Rest in peace

Last week I was concerned that Norman, the resident moorer at Big Lock moorings, was not around.  On previous visits he was always there – sitting outside with dog Holly, a rollup and a mug of tea putting the world to right with all the passing dog walkers, or pottering around on the moorings where he has recently planted dozens of bushes and fruit trees.  In fact last time I was here I didn’t see him either, although Holly was sniffing around on the towpath, and his back cabin light was on, so I thought no more of it.

On Thursday I was therefore horrified when Norman’s brother came looking for the boat and told me that Norman had died and his body was found onboard on Tuesday after a concerned dog walker had called the police.

I knew that not all the family had been informed, and so didn’t post anything until now, when today the sad news is the headline story in today’s Middlewich Guardian.   Luckily Holly has been taken in by the person who called the police.

But the sad story has really been nagging me this week.  If only I had insisted on checking up last time I was here instead of assuming all was OK after seeing the dog, then things may have worked out different.  Norman was a lovely bloke and lots of people are going to miss him when passing by the moorings.

So I ever notice anyone missing from their boat in the future I will certainly be more inquisitive, just incase.

Mooring surplus?

Spoilt for choice of moorings?  We could be seeing the first signs in a month where global economy has gone mad and at least one major marina development has been shelved.  There’s even talk of allowing boats without a permanent mooring to pay an annual towpath mooring fee which sounds like another British Waterways scatterbrained idea which is bound to backfire.

Today (12th December) the BW Mooring Tenders website listed four mooring tenders to be completed at 13:00.  Three of them closed without any bids at all, despite in my opinion, there being a lot worse places to moor than Whaley Bridge (22m towpath mooring with no bids) or the immensely popular moorings at Claverton on the K&A where a 15m berth suitable for a widebeam has also been ignored.  I don’t think I can recall another day where so many moorings were returned with no bids.  In fact this week out of 13 tenders, only 8 had any bids at all and most of those were more or less equal to the guide price, apart from one very low below the reserve and one exceptionally high, more of which in a second.  Even more unusual this week is that out of 13 vacancies, no less than 3 were for residential moorings and out of the 10 leisure moorings 6 are still vacant.

To keep things in the balance, however, there is another first on the mooring tenders site this week.  The first mooring bid over £9,000 pounds per annum (excluding Poplar Marina on the tidal Thames) was tendered this week, for a residential berth in the Engineers Wharf moorings on the Paddington Arm at Northolt.  This location is in itself very unusual as it is a new development of waterside flats, Grand Union Village, incorporating 23 moorings which much to the amazement of everyone concerned were all granted residential status by the local council earlier this year.  So this month has set a very dangerous precedent in valuing the moorings in this area – with the recommended guide price of £5,250 now being dwarfed by a successful tender this week of £9,250 per annum, beating the previous record bid for a mooring where another berth in the same location reached £8,250 on December 1st.

Is this the most expensive rented mooring on the canal system? A new two bed flat here in the Grand Union Village overlooking this mooring is available for rent of £11,400 per annum – just £2,150 more than a pair of mooring rings!

So is this system really a fair platform for mooring allocation?  I have no objection to an auction based system but this is no fair auction.   BW do plan to amend the system to become a true auction where bidders will be permitted to compete with each other instead of blindly throwing money away and such a system should finally allow a balanced picture of the true value of moorings to emerge, but no date has yet been set so how much more craziness can we expect in the meantime?

Big Lock (pub) Middlewich reopens

Big Lock Middlewich
Big Lock Middlewich

When Zulu arrived in Middlewich I was pretty alarmed to find that the Big Lock pub was closed.  Apparently the pub chain which held the lease had gone bust in September the tenants had to leave.  A pub without lights is a terrible sight and with so many closing for good, this didn’t look a good omen.

Punch Taverns, the owners, were quick to react by putting in a temporary manager, but for the last couple of months it has only been open for beer lager and not much else, and then only when they felt like opening.  The ominous signs were plastered over the outside “You could manage this pub” and it didn’t look good.

