early morning drive down to Nottingham where Ann-Marie had a follow-up appointment after a clinical trial. Not particularly romantic, we know, but the day got a lot better after that.

We’d told Steve and Leslie that we’d be coming down to their neck of the woods, so after Ann-Marie was signed off, we picked Steve up (Leslie was working) and went to The Lounge in West Bridgeford for a really good brunch. After we’d dropped Steve off we went to Newark where Ann-Marie picked out some lovely earrings, and we had coffee and cake in the Old Bakery. That’s more like it.

Saturday came round again and brought another parkrun, this time we went to the beautiful Clumber Park and had a fabulous run through the woods. When we got back we moved Legend on to Clayworth where we stayed for nine days. When we came up the Chesterfield two years ago, we couldn’t get to the limit of navigation at Norwood tunnel because one of the 21 locks on the flight above Shireoaks was broken. This year we’d thought we’d get there, but a lack of water had forced CRT to close the flight again, so once we got within cycling distance of Retford there didn’t seem much point going any further. Will we ever get to the end? If we’re honest, probably not. Boats seldom visit the Chesterfield more than once, if at all – for all its remote and peaceful beauty it’s hard work, you’re forever down the weed hatch, and it requires two trips on the tidal Trent and a turn into West Stockwith before you even start – we’ve now been twice and a third time would just be greedy. Although our Prime Objective is to visit all the limits of navigation on the whole of the joined up system, the Turnerwood flight might end up being our Nemesis, but you never know.

On Sunday morning we drove over to Worksop to be volunteer marshals at the junior parkrun, then over to our nephew Richard’s house for lunch with him and the lovely Kathryn. Their tall, beautiful, confident daughter Layla was there as well, but Kieran was had gone away for a few days with his mates. In our heads they’re little six and eight-year-old kids. Where does it all go? It was a fabulous day spent in great company. We’re lucky to have such kind and caring people in our family.

A couple of days later we were back in Worksop for our car’s first MOT in our ownership. After the nightmare we've had the last couple of years Dave was especially apprehensive. We took it to “We Only MOT”, a small franchise group with ten depots in Nottinghamshire. As it says on the tin, they have no workshop facilities and don’t do repairs, so have no incentive to fail a vehicle. To Dave’s surprise our ageing C3 Picasso passed with no advisories – maybe there’s a moral there.

Back at Legend, Dave got the orbital sander out and set to work on Legend’s left hand back panel. We need to repaint both back panels so that we can sign-write them. It’ll have been almost a year without a name on the boat by the time it’s finished. Far too long to be incognito. The boat sides got painted over ten years ago, and considering the abuse and lack of attention the top sides get, the black paint has lasted really well. However we thought it would be prudent to cut it back and put new paint on before the name.

The sign-writing will adhere better to fresh paint and we won’t find ourselves having to do it all again in a few years’ time. Hopefully.

By the next morning, Dave had got two coats on and we were praying for a rain-free day. While he was doing that Ann-Marie made a picnic and got us packed up for a weekend in Bristol with Anne and Andy. On the way down, there were hold-ups because of the torrential rain (so much for praying), so we drove straight to Clifton where we met A&A and their friends for a picnic in the park...

...and an outdoor performance of Romeo and Juliet by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. 
It was stunning and we were quite blown away. The play was pretty good too. Boom, tish.

Dave - forever the engineer - was just as impressed by how the seven actors quickly dismantled the stage set and magic’d it away into a van at the end.

Saturday in Bristol could mean only one thing for parkrun tourists such as ourselves; Somerdale Pavilion, AKA the Curly Whirly. It’s the most crazy, wiggly, chaotic thing you can imagine.

The course is mown into the grass and well worn, so although it looks mad from a spectator’s point of view with hundreds of runners going hither and yon, when you are actually in it you just follow the path. We went with Anne and all started together, Dave thought he’d have to take it easy because his Achilles tendon was twinging, but it eased up after a while and he sped off.  Ann-Marie ran and walked with Anne for most of it and found that running and chatting is really hard work.

Anne’s daughter Jen arrived in the afternoon and that evening we went into the city to see Barbie (girls) and Mission Impossible 8 (boys) at the Everyman cinema. The girls all dressed up in pink...

