Make a future for "Aster"

It was day one of my annual solitary cycling trip. The plan was to pick up last years trail atSwindon, carry on across the Cotswolds to Banbury, then turn South East, my new destination being Neasden.

First though, I wanted to visit Jaqui near Bath. Jaqui has lived aboard and lovingly maintained the wooden Josher motor “Aster” for many years. Some time ago she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was determined to stay aboard her beloved boat to the end. As she's got weaker however, she's started to review that decision. Last winter was difficult and she doesn't want to spend another winter afloat. I was going to visit her to discuss the future of “Aster”.

Eventually I spotted "Aster" on the outside, a little way short of the Dundas aquedct and the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal. I crossed the swing bridge to the moorings, which are run by a co-operative. I picked up wonderful friendly vibes as I rode down the path towards "Aster", with smiling adults and laughing playing children.

Jaqui invited me aboard. Inside was a lovely cosy hobbity space with lots of real wood fittings and a big range to keep the place warm. Over a cup of tea we chatted about what could be done with Aster.



Jaqui plans to move on to the bank in the Autumn. The boat will then have to move from her mooring as the co-op has made an exception to its r4ule that only co-op members can moor there because of Jaqui's ilness, and they're not accepting more members. Jaqui showed me pictures of substantial replanking work being done by the previous owners. She had docked the boat too, but had only been able to tingle over the suspect bits, and she'd had to sell the engine to pay for the work. Nevertheless, Aster is in pretty good nick, but she will need some real planking work done soon.


The Wooden Canal Boat Society can't take any more boats on, we're overstretchede with what we've got.My thoughts were going towards getting mine and Jaqui's friends together to form a charity to look after the boat, possibly raising funds by letting her as accommodation via online platforms, something that's working well to subsidise “Hazel”s charitable work. In the Bath area this should do well, though she would need a suitable mooring, with planning permission if she stays in one place, a higher spec boat safety certificate and suitable licence.

We chatted on about the difficulties of getting people working together, but it's worth the effort. I began to notice that Jaqui was looking tired and wondered if I should leave soon. She pre-empted me, explaining that she'd been to the hospice that day and she was getting pretty tired. I climbed out of the boat and said goodbye.


I have over 1000 Facebook friends. I've never met most of them, but they are mostly people who support the work of the Wooden Canal Boat Society, though, generally it's only moral support. If rather than likes whenever I post something they would all join the society, which has a ridiculously small membership, then the WCBS would have another £12000 a year to spend on restoring boats.


Jaqui also has a long friends list. Now, if Jaqui's friends and my friends in the South got together to form a Save Aster Society then it would be a pretty powerful group. Money could be raised, work done on the boat and Aster could be given a long term future, hopefully doing something useful to society. I don't know Jaqui well, but she strikes me as a really wonderful woman. She's facing something that we all dread. It will help her a lot if she knows that the boat she's loved for so long will have a bright future. Over to you!




Cycle trip day 1, Bath and Swindon.

It was day one of my annual solitary cycling trip. The plan was to pick up last years trail atSwindon, carry on across the Cotswolds to Banbury, then turn South East, my new destination being Neasden.

First though, I wanted to visit Jaqui near Bath. Jaqui has lived aboard and lovingly maintained the wooden Josher motor “Aster” for many years. Some time ago she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was determined to stay aboard her beloved boat to the end. As she's got weaker however, she's started to review that decision. Last winter was difficult and she doesn't want to spend another winter afloat. I was going to visit her to discuss the future of “Aster”.


Buying cheap advance tickets online is a great way to set up your train journeys. The only snag is that, if you're taking a bicycle, different train companies have different rules about carrying bikes. It's wise to book your bike on the train, which is free, but has to be done at a booking office. I got caught out with this on my last journey as Great Western had brought in compulsory bike booking on their Inter City 125 sets, how was I supposed to know?


