Friday, 6 April 2018

Change of plan. Which way now?

The delayed departure and changed route

Our original plan was to leave Aylesbury on Mon 2nd or Tue 3rd April.  With the extra time needed for Hugo's leg to heal, we now plan to depart on Monday 30th April.

Our first destination we hope will be the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival (FABFest) in the middle weekend of June. Last time, two years ago, we moored at Middlewich Narrowboats, which was a very central location, and all the facilities were at hand.

The plan was to go from there along the Shropshire Union (Middlewich Branch) to get to Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal, where we have a mission in July.

Originally proposed route in red

Two problems have arisen which mean our plans will need to change.

The first problem is that Middlewich Narrowboats have ceased trading, and their site is awaiting someone to take over the business. So we can’t book a mooring there at the moment. They also had the only elsan facility in Middlewich, and if that is out of action, many boaters attending the festival will have difficulties.

Our mooring last time at Middlewich Narrowboats

The second problem has happened in the last three weeks.  A large hole has appeared in the Middlewich branch, and a major section of the bank and towpath have been washed into the River Wheelock below, stranding about twenty boats. The breach is marked on the map below with a red circle. They have closed the waterway for about a mile between the locks either side of the breach, marked with yellow circles.  This section is the route we were going to take after the festival., and the closed section accounts for about half the available public moorings in Middlewich.

The location of the breach

Middlewich breach from the air
The breach from the air (borrowed from Canal and River Trust - see link here

One alternative is to go back south down the Trent and Mersey Canal, and come north again up the Shropshire union. This involves 84 miles, 102 locks, and 52 hours instead of 10 miles, 4 locks and 5 hours by the original route.

Plan B

Or we could go via the Anderton Boat Lift, the River Weaver and the Manchester Ship Canal and to come in at Ellesmere Port. This would mean 54 miles, 24 locks and 22 hours.  Although the shortest alternative, it involves having a certificate of seaworthiness, and paying fees to the Manchester Ship Canal.  We would need to get Weston Marsh Lock opened for us, and going into Ellesmere Port we would have to arrange with Canal and River Trust for the Lock to be unpadlocked, and with the local council for the swing bridge to be operated. It is all a bit preplanned, just for seven miles of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Plan C

The other effect of the breach is that about half of the moorings for Middlewich have been made unavailable.  If we can’t moor at the old Middlewich Narrowboats site, then we will take a different route altogether, up the Shropshire Union instead of the Trent, turn right at Barbridge Junction, and go to Aqueduct Marina for a few nights. From there we can go to the festival using a hire car.

Plan D

So we wait to see what is happening.  Meanwhile we have about five weeks before we need to make the decision, which will depend on what is happening at Middlewich Narrowboats.

After further correspondence with Canal and River Trust, I received this reply on 9th April:

" is still too early to say at this point whether the (Middlewich Narrowboats) site will be occupied in time for the event.

Unfortunately at the moment we are unable to guarantee anymore elsan facilities for the event.

Due to the work being planned on the Middlewich branch, it is also too early to be able to guarantee moorings due to work being carried out at the time of the event. We will however try to accommodate boats on the T&M and around the Middlewich area.""

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Hugo's story

Here is the story of Hugo, our fluffy grey pussy cat. He has been boating with us since we got him as a kitten in 2004, and he is very active for a thirteen year old cat. He runs very fast and enjoys the outdoor life. His usual pattern is to lie on our bed all day, sit on our laps in the evening, and go out at night.  He is usually asleep on our dinette by the time we get up in the morning. He is very playful, often ambushing us as we walk near the boat. He knows when we are changing the strings on one of the instruments and he comes to watch as he loves to play with the discarded strings. He is also fascinated by the printer when it is producing copies.

Hugo and the guitar string

Outside the window looking in

Apart from his annual inoculations, we have only had to take him to the vets once, when he had a run-in with a fox just north of Leicester.