...and had cocktails in the foyer while the boys (who didn't dress up at all, but just co-incidentally all turned up in black) had beer and nachos delivered to their front row sofas.

All terribly decadent, and followed by burger and chips in the bus stop while we waited for the bus home.

In the morning we packed our car up and set off with Anne to do junior volunteering in Eastville Park, then walked to the Esté café for breakfast. Alex and Andy joined us later for second breakfast before we all said goodbye and we set off for the long drive home.

Monday was one of our logistic masterpieces. First we put the bikes in the car, drove to Retford and left them locked up in the Aldi bike rack. Then we drove to Newark where we abandoned the car on a side street near the station, caught the train back to Retford, had a lovely couple of coffees and some pastries in the Italian deli...

... then cycled back to the boat via Screwfix (because we needed some better padlocks) and the Idle Valley Country Park (because it’s a lovely place to be). Back at Legend, we had a quick lunch and set off back to Drakeholes. According to our (un)trusty Nicholson’s Guide, there was a windy ‘ole in Clayworth just before the bridge, and with a bit of imagination you could see where it had been. However over the years, the Retford and Worksop Boat Club permanent moorings on the towpath side, and a lot of unrestrained brambles and reeds on the other, have encroached towards each other, and there was no way we were going to get 57’ turned round it. The next one was two slow, weedy miles away at Hayton and pretty well silted up, so it was a good two hours before we were back where we’d started.

Eventually we got to Drakeholes where we pulled up, got the washing out on the line, cleared the prop for the third time that day and finally sat down.

It had been a full, busy day, but everything had gone perfectly to plan and we were quite pleased with ourselves.

On the final leg back to West Stockwith we stopped at Misterton to go to the chippy. They do really good home-made tray-baked pies and Dave had promised himself a portion the last time we were here, but for some reason that we couldn’t remember, hadn’t ended up with one. When we got there, they’d just closed and they told us they only do the home-made pies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Hmm, now we remembered!). We thought we’d lucked out again, but they’d got a left over box in the hot cupboard with two fish and chips in that they gave us for free. Winner! While we were stopped at Misterton with the left side on the bank, Dave got the other back panel rubbed down. The paint that he’d put on the first one had sagged and run in places, so that’s going to need doing again; that’s what you get for rushing things.

We pulled up on the Armco outside West Stockwith basin just before it started raining. Our booking for locking back down onto the Trent the next day was at noon, so we’d have plenty of time in the morning to get ourselves and Legend river ready, especially as we hadn’t stowed anything since the last tidal trip.

It had been lovely being back on the Chezzy, but we were really looking forward to getting back to the main network and beginning our trip down to the Southern waters.

Thursday 20 July 2023

Goole to West Stockwith. Knottingley and Goole Canal, New Junction Canal, Stainforth and Keadby Canal, Tidal River Trent.

Because the South Yorkshire Navigations are all so big and wide, you can make decent progress without upsetting people or creating a huge wash. The Lister loved being at the top of its rev range, whisking us back to Southfield Reservoir where we turned left onto the New Junction Canal. Opened in 1905, the New Junction was the last canal to be built in this country and - until coal carrying to Ferrybridge stopped - was a highly successful freight route.

The aqueduct on the New Junction Canal. The huge sluice gates at either end enable it to be drained for maintenance.

We caught up with Keith and Kate on nb Donella Too half way down the New Junction and shared a couple of swing bridges with them, but at the junction with the Stainforth and Keadby we turned left towards Thorne and they carried on to Doncaster, so we never got to chat.

After lunch and services at Bramwith we carried on, through Stainforth, under the big M18 flyover, through the keeper operated swing-bridge/lock combo, and finally into Thorne. It took several attempts to get the swing footbridge to open in Thorne, but we got there eventually and moored up in a perfect Legend sized space on the big verge opposite the boat yard.

There's always something interesting going on in Thorne.

Our route to Keadby took us round a big loop, so although we’d been boating all day, when we got to Thorne it was only an hour’s walk back to Rawcliffe Bridge to get the car. While Dave went to get it, Ann-Marie packed her stuff up for five days away. After lunch we said goodbye to each other and off she went. Dave wasn’t lonely for long though, David turned up that evening to be First Mate on the trip to Keadby.  “The Boys” had a good couple of days together, moving David’s camper-van in the morning, and then walking back and boating in the afternoon.