When I tried to book my bike on my train from Manchester to Bristol I found that all the bookable slots were taken, but there was one first come first served slot left. I determined to be there as the train arrived to be the first comer.


My ticket was from Guide Bridge but I decided to cycle to Picadilly. Emily works at Bridge 5 Mill, the environmental resource centre. She had stayed aboard Hazel recently and left her jumper, so I was going to deliver it on the way. I loaded my bike handlebars with two bags for life full of stuff and put my rucksack on my back, then set off down the Ashton new road. Near the velodrome I diverted on to the towpath to stop at bridge 5 and deliver the jumper. I followed the road again until I came to the new basins that almost connect the Ashton canal with the Rochdale, where I followed the empty Ashton canal basin back on to the towpath.


This area, always known as Ancoats, is now being renamed “New Islington” by the regeneration experts. Presumably Ancoats wasn't upmarket enough.


The basin accessed from the Ashton Canal is empty of boats, purely ornamental. The one accessed from the Rochdale is full of boats, but they are being chucked out with nowhere to go. Despite living afloat now being seen as a deeply cool lifestyle, anti boater prejudice remains high among bureacrats.


Soon I was at Picadilly station, an hour early for my train. I went through the automatic ticket barrier and sat down at the platform end to enjoy watching the coming and going of trains. After a while my train arrived and, once it had disgorged its passengers, I hung my bike in the space provided and locked it in place, before seeking out my reserved seat in the next carriage.


Voyager units are not for the claustrophobic. They are tilting trains, leaning into corners like a motorbike. While this allows them to go a lot faster it means that the upper part of the body has to be relatively narrow to fit into the loading gauge whilst leaning. Added to this you have as many seats as they could cram in and limited luggage space. This particular unit was also excessively hot, though it's allegedly air conditioned.


Despite this, and the fact that none of my co-passengers could be tempted into a conversation, I enjoyed the journey, watching the towns and country whizz by. Stoke, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Cheltenham then into Bristol with me standing by the door ready with my rucksack and heavily laden bike.


Besides the rucksack on my back I had a supermarket 'bag for life, slung from each handlebar. As I pushed the bike along the platform, both straps on one of these gave way and the bag dropped to the floor. A helpful passenger picked it up for me. I tied the straps together and carried on, though it was clearly not going to last very long with half its fixings gone.


A huge crowd had gathered on platform 11 to await the 15.20 to Portsmouth, which I had to take as far as Bath. The sign flashed up that the train was only 2 carriages and was full and standing. A helpful platform manager (or whatever they call porters nowadays) suggested that anyone for Bath could take the Inter City 125 in the next platform.


My bike was booked on the 15.22 Portsmouth. I was once arrested at Bristol Temple Meads for unauthorised loading of a bike onto an Inter City 125. It cost me £40. I didn't take up the offer but instead I stood, holding on to my bike, for the short journey.


Bath is, of course, a beautiful city.This attracts tourists, so, the city cetre is pretty much geared fgor tourists. It's not the pace to find a cheap shopping bag. For the first time in my life I entered a Waitrose store, where I was able to purchase an organic fairtrade jute bag, which certainly is strong, if costly.


The next task was to find the canal. This isn't easy as canals tend to sneak into cities by the back door rather than proudly announcing their presence. Eventualy I tracked it down and set off at speed aong a wide and tarmacked towpath, busy with wakers, runners and cyclists.

The inside of the canal was dotted with moored boats of every description. Wide beam, narrow beam, steel, wood, fibreglass etc. Most were in some way or other personalised by there owners. Some were works of art. There was clearly a vibrant and creative waterway community here, just the thing that bureacrats hate. This is a waterway of The Shire, not of Mordor.

Eventually I spotted "Aster" on the outside, a little way short of the Dundas aquedct and the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal. I crossed the swing bridge to the moorings, which are run by a co-operative. I picked up wonderful friendly vibes as I rode down the path towards "Aster", with smiling adults and laughing playing children.

