Hotel with a difference in Sheffield Basin

Houseboat Hotels, Sheffield Victoria Quays
Houseboat Hotels, Sheffield Victoria Quays

I rarely let the opportunity pass to visit a new canal location and so during a brief visit to Sheffield this weekend, I was able to take yet another walk down memory lane and check out Sheffield Canal basin which seems to be known better these days as Victoria Quays.

The basin isn’t the easiest place to reach by boat and you certainly wouldn’t want to moor outside on the towpath on the way into the city, so I find it rather amazing that a recent Canal World Forums discussion mentions that Calder Valley Marine are now in charge of all moorings in Sheffield, including visitor moorings, although on site there is no sign that this is about to happen.  I hope it doesn’t.

Amongst the permanent moorers in the Basin are Ruby and Lily May – better known as Houseboat Hotels (.com).  I notice from their website that they have a number of awards for innovation and I only wish there were more of these around the country.  Hotel boats normally cruise in summer and lay up in winter so this is a nice alternative.  The only other I know of was in Birmingham where the Away2Stay hotel boat offers B&B in Gas Street Basin.

Both of these operations offer very reasonable prices when compared to renting a cloned box room in the new mass market hotels which have sprung up near all city centre canals.  I know where I would be booking into, assuming of course, that I was not visiting by boat.

Boat Jumble

Middlewich Boat Jumble
Middlewich Boat Jumble

On the way from Middlewich to the M6 I was about to drive past a car boot sale when I suddenly realised it was actually a Boat Jumble. Swiftly changing plans I parked up and braved the £3 entrance charge – and I have to say it was worth every penny.

Not really catering for narrowboats as such, but boats in general, the range of stuff on display was amazing. Far too many stalls to even pick one out to mention but every single one had something of some interest – I could have spent a fortune with prices so much below chandlery rates. The last time I found anything like this was back in the good old days of windows 3.0 computing when the early computer fairs were an Aladdins cave of genuine stuff at knock down prices, rather than now being stall after stall selling the same second rate unbranded cloned electronics.

An amazing range of specialist products on display
An amazing range of specialist products on display

I resisted temptation to pick up sheets of rubber hex matting at 16 pounds per square metre – about 1/3 of the chandlery rate, or a huge range of dented tins of paint for 1/4 their shelf price. The list goes on and on – I made do with an almost new Dometic 3 way boat fridge for… well lets say a very, very good price indeed.  As well as exceptional prices, it was actually the range of specialist products which was the real star of the show.  If only the IWA could do a deal with this group of exhibitors to share the annual IWA National Rally then this really would create a boating event second to none.  When I criticised the Autherley Junction rally last year, this is exactly what I would have made the event so much more than a boater’s get-together.

It was a complete revelation to discover that these weekly Boat Jumbles, organised by Practical Boat Owner magazine, follow a nationwide circuit and will almost certainly be coming to a place near you soon. Check out the 2009 schedule here and if you go along with an open mind you will amost certainly be returning with a bargain.

Google Street (and canal) View hits the UK

Google Street View of the Rochdale Canal in Manchester
Google Street View of the Rochdale Canal in Manchester

I am now quite used to searching Google Maps and switching to Satellite view to see aerial photographs of the country.  In fact its quite good fun doing a virtual tour of the canals and we can even cut out the hard work by using Tony Blews’ Google Earth Canal Maps website.

From 18th March 2009 we can now not only look down from above but also literally walk through the streets with Google Street view.  First impressions are great – you drag a little yellow man onto the map and the streets which he knows all light up – follow the arrows on the screen and you can move up and down, and grab the screen with the mouse to turn through 360 degrees – you can even look over walls and bridges.

In this first release it seems we can now walk through Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Southampton and York (England); Belfast (Northern Ireland); Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow (Scotland); Cardiff and Swansea (Wales).  The imaging software is incredibly clever, even blocking out car number plates and peoples faces – although after a quick test I can see this doesn’t always work too well.

So where’s the canals link?  Test out Castle Street in Manchester, for a start off : you can walk right over the Rochdale Canal at Lock 92 and down into the Castlefield area.    It looks like most of the pictures are only a year or so old, much more recent than most Google aerial photography.  Let me know of any other good canal locations which you find!
Below you should be seeing a live view – click on the picture and have fun – but it doesn’t seem to be loading every time. If theres no picture then try reloading or follow the link to Google at the end.

View Larger Map

Sorry the police are on holiday until….

I have been following the search for a stolen boat “Que Sera Sera” on Canal World Forums with interest, disappointed that it hasn’t been found yet and frustrated that there’s not a lot I can do to help, much as I would like to.