Day one took them to Crowle Bridge, and day two to Keadby. The seven moveable bridges between Thorne and Keadby are all different....

They’re a mixture of manual and push button, one is right next to a level crossing and the signalman has to throw a switch before it’ll work, one lifts rather than swings, and finally just before Keadby, there’s an amazing sliding railway bridge that retracts sideways to let the boats through. The Boys had a camera set up on a tripod at the back to record the whole procedure, but it fell over, so here's a link to someone else's video.

After David left, the boat keys still hadn’t turned up so Dave had to begin cutting padlocks off. The first one was to get his bike out of the top box so he could cycle into Scunthorpe for parkrun.

And the second one was so he could check the diesel before we went out onto the tidal Trent. It was quite encouraging to find that, even with a mains powered angle grinder and a thin blade, it wasn’t particularly easy get the padlocks off, especially the one on the diesel cap which Dave had to virtually cut in half.

Nb Rosemary arrived on Sunday, so Dave had a nice time chatting to Paul and Maxine, who we hadn’t seen for ages. Unfortunately, although we were all going up the river on the following day, they were going all the way to Torksey and had to leave two hours before us to get there on the tide, so Ann-Marie missed them by an hour. Dave waved them goodbye as they left the lock.

When they'd gone out of sight, Dave got Legend river ready for our trip and had a chat with Mike and Julie on Nb Dream Come True who were going to be travelling with us. When Ann-Marie did get back it all went very smoothly. We had just enough time for a brew and a blueberry muffin, then the light went green, the swing bridge opened and we made our way into the lock. Dave was a bit confused to start with because the outer gates that point into the river were shut, but he’d not realised that since Paul and Maxine had gone out, the tide had come right in and the river was now higher than the canal, so instead of going down, we were going up!

We had a terrific, and rather speedy, trip up the tideway, with Dream Come True following us like an obedient puppy.

The wind was against the tide, so some of the straight stretches were really choppy, but nothing that Legend couldn’t handle.

The plan was to get to West Stockwith just as the tide turns, when getting into the lock would be as trouble free as possible. We got there about 10 minutes early, so although there was still a bit of flow upstream, it was easy enough to make the turn.

Up in the basin, we said goodbye to Mike and Julie who were carrying on up the Chesterfield and went over to the visitor moorings on the other side. Before long we had the washing hung out and were cycling back up to Keadby with a very helpful tailwind, and within two hours we’d got the car back, the bikes put away and the washing in, just before it started raining.

Perfect timing.

Monday 17 July 2023

Aire and Calder Navigation. Wakefield to Goole.

A couple of years ago, much like the rest of the population, we’d not really thought of Goole as a destination, yet here we were heading that way for the second time. The reason we were returning was that we wanted somewhere to leave the boat while we went to France for a fortnight and Goole ticked all our boxes. As it turned out, one or two of those boxes shouldn’t have been ticked at all, but more about that later.

From Wakefield we had a lovely sunny trip on the big, wide Aire & Calder Navigation to Castleford, passing the wonderful aqueducts and lock gate workshops at Stanley Ferry, and loving the huge push button locks on this modern commercial waterway.

Sadly, as far as we can tell, the only vessel still plying these waters
 for profit is the Exol Pride, a rapeseed oil tanker that does regular runs from Goole to Doncaster. The last time we were up here a fleet of gravel barges were still working between dredging sites in the Humber estuary and Leeds, but we spotted two of them looking quite smart and restored on a private mooring near Pollington...

...and the other one, (looking decidedly not very smart), was for sale in Goole.

In a way it is sad that freight is no longer transported by water, but what a different world it would be if it was. The A&C is indeed a magnificent, easy route to navigate, but a quick glance up at one of the M62 bridges gives you some idea of just how inadequate it would be for transporting the sheer mind boggling volume of everything that trucks move around every day. If it hadn’t been for the move from canals to rail and road at the precise time that it happened - freezing the network in time - English canals, with all their unique, fascinating gorgeousness, would all have been widened, straightened and modernised. Narrowboats, and everything associated with them, would have no place in that world.

After two nights at Castleford, we’d moved the car to Ferrybridge and walked back through Fairburn Ings, which not that long ago was a huge open cast colliery, and is now maturing into a lovely Nature Reserve.