Jaqui invited me aboard. Inside was a lovely cosy hobbity space with lots of real wood fittings and a big range to keep the place warm. Over a cup of tea we chatted about what could be done with Aster.


Jaqui plans to move on to the bank in the Autumn. The boat will then have to move from her mooring as the co-op has made an exception to its r4ule that only co-op members can moor there because of Jaqui's ilness, and they're not accepting more members. Jaqui showed me pictures of substantial replanking work being done by the previous owners. She had docked the boat too, but had only been able to tingle over the suspect bits, and she'd had to sell the engine to pay for the work. Nevertheless, Aster is in pretty good nick, but she will need some real planking work done soon.


The Wooden Canal Boat Society can't take any more boats on, we're overstretchede with what we've got.My thoughts were going towards getting mine and Jaqui's friends together to form a charity to look after the boat, possibly raising funds by letting her as accommodation via online platforms, something that's working well to subsidise “Hazel”s charitable work. In the Bath area this should do well, though she would need a suitable mooring, with planning permission if she stays in one place, a higher spec boat safety certificate and suitable licence.

We chatted on about the difficulties of getting people working together, but it's worth the effort. I began to notice that Jaqui was looking tired and wondered if I should leave soon. She pre-empted me, explaining that she'd been to the hospice that day and she was getting pretty tired. I climbed out of the boat and said goodbye.


I have over 1000 Facebook friends. I've never met most of them, but they are mostly people who support the work of the Wooden Canal Boat Society, though, generally it's only moral support. If rather than likes whenever I post something they would all join the society, which has a ridiculously small membership, then the WCBS would have another £12000 a year to spend on restoring boats.


Jaqui also has a long friends list. Now, if Jaqui's friends and my friends in the South got together to form a Save Aster Society then it would be a pretty powerful group. Money could be raised, work done on the boat and Aster could be given a long term future, hopefully doing something useful to society. I don't know Jaqui well, but she strikes me as a really wonderful woman. She's facing something that we all dread. It will help her a lot if she knows that the boat she's loved for so long will have a bright future. Over to you!

I pedalled away through the lovely wooded moorings and over the swing bridge. I decided to have a look at the Aqueduct and the Coal Canal. The aqueduct is an impressive classical structure built in the local Bath stone. The Somerset Coal Canal, a narrow waterway built to tap the Somerset coalfield, was mostly converted into a railway in the 1870s. This, in turn closed down, but shortly after closure was used as the location for the classic Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt. A short length of canal at the junction has been restored as moorings.


Having ticked these two off my list, I set off back down the towpath towards Bath. I had noticed some intriguing derelict buildings across the railway line on the edge of Bath, so I manhadled my bike and luggage over the footbridge that led to them. I couldn't make out whether they were originally residential or industrial, but it looks like they're beenig refurbished as houses anyway.

At Bath railway station I sked for tickets for an old codger (senior railcard) and bike to Swindon. Armed with my ticket and cycle reservation I waited at the designated spot on the platform for the 125.

There was no fuss and no-one checked my ticket. The guard was a cheerful felow with a west country accent, a beard and his dark hair tied back in a pony tail. Dressed differently he could have been a pirate.


By the time we reached Swindon I was seriously hungry. It was getting late so I didn't want to go to the trouble of loighting a fire to cook my tea, a takeaway was in order. I went looking for a chip shop but, finding none, I thought I'd try a carribean takeaway.


I ordered jerk chicken with fries and home made coleslaw. That's £7, said the man “It says £5 in the window, I replied”. “Oh, that's the lunchtime meal deal” he said. OK, no problem, my mistake I said handing over a £20 note. “Have you got a pound” he asked. “Yes” I said, giving him a shiny new coin. He gave me £15 change. A quick calculation told me that I'd only been charged £6. I handed over my flask, “Any chance of filling this with hot water”, “i'll see if they'll do that” he said, taking it into the kitchen.


