Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Hibernation a Good Idea?

Is it us, or is it Anderton? As soon as we arrive back here the canal freezes again!

It was more widespread this morning, with a thin layer of snow to top it off.
I sometimes wonder whether we should just curl up in some nice warm burrow in November, and not surface again ‘till the buds are on the trees and the birds are singing. But then we’d miss those beautiful clear frosty mornings, when no-one is about and we’ve the canal to ourselves. Blissful.

And we’d miss Meg’s mad antics at the first hint of snow.
As her coat is designed for cold weather, I think she feels the need to show off.

The ice was only thin and is mostly gone now, broken up by passing boats. But, just in case, we’ve moved a bit nearer the facilities at Anderton. Once bitten……

We’ve moored behind Bill’s boat, Anguillas. As his is much the same colour scheme as ours, we look like a pair of bookends!

Friday, January 29, 2010

A cold trip back to Anderton.

Tescoman arrived as arranged at The Olde No 3 around lunchtime on Wednesday. It took an hour or so to get everything sorted out and stowed, and by then the day had gone badly downhill. From a bright if cold start, it had turned wet and windy.
Like I’ve already said, the mooring here can be noisy, so we decided to brave the elements and head towards Lymm. I say “we”; Mags and Meg spent the trip inside while muggins hung grimly to the tiller, sheets of horizontal rain sweeping across the roof.
At least with the Trad stern I was sheltered from the waist down, but this is one of those occasions where one of those “wigwams for wimps” (Sue from No Problem’s term, not mine!) would have been a blessing.

We made a stop at Outrington for a gas bottle and a couple of bags of solid fuel, then moored about a mile out of Lymm. There are good moorings in the town, but we prefer not to spend the night in built up areas if possible.

After being rocked to sleep, we woke up yesterday to a still, grey morning. But the wind got up again a bit, and stayed behind us all the way to Moore.
We made a stop on route at Thorn Marine in Stockton Heath for a replacement battery. We’d been running out of juice by morning last week, so I did a check on each of the batteries in turn and found one with a dead cell. All of the others would be trying unsuccessfully to bring this one up to their level, flattening themselves in the process. So I’d disconnected the culprit from the bank, and the 3 remaining had been working fine for a few days. We’ve room for 4, and it gives you that bit more power, so it needed replacing. Loads of volts again, now.

We stopped overnight at Moore, near the handy PO/General Store, listening to the rain on the roof.

The weather had dried up by this morning, but the wind had freshened from the NW, cold and biting.
So it was under blue skies, but chased by the nagging wind, that we came back onto the Trent and Mersey and down to Anderton.

It was a pretty quiet trip, with just one noteworthy incident. Alas, I’d left my camera on the table inside. We came upon an angler on a bend, and, being polite I slowed down to tickover. It was as we approached that a roach took his bait, so I knocked the transmission out of gear to allow him to land his prize. Then the rod bent over alarmingly and he was obviously struggling as he tried to get his landing net under the struggling fish. What he’d got finally was a 2’ long pike, which had grabbed the roach as it was reeled in. Unfortunately the net wasn’t man enough and the fish slipped back into the canal, leaving the poor chewed roach on the hook. The fisherman said he’d fished there many times and not had that happen before. The incident would have made a superb set of photos. Damn.

We got to Anderton at around 14:30, and will maybe stay here for the weekend. Then south and west, heading for the Shroppie for a bit.

I met Bill off NB Anguilla, another Orchard boat, while I was out with Meg this evening. He’s moored around the corner near Uplands, this being his first opportunity to get out of the marina since the big freeze.

Boaters on the K&A are ticked off at BW's attempts to enforce Continuous Cruising rules. CC's (like us) who have no home mooring must not stay in one locality for more than 14 days, and "must be engaged in a genuine progressive journey (a cruise) around the network" quote from MOORING GUIDANCE FOR CONTINUOUS CRUISERS.

The Kennet and Avon Boating Community Website was set up to fight BW's right to enforce these guidelines against boaters who breach them. Interesting stuff... have a look.

Locks 1, miles 18

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

3 days to Bollington.

Yup, back up on the Bridgewater!
After spending so long hanging around the Anderton area, we really needed a change of scenery. But with the weather still being cold, I didn’t want Mags hanging around on the tiller while we did locks, so we headed north instead. Just one lock this way, the shallow stop lock just south of Preston Brook Tunnel.

There are usually 3 live-aboards on the offside of the Trent and Mersey near Acton Bridge, but they were missing as we went past yesterday.

What, no boats?

The mystery was solved when we got to Dutton. They must have relocated before the canal froze, so they were nearer civilisation.

Ahh, there they are.
We made an unsuccessful visit to Midland Chandlers at Preston Brook. It was a long shot at best, we needed a grate rail for the stove after one snapped the other day. Not a stocked item, unfortunately, so I’ve had to order them direct from the manufacture and have made a temporary fix with a bit of steel bar.

