No internet on the Shroppie

Lack of posting this week has been due to total lack of any form of internet.
Middlewich Branch to Waverton over four days: 20 miles 14 locks (including a little to-ing and fro-ing).

It didn't rain all day!
It didn't rain all day!

I have an iPhone, T-Mobile 3G and Three 3G.  Moored at Beeston for a couple of days I could get no signal whatsoever from the 3G services and the iPhone was showing “No Service” most of the time unless I stood on the bank where the phone was just about usable in short bursts, but no usable data connection at all.

Zulu is still heading for Chester – we should get there today, but spent a very nice few days on the Middlewich Branch and Shroppie near Beeston.  The weekend rush died down on Tuesday and the canal is once again very quiet, but I expect there to be a surge of hire boats heading back to base tonight.  The weather has been just awful for July – even when the sun comes out it still manages to rain every hour or so, guaranteeing a good soaking every time I manage to get dry.  Filled up with diesel at Venetian Marine (63p) and had a very nice lunch at the marina cafe.  Mum and Dad visited for a couple of days, staying near Beeston, but we sadly had to cancel the planned boat ride due to the most horrendous weather on Wednesday.  It would have been no fun for any of us, so instead I took them by road to the Anderton Lift.  They said they enjoyed it anyway!  The down side of not doing a boat trip on Zulu was that she had ended up pointing in the wrong direction, so I had to take her on quite a diversion to turn back towards Chester.  For the record you can turn a 50ft boat between Tilstone Lock and Bunbury!

Licence checking

I know British Waterways is under pressure to ensure that we all pay our licence fees on time but I am wondering if they are in danger of creating a new monster in the form of the Enforcement Team and the data they collect.

BW Inspection Boat Verulam checking licences at Cowley
BW Inspection Boat Verulam checking licences at Cowley

Gone are the days of notebook and pencil, superceded of course by the portable computer, and details of all boats are carried by the Enforcement Officers so that any boat which causes a query can be quickly checked against the latest information on site.

However what concerns me is that each time a check is done, the date, time and location can all be recorded against the boat’s details, building a history of travel.

Now I don’t really have a problem with advertising where I am otherwise I wouldn’t write a blog on the subject but I do wonder exactly what British Waterways will be doing with all this information.

If the purpose is to enforce the continuous cruising regulations then logging should be restricted to those boats without a home mooring but I rather feel that everyone is tarred with the same brush on the towpath.  Continuous cruising regulations do not apply to boats like Zulu, which has a home mooring, and therefore why on earth do they still log the data and what are they going to do with it?

Licence inspection on the Middlewich Branch
Licence inspection on the Middlewich Branch

On Monday I got checked on the Middlewich Branch while having lunch. This is no isolated occasion either.
Here is a list of the date and time which I have been logged on either Zulu or my other boat, bearing in mind these are only the occasions where I was aware of the checking.

Monday 20 July 13:30 logged at Cholmondeston lock by foot patrol officer using hand held computer

Tuesday 14 July 12:30 logged at Cowley lock by uniformed officers in patrol boat who pulled up along side, typed my number into a computer and didn’t even acknowledge I was watching them three feet away from the side hatch.

Saturday 11 July 07:00 logged as we entered the canal at Brentford Lock by the duty lock keeper, using a piece of paper.

Thursday 11th June Zulu logged 50m from our moorings at Middlewich while filling the water tank, by a uniformed offical on a bicycle using hand held computer who did not acknowledge my greeting and rode off.

Middlewich to Wimboldsley

A cruising log entry for Zulu?  Whatever next?!
Middlewich to Wimboldsley 4 miles, 6 locks, 2 inches of rain.

Wonderful evening on the Middlewich Branch
Wonderful evening on the Middlewich Branch

But despite the thunderstorms, flooding and general doom and gloom we braved the M6 and sat in the car until the rain stopped in Middlewich for long enough to load up Zulu with provisions and hit the road.  Mental note not to try shopping at Waitrose when hungry resulting in £108 bill for only 4 carrier bags full of stuff!

Down at Big Lock was the usual chaos of a Sunday afternoon, one of the popular turnaround days where as usual out of 6 boats which arrived from Preston Brook direction, three failed totally to negotiate the bend, pranging the concrete edge behind Zulus mooring.  One managed to bounce off behind Zulu, hit the bank opposite, and then ride up the bank infront of Zulu’s mooring too.  I often wonder how they have managed to get here at all when they seem to spend more time in reverse than forwards!

Anyway with break in the rain we turned round and headed for the water point before setting off up the locks.   The heavens opened again, but by the time we had worked through Big Lock things were looking less rainy by the minute.  It was half past five by now and the queues had died down, so I was able to work up the flight and turn into the Middlewich Branch without any further delays.

The sun came out as we went up Stanthorne Lock and I put Zulu into the slowest possible tickover and really enjoyed the last hour of sunshine – lets hope the bad weather is behind us, and tomorrow we will head up the Shroppie towards Chester.

Standing Room only – Oasis and Kasabian at Wembley on Sunday

Tenuous Canal Link – we are moored at Uxbridge, which has easy tube access to Wembley Park station and is one of our favourite moorings.