On 18th January we had a very high wind, and the rear doors of the boat were banging shut and then opening again in the gale.  James got up at around 4am to go and fix bungees on the doors to stop them swinging. As he walked to the stern from our bedroom in the bows, he noticed that Hugo wasn’t on the dinette, so he guessed he must be outside somewhere.

The he discovered that Hugo was lying in an unusual place, in front of the fridge. Sadly, by then, James had trodden on him.  Hugo must have been asleep, because he didn’t make a sound. He just got up and tried to jump onto the dinette seat. James helped him up, sorted out the rear doors, and went back to bed.

In the morning, Hugo was just where James had left him, and he meowed pathetically.  We took him to the vets, where they x-rayed him and found he had four broken bones in what we would call his leg, but it is really his foot. They bound his foot with a bandage and a splint, in the hope that it would heal in about six weeks.

Hugo with his first bandage

Thus began a weekly ritual of taking him to the vets in his carrying basket.  The basket is very heavy with him inside, so we would put him in a wheelbarrow for the journey from the boat to the car, and then drive him to the vets to have his bandage changed. The bandages came in various colours – green, blue, camouflage, and one with paw prints on it.  Each time we went he had to be sedated for them to change the bandage without him struggling.

With bandage number 3

He spent some time in the office

Then he plugged himself in :-) 

Watching the printing

Bandage number 4

Bandage number 5

Then came the day when we took him to have his final bandage removed, and the leg x-rayed again.

The devastating news was that, even after six weeks, the bones had not lined up properly.  We were given four choices.
1)    We could continue for a further six weeks in the hope that the bones would form a bond and set.
2)    We could have his leg amputated
3)    We could have him put down
4)    He could have an operation to have the bones pinned in place.

The six week x-ray

We didn’t think a further six weeks would get the bones to join. We are fond of our pussy cat and didn’t want him put down. We were concerned about having a three-legged cat on a boat, so we opted for the fourth alternative, which, in hindsight, we should have had done at the outset.

So a few days later, on 8th March, he went in for an operation. We collected him the next day, and the vet was very pleased with how the procedure had gone. He had taken some bone from Hugo’s pelvis and put it in his foot to encourage the calcification. This left a large bare patch on his upper leg and back.   He had inserted four rods to connect the bones, and he said Hugo should be fine in six weeks.  There was a bandage to cover the wounds, and that was removed the following week.

After the operation

The x-ray after the operation

With no further bandages, Hugo had to wear a cone-shaped collar to stop him worrying the operation scars.  He hated that collar and was almost in a panic for the first 24 hours.  Now he has got used to it, and doesn’t seem to mind when we put it on him.  We have to remove it for him to feed, but then we have to watch him carefully to make sure he doesn’t have a go at his foot.

The collar

He is now running around, wanting to play games, and he is very hungry. We think that he was eating more mice than we had realised before, but now that he is still shut in, he needs more cat food.  Hopefully when the vet next sees him on 20th April he will be given the all clear, and we can let him out.

We were originally planning to leave on Easter Monday 2nd April.  Our revise departure date is now Monday 30th April.

Next: plans are further changed by unexpected events.  What are the route choices?

Friday, 30 March 2018

Aylesbury winter weather

The Weather

Everywhere had some harsh weather this winter, and Aylesbury was no exception. We had very high winds at times, heavy rain, sharp frost, and deeper than usual snow. Then the “Beast from the East” met storm Emma from the West and freezing snowy conditions gripped the country for two weeks at the end of February.

People often ask “Is it cold on the boat?”  Usually the answer is “No, we just keep putting more coal into the Squirrel Stove”. This time we had two occasions when some cold wind was finding its way through the boat, causing draughts.  We stuffed kitchen roll into gaps round the side doors, and closed the interior doors, and we were OK.

Here are a few photos we took of the more dramatic occasions.

