Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Those were the days too

As I said in my previous post, you had to be hardy to survive on some of those mid-winter hireboat trips in the 1970s.  

Cooking for twelve

Apart from the relative lack of sanitation, catering facilities were primitive to say the least. Imagine cooking-up a meal for twelve hungry boaters in this kitchen. But we ate well. I recall curries, hearty stews, the oh-so-sophisticated "sausages in cider"  and a cheese-and-potato concoction that went by the name of "Cheese Bleugh"

The guilty steerer with the rudder back at base.
We had to be hardy in other ways too. Before the days of mobile phones contacting the boatyard,
BW or anyone else to report problems wasn't very easy, especially when they occurred in the middle-of-nowhere.  Friday, 3rd January 1975 was one such day for the crew of Elm. An "alarm clock failure" led to a late start and then they damaged the boat's rudder by hitting a cill on Hurlestone Locks. They carried on to Barbridge Junction and rang the boatyard from there, but really there was no option but to carry on back to Middlewich, which they did fighting the steering all the way.

Then they broke a window and lost a mallet in the canal, although I don't know if these two things were related. Perhaps mindful of what was left of their deposit it was successfully retreived from a very cold cut.

The boats weren't fitted with weed-hatches and obstructions on the prop had to be cleared in the

traditional manner (albeit without the traditional skills) using a boathook, or when that failed by getting in the water!  (This wasn't a Willow Wren boat, but you get the idea).

Breaking the ice near Macclesfield
No way ahead at Congleton
The weather on most trips is remembered as wet and gloomy, one reason for the relative lack of photos. The short days meant setting off at - or before - dawn and continuing well after dark. 1975-6 was different however: Clear blue skies but very cold, especially on the Macclesfield Canal. After several days fighting our way through the ice to Marple only to find that our projected route around the rest of the Cheshire Ring was closed we fought our way back as far as Congleton where, for the only time we had to abandon the boats as we could make no further progress.  Mr Kearns at Middlewich wasn't
too bothered but he was very grateful when some of the crew offered to return the following weekend and bring the boats home. This no doubt saved him a great deal of trouble and the crew saw it as a free boat trip, so everyone was happy.

"Good" visibility
1972-3 was noted for another hazard: fog.  On the T&M north from Middlewich  visibility was almost non-existent. The original caption for this photo says "good visibility: bad visibility was half of this" and I remember as a steerer receiving instructions from a spotter on the bow, who I could not see, relayed to me by a second lookout amidships.  It's just as well, perhaps that no one else was on the move although the weather did make some rather eerie photos possible.  
Industry and fog over Northwich

I enjoyed my later boating on Starcross and I still enjoy an occasional trip on other people's boats but somehow nothing will ever recapture the sense of fun and adventure of those early years.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Those were the days.

As  I have mentioned on this blog before, some of my earliest experiences of the canals were in the form of hire boat trips in the 1970s, with fellow students from Salford and Newcastle Universities.

Recently, one of the fellow participants, who I haven't seen for many years, got in touch to share some of his photos from those days.  There have been a lot of changes since those days: to the canals, to hire boats and, dare I say, to the student population.

I thought I'd share some of them with the readers of this blog  starting with a few that show the living conditions aboard the boats.  We always hired from either Willow Wren at Rugby, Willow Wren Kearns (which later became Middlewich Narrowboats) or - for the more hardy amongst us - a camper from Union Canal Carriers at Braunston  (the early trips took place over the Christmas and New Year holidays, when prices were low and the cut was very quiet.)

To start with here is a fairly typical crew: This lot shared two 8 berth boats from Middlewich on a trip up the Llangollen Canal in 1974/5  (I was on a different boat this year, but third from the right is Hilary, who later became my partner - one of a number of matches made on those boats!)

New Year's Eve was always a highlight of the trips and invariably celebrated in a canalside pub (as was every other night). Here is Sycamore's crew warming up in 1975  at Tipton:

Sycamore was also the venue for New Year's Eve in 1977 at Barbridge Junction, before spending the rest of the evening in the Jolly Tar (now demolished).

