Two of everything now that I have Three

I have to be online daily, as whilst I lead a nomadic life, it can only be paid for by occasional bursts of activity on various computer systems which are usually too far away to visit.  The internet bridges the gap – I can usually put things right wherever I am, as long as the laptop and internet connection are both functioning.

Last week the laptop woke me up at 3am with a scream – yes the laptop, and not me.  It was definitely not well, and in the morning it refused to go beyond a repeat of this awful noise.  Realising this was serious, and not having time to work out if it was repairable, I duly headed to PCWorld and came home with a lovely new one.

Fortunately, when the dust had settled, I realised that the screaming noise was most likely due to a keyboard error, and found if booted to DOS, the W, S and X keys still worked confirming that the rest of the keys didn’t.  Unable to spell anything using these keys alone, I ordered a new keyboard from ebay which has sorted out the problem and now I have a spare laptop to take travelling!   Cost of repair £15.00.

Anyway T-Mobile, my normal means of connecting to the internet,  turns out to be pathetically slow here in Middlewich – one thing I forgot to check before taking the mooring here.  So today I checked who did provide 3G service to Middlewich and was pleased to find that Three do and so for emergency use only, I am now the proud owner of two mobile broadband systems, as well of course as two laptops and err… two boats including two of almost everything else needed to equip a boat.

Three 3G works too (thank goodness), and very fast it is.  But as a trial I have taken out the PAYG option which gives only 1Gb or 30 days for a tenner.  I have used 20% of this today alone without really doing anything.  As I said – its for emergency use only – but how can they possibly pretend that this bandwidth is suitable for a month’s worth of browsing and email!

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

Middlewich was lovely this week in the sunshine, but this morning the winds and rain arrived as forecast so we jumped in the car and did what all good boaters do on their day off; went to see some boats.

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum
Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

The first thing I noticed about Ellesmere port, apart from the incredibly industrial landscape, was the twinned locks descending from the Shropshire Union Canal into the Manchester Ship Canal – like the reels on a fruit machine dropping into place I suddenely remembered I had been here before, possibly on a day trip from University in the 70s.

The location is wonderful as the wide locks, alongside the narrow locks descend to the basins around the new Holiday Inn and onwards through lock number 1 into the Ship Canal.  I have never paid to see a flight of locks before but the frustration of looking through a fence was too much and I just had to go in!

I recently read about the downturn in fortunes of the museum so rather than pay the £5.50 entry fee I opted for the £13.00 annual pass, although I guess this may be the first and last visit here this year.  However it also works at Stoke Bruerne and Gloucester and so seems quite good value all in the aid of a good cause.

Admittedly it was late in the day, but there were in fact only 6 other visitors still on site, which presumably is due to the credit crunch. Well everything else is, so why not blame it anyway.

I must admit to quite enjoying the visit, although it was very sad to see so many old boats decaying without any form of restoration, other than the odd pump to keep them from hitting the bottom.

It certainly passed a rainy afternoon.

Moorings at Middlewich

Well this was supposed to be a cruising blog, with regular updates, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.  According to my last cruising post we were somewhere around Cropredy having arrived there via the Grand Union from Ricky and a side trip to Hawkesbury en route.

So now Zulu is at home in Middlewich on her BW mooring just by Kings Lock below Middlewich Big Lock (thanks Dave!!).  We arrived a couple of weeks ago via Coventry, Ashby, Birmingham, Stourbridge, Great Haywood, Stoke, Harecastle and have clocked up 354 miles and 338 locks since being relaunched at Winkwell all those weeks ago, and I have to say that for an old boat with old engine we have done it totally incident free, which gives me great confidence in the old girl.

Middlewich is not the most celebrated location on the waterways but has a special place in my memories as it was here, in 1975, that I first set foot on a narrowboat when the school canal society undertook its inaugural trip, from Middlewich to Llangollen.  Willow Wren is long gone, but nobody will pass through Wardle lock without being greeted by Maureen who used to help run the old hire fleet.

The second thing I like about being at Middlewich is the growing reputation of the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival which transforms the town every summer, and combines music, dance and canalia.  I look forward to being here on my own boat next summer but this year we made it by car – the dates will be Friday 19th – Sunday 21st June 2009.

Middlewich has little else to celebrate.  It is a working town based on salt mining still very much in evidence, and sadly no railway station.  For canal visitors it has a pubs, allegedly a very good chip shop, various takeways and a general air of “may be getting better”, although it never quite seems to get there.

Zulus new moorings at Kings Lock, Middlewich
Zulus new moorings at Big Lock, Middlewich

Our new moorings, on the other hand, are excellent.  I had bid on the Mooring Tenders system without actually visiting, although I have passed the site many times before, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the old derelict land opposite was now being developed, and that behind our mooring are fields and woods separated from the path by a stream, and during our short time there literally dozens of dogs came past and said hello to Seth, who thinks we have arrived in dog paradise.

