Nicholson Guides to the Waterways at bargain prices!

Nicholson Collins guides to the waterways have been around for years and for many boaters these are still the definitive guide books to the canals and rivers of the UK.

Next month, March 6th to be precise, the range is being relaunched so the current red covered range seems to be on offer at bargain prices online.

See the whole range on Amazon now!


It looks like some are already out of stock, especially Number 8 – Scotland. If anyone has one of these for sale I would really like a copy so please let me know!

Meanwhile I wonder how many people will be pre-ordering the new range. I’m not sure if its worth 7 x £9.74 from Amazon (RRP £14.99), and in fact these are available from Amazon Associates for half price. Perhaps I will add them to my Amazon wish list just incase someone is feeling generous!

(And yes – if you click the above links I may get a small commission from Amazon – my new blog needs all the support it can get!)

Jolly Boating Weather

This morning the sun is shining like summer – didn’t wear a coat when out early with the dog, which to me means Spring has arrived. And I’m looking forward to taking Zulu up to Manchester next week.

Trust the weather to come up with this…

BBC Weather Forecast for Manchester this week
Weather Forecast for Manchester this week

The BW Dumped Trolley Hotline!

Tesco trolley in the Kennet and Avon
Tesco trolley in the Kennet and Avon

Canals are in the news this morning, midst the doom and gloom of the worlds financial meltdown there is still room on the BBC News website to announce “A hotline has been launched to help members of the public report abandoned shopping trolleys in canals and rivers.

With BW claiming that over 3,000 are dumped in the canals and rivers every year costing £150,000 to clear up, the article informs us that there is not only a new phone line to report our finds but also a Dumped Trolley Report Form on the BW website.

The phone hotline is 01923 291120 – a pleasant surprise to see that we don’t have to dial a premium rate phone number, especially when considering the majority of users will be calling from a mobile phone.  I must give it a try.  All I need now is to find an abandoned trolley……..

A quick look at Liverpool

The last time I went to Liverpool was when I was at University in Leeds, exploring the canal which links the two.  I never managed to find the canal in Liverpool – its not exactly in the town centre!

30 years later I stepped off the train at Lime Street station and immediately noticed the extensive building works, including the front of the station, which force you out through the side doors.  How depressingly familiar everything looks from 30 years ago – some of the oldest store fronts I can remember seeing for a long time.

Half the city centre seems like this – virtually unchanged for three decades, while the other half is about as modern as it gets – and I have to say that neither side of town appealled.

I was already looking for return train times, but determined to see something of the new canal developments, including the widely talked about Liverpool Link, I followed the signs to the waterside and ended up at Albert Dock. This too was very familiar, as 30 years ago it was being developed into the best the 1980s could produce in terms of renovated docklands attractions. At least it is quite nicely restored compared with the rest of the docks.

New moorings in Liverpools Canal Zoo
New moorings in Liverpools Canal Zoo

So the first sign of the new canal was some rather dismal lines of mooring pontoons, with the obligatory electric posts.  There’s no sign of any boats yet although 4,500 per annum will allegedly appear here according to the BW information sheet.

There is a new lock down into Albert dock, still under construction and lost somewhere amongst the cranes and hoardings surrounding the whole area – no danger of being able to get in by foot for a look, through a development which doesn’t even look started in some areas, let alone being complete.  Its one of those hideous lifestyle waterside apartment developments which may not be appealing to the investors quite as much as it did on the drawing board.

In the shadow of the new museum, opening date 2010, is a channel, a bit like a storm drain, but the wooden rubbing boards on each side confirm this is supposed to be a canal.  It emerges near the Pier Head, from where the wonderful old Mersey ferries still run, but if you can find the way in to the new pier building without a map, through more hoardings and temporary wire fences, then you are doing better than me, and another twenty or so tourists, all of whom missed the mid day boat trip.

Liverpool Canal Link - concrete and steel
Liverpool Canal Link - concrete and steel

The canal becomes totally surreal here, with a spacy multi level walkway along each side, where the underground channel briefly comes up for air before diving under perhaps 300 yards of car park.  I braved the walk across this car park only to discover another bland modern set of warehouse developments, this time mostly hotels.  The biggest shock was another new lock.  The unused lock could be mistaken for some sort of odd water feature – the kind which springs into life at mid day, does a little performance and then goes back to sleep. I only hope that it gets the use which BW predicted.

New lock, Liverpool Link
New lock, Liverpool Link

I gave up and headed back, abandoning plans to weave through the car parks until the next canal viewing point as a sea mist turned into vicious rain, then sleet all whipped up by a very brisk sea breeze, as the Mersey ferry disappeared into the gloom. Wouldn’t you think after planning this whole project that it could feature a canalside walkway – heaven forbid, styled on a towpath? But there is no continuous waterside walk.

