Monday 19 September 2022


 I took advantage of the lack of traffic on the main road up the Lune Valley from Lancaster today for a cycle ride to Kirkby Lonsdale and to take some photos of this set of milestones along the way that have been meticulously restored, although I know not by whom.

The Lancaster - Kirkby Lonsdale road, the A683, is also the site of another transport curiosity - the first ever white line to be painted in the centre of a British road! Here's a photo:

That's not the original line, obviously, but the story goes that about 100 years ago, in what were still the early days of motoring, the owners of a garage that stood on this site, adjacent the white house, were distressed at the number of head-on collisions and even more near misses between cars taking the bend in the middle of the road. To encourage drivers to keep to the left on the bend they painted a white line down the centre of the road.

Rather than being thanked for their public-spirited actions, they were taken to court and prosecuted for causing criminal damage to the road and only later was the system adopted nationally.

Tuesday 31 May 2022

Back on the Buses

Back on the buses - Around the County Towns.

 Since selling Starcross, which I now realise was eight years ago (!), I've been spending more time pursuing my other interests, principally buses.  Between 2015 and 2017 I undertook a bus tour Around the Edge of England, using my free bus pass and I followed that up in 2018 by beginning a similar exercise, this time visiting every English county and every county town, in what I called my "Around the County Towns" tour.

In September 2019, having reached Huntingdonshire, I had reason to pause the exercise, fully expecting to be able to recommence in the Spring.  We all know what happened next.

Buses and trains were recognised as a potential problem as far as the virus was concerned early-on and the government went into overdrive on its "avoid public transport at all costs" messaging. So effective was this that almost immediately bus use fell to 10% of pre-pandemic levels (train use fell to 5%). Even now, with all restrictions lifted and life pretty much back to normal for most people, the buses are still missing about 20% of the passengers they once had.  With the last of the "emergency support package" funding due to run out in October, and service cuts expected to follow, I thought it was high time to get back on the buses and do my bit by resuming my journey.

Not all the issues that led to the original suspension of the project in 2019 have been resolved, so I had to start slowly and see how things went, but last week I was able to restart, visiting the Isle of Ely and Cambridgeshire on a two-day trip "Around the County Towns". I have a separate blog for the trip and anyone interested can read all about it here.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

The 50th Anniversary Trip - Days 7 & 8: Atherstone to Rugby Wharf

 Thursday 7th October 2021

Day 7  Atherstone to Newbold

There is not a lot to say about today's boating. After we got away from Atherstone we settled down to enjoy the long, lock-free stretch of the Coventry Canal, passing a very run-down Hartshill yard shortly after setting off.

Ken was at the helm for the 180 degree turn at Hawkesbury Junction.  He realised straight away that he had started his turn too late, but then - like many occasional steerers - failed to put any "welly" on, meaning that he had to have a few shunts to get round. He didn't actually hit anything - even the badly moored boat just above the stop lock - so I gave him a B+.  The "watchers-on-the-bridge" may have thought differently!

In 1971 we had found the time to go all the way down the arm into Coventry and back, which in those days was considered quite an adventure, but there was no enthusiasm for it today, so after I'd penned us through the stop lock that really was it for the day, with the only other feature of note being the footbridge across the cut at Brinklow, which was mildly amusing I suppose.

"Grebe" at Coventry Basin in 1971.  It's changed a bit since then!

Ken opening the footbridge at Brinklow

and hurrying to catch up with boat afterwards!

Wilow Wren had told us that the boat needed to be back at their base for 08.30 on Friday, but when we asked whether we could bring it back the night before, to save us a rushed start in the morning,we were told this wasn't possible. The obvious stopping place for the night was therefore Newbold, where we were pleased to see a mooring space outside the Barley Mow. It was only after we had struggled to tie up there and complained about the state of what we assumed was a visitor mooring that we realised we were on the well-hidden and badly signed water point!  By now it was not far off dusk and as we would be away very early in the morning we decided to play the "ignorant hire boaters" card and stay where we were.

Like many pubs these days the Barlow Mow looks inviting from the outside...

The Barley Mow
...but inside it has, unfortunately, been mucked about with in ways that have left it with an incoherent and rather unfriendly, un-publike layout. In fairness though, the food was good and I'm told the beer got better as the evening wore on, although I was back on the boat by then.

Friday, 8th October 2021

Day 8 Newbold to Rugby Wharf

We'd assumed that Willow Wren had asked us to be back by 08.30, an hour earlier than stated in the brochure, in order to stagger arrivals and prevent mixing on the wharf due to Covid.  But no, it seemed that everyone had been given the same arrival time, resulting in a convoy of boats approaching the arm on which the base is situated at the same time.  A boat coming from the south had to wind before it could enter the arm (we'd had to do the opposite manoeuvre when leaving a week ago) and then it was our turn to follow it almost back to the wharf where we'd all been asked to wind again before reversing onto the wharf itself. By the time we had winded, there was a third boat waiting its turn.

The company were taking Covid precautions very seriously and we were asked to vacate the boat as soon as we had tied up, irrespective of any last-minute cleaning and tidying up and the crew were asked to wait in a designated spot whilst Mark and I, as the "designated crew members", completed the hand-back formalities.

With those done we all set off to walk to the station where Pete, Clive and I boarded a northbound train to take us to Manchester, Lancaster and Cambridge (via Nuneaton) respectively; Ken and Mark headed westwards to Wolverhampton and Oxford, leaving Spike to make a lonelier journey back to Slough.

Hire Boating v. Ownership

Having owned a boat for ten years, this was the first hire-boating I'd done for over twenty. It does have certain advantages:

  • Cost.  The week, including the daytime food kitty, cost us £175 each. Boat owners will recognise that sum as small change when it comes to boating.
  • Lack of worry.  The broken alternator - and anything else that might have gone wrong - was fixed by a simple phone call to the boatyard.  A more serious failure would presumably have resulted in a replacement boat and/or a refund.

But also some disadvantages:

  • When hiring you commit yourself to a route and a timetable which, especially if you do a "ring", can be difficult to change. We had a couple of days when the weather was such that on Starcross I would have declared a "cabin day" and not bothered untying.
  • As part of a crew, especially an all-male crew, there is an expectation that every night will be spent in the pub!  Much as I like pubs that wasn't the way things were on Starcross (believe it or not).
So would I do it again?  Well, not for a while and then perhaps with a smaller and more select crew and definitely, although I'm now showing my age, on a less-ambitious route!