There were quite a lot of people sitting around waiting. A steady stream of polystyrene clad packages emerged from the kitchen, were wrappped in carrir bags and handed over to waiting customers. I was in no hurry as I was enjoying the reggae music. The lad wrapping and serving had his jeans hanging below his arse, which, thankfully, was covered by a sturdy pair of underpants. I wonder if he realises what that style of dress signifies.


My charged up flask returned, so I wouldn't need to light a fire for my morning coffee. Shortly afterwards my food came through the hatch. The man with the hanging pants apologised for it taking so long, “it was because of the fries” he said “we had to send out for them” (?!!!!?).


I cycled off back along the route I had followed into Swindon a year ago, along the filled in line of the Wilts & Berks canal. I knew this was crossed by thr Midland & South western Junction railway route, now a cycleway. I thought I would follow this to where it crossed the active Great western main line and sit there watching trains and eating my meal. Unfortunately the railway bridge is gone and the cycleway diverts down a rough lane that went under the railway through a concrete rathole. I found myself in one of those urban fringe area that are resrved for the less salubrious functions like rubbish tips and sewage works. This secluded lane is ideal for those people who shun the official disposal methods and creep away in the night to unload their rubbish unobserved.


My food was cooling so I gave up looking for a pleasant spot, instead, opening my meal on a barren mound surrounded by discarded foam mattress fillings. As I ate I thought there was something missing. The chips were OK, the chicken was good, the jerk sauce was very tasty, but there was no coleslaw! I liked that takeaway shop, but it was very random!


I needed to find a campsite for the night as dusk was a near prospect. With my takeaway container added to my burden I carried on up the cycleway, but had no idea which way to go when I reached a junction. Swindon has an excellent network of cycleways, if you know where you're going. There are signposts but many have been vandalised, some have been turned round (to confuse invaders perhaps) and if you set out along a route signposted to a likely sounding place you can guarantee that at the next junction you will be given a completely different menu of options.


I was aiming for the Swindin & Cricklade Railway, laid along the Midland & South Western trackbed and starting in a country park just North of Swindon. For added interest, it ran parallel to the North Wilts Canal, which there are ambitious plans to re-open.


I found myself on a cycleway that looked like it was a railway trackbed, so I followed it. At one point I had to cross a busy road. Someone leaned out of a passing car and shouted “hobo” at me. I'd rather be a hobo than a motorised prick!

Sure enough, the path led me to a country park and the rather bleak Southern terminus of the Swindon & Cricklade. The gate was locked, the information boards blank and no scope for camping, so I headed off into the country park.

I passed a fishing lake but plunged on through young woodland following the wandering path. I kept seeing likely spots but carrying on to see if there was anywhere better. I passed a bunch of teenagers carrying skateboards, then came to a road. I went up the road, thinking it would take me back to the railway line but, after several twists and turns, there was no sign. It was getting dark so I turned back and returned along the cycleway. I left the main route and went deep into Purton Wood, a young Woodland Trust plantation, and hid myself deep in the closely spaced young poplars.


It was spitting with rain, so I unfurled my pop up tent and unrolled my sleeping bag inside. Soon I was deep in the land of Nod.


Ecclesbourne Valley Diesel Weekend.

I've been down to Rugby to visit my brother and family. On the way back I thought I'd visit the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway that runs between Duffield and Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It turned out to be diesel weekend, which was a bit disappointing for me but I nevertheless enjoyed the ride. There were classes 26, 31 and 33 in action and I enjoyed the sound of their growly old diesel engines. The class 31 was hauling a 3 car Metro cammell DMU (class 101). I don't know if its engines don't work or if they were just short of coaches. From Wirksworth a short line carries on up a 1 in 29 gradient to Ravenstor, the old limestone loading point. This was being worked by a Derby Lightweight railcar from about 1956, the sort that was used to try to save the Banbury Buckingham line. I don't think it's engine is in very good shape. As it climbed the incline it left a trail of blue smoke hanging in the air.