Then to the services just around the corner on the Runcorn Arm, before heading for an overnight stop at Moore.

Although it can be a bit boring, the Bridgewater makes for easy cruising. No locks, wide and deep, it is an ideal commercial canal. Hmm, just have to think of something that’s not urgent, produced in Manchester and in short supply in Runcorn. There must be something….

The Bridgewater Canal near Thelwall.
The canal ducks under the M6 just south of the famous Thelwall Viaduct, which soars over both the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.

Just a glimpse of the Thelwall Viaduct.
There’s a short rocky cutting just at the edge of Lymm. It’s amazing that trees can establish themselves in the smallest crack.

Knobbly roots.

Through Lymm and the next stretch is busy with moored boats on the offside. Lymm Cruising Club is responsible for most of them, but there are a couple of boatyards bracketing the Barn Owl pub.

Cheshire Narrowboats at Lymm Marina looks busy. I counted 6 or 7 boats in various stages of completion.

Lots of primer…
We passed The Olde No 3 pub, turned and moored just north. We’ve a Tesco delivery due there tomorrow lunchtime, but although it’s handy, the offside mooring is a bit noisy with traffic for an overnight stay. So I reckon we’ll move back towards Lymm in the afternoon.

Oh, and from the last post, regarding the large chicken sat in the tree; I reckon Alf goes to the top of the class for identifying it as a guineafowl. Precisely, the Vulturine variety, Acryllium vulturinum . A native of Africa, they are farmed here for meat and eggs. I wonder where this one came from?

Locks 1, miles 18 (Wow, that’s further than in the whole of the previous month!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2nd time lucky….

We made it back to Anderton today, after letting the ice thaw for another couple of days. It was still over 2” thick in some places, though.

I’d been shopping yesterday and picked up some “proper” feeders for the birds, as well as some more seed and peanuts. By this morning the squirrels had chewed through the side of the peanut feeder, and had started on the one full of seeds.
I’m glad this chap didn’t join in the feast.
Although maybe it would have kept the squirrels away, it certainly looks mean.
It’s been perched in the same spot for the last 24 hours. I’m not sure, but it could be a ratty looking female peacock (peahen?). Any other suggestions?

We moved off this morning, covering the first 100 yards we’d already broken easily. Then we hit thick ice and had to work at it a bit. Coming out of the trees, the thickness dropped to around an inch, and it was pretty much the same over the mile back to Anderton; thick bits, then thin bits.

I was pleased to see the service block, after about 40 minutes.

Anderton services
We could only fill with water and dump the rubbish; the rest of the facilities are out of action following frost damage. They don’t expect to have them up and running again till next Monday.

After filling the water tank (hurray, no more trips along the towpath with 3 gallons of water on my back…) we turned into Uphill Basin and filled with diesel and solid fuel.
Saying goodbye to Dave, we pulled out onto the canal, turned left and moored. Quite enough excitement for one day!

There’s very little ice along this stretch, and now it’s been broken up it will thaw pretty rapidly. If we’d have waited another hour we’d have been able to follow a couple of boats coming up from Wincham. Sod’s Law, isn’t it. These were the first boats we’ve seen moving since January 2nd!

There’s a couple of exceptional boats for sale with London moorings at the moment. The first, on a prime mooring on Cadogan Pier, is a bit rich for my taste, featuring a sunken?? pool screened by a hedge! It’s also a bit out of our budget, at £1m.

The second is more my style, still luxuriously fitted out but still a boat, rather than a floating apartment. And she’s also got an illustrious history having been one of the “little ships” that evacuated the BEF from Dunkirk in 1940. A bit closer to affordability, as well, at £350k. I did say a bit closer….

Locks 0, miles 1 (at last!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tried to move, but failed.

I opened our last bag of solid fuel yesterday, which told us that it’s time to move back to Anderton and restock. It’s been a lot milder since last Friday, temperatures above freezing during the day although sometimes dipping again at night. So I reckoned that the ice should have thinned considerably.
It’s still an unbroken sheet across the canal and all the way to the marinas, but was only about 2” thick alongside the boat.

So I stripped the remains of the bird feeders out of the bushes alongside, leaving tits and squirrels feeling sorry for themselves, and we prepared to get under way.

First task was to break some ice around the bow and alongside to give us some working space.

Then it was off we go, or not in this case!

The ice was 4” thick away from the boat, and just broke up into slabs that jammed against each other and the hull sides, and fouled the prop.

Would you like a G&T with that?

After an hour and 100 yards of progress we gave it up, reversing back to our spot for the last 18 days. I guess another couple of days here won’t make much difference.