These boats did not exactly offer luxury accommodation and with a full crew of 12 aboard were rather "cosy". There were no showers, or even any hot water, other than what you could boil in a kettle: the only "facilities" were a couple of toilets, that discharged into the cut!

We were definitiely not the "snowflake" generation and we certainly had to be resilient to survive the hardships of mid-winter on these boats - as I'll show you in my next post.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Can anyone tell me where this is, please?

This photograph was taken on a boating holiday in, I think, 1973. The boats are "Elstree" (motor) and "Lyra" (Butty) then operated by T&A Collier as a camping pair.  The cargo was a bunch of students from Salford and Newcastle Universities and what was then Trent Polytechnic.  The route was Leighton Buzzard to Nottingham via the Grand Union Canal.

Details of this trip have yet to appear on my "The Boat Trip Years" blog and when I add them I'd like to include the location of this shot, so over to you dear readers. . . ..

(And while you are at it can anyone tell me when I press the " key on my laptop it types an @ and when I press @ I get an "  ?! )   (I deleted "American English" as a language option and downloaded a "UK English" language pack (!) and that seems to have sorted it out. I still don't know where this lock is though!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Burton upon Trent - 1

I'm just back from a few days in Burton-upon-Trent. My previous visits to the town have been mainly by boat - I called in on a number of journeys along the Trent & Mersey Canal on Starcross - but this one was by train and bus.

My first port-of-call was Derby, where I was meeting up with my fellow traveller for the weekend, Hugh. Our planned schedule went haywire before I'd even set off with my train from Lancaster being fourteen minutes late departing. This made a 10 minute connection at Crewe into a minus-4 one and so, unsurprisingly, despite the driver pulling back a couple of minutes en-route I missed it. But every cloud has a silver lining and I enjoyed my hour at Crewe watching an impressive procession of fast modern trains passing through - or stopping at - the station.

A  Your Bus  Y5 at Long Eaton
My train to Derrby was neither fast nor modern, but it did arrive on time and after a quick lunch in the Brunswick Tavern we were almost back on track for the afternoon's travelling.  The plan was to sample one of the two competing bus services, both of which were operated by modern, high-spec vehicles, to Long Eaton and transfer there to the equally modern and high-spec "Skylink" service to East Midlands Airport, thence by the relatively obscure 155 route to Coalville that is operated by a small, local company and then on to Burton for the evening.  This involved a couple of moderately-tight connections but it quickly became apparent that my planning had failed to take into account the Friday afternoon traffic!  We were a good five minutes down before we'd even left the bus station and congestion on the way meant we were even later at Long Eaton. There we realised from the Real Time bus stop information display that the Skylink was running even later out from Nottingham and that our connection into the 155 at the Airport was in jeopardy.  As with Virgin Trains' driver earlier in the day our man did his best to regain some time but unfortunately our arrival at East Midlands co-incided exactly with the 155's departure!  There was no alternative but to return to Derby, albeit directly on the Leicester - Derby version of the Skylink route network.  This service calls in at Derby railway station where we bailed out and made up some of the time we'd lost by getting a train on to Burton which took 13 minutes instead of the advertised 45 minutes by bus (traffic not included).

Burton is known as the brewing capital of England, although it is nowadays dominated by giant international brewing companies pumping out mass-market lager and keg beers, but its easy enough to avoid these.  We opted for a tour of the pubs just on and off the Derby Road, getting off to a good start with the Derby Inn, a very traditional locals' pub (although the beer came from Keighley). The next couple of pubs were a bit of a let-down but after a quick pit stop for a takeaway pizza we ended the evening in the splendid Coopers Tavern. 
Coopers Tavern
The Coopers Tavern (not during our visit!)
This used to be the Bass brewery tap, but is now oned by Joule's Brewery. Ironically the original Joule's Brewery was bought and closed down by Bass in 1974 and whilst it was resurrected a few years ago with new owners and is now thriving, Bass as a brewing company has disappeared into the maw of one of the multi-nationals (don't ask me which one, I don't reaaly care) and even its best-known brand "Draught Bass"  is now brewed by Marston's in a different part of the town.