So I am delighted to be able to report that the Big Lock has fully reopened for business as from the end of November.  Tonight I ventured in for the first time, dreading being the first customer to order bitter but far from the expected creamflow, I was offered draught Tetley, Spitfire, Bombardier and Black Sheep, all as guest beers and starting at two pounds a pint.  And very nice it was too.  So good in fact that I stayed for another, and since most of the customers (yes it was quite busy) seemed to be eating, I joined in and had the home made chilli.

Pickles Family Get Keys to Big Lock (Middlewich Guardian) 8-Dec – it even got a mention in the local press, which goes on to explain that a former local landlady (ex Narrowboat pub) and her son have taken the challenge, which is a good sign indeed.

“Would you like that mild, medium, hot or hotter?”  Now thats a first!  It was also extremely good home made chilli served with half and half, rice and chips and nachos and all for £5.50.  Most other dishes are from 5 to 9 pounds, and many come with a separate side salad or fresh vegetables and all I heard from other tables was how nice the food was; everything I could see appeared to be home made too, apart from my chips which had been frozen and then kept warm too long.

The pool table is gone and the front room is now more of a bar than games room and whilst a little bland under a welcome fresh coat of paint, the place is quite nice considering it is in its first couple of weeks of opening.  However the huge industrial carvery unit plonked in the restaurant area looks like something beamed in from a 60s function room, although the prices seem equally dated, at only £3.95 for a carvery lunch.  I wonder if this is really going to pay?

But please let me be first to congratulate the new tenants online – and let me recommend to any passing boaters that they leave their past impressions behind and give it a try.  Value for money: 10/10.  Food Quality:8/10 (let down by the chips).  Beer: 9/10.  I will be asking if they can sort out wifi for customers (and boaters, since 3G is so bad in the area) and maybe turn down the music, although I have to say that the thumping disco beat was quite uplifting and certainly wasn’t lift music!

With Zulu’s moorings right outside I’m quite proud to be able to call it my local.

A quick peek at Portishead

I was in the Bristol area with a couple of hours to kill on Saturday and in such a situation I always try to visit somewhere new on the waterways.  So while the sun was shining I made a quick detour down to the Severn to check out Portishead Quay Marina, the overnight staging point for narrowboats making the upstream trip from Bristol to Sharpness.

Locking up from the Severn into Portishead Quay Marina
Locking up from the Severn into Portishead Quay Marina

It surprised me when I first learnt that when leaving the Avon at Avonmouth boats need to turn left and head downstream rather than the obvious upstream approach.  When you see the 15-20ft rise from low tide up to marina level at the entry lock to Portishead marina then it helps to understand why!  If the tide can rise this much then a poor narrowboat isn’t going to have a chance of making any headway while it is running in the wrong direction, and so doing a full run upsteam on a rising tide would make lots of sense.   Furthermore the approach to Sharpness lock can only be made an hour or so before either side of high tide so you need to time arrival fairly precisely.

Portishead Quays Marina
Portishead Quays Marina

Portishead marina is being rapidly developed in typical waterside style with more than enough new flats to choose from and several new waterside brasseries seem to be opening.  All of this within a few minutes walk of the quite pleasant town centre, and on the site of the old power station.  There are boats of all shapes and sizes but no narrowboats today.  I guess than even in the summer they are still fairly rare visitors.

The lock was however in full swing – operated from a modern control cabin, it has floating pontoons along each side and so boats have a steady mooring – the water looks quite turbulent as it enters the lock by cracking the gates open rather than by conventional sluices, and quite a Saturday afternoon crowd had assembled to watch the operations.  There’s even a mobile cafe at the lock, plus a much more sophisticated Lock House brasserie/restaurant in the old lockside buildings.  The lock is actually a shadow of its former self having been vastly reduced in size when the marina was built, allegedly saving some 4 million gallons per operation, and old Vickers of Newcastle hydraulic gear is pleasantly preserved along with some of the old lock gates.  Altogether quite an interesting place, and I look forward visiting by boat and spending a night here in the future, although I understand it will not be a cheap place to stay!

So now I know what to expect when we come down beyond Bristol.  Quite exciting really – I wonder if we will have time to do it this coming summer?