Diesel events attract serious railway enthusiasts. Megabytes of video and still photos were being generated, some people were writing things in notebooks and there was an atmosphere of serious study.


Opposite me on the railcar sat a fat man and a thin man, both in their 60s and dressed for a 1950s locospotters club outing. The fat man said in a disparaging tone "I think one visit is more than enough for me",. "Oh" said the thin man, the fatty continued wth a disapproving air "this line wasn't even part of the branch". "It was used for mineral traffic" the thin man ventured. "Yes" continued his friend, now sounding a little angry, "but it never had a passenger service"!  Clearly he will refrain, on principle, from the delights of the Foxfield Railway, the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway and the Nant Gwernol extension of the Talyllyn Railway.

Class 31 arriving at Duffield with the DMU set

The Class 33 "Crompton" at Shottle, the crossing point for trains, viewed through the rear cab of the Metro Cammell DMU.

The Derby Lightweight waits for passengers then sets out up the incline to Ravenstor.

Serious railway enthusiasts mill about in the shade of the railcar at Ravenstor.

An industrial diesel with permanent way train in a siding at Shottle.


Lovely Day on the Ashton Flight

The 18 locks of the Ashton Canal between Manchester and Droylsden are not the best loved locks on the system. Many are the tales that go around of boats fouled up by rubbish, faulty locks, empty pounds and occassional ambushes. We've certainly had some difficult passages in the past. Not the kind of place you'd think to go bowhauling a butty for fun, but that's exactly what we did today.


"Hazel" had to be moved from Ducie St up to Ashton. We had an excellent good natured team of Tony Hewitson, Aaron Booth, David Basnett, Mary Francis and myself. We set off at about 10 AM and steadily worked up the locks with no fuss. Everyone worked as part of the team and needed next to no direction. The weather was dry and sunny but not too hot. We stopped above lock 7 to eat some excellent vegetable chilli supplied by the wonderful Em. At the summit we were met by our friend Fred who towed us the last couple of miles with his steel boat.


Aaron shafting the boat back towards the winding hole. We discovered that you can't wind a full length boat in the entrance to the private basin in Picadilly Village, but you can in the silly litlle arm on the towpath side.

David Hauls "Hazel" towards lock 8 under Ashton New Road.

Mary steers into lock 8.

Approaching Clayton Lane.

Crabtree Lane.

Passing the entrance to the Stockport branch.

Droylsden swing bridge.

Water sports adventure centre.

Entering the final lock.

Down the locks to Sport City 8th July 2017

"Hazel" needs to earn some money so that she can do more good work taking people who need their spirits lifting away up the cut. We decided to try taking her to Manchester as we earn more for overnight stays down there. Today Tony, Aaron, me and new volunteer (though he helped dig out the boatyard years ago) Lee, bowhauled her down the locks to the velodrome. On Tuesday she'll carry on to Ancoats.


"Let's Face the Music, and Dance"

I recently discovered this on a data stick in the bottom of a carrier bag. I wrote it in 2013, but, though personnel have changed a little, the general situation remains normal, so I thought I might as well publish it here.





Lets face the music, and dance.


A few years ago we had a visit from Tony Conder and Roger Hanbury, then curator and chief executive respectively of The Waterways Trust. Tony paid our work a brilliant compliment, “you're working wonders on next to nothing” he said. Certainly, up to then the society had led a hand to mouth existence and it was a wonder we were able to keep the boats afloat and functioning.


When Fiona Jones was working for us, trying to raise funds for our different projects, I would often have the following conversation with her:-

Me “What we really need is continuous funding for 3 full time boatbuilders”.

Fiona “ Sorry, but there aren't any funders who will do that, we always have to fit in with their objectives”.

Me “But we need funding for 3 full time boatbuilders”.

Fiona “But there are no funders who will provide that”.