I splintered the end of my short pole, bashing the ice.
It was weather like this that put the final nail in the coffin of the already precarious commercial canal carrying in any real volume. The winter of ‘62-’63 also saw narrowboats frozen in for several weeks, but the difference is they needed to deliver their cargoes to stay financially afloat. Many customers who hadn’t already done so switched to the more reliable road or rail transport, leaving the boats with no work.

We’re not the only ones trying to move, but our trip was considerably less fraught than that of a boat on the Nene, reported here by Cambridge News.

Looks like we might get some more snow tomorrow. Just what we needed!

Locks 0, miles 0, distance 100 yards (each way!)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Big Thaw

That’s it then. Our “Winter Wonderland” has been transformed into a mushy mess! No longer is Meg coming home looking cleaner than when she went out; it’s back to normal now, mud up to her arm leg pits.

It does mean that I can make my regular water run quicker, now that the towpath is no longer iced over, and I made a record trip to the shops and back this morning.

There’re still a few inches of ice on the canal but it is getting thinner. I reckon that we’ll be able to break it come Monday. In what open bits there are, around the boat, the water is incredibly clear. All the normally suspended silt has had a chance to settle out in 2 weeks without boat traffic.

We’ve been keeping ourselves amused identifying the different birds visiting our feeders, and watching the antics of the squirrels.

A pair of Jays (not very good, they were a bit shy)
Squirrel at lunch

I made a seed feeder from a plastic pill container, the lid from a butter tub and a twig for a perch. A bit Heath Robinson, but the birds didn’t seem to mind. Blue Peter’s got nothing on me; I didn’t have to use any sticky back plastic!

Marsh Tit

It baffled the squirrels for a day or 2, but then one clever chap worked out that if you lift the pot more seeds come out and can be collected off the ground!
Apart from the squirrels the roll call includes blackbirds, robins, marsh, blue and long-tailed tits, the shy jays and even a pigeon.

I’ve also had a go at a jigsaw puzzle Dad gave me for Christmas.

The finished article.
Not as daunting as I thought it’d be, but fun. Thanks, Dad. You can have a go, next.

The facilities up at Anderton have “Do Not Use” signs on the doors. Apparently the pumps that move the c**p uphill to the main sewer have failed. Luckily the fresh water is still on else we would have been in trouble. I hope they are fixed on Monday or we’re going to be having to keep our legs crossed!

Locks 0, miles 0 (again)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Attack of the squirrels

Our bird feeders hanging in the trees have been well frequented, mainly by blue and great-tits. Until today that is. The squirrels found them!

The first casualty was my Heath-Robinson bird table, basically a toffee tin lid suspended on boot laces. It wasn’t strong enough to withstand a hungry squirrel landing on it!
All the food cleared up off the ground, they then started on the fat balls and peanut bag.

In half an hour it was all over, the poor birds hanging around looking miserable.

I didn’t really begrudge the rodents, they must get hungry too in this weather.
I rehung the feeder and put more fat balls and peanuts up. Hopefully the birds will find them before the squirrels trash them again!

It’s been a bit milder, getting above zero during daylight hours. I checked, and we’ve still got 4” of ice around the stern. I guess we’ll be going no-where soon. The forecast indicates this relatively warm spell will last all week, so with a bit of luck we may make it back to Anderton at the weekend. Here’s hoping, we’ll be getting short of solid fuel by then.

I’ve been plodding up and down the towpath carrying water from and full loo cassettes to the facilities, but I don’t think I could manage 25Kg bags of Excel the mile from Uplands. I’ve got a trolley/sack barrow type of thing, but it’s a pretty lightweight bit of kit and I don’t think it’d survive the bumpy towpath.

If you, like me, are getting a bit fed up with the snow there’s a bit of light relief on Dot and Derek’s Gypsy Rover blog. Made me smile, anyway.

Locks 0, miles 0.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Contingency Planning…..

Here we are pretty well stuck, I guess. The clear water we made turning around the other day now has 2” of ice on it, I dread to think what it’s like in the untouched bits.

We’re within 15 minutes walk of the services at Anderton, so I can tote the loo cassettes there as needed, and tomorrow I’m going off in search of a 5 gallon water container to lug backwards and forwards. Even with strict economising, our tank will be empty early next week.

Food supplies are courtesy of Sainsbury’s, 25 minutes away. We’ve got plenty of diesel, and enough solid fuel to last another 10 days. So we’ll not starve, nor freeze to death.

The last 2 nights have been bitterly cold, apparently down to -10°. We had a problem getting at our remaining water this morning; a short section of pipe from the tank to the cabin, which runs under the front deck, had frozen overnight. Judicious use of a carefully applied hot water bottle (filled with heated snow!) had water flowing from the taps by lunchtime.
The vulnerable section is now well wrapped up, and I’ll lag it properly when I get the chance.

Although this weather is getting to be a pain in the bum, it does provide some unusual photo opportunities.