The most incredible aspect, apart from anyone being brazen enough to steal someone’s property from right under their nose, is the apparent unwillingness of the police to do anything except issue a crime number.  Apparently the officer who deals with theft is on holiday!!!  Nor has any interest been shown by newspapers (yet)…

The Middlewich Guardian today carries a story about Boat Engine Stolen… this is of course quite concerning in itself, as Zulu is moored only 200 yards from this boat, and there would surely be much more point to this article if it was able to give exact details of the stolen engine, but nevertheless the story has made it into the paper.  Canal World on the other hand has full details of Que Sera Sera, the stolen boat, but even if this reaches a readership of thousands there are still a lot of miles of canal to search.

Canal World have even published a poster but it would be great if this could appear in a local paper or two… this stolen boat is possibly now more than 100 miles from its starting point at Streethay Wharf, via the entire Ashby Canal and its such a shame it couldn’t have been found when sighted there earlier in the week.

It would be so nice to be able to report that it has been found, before the police get back from their holidays.  Please print out copies of this poster and circulate anywhere and everywhere!

Stolen Boat Que Sera Sera

Screenshots using Vista’s Snipping Tool – useful for illustrating blogs!

Due to working this week I haven’t had much time for boating so here’s a windows Vista tip instead.

Try the Windows Snipping Tool to take a “picture” of anything on your screen and either paste it into an email or document, or save it as a graphic file which you can then include in a blog.  It can save you hours on the phone trying to describe what you can see when you could simply take a snapshot and mail it within 10 seconds.

This is also ideal for bloggers who want to show a small part of a photo without having to load up a photo editor.

To find it, Open Snipping Tool by clicking the Start button , clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Snipping Tool

Use the snipping tool like this
Use the snipping tool like this

If the option is not there then you need to add “Tablet PC Optional Components” by going to Control Panel | Programs | Programs and Features | Turn Windows features on or off at which time you will see a list of Windows components.  Tick the box beside Tablet PC Optional Components and press OK.

The Snipping Tool is extremely simple to use – you draw a box around what you want to snip and thats it – you can then draw or write onto the screenshot and then mail it, save it or paste it into a document.  The options are fairly self explanatory but there’s a much better tutorial than this at  http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/tutorials/tutorial135.html

To take a screenshot including a dropdown menu its a little more complicated but this will work.

1. Open Snipping Tool by clicking the Start button , clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Snipping Tool
2. Press ESC, and then open the menu that you want to capture. 
3. Press CTRL+PRINT SCREEN. 
4. Select the type of snip you want, and then capture the menu.

Screenshot of windows menu
Screenshot of windows menu

Back to Middlewich

Bramble Cutting to Middlewich, Trent & Mersey Canal: 2 miles, 0 locks.

Here we are back home after a lovely week out.  The windy weather has at least helped dry up the mud on Zulu’s moorings and so I am a bit happier, and still intregued with BW who have now laid compacted red sand all the way from Croxton Bridge to the centre of town.  There seems to be no stopping them, as the new crushed stone pathway extends all the way to Wardle lock, and then disappears up the Middlewich Branch and no doubt going to be sanded today… a total distance of well over a mile of sand.

Following the towpath up to Kings Lock confirmed that the Kings Lock pub is still closed with a To Let sign above the door.  I guess the problem with this pub is that it is one of so many similar pubs in the same street, except with a superb location with canal side seating and gardens.  I hope it finds a new tenant or manager before the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, which is fast approaching, since this is one of the main performance venues.    The festival runs over the weekend of 19-21 June.

Meanwhile work calls down south and so reluctantly I secured the boat and set off down the M6.  I may be back at the weekend though, as I was just getting the bug for painting, and Zulu certainly has plenty of bits which need a coat or two.

Almost home despite the wind

 Acton Bridge to Bramble Cutting, near Middlewich, Trent & Mersey Canal: 13 miles, 0 locks, 2 tunnels.

Lovely walking around here, as long as you keep away from the very busy main road which crosses the Weaver at Acton Bridge, so with the dog well exercised we set off early and timed our arrival at Saltersford tunnel so we didn’t have to stop at all.   Barnton tunnel follows within a few minutes and we got straight through without a delay and were soon mooring up at Anderton where the BW workboat Taygeta followed me in while a couple of others were waiting their turn to go down the Boat Lift.

Windy day at Anderton
Windy day at Anderton

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, spoilt slightly by a very strong and gusty wind.  Taking a picture of the wind isn’t easy but this picture of a boat pointing 90 degrees to the intended direction of travel due to the wind was fairly straightforward.  It really was windy too!

After Anderton we had a rendezvous: I was delighted to find that the curtains which I had ordered on the way north were ready to collect – Kathys Curtains is a regular seller on Ebay and she has already provided me with some first class curtains for Zulu, but I needed a bigger set for the bedroom. They were made to order within the week, and all ready for collection from her boat which just so happened to be in the area.

The Trent and Mersey in this area is a great mixture of industry and remote countryside and it was another very pleasant day’s boating from Anderton down to Bramble Cutting, a remote offside mooring which can only be accessed by boat, complete with picnic tables and a sturdy metal stand for disposable barbecues.  A very nice place to spend the evening.