Blatant Non Canal bit: I think I have known the words to Wonderwall for 15 years but never imagined singing it to Oasis – along with something like 80,000 others who also seemed to be word perfect, of course.  I didn’t know what to expect from an Oasis gig, never having been to one before and certainly was not disappointed with the music and organisation at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night.

Kasabian and Oasis at Wembley Stadium
Kasabian and Oasis at Wembley Stadium

Kasabian turned out to be an excellent support band and judging by the audience around us, just as many had come to see them as the main band.  Vast amounts of lager had the crowd in great voice and that which wasnt being drunk was being liberally spread over the crowd in a torrent of plastic glasses.  As with all good mosh pits a fair amount of the liquid raining on the crowd would be second hand lager and I dread to think what state the front few thousand were in when reality finally returned at the end.

The whole crowd was completely immersed in the music.  Back in the stands, not one single person remained seated as Oasis proved conclusively that their classics really can stand the course of time, mixing in a fair few tracks from the newest album and the occasional acoustic track to help calm the partying.  

“Anyone from Darlington” – boo.  “Anyone from Manchester?”  – small cheer then big boo.  Anyone from “Liverpool?” ditto.  Any lesbians out there?  Huge cheer.  Any Cockney bastards?  Stadium erupted. Lager everywhere.  The band seemed to be loving every minute of it too.  They were however just too polite for megastars – must be their age!

Two hours of an epic performance – the last night of yet another sell out stadium tour – and I would certainly come again.

Oasis Setlist Wembley Stadium, London, England 2009, Dig Out Your Soul (Summer tour)


A final word about Wembley stadium.  We were able to walk in and take our seats within minutes of arriving.  There are something like 160 catering outlets, where it was possible to get served without more than a few minutes waiting, even if the floors were awash with lager!  At the end of the night, there are so many exits that leaving the stadium takes only minutes and you simply join the brisk march converging on Wembley Park tube station, through police horse cordons designed to stop a surge, and literally you can join a train just like any other trip on the tube.  We were back on the boat 45 minutes after “I am a Walrus”, the band’s classic final track.  Well done all at Wembley for making this a memorable night out.

Tree falls onto boat at Cowley

Tree falls on boat at Cowley
Tree falls on boat at Cowley

Moored on the Grand Union at Cowley, just below the lock last night.  At 8:02 pm there was an almighty firecracker noise as if there was a firework party on the towpath, followed by a thunderclap and a mini tidal wave down the Grand Union.

A 30 foot branch had sheared off a tree and landed right on top of a moored boat just 100 yards ahead of us, luckily unoccupied at the time, and even more lucky that towpath walkers were not flattened too as I guess from start to finish this took no more than 5 seconds – nowhere near enough time to get out of the way.

At the end of the day no real damage was done, but I was somewhat surprised that BW didn’t seem to send anyone out until this morning.  However the Council did send a couple of people out to see what had happened, and bizarrely two hours later the fire brigade turned up, full emergency style but left within minutes as “They don’t do trees”.

I’m certainly going to think again about mooring under overhanging trees in the future, especially in Zulu.  With a fibreglass and timber roof she would have been broken in half by a tree this size, let alone what might have happened to anyone inside.  The branch sheared off without warning and there was no wind whatsoever, presumably dropping under its own weight.

Fallen tree being cleared off boat at Cowley
Fallen tree being cleared off boat at Cowley

This morning the tree is almost gone already.  A team of three tree surgeons complete with one of those machines which eats branches has taken only a couple of  hours to get most of it cleared – and it looks like the boat has not been damaged too badly other than quite a big dent in the roof and handrail.

Not allowed into Wetherspoons at Kingston!


Friday night, stopping in Kingston should have been a pleasure, marking the last night on the Thames before heading off to the Grand Union on a very early morning tide, but this weekend was not one of the best to visit.  First of all it was Hampton Court Flower Show which meant the moorings there were even busier than normal.  I advised a hire boater that it was proabably better to pop round to Kingston where the 24 hour moorings are much nicer, only to discover that mooring was prohibited from 10th to 13th due to the Kingston Regatta.

Busy moorings at Teddington
Busy moorings at Teddington

So went down to Teddington to discover that all the people who couldn’t get in at Hampton Court or Kingston were moored on or around the EA moorings there and there wasn’t room for us, so back to Kingston it was, where we moored just beyond the Regatta compound after all.

Looking forward to a couple of pints then an early night, I didn’t bother dressing up after the day’s boating and went searching for a pub with beer rather than one of the lager bars along the waterfront.  It was not easy – but Wetherspoons Kings Tun looked like about the best of a bad bunch.  Elsewhere Wetherspoons are normally more than acceptable pubs.  We tried to walk through an open door but got directed into a queing system instead, where three (sober) and smartish guys were getting annoyed about having to show their ID just to go into a pub.  The head bouncer moved in and quickly threw them out, which was well out of order.  The last time I had to show ID to enter a pub was probably more than 30 years ago.  Having passed the ID check, chief bouncer moved in.  “No shorts after 7pm”.  And that was that.  Barred from entering a pub for the first time in my life.  He thought it was most amusing and informed that the other customers wearing shorts had all come in before the deadline and could stay till closing time if they wanted, but somehow the manager would know if they let another in.  Good to know you have such a talent mate.  It is immensely clear that running a pub is not one of them, having googled for Wetherspoons Kingston and read some of the comments. 

