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Summertime (and the livin’s not easy).

September has been and gone, how time flies when you’re having fun (or being a coal-man). It has been a tremendously busy month for us, I’m now knackered.

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This year, it was the turn of Awbridge to host the Narrow Boat Trusts’ annual “Dance along the Top-Plank” competition. Minutes of mirth were had, and the highlight was Peter Lovett’s comedy impression entitled “I really don’t care to be here”. He managed a creditable second place in the end, even though he absolutely refused to fall in for the amusement of the massed onlookers. He lost points for this failure.

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The eventual winner, Kirk Martin, erstwhile author of that fine tome “Crossing the Humber Without Getting Wet", never put a foot wrong on the top-planks. He was subsequently found to be wearing lead-weighted diving boots, which explained his slow progress and  seeming inability to fall over. This impressed the judging panel, and he was was given extra points for imaginative improvisation. He was also given hospital treatment for pulled knees, a seldom seen injury in these parts. In fact, the last time I saw pulled knees, they were being sold in a poulterers shop.

The Narrow Boat Trust boats, Nuneaton and Brighton, have been twice this summer to load coal for their customers down south, and both time been caught out by poorly publicised “Summer Stoppages”. Summer stoppages are a recent phenomenon, they are maintenance works carried out by the Canal & River Trust in the Summer months rather that over the winter months when this sort of work is expected to be carried out as boat movements are significantly lower. One of these stoppages was on the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal, during the week leading up to the highly publicised Foxton Vintage Festival - held at Foxton Locks on the Leicester Section and organised by - you’ve guessed it - Canal and River Trust! Nuneaton and Brighton were carrying, as part of their cargo, four tonnes of steam coal destined for the festival, and they only managed to get it there seemingly with some intervention from a higher authority.  Hopefully, this incident will focus the minds of the CRT works planners, and ensure that summer works will only be considered where there are easy alternative routes available. My preference would be NO summer works other than those that can be accommodated overnight as happened in recent years replacing lock gates on the Birmingham canals.

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Our jaunt down to the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal with Ryan on Southern Cross is turning into an annual event, and was eagerly anticipated by the young tyro. I do understand his eagerness, the trip involves all aspects of canal boating, from the glorious scenery of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, particularly through Hyde and Kinver, to the might of the Severn and then the sheer scale of the Gloucester & Berkeley Ship Canal. Not that Ryan notices any of these delights, he just wants to “get ‘em ahead” as the old parlance has it. The Severn is certainly the place for gettin’ ‘em ahead.

The same old problems in the same old places keep us interested. Raking out the rubbish from Oldington Bridge on the way to Stourport is an annual event, this bridge-hole is generally famous for electrical goods and we have had a fair assortment over the years. This years' haul included a rather nice mud filled floodlight just to add variety. 

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Stourport is always a delight, and we were delighted to see Pete and Julie on their boats, Bascote and Gosport, tied up on the Severn outside the Angel. It would have been rude not to stop and join them in a quick one (or two), particularly as they were on the way up to Awbridge to load Gosport for our next trip up North. We also learned, by calling in of course, that Rob, the landlord of the Rising Sun, is retiring. He has been landlord there ever since I started coal-boating in 1994, and has been a customer from the first trip. He informs me that he will still be making guest appearances behind the bar though, which means that I will still have to call in. And drink beer.

As mentioned earlier, the Severn is definitely the place for gettin’ ‘em ahead. Roach certainly likes the deep water, and even Southern Cross managed to cut a creditable dash.

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After making deliveries at Worcester we carried on down past Upton-on-Severn where we saw that Graham Thompson’s boats are once again engaged in the carriage of gravel. This time they are loading at a site just north of Upton and carrying downstream to the existing unloading wharf at Ryall. They are not travelling a great distance, but nevertheless they are saving a lot of lorry miles on the surrounding roads. Long may it continue. Our journey continued in much the same vein as last years (see blog entry entitled Holiday Boating), except that we returned via the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and Wolverhampton Locks.

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The return journey was pretty much routine, that is boating, locks, pub, boating locks, pub etc. You get the idea. Oh, and we delivered some coal. There are some further pictures of this trip in the gallery here.