Zulu moored at Bramble Cutting
Zulu moored at Bramble Cutting

Homeward bound

Manchester to Acton Bridge, Bridgewater and Trent & Mersey 24 miles, 1 lock, 1 tunnel

Zulu leaving Castlefield Manchester
Zulu leaving Castlefield Manchester

About midnight on Saturday, on the way back from Snow Patrol, the weather took a major turn for the worse and a night of rain and wind ensued.  It didn’t put off the Manchester clubbers out in force, and the bars alongside Deansgate were heaving – what credit crunch?   Down at the Castlefield basin area there were very few if any revellers – that’s what is so nice about this mooring, literally a few hundred yards to the nightlife centre, yet not much disturbance although I dare say it has had its moments when it was a notorious drug den.

The morning was surprisingly sunny so I decided to push off early and head home – not possible to get to Middlewich in one day of course, but I thought I would see how far I could get – and ended up on the Trent and Mersey at Acton Bridge.  I decided not to push to Anderton as it would have meant a delay at Saltersford tunnel due to the time restriction.

Although its short, Saltersford tunnel is far from straight, and its not possible to see one end from the other.  Last time I visisted I was three quarters of the way through when a hire boat entered from the other direction, so I had the pleasure of reversing 150 yards to let them through.  Now the Preston Brook concept of allowing boats to enter at certain times only has been adopted, and this is certainly one of BWs better new rules.  Coming from Preston Brook boats can enter beteen half past and ten-two the hour, the other direction being from on the hour until twenty past.  The same applies at Preston Brook tunnel but the window is only for 10 minutes rather than 20.

It was so good to stop and moor for the night – I can’t remember boating on such a windy day for many years, and the mixture of rain, sleet, hailstones whipped into a wind chill by the gales made it very hard going today. 

Nevertheless the Bridgewater remains a very easy canal to navigate and we ended up 24 miles from Manchester – not bad going.

Snow Patrol concert, Manchester MEN Arena

Saturday night, 7th March 2009 – Manchester Evening News Arena – Snow Patrol

Seeing Snow Patrol was actually the reason for this trip to Manchester.  I would hazard a guess that I was the only member of the audience who had made a 7 day round trip – and it was certainly worth the effort.

Every time I see a band these days I am just as amazed by the quality of the production – both sound and visual, and tonight was no exception.  The sound was simply fantastic and the moving projection screens which formed the back of the stage were amazing too.

The band of course was absolutely brilliant too – one of the best concerts I have been to in a long time – when the entire stadium knows most of the words as well as the band, then the effect is amazing.  Despite the huge size of the venue lead singer GaryLightbody went ahead with performing from a random spot in the crowd where he suddenly appeared with acoustic guitar and microphone.  This was live entertainment at its best – some silly girl got hold of the microphone and screamed into it, but he recovered the situation with a simple “well that won’t be happening again!” and continued the song – with every electric light in the building being turned off and the crowd invited to take out their mobile phones and light up the arena like stars. 

“Its like performing in space” he said.

Lymm to Manchester

Lymm to Castlefield, Manchester, Bridgewater Canal: 14 miles 0 locks

Another beautiful day for boating and the wide deep Bridgewater eats up the miles in no time at all.  With maximum power, Zulu struggles to make 3mph on the canals, but today according to the satnav we were rattling along at a heady 4mph for most of the way.  The canal is so wide that even when passing other boats a reasonable speed can be maintained without making any wake whatsover.

The Bridgewater is a very pleasant canal to cruise, passing through many suburban areas which tend to face the canal rather than turn their backs on it.  I was pleased to find that Thorn Marine are still operating chandlery and boat services at Stockton Heath despite dire warnings that their historic site was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment when I last passed through here almost 4 years ago.  I took advantage and topped up with Excel at £10.00 a bag, which isn’t too bad considering how much fuel has risen this year.

The last couple of miles into Manchester really are quite different  with hardly a building still standing – acre after acre of waste land gives way to a massive container port followed by Old Trafford football stadium, past Pomona lock which would drop you down to the Ship Canal if you had the keys, and then into Castlefield which I really like.  There are some really nice warehouse conversions, and some excellent moorings.  You just have to ignore the new tower blocks on the way into the basin, where literally hundreds of absolutely identical apartments overlook each other.  This was all just being built four years ago – it doesn’t seem to have done much for the area, other than reclaim a few acres of land.

Zulu at Castlefield
Zulu at Castlefield

There is however something magical about approaching a big city by boat, and this is definitley the easist way into Manchester.  To be out in the countryside one minute, to being one minute away from the city is such a contrast, I still love the arrival – I don’t think there’s any better analogy than being in a time machine – plodding away at four miles per hour and suddenly arriving in the future, with a gentle nudge as you stop on your own private mooring bollard.