Just before arriving at Middlewich we passed some other very nice looking farm moorings, only to find Andante, my lovely old 32ft trad boat, originally sold to Sarah and now in the hands of the third new owner and renamed Saxon.  She is still unmistakable and now in her new livery she has been given a lot of attention including shiny brass and gleaming paintwork.  She certainly seems to have been given a new lease of life and I hope I may meet her new owners soon.

Without a station, Middlewich is not the most easy place to reach from our other home moorings down south, the choice between car or bus/train being made all the harder due to the crazy way which discounted rail fares appear while planning journeys.  It can be anything from 10 to 100 pounds depending on which train and which method of searching you carry out.  I will write more about this soon, as I have a number of proven methods of reducing train fares by breaking the journey down into smaller sections.

So with Zulu parked up safe and sound after so many hours of cruising I jumped in the car, turned onto the M6 and duly blew up the radiator before we had even reached Sandbach services.  At times like this on a dark cold Sunday night, 150 miles from home, I was so thankful that I had renewed my breakdown cover and spent the next 4 hours dozing off in the cab of a RAC rescue truck. Incredibly the year’s RAC membership was half paid for by not using any petrol on the way home.

So our first day in Middlewich eventually ended on a high after all.  I will be back on Zulu next weekend but for now I may use a few of these cold dark evenings to catch up on a bit of retro-blogging and fill in some of the gaps.

Southend to Tower Bridge on Paddle Steamer Waverley

In the 60s the family used to urge the old Wolsley over the Carter Bar into Scotland and visit our relations on the Isle of Arran, which involved taking the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick.

As a special treat we would take one of the Clyde Steamers on a day trip around the Clyde estuary, visiting Rothesay, Millport, Gourock, Dynoon, Largs and even Campbeltown.  The Queen Mary and the Waverley were the two most regular steamers and even in those days they seemed like a window to an Art Deco world which was fast slipping away.

A couple of weeks ago I had a trip down memory lane with a quick road trip to Arran and I was delighted to find that the Balmoral was operating pleasure trips, although not when I was there.  I totally missed the fact that the Waverley would be back on the Clyde in October, let alone the fact that she would be operating on the Thames this weekend.

It must have been fate which took me to her website and on Saturday morning I dropped everything and headed to Southend pier, the longest in the world, for a stunning trip back up the Thames into the Pool of London, to Tower Pier.  A trip back to Southend was another memory jogger as I lived there in the 80s for a few years, and it sure seems that nothing much has changed, apart from a few more fires on the pier.  I didn’t have time to explore my old haunts so went straight down to the end of the pier just as Waverley was arriving.

After 40 years I immediately recognised her presence – she glides along almost silently, a row of heads on the upper deck, two funnels and the gorgeous wooden bridge being all you initially saw as she drew up to the end of the pier on low tide.  70 feet of water on the landing stage at low tide apparently  and shallow enough to stand up on the other side.  The engine telegraph clanged again as the engines were reversed and soon some 1000 people were disembarking up the slippery old steps of the lower deck of the pier, which are so rarely used these days.

Just as quickly we were boarding and departed bang on schedule in a flurry of paddles whipping up the sea and a couple of blasts on the steam whistle.  She is one of the very few craft which deliberately drops her ropes into the sea on departure – theres no propellors to foul, although we very nearly brought part of the pier with us as the stern line refused to drop off the rotting old woodwork into the water, but all was well.

Time to look around – Waverley is immaculate with varnished wood, polished brass and painted metalwork.  Little changed if at all since the 50s.  Theres a coffee shop, two bars and a restaurant so theres plenty to keep you fed and watered, and I was pleased to see the bars stocked Arran beers and a range of malt whisky too, keeping the scottish connections well alive.  The lower deck bar must be unique in that it spans the space between the paddles, with portholes along the waterline which give a strange view of the thrashing water outside.

The engines are on full display to the public, just like they used to be, and you can almost reach out and touch the pistons as they turn the two paddle wheels.

Outside the Essex coast was zooming past at an impressive speed and we made our way through much larger ships on the esturary, arriving at Tilbury pier to drop off a few passengers and even pick up a couple.  I’m not sure where the estuary officially ends and the Thames begins, but I was surprised how narrow it actually is, as well as a surprising number of twists and turns – somehow I imagined it to be a straight line to the sea!

The highlights of the 3.5 hour trip were going below the massive QE2 Bridge which carries the M25 high above the river just as the sun was setting, then up through the floodlit Thames Barrier, past the O2 Arena, around Canary Wharf, past the entrance to Limehouse marina (and therefore the canal system) and finally the most amazing spectacle of Tower Bridge opening specially for us.  What a fantastic day out this was.