Frosted tree branches against the night sky look more like coral.
Ice crystals on the frozen canal.
Of course, us humans aren’t the only ones struggling with the weather. Wildlife is having a hard time of it, too.
We’ve got bags of nuts and fat balls having from the trees alongside, frequented by at least 2 pairs of bluetits.

I knocked together a hanging bird table tonight to provide snacks for those birds who are not quite so acrobatic. No pictures tonight, I put it up too late to attract anything, but the squirrels might find it overnight.

The forecasters reckon that this cold weather may be with us till the end of the month. Good job we’ve no-where to be, but I sympathise with those who are making huge efforts to get to work in these conditions.

Very good friends, Val and Johnny in Ingleton, have offered to put us up till the weather improves, but I’m reluctant to leave the boat, and Mags won’t go without me. Thanks very much for the offer, you guys, but we’re OK.

The ongoing issue of BW underfunding is reported on today in The Middlewich Guardian. The NABO survey mentioned is here.

Locks 0, miles 0

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pointing back the way we came….. again!

The forecast tells us that this cold weather is going to continue at least through next weekend. So we had a decision to make. Even though we’re trying to economise on water, we’ll still be running short in a few days. The question was, do we push on down to Middlewich, around 9 miles, or turn around and head back to Anderton, about 15 minutes. A bit of a no-brainer, really. I don’t really fancy 9 miles of 2” thick ice, followed by several frozen locks to contend with.
So today we chose to turn around. Luckily there’s just enough width here to wind a 58’ boat, so we didn’t have to travel.

Another day of snow showers yesterday has left us with about 6” on the ground and the frozen canal.

Posing on the bank
With the stark contrast it’s a bit of a black and white world at the moment.

Meg is still daft in the snow, chasing about like a loony and rolling over and burying her head in the drifts.
It does have it’s drawbacks; balls of hard snow build up on her pads and legs. Trying to pull them off with her teeth, she gets icicles around her muzzle.

All together... Ahhhhh
I left it till the warmest part of the day, around 13:00, before attempting our 180° manoeuvre.

It wasn’t easy, and took 1¼ hours before we were tied up again. It was a case of shuffling backwards and forwards working out from the bank and breaking the ice into smaller chunks. Quite a long stretch had to be opened up to get to the widest bit of the channel and allow room for the stern to swing.

Tied up again, icebergs floating outside the side hatch.
Marbury Rope Trick, or frozen mooring lines?

An opportunist swan also dropped in for a late lunch while the water was clear.
I wonder, if we fed it enough bread do you think it’d keep swimming backwards and forwards to keep the ice at bay?

By 4 o’clock the open stretches were starting to freeze again.

Meg and I had a walk back to Anderton to see what the situation is there. Unbroken ice across the canal shows that no boats have moved since last Saturday, and the water taps at the services are frozen. Still, if we can get there, a kettle of hot water usually sorts the taps out. We’ve done that before.
Whether we move back tomorrow or leave it for another couple of days remains to be seen. We’ve demonstrated today that the ice is not too thick to prevent progress, however slowly. We’ve just got to judge whether it’s going to get thicker, thinner or stay as it is over the next days.

The Oxford Mail has a report on an award to a narrowboat owner and smallholder at Kirtlington on the Oxford Canal. What a superb lifestyle. The Good Life… literally.

Locks 0, miles 0

Monday, January 04, 2010

Frozen in…

Cold, init!

Well, I hope you all had a good New Year’s celebration. Are you sticking to those resolutions, or have they fallen by the wayside already?
A couple of years ago I resolved not to make any more New Year Resolutions, and I’m doing really well so far…..

We came out of Uplands Marina last Wednesday as planned. We had a warm-ish spell midweek, which made it a lot easier getting out than going in! Of course, the warmer, damper weather made the footpaths boggy, most of the countryside unerringly sticking to Meg the Muck Magnet.

It didn’t last, though. By the weekend we were back to the deep freeze. We’d moored opposite Anderton Marina on Wednesday, just 100 yards away from where we’d been all week. Thursday we were going to push off southwards, but the weather was poor so we decided to stay put. Same on Friday, then the canal froze over again overnight.
We followed a couple of boats out of Anderton on Saturday afternoon, mooring up on our usual spot at the edge of Marbury Wood, with the intention of carrying on today. But the sub-zero night-times, and barely warmer days have left a good inch of ice on the water, more than I’d like to push through except in an emergency.

We filled with diesel and coal as we left the marina, and did the water and loos at Anderton on the way past, so, with care, we’ll last into next weekend. Water will be the first shortage.

Frosty at Marbury.
I quite like this weather, though. The frosty nights lead to bright sunny days, and the paths are now solid again, so Meg keeps clean, no matter how hard she tries.

Locks 0, miles 2