As soon as we were back we just had time, in the company of Ryan and the Ivermees, to drink all the alcohol on our yard after a superb one course meal prepared by Jenny. Next morning, but not too early, we loaded Southern Cross up for Ryan’s own customers and off he went. Gosport and Roach were immediately afterwards loaded up and we were away up North through Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent to make our regular deliveries on the Macclesfield Canal. Below is a picture of Gosport exiting Harecastle Tunnel under tow from Roach. The cut around here is kept up to level by the Canal & River Trust disposing of their surplus tea, which accounts for the peculiar colour.

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Thence up the Macc to the Peak Forest Canal, then back down and down the Cheshire Locks to Middlewich. The Macc and the Peak Forest Canal are both blessed with spectacular scenery and it is always a pleasure to boat up there. The Macc is one of those canals where boats jump out at you from behind bridges - by which I mean that plenty of oncoming boaters cut across corners so are not seen until the last minute. It’s a good job that Pete and Julie are both good boaters and alert to all possible disasters. I can report that all possible disasters were averted. 

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Cheshire Locks are easy enough to work through as lots of them are paired, that is two locks side by side. It has to be remembered that some of these locks have one chamber that is narrower than usual. A bit of local knowledge is useful, although some of the extremely narrow ones have a small notice fastened to the beam informing the user of this situation. When traversing these locks, the village of Wheelock is eventually encountered. This has a public house in it’s midst, where beer was taken in the company of Pam and Malcolm from the yard at Malkins Bank, together with the MacDonalds of Elizabeth fame, and various other drinking types. Yet another excellent night out. There was even football on the telly!

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Middlewich is a busy place for boats, being at the Junction of the Trent & Mersey Canal with the Wardle Canal. The Wardle Canal is about two feet long and turns into the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal at Wardle Lock. I reckon that you could get £200 per day from Harry Hill just by filming the antics of boaters at this junction. There is a shallow arched bridge over the Wardle Canal, which is just below a deep lock with just enough room for one boat to wait, and no visibility around the junction for steerers. Great fun. Kings Lock Chandlery stocks coal supplied by ourselves and delivery by water is encouraged. There is a handy pub next door too.

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Pete Hawker took over Roach at Nantwich for the return down the Shroppie, and I returned to the yard to make some road deliveries and load up the Narrow Boat Trust for their second run. 

As soon as Pete returned, Roach was loaded up again, as was Ian Braine’s Triumph. Triumph is a rather nice motor tug built by Ian utilising what was left of an old Birmingham day boat. We then set out to deliver to various points around the Black Country and Birmingham, including to Hawne Basin through Gosty Hill Tunnel - a route that Ian had last travelled as a small boy. This was an extremely intense trip, enjoyable but hard work, which was rewarded by drinks in such hostelries as The Fountain at Tipton, and Ma Pardoes at Netherton. We also went in a place called "The 1000 Trades" in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham and paid £4.50 for a pint of beer. Good beer, mind, but then it bloody well aught to be at that extortionate price. They let dogs in though! And Ian.

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On our return we had a night tied up amidst the boats attending the Tipton Festival. Ian had his children with him so had to baby-sit, but I manfully went out on my own and found a whole pub full of nefarious characters, all of them intent on drinking too much. What could I do? I did what I could! 

We whizzed back down the Wolverhampton 21, George and Josie, Ian's youngsters doing a grand job of lock-wheeling. We also had our friend Richard in attendance. Many hands…. as they say. 


No time to rest, Lynx and Australia then arrived to load for Alvecote. Lawrence and I  loaded Australia the same afternoon, before repairing to the Bell for much needed rest and relaxation. And drink. Whilst loading Lynx the following morning, Dev and Rachel turned up on Effingham to load coal on our behalf for delivery to customers on the river Weaver. Luckily, they turned up with Andrew Haysome, the worlds tallest boatman, who just loves slinging bags of coal into boats. 

They all left the same day; peace at last.

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Finally, on the last day of September, we sent Pete Hawker off again on Roach to start our latest trip up the Shropshire Union. It had to be Pete ‘cos it was raining stair-rods. We’ll relieve him when it stops. 


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