 I rushed back to the station past fountains, some sort of concrete park, John Lewis, Neros, Starbucks, McDonalds, Zaavi (closing down sale – new stock daily!), Armani, the Cavern Quarter and some imposing grand buildings from another age which look down rather sadly over the new town.  You can gather I am not impressed.  And the Leeds and Liverpool canal is still a long way from the centre.

UPDATE 28Mar09: According to April 20th will be the first day on which the public will be able to access the new canal link by boat, with intitial trial runs complete an opening ceremony was carried out earlier this week.

Lost in the post

Digressing from canals for a minute, I need to vent some steam after a seemingly endless dialog between me, two guys who bought something from me on Ebay, a guy I bought something from on Ebay and the DVLA.

To cut a long story short I sold my old car to someone in Poland. I wanted to retain the number for my new car and although I put this in the advert I found myself apologising day after day that he couldn’t pick the car up until the DVLA had sent the replacement tax, MOT and Log Book.  Apparently the first two normally come within 7 days but the latter can take a further 4 weeks.  Without it the car can’t realistically be sold.  However after 14 days DVLA decided that because my old car was itself an import it had to be referred to Swansea causing even more delay.  Many boring bits later the paperwork all arrived, I had new number plates made, signed all the forms in the right places and waved it goodbye as it went off to Poland.

I looked forward to getting 10 months tax back, so duly wrote to the DVLA as required to do when a car is sold for export, enclosed the right bit of the V5C form and a V15 application for tax refund, together with the licence disk.  Sent first class recorded delivery, just for safety’s sake.

Today 3 weeks later they wrote back saying this had been rejected as I was not the previous keeper of the car, nor had I told them it was sold to someone else.  15 agitated minutes of holding on the phone I was put through to the refunds section who acknowledged that they had received my letter, and had marked the car as exported but they denied receiving a tax refund request, which of course was in the same envelope.  They admitted they must have received it, being as they had written to me to reject it, and so rather than sort it out by phone my only recourse is to write something on the back of the rejection notice and send it back for them to reconsider.

Concurrrently I sold an item on Ebay – I couldn’t believe how excited the purchaser was getting, but it turned out this car amplifier was a long lost match for his current one, and to have two is seemingly so much better.  He texted me to tell me every step of his journey to the post office, the postal order being put in an envelope, stamped and despatched.  And yes it came the very next day, so I called DH a well known parcel carrier and personally handed the well wrapped parcel, all labelled up and paid for, to the collection driver.

I began to think there may be a problem when the tracking number suddenly stopped showing anything sensible.  For the record, when DHL tracking shows “Security Check” in the status it means they have lost it.  Phone call after phone call failed to make it reappear. The standard response of well make sure it is sent out in the morning begins to wear thin after a week has gone by.  My text inbox was almost full with the purchaser getting more and more despondant about where his irreplacable amp had gone, although he was very understanding, although this may be after having made the Ebay faux pas of giving me good feedback before he got the goods!

I refunded him in full, lost 8 pounds commission on the postal order (I thought they were free!!!), £12.99 paid to send the parcel, £2 for packaging bubble wrap and £80 pounds worth of equipment.  I was only covered for £50 loss, and have yet to see anything other than “we are still looking for it” emails. 

It really bugs me that a parcel carrier can lose something so large, so easily, and shrug it off as one of those things that happen.  In fact the agent through whom I booked the service claims they only lose 0.4 per cent of packages.  Looking at the number of parcel carrying vans on the road that sounds like a very large number of items to me!

So I wait with baited breath to see if I get a penny back.

To make it worse I ordered a pot of Captain Tolleys Creeping Crack Cure a couple of weeks ago, again from Ebay but from a very reputable looking marina.  It didn’t come.  I made a fuss after a week and they put it down to computer problems, but the promised replacement hasn’t arrived either.  With my own lost parcel I wasn’t at all surprised when the vendor told me he has lost over 200 pounds worth of stock in the mail last week alone.  Where are all these lost items going!  To his credit he has sent a replacement under recorded delivery, and this should come in the morning.   Its one thing me losing a box in a private sale, but when a mail order business loses so many items this has to be devastating for them.  “Just leave good feedback or no feedback” he asked.  At least I have waited for the product to turn up – and then I shall leave very good feedback, as this supplier is tearing his hair out trying to run a business and is now providing excellent customer service.  I can’t penalise him for the Royal Mail’s shortcomings. 

So hardly a day has gone by in the last three weeks without apologising to or being apologised to by someone with whom the only thing we have in common is Ebay, parcel firms and Royal Mail.  What an incredible waste of time and money.  I am currently at least two hundred and fifty pounds out of pocket through this, let alone the cost of phone calls and stamps.


What a lovely warmish spring day.  A delight to drive up to Middlewich and find Zulu is absolutely fine, apart from her slightly poorly Paloma water heater of course.