Thanks largely to Fiona's tenacity we eventually got funding, in the nick of time, for Hazel's rejuvenation. This has funded two people to work on Hazel, but the other boats have been suffering in the meantime because we really need someone working full time on maintenance to keep everything afloat and functioning and to carry out the many stitches in time that will otherwise cost us dear in the long run.


I mentioned that Hazel's funding came through in the nick of time. She had sunk several times in the preceding few years and I was doubtful about how long we would be able to keep her in one piece so that there was actually something to work from when it came to restoration. Certainly, when we slipped her we discovered how weak she had become. By the time the restoration started we had had Hazel for 23 years. In that time she had been docked numerous times and essential maintenance carried out, but, nevertheless, it was clear that rot was steadily eating through the structure of the boat and there was nothing that we could do about it without the kind of major replanking job that we've carried out in the past 18 months. The fact is that, without our 3 full time boatbuilders, both the completed Hazel and the 5 other boats will gradually subside back into dereliction.


Jobs currently awaiting the time, money and boatyard space include the following:-

Lilith, Needs her stern end rebuilding and a new back cabin.

Forget me Not, Needs a mid life overhaul including renewing the top bends and lining planks, renewing a lot of the shearing, clothing up and renovating the back cabin, not to mention overhauling and installing the Bolinder.

Southam , Needs a lot of strengthening of the bow and most of the planks down the left hand side replacing. This would give an opportunity to put her on a diet so that she is less likely to get stuck in locks. There are also ongoing mechanical problems to address.

Queen, Needs a complete rebuild similar to the work that is being carried out on Hazel. We also need to find a Kromhaut semi diesel engine for her.


Elton Needs a complete rebuild, similar the work that is being carried out on Hazel.


Obviously, these jobs, especially Queen and Elton, are not going to be carried out overnight, even with our 3 fabulous boatbuilders, but it's essential that our work on the boats speeds up so that wood is being replaced faster than it's rotting away. It took 23 years to get work started on Hazel. Queen and Elton are unlikely to survive another 23 years without rebuilding, and, at a rate of 23 years per boat, that means poor Elton would have to wait 46 years for work to start on her.


So, why can't volunteers do all this work? Once upon a time I used to spend my spare time firing steam engines on preserved railways. Sometimes I go for a day out to one, or read about them in the railway press, and it makes me turn a bright shade of malachite green to see all the skilled work that is carried out by volunteers. Not only have volunteer led organisations rescued and mostly restored all the engines that were once consigned to Barry scrapyard, but now they are building replicas of the ones that were missed, not just great express locos like the famous Tornado but now humble tank engines and, believe it or not, diesels.


This is what can be done, but the supply of skilled volunteers for boat restoration is extemely restricted. There are simply not as many boat fanatics as there are railway fanatics, and many of those who do exist can satisfy their boating needs by owning a pleasure boat. Though the Hazel project has brought to us some excellent and highly skilled volunteers, they are still heavily outnumbered by the tasks that need doing. It would be nice if I could just find volunteers to reliably do simple jobs like printing and distributing recycling leaflets and keeping the firewood supplies topped up. We need to keep up the publicity about what we're doing ( there's another thing, we've never had a volunteer to take charge of publicity over a sustained period) in the hope that this will bring in more volunteers, but, relying entirely on volunteers will not get the boats restored, though conversely, neither can the job be done without them.


So, how much would these 3 wise boatbuilders cost? Luckily, many skilled people are prepared to work for a project like ours for well below what they could earn doing an easier job for a commercial company, but the costs are more than just wages. If someone is working full time they use up a lot of materials, which cost money. They also make it possible for more volunteers to work alongside them, and they also use expensive materials. The work that we've been doing on Hazel with two paid workers has been costing about £50,000 a year. That works out at £25,000 per worker, or £75,000 for the three. Hardly a bankers bonus but nevertheless, a lot of money to pluck out of thin air. Where will it come from?