So we found a mediocre pint elsewhere in a pub which seemed to be deliberately leaving half inch head gap between the beer and the top of the glass which is equivalent to stealing 20p per pint, topped off with the most foul sausage and chips from a town centre chip shop.  The foam box would have tasted better and was certainly fresher.  We crossed the bridge back to the boat and watched in amazement while the “M” night club by the bridge was operating an outdoor airport style security check complete with metal detector and five staff.  Just how bad does Kingston get on a Friday night to warrant this level of security!!?  Passing a Police Incident sign which asked for information following an unexplained death below the bridge a couple of weeks ago probably answered this question though.

And if that’s not enough, how about this … Serious assault on riverboat which has just been reported today even though it happened last weekend!

So here ended a lovely day’s cruising down the Thames from Staines but  I think I will give Kingston a miss next time.  Set the alarm for 04:30 and slept like a log despite the laughter and noise of the shortless and security checked revellers, carrying across the water.

First rain for weeks

Rain in Windsor
Rain in Windsor

If I remember correctly the last time it rained was during the first two weeks of May.

Today it is still raining in Windsor for the second day in a row – sunny spells and heavy showers makes the heat wave of the last couple of weeks seem a long time ago.

Narrowboats at Henley Regatta

OK - who is next?  Queueing at Marsh Lock before Henley Regatta
OK - who is next? Queueing at Marsh Lock before Henley Regatta

On Saturday morning it seemed like a good idea to head down stream from Reading to spend another few weeks on the Thames and Grand Union so after a good stock up at Tesco we joined the crowds heading towards Henley, where we would have to pass through one of the main days of the Henley Royal Regatta.

Narrowboats were definitely in the minority as we queued for Marsh Lock amidst dozens and dozens of gin palaces, cruisers, shiny wooden launches and generally anything else which was capable of supporting a wicker basket and champagne bucket.

Unphased by the ever increasing queue, the seasonal lock keeper at Marsh, working on his own throughout the lunch hour, had everything totally in control, squeezing dozens of boats through the lock at time.  Sadly many of these boaters seemed to be from a different planet and our normal hellos, waves and acknowledgements were totally ignored with at best a “don’t let your dirty boat touch ours” glare.

As we dropped down the lock with a dozen others, the lock gates opened to a flurry of spluttering  outboards and whizzy bow thrusters as the other occupants fought for position in the un-scheduled Marsh Lock to Henley race, leaving us wondering what we had let ourselves in for.

First myth was quickly dispelled – at lunch time there were still plenty of moorings available before Henley Bridge, albeit at £50 pounds per night, but we headed onwards and joined a melee of boats waiting to go through the bridge and edge our way into the procession of boats running parallel to the actual race course.  It was a bit like driving a truck down Oxford street, keeping only inches away from the other boats in the procession, but it was great fun too.  It would be no exaggeration to say that several hundred boats were jostling for position up and down the mile and a half long course.  Every ten minutes another race took place, causing a foot high wave to cascade through the procession as the boats came through being chased by the Umpire’s launch – a very impressive piece of shiny rowing history in action.   I was struck with the thought that this would be a great time to do a toilet pump out with the holding tank sediment being shaken up like never before, but it was not to be. 

Henley Regatta boating
Henley Regatta boating

Amongst the hundereds of particpants we were one of maybe ten narrowboats moving at the time – definitely in the minority in the same way a gin palace with a brass band on deck would have been out of place at Braunston historic boat procession, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.  I hadn’t expected the fringe element to be out waterbombing other boats in pirate style, and was pleased not be considered a worthy target and mildly amused to see others having to cover their cucumber sandwiches in case of stray splashing.

But overall, if you want to visit in a narrowboat, you will more than likely be able to find a mooring in town, and with a bit of pre-booking or luck, there may even be a place for you along the course at a similar price.  There appeared to be plenty of late night entertainment lined up too, so I imagine there would some late night boating activity too.

So what if you were just hoping to pass through without any interest in the Regatta?  It is perfectly OK to come through but expect a delay of two or three hours for queuing at the lock and to pass down the length of the course.

Henley Regatta Course
Henley Regatta Course

Leaving the parade where most others turned back to go through it all over again, I guess this has been one of the most memorable hours of my boating experience.  Not perhaps my favourite, but nevertheless very enjoyable although unlikely to gain much respect in traditional narrowboating circles.

Continuing through Hambleden lock we passed maybe 20 large boats waiting to get up to Henley and the towpath telegraph was buzzing with stories of queues of 4 hours at Hurley, which may even have been true.  Satisfied with a most interesting day’s boating we moored up at Bourne End and had a beer or three in the Bounty – perhaps one of the most unusual pubs in the whole country, not least because it has no road to it – and poles apart from the world we left behind us in Henley.