Moored on the old loading wharf by the coal shute in Castleford.

Dawn in Castleford

Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve

We’d also cycled out to Junction 32 Shopping Outlet, not our usual habitat, but it had a Grapetree shop and we’re hooked on their muesli base.

From there we went down Bulholme lock onto the big river section, passing the disused colliery loading basins and the massive Ferrybridge power station site.

All the iconic cooling towers have now been demolished, along with the Tom Pudding unloading gantry. Time does indeed move on.

At Ferrybridge we moored just after the open flood lock, opposite some industrial units, one of which had a very loud extractor fan whining away, but by the time we’d moved the car to Whitely lock, cycled back along a very overgrown towpath and been into Knottingley for supplies, it was nearly teatime and they thankfully switched it off. That evening Dave set up our automatic plant watering system for when we’re away and we had our first barbecue of the year.

In the morning the whining extractor fan (there’s a joke in there somewhere) started up again at 6am. We left.

Just after Knottingley, with breakfast on the back deck, we turned right onto the Knottingley and Goole Canal...

The junction in Knottingley, to the left is the river Aire to Selby, York and Ripon.

...and spent a lovely morning boating to Pollington, where we moored up just below the lock.

From there we had one night at Rawcliffe Bridge, before the final leg into Goole.

We’d booked the car into a garage in Goole the next morning for 2 new tyres and wheel alignment, so before we left Rawcliffe Bridge we drove in and dropped it off. While we were walking back, the garage phoned to say that the track rod ends were seized and would need replacing. £130 but they could do it that day. Ho hum.

There was a big barge on the water tap at Goole when we got there, so we pulled up on the pub moorings where we could get to the elsan and the bins, and then made our way over to the other side to the unrestricted moorings. The garage rang again with more bad news; they’d fitted the tyres and replaced one track rod end, but they couldn’t finish it that day because they still couldn’t budge the other side and need to get hold of another part for it. We needed it to go to the airport the next day, so we took it as it was and arranged to bring it back when we returned from France in two weeks. Compared to some of our dealings with garages over the past few years, Wilco in Goole were excellent. They kept us informed at every step and were polite, friendly and professional.

That afternoon we went through our usual routine of packing up a month’s worth of stuff for two weeks away, then eating an “interesting” dinner of everything left in the fridge. Yummy.

In the morning we packed the car, and then drove into Goole for parkrun.

Ann-Marie was volunteering which meant staying till the end, so as soon as Dave finished, (26:00. New PB!) he zipped back to the boat for a shower, then locked it all up and went to pick Ann-Marie up, before we headed off to Birmingham airport.

On the way we stopped at Hatton Locks Café for lunch with Mum and Dad who were at a car club rally nearby.

It was really busy there and they created quite a stir arriving in their red Lomax kit car. It was great to see them, and so good that they're still getting out and about in it.

With airport parking costing an arm and a cliché, we decided on an alternative approach and drove to Marston Green which is one train station away from the airport and where we found an ideal parking spot on the road. Over the years we’ve become quite good at finding places where an unremarkable hatchback can go un-noticed for a couple of weeks. The gold standard in our book is a not too quiet street in leafy suburbia, not right outside or opposite anyone’s house, but overlooked by several, with street lighting, but not directly under a lamp-post. And if we can combine all that with a church, then so much the better.  Dave was very happy with Marston Green, however Ann-Marie was slightly hesitant because of the notices on the lamp posts, proclaiming the closure of the road we were parked on for a couple of hours the following weekend for a Scout and Guide parade, and she had visions of our car being run over by a carnival float. However, £4 each for an open return to BHX rather than £150 for two weeks with APH swung the deal, and we waved goodbye to our long suffering Picasso before we trundled our equally long suffering suitcase off to the train station.  

We make no bones about it – we’re not fans of Ryanair. We do very much get budget airlines. We get the stringent baggage policies and we get the no pampering attitudes. However, purposefully splitting couples up on a half empty plane in order to make them pay extra to sit next to each other we think is immoral and we’ve boycotted them since they started doing it. Sometimes though, principals get compromised, (we are - after all – suckers for a yellow sticker) and so we flew to Bordeaux at opposite ends of the plane, wearing all our holiday clothes, with our (very) small cabin bags between our feet, reading our (thin) books and trying to convince ourselves that we usually spend more time together than is strictly necessary.