Well thats now solved – I bodged a repair last time, but after speaking to an incredibly helpful guy who sells reconditioned Palomas on Ebay (no link but I can provide his phone number if anyone is intererested).  Without even describing my problem in detail he predicted that the inlet valve body had distorted with ice – and he was absolutlely right. 

After calling him back he was able to provide me with a fully recondiioned inlet valve for 20 pounds including postage and it came the next day – totally excellent service with loads of free advice thrown in.  And so today within 30 minutes I had replaced the old valve, cleaned 30 years of crap off the old boiler and found it fully working – better than ever as the inlet valve is now working properly, controlling the flow and therefore controlling the water temperature.

The sunshine makes it all the better, and I was amazed at how busy the Trent and Mersey has become today – at least 6 boats came past within an hour – more than we have seen all winter at home on the Kennet and Avon!

Muddiest week for 18 years?

Big Brother has told us to expect more snow this week, hot on the heels of the worst snow in the UK for 18 years.  As the forecast has been fairly accurate this week, I’m sure its on its way too, so I took advantage of a relatively clear Sundat to pop up to Middlewich and check that Zulu is surviving the extreme weather.  I even managed to fix the leaking Paloma water heater,  and this time properly drained it as well as the whole water system.  I learnt the hard way, and wont be caught out again – I hope.

Middlewich hit the national news this week when almost every local authority in the council tried to order more salt for the roads only to learn that there was no more road salt in the country.  That is apart from at Middlewich, where allegedly British Salt had been absent mindedly tossing all of the bi-products of their table salt making process into a 100,000 tonne heap without much regard for what it would ever be used for.  Smartly they doubled the price for rock salt and still sold enough to form a 4 hour queue for local residents caught up in the traffic jam of lorries arriving from all over the country and queuing all the way down the A54 from the M6.

So perhaps some good for Middlewich may come from the weather.  Today there were plenty of lorries around but no traffic jams.  But has nobody remembered what damage the salt does to our cars – I must remember to get the jetwash out when I get home and remove todays’ coating.

The muddiest moorings for 18 years?
The muddiest moorings for 18 years?

Sadly the pathway beside Zulu’s moorings has deteriorated to the extent that I have complained to British Waterways – although not a public footpath, our moorrings are used as a short cut to the local dog walking field by litearally hundreds of dogs and their owners day.  The mud churned up by so many footprints has finally reached the stage where it is almost impossible to slither along from Big Lock to the boat without falling over, or even worse falling into the water – to one side the frozen canal and to the other a drop of 12 feet to the river which is flowing like whitewater rapids following the thawing snow.

So today I am not happy.  I hope BW may see sense and divert one of the their towpath renewal teams currently working on in Middlewich over to sort out a couple of loads of stone to stabilise the path.  We will see!  Meanwhile I need to perfect a way to keep the mud out of the boat but am still practicing.

The big freeze

Early January is certainly the coldest time I have ever spent living aboard.  Temperatures overnight reached minus 16C according to local measurements, and the canal was well frozen for days on end.

Sadly while away from Zulu I neglected to properly drain the Paloma water heater so I can only blame myself for the new shower feature in the kitchen, consisting mainly of a horizontal jet of water coming from between the two halves of the inlet valve.

Thanks to a chap who advertises Paloma exchange units on Ebay – he answered my email enquiry about whether this could be fixed with a phone number to call and he turned out to be most helpful.  I discovered that the original screws which hold the two halves of the valve together should be have given way, under the force of any ice building up in the valve, but very commonly the valve is distorted by freezing, or the rubber diaphragm inside the valve splits.  Either way its repairable but I miust admit I am tempted by Tony’s Ebay offer of a fully tested and serviced replacement boiler on an exchange basis, for the cost of £99.  Many Palomas sell for much more than this on ebay.  I will try to repair it first though and planned to pop up to see Zulu this week.

However this morning the weather warnings on the news have for once been justified as the entire south of the country is literally snowed under.  No buses in London, half the Tube system out of action, Heathrow and Gatwick currently closed as well as Southampton Airport and to make things worse at Heathrow, Cyprus Airways landed safely in the snow and then taxied off the taxiway on the way to the terminal, resulting in a huge aircraft stuck in the mud. 

Predictably the National Rail enquiries website is really struggling to cope at the very time it should be providing help and information to the public.  People on the news are panicking about how to get home and it really doesn’t help when crucial sources of information are unavailable.  In the event of a major public disaster I do hope the government has web based systems ready to keep us informed, but on this occasion I can only express my frustration with National Rail.  I travelled last night and tried time and time again to find out if my onward arrangements were still running – the entire website was down.  This morning it was unavailable through the morning rush hour, then came back on in a patchy sort of way, working one minute then not the next.  A few thousand quid and some thought as to how the public want to use this service would easily put right the ability to keep the website going through exceptionally busy times.

Meanwhile for much of the morning this has been the result.

National Rail Website Overloaded
National Rail Website Overloaded