Snowing in Aylesbury 10th December

Iced in

 The view from the function room

 Sunset the next day

 The snow and ice melted, then it froze again  12th December

 18th December - deep frost, and patterns on the car windscreen

 Frosty cobwebs 24th February

Here comes the ice again 25th February

 Then snow on top of the ice 27th February

 Frozen Canal 27th February

 Snow forming and falling inside under the stern canopy 1st March

Snowy boats looking from the function room 2nd March

Iced in again 2nd March with a treacherous access ramp

Next:  What happened to Hugo

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Winter happenings in Aylesbury

Well we are nearly through the winter and spring is upon us. Now is the time for the blog to awaken after a few months of hibernation. But first, a quick summary of some things that have happened since we arrived in Aylesbury on Friday 27th October. 


Our first job was to take the train to Saxmundham in Suffolk and return with our car, which had had a service and MOT whilst there.

We stayed with Maggie and Clive, and took the opportunity to visit cousin Andrew and his son Peter in Ipswich.

L-R Maggie, Clive, Peter, Andrew, James, Hazel


Our mooring was in the same place as previous years, end on to the quayside, near a corner with a few bushes for Hugo. We have made some good friends here, including some winter visitors like us. Simon and Pat on Daedalus and Tim and Hilary on Willowbrook are setting off soon. We will leave a little later than planned.  More of that in due course.

Gabriel's winter mooring

The Aylesbury Arm outside the canal basin

Unusual sky

Sunset in Aylesbury

Our apartment which we have let out until we need it.

A visiting kingfisher

Dramatic light over the canal basin

The kingfisher again

The view from the bridge

Our church

Once again we have had a great reception from our church here. We meet on a Sunday morning in the Canal Society function room. We take a turn in leading the worship about once a month while we are here.

We have also been leading a life group, looking at ways to reach out into the community, which is growing quickly as new houses are being built – nearly 2,500 of them are planned.

At Christmas we held a “mobile nativity” – some scenery flats with holes cut out for people’s faces. We took this round to several places on the local housing estates to get people involved and to invite them to our Christmas services, which were very popular.

The mobile nativity
L-R Phil our vicar, Gordon a boater, us two, Hilary and Tim from Willowbrook

Many of the inhabited boats displayed illuminations, and we had strings of lights outlining our boat, plus an angel in the window.

Christmas illuminations

 On Christmas Day we drove up to Suffolk and spent a few days with Maggie and Clive. We went for a walk on the beach in Norfolk and saw seal pups.

Seals on the seashore

Seal pup

The folk scene

We have been singing at a few venues – The Cock Inn in Wing operates every other Tuesday, Chesham Folk Club every Monday, and the Half Moon in Wilstone once a month. Our friend Sue Graves is now part of Suntrap, and they were guest artists at Chesham on one occasion. We also sang two songs that night.

Suntrap at Chesham Folk Club
see video here 

There is a video of us singing Windmills at Chesham here

We try to vary our route back through the Chilterns and we have spotted deer, foxes, rabbits and a badger on one occasion.

The wedding

Hazel’s nephew Adam got married to Dan, and the wedding was quite an event. Hazel’s brother came over from France, and we managed to catch up also with Adam’s sister Hayley and husband Mike.  Sadly we had to leave before people tucked into the amazing tower of cheeses.

Happy couple Adam and Dan

Phil and Cyndi

Hayley and Mike

All togged up

The cheesecake

Outings and entertainment

We visited an ancient barn in Haddenham which was all decorated for Christmas, and where they were selling lots of Christmassy things. 

The barn in Haddenham just before Christmas

We went to Stone in Staffordshire for our Canal Ministries weekend, where we led the worship once again, and sang 22 songs. While we were there, two of our team had their newly acquired boat blessed.

Rob and Trish with their new boat

We made a further visit to Blenheim Palace as we had a pass for a year from our first ever visit last summer.

Blenheim Palace

We have an excellent theatre scene in Aylesbury, and we saw the Play that goes wrong, Blood brothers, and tribute band the Dung Beatles. All very good.

Like everyone else we have had some unusual weather this winter, and our cat Hugo has had a bit of a mishap, which has delayed our summer cruise.  Both subjects will be covered in later blogs.