We should have watched this.

We landed about 9pm and had a fairly slick exit out to a rainy Bordeaux, where Frankie scooped us up and whisked us back to Jussas.

We had a fabulous fortnight away. The Brookes/Griffiths household was as accommodating as ever and the weather was glorious. There were afternoons in the pool, days out to Bordeaux and Blaye, and a market and coffee day in Montendre. We had long, drawn out family meals outside, Sunday breakfast pastries from the local boulangerie that we collected in Harry’s 2cv, and lots of time with Thibault and Axelle, who are growing up so fast!

It wasn’t all lounging around and eating though, we mucked in with the jobs as well; the vegetable garden fence and gate got pulled up, re-located and improved, making the kid’s play area bigger, some grass cutting and veg weeding took place and Dave spent a h
ot afternoon spraying the vines. We also helped in a combined effort to extract and replace a big beam under the swimming pool deck.

Half way through our stay, Thibault had his School Spectacle; a sort of gala performance by all the local schools, followed by outdoor games and lunch under the trees. He was very nervous about getting up on stage, but he did it anyway - several times - which we thought was incredibly brave.

At the picnic afterwards it was lovely to see him chatting away in perfect French to all his school friends.

Jacqui and Ali drove down to join us for a couple of days in the second week, staying in their little VW Caddy micro camper, and James, another friend from our 2cv days, popped in with a clutch problem in his motorhome, so there was lots of catching up to do round the dinner table and Dave managed to get mucky in the garage, helping with the gearbox removal.

A day out in Blaye with Jacqui and Al.

The boys in the workshop.

And then it was all over. We had another late flight back, which was then delayed, which meant we got back to Birmingham after midnight and the last train was long gone. We were well aware that that was a possibility, and although the train would have been preferable, the car was only a 25 minute trundle away. On the way, we found a passport lying on the pavement and a quick look through it revealed an ICE address nearby. Happily there was no evidence of any carnival float/Picasso interaction, so we dropped the passport off, and then with our good deed done we drove back to the boat.

We arrived back in Goole at 3am. There were a couple of other boats moored up nearby and at first we thought everything was fine, but then we noticed that our big solar panel had been cut from the roof and stolen, and further investigation revealed that one of our gas bottles had gone as well, along with the regulator, leaving us with an empty bottle and a severed hose. Clearly, Dave’s hasty locking up procedure hadn’t been as thorough as it should have been.

We also discovered that our boat keys were missing, and although we think that is possibly unrelated and we’ve just misplaced them, it still made us feel very uneasy.

When you’re confronted with the actions of horrible people it can easily make you hate humanity - and for a while it did - but over the next 24 hours our faith was restored. Brian very kindly offered to bring us a couple of partial gas bottles and a regulator, so we met him in Holmfirth where we did a swift tranship in the carpark, bought him dinner in the pub, and had the gas back on that evening. Dave found an ex solar-farm panel dealer in Bolton, so after taking the car back in for the other track rod and moving the boat back out to Rawcliffe Bridge, we drove over there and picked up a perfect replacement.

We’ve learned a few things; “Don’t be complacent” being the biggest one. We had hasps and staples on the solar panels, but the padlocks had been put to use elsewhere and never replaced. We’d also got a bicycle lock for securing the gas bottles together in the front locker, but that had been commandeered for locking the paddleboards to the roof - and again - never put back. Yes, it would have been fairly easy for the thieves to defeat both of those with bolt croppers, but stuff that was locked up wasn’t touched, leading us to believe that it was an opportunist attack which could have been defeated by a few simple measures on our part - measures that we’d already put in place, but had got out of the habit of using.

On the plus side, we’ve learned that with the big one gone, our smaller solar panel wasn’t contributing anything. A bit of investigation found a faulty isolator, so we’ve changed that and we’re now running at full power again.

The missing keys are annoying as we’ve now got to change all our padlocks, most of which haven’t got spare keys and will need attacking with the angle grinder.

It’s been a horrible few days and a big wake-up call. It won’t stop us leaving the boat on the towpath in the future, but it will make us more careful, more vigilant, and more aware.     


Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...