It's amazing how many people just assume that we are getting huge grants to underwrite our work. I often get asked by people who have just taken on a historic boat where to apply. The reality is that you only get grant money if your project fulfils the objectives of the funder. Mostly these are social objectives of some kind. Pure heritage funds are scarce and fiercely fought over by well resourced museums and heritage railways etc. The funding that we've had for Hazel is purely to do with the work that she is going to do when she goes into service. Our funders probably couldn't care less that she is the last Runcorn wooden header. While it is entirely possible that we will be able to find more projects that fit with the objectives of a funder, there is always the danger that we will turn somersaults with our plans in order to fit a funders objectives, only to end up reluctantly running a project that wasn't what we really wanted to do. Luckily we have only had to very slightly tweak the pre existing Hazel project.

I'm not knocking grant funding, I'm sure it can play an important part, but it's always likely to be the icing on the cake. This is how it should be. Charities that rely too heavily on grants are always deeply vulnerable to recessions, government cuts and changes of policy on the part of funders. It also needs a lot of rather tedious work, not only in filling in the forms but in gathering the information that they need. For example, while we have figures for volunteer hours at the boatyard and in the shop, we have no idea of the overall annual total of volunteer hours, which is something that funders want to know. We need more volunteers with the time, skill and inclination to put together all the necessary information, fill in the forms and, most important, talk with funders. At the moment Nick Lowther is doing a great job on this, but there's only one of him!

When Hazel is in service she will, inshallah, earn her keep, but she shouldn't really be funding the other boats. She needs to cover her costs and put a bit to one side for her own long term maintenance. I calculate that we will need to put aside £6000 a year to ensure that Hazel never falls into dereliction again. If she starts earning more than running costs plus £6000 then we should be looking at reducing charges for her users. Associated with developing the Hazel project will be the development of a training project to make sure that we are never stuck for qualified skippers. While initially this will be for our own purposes, there is scope for making some money at this in the longer term, but I've no idea how much. We need someone to do a realistic business plan.


The growth of the WCBS has been quite amazing, and quite scary at times, like riding a powerful motorbike that you don't know how to control. In 1988, the year that Hazel was donated to the infant Wooden Canal Craft Trust, the total annual income was £3200, with expenditures of £2500. I don't yet have figures for 2012, but the total turnover is going to be well over £100,000. This has its down side as some people see us as well off and so are more mercenary in their dealings with us than used to be the case. The fact is that for the last 3 years expenditure has exceeded income, something that can't carry on for too much longer. The only reason that we've been able to afford to run a deficit is that we have some, rapidly dwindling, reserves, put by when we had the good fortune to be given a rent free shop for 14 months during 2006/7.


The main engine for this growth, since 1996, has been the recycling project and its offshoots, the market stall and various shops. I don't, again, have the 2012 figures yet, but it looks likely that our current shop, a former woolworths and the biggest charity shop in Ashton, will turn over about £60,000 this year. The down side of this is that its running costs are likely to be round about £50,000, putting only about £10,000 into WCBS funds, which is mostly swallowed up in overheads, licenses, insurance etc. The reality of running a charity shop is that, if you are paying a market rent for your premises, the main beneficiary of your efforts is going to be the landlord. That's not to say that it's not worthwhile renting a shop, it gives us security of tenure. We were very grateful for the free shop mentioned above, but it was a bit of a nightmare when we were given 11 days to vacate the premises because it was going to be sold.

The current shop has a problem. When we moved in, Stamford St was a busy shopping street, not quite in the very centre of Ashton, but not far off. Gradually, under the influences of out of town shopping, online shopping and the recession, the town centre has been imploding. Many of the shops on Stamford St are now empty, others have become offices or takeaways. The footfall is reducing. Despite this, Sarah's efforts have kept the shop income up, though the last few months have been a bit disappointing.

How do we move this business on so that it will generate the £75000 a year in profits that we need. We really need to start being a bit more enterprising. I get a bit sick of hearing all the excuses for not doing things, just drifting. One of the big ideas for our current shop was to start a cafe there, but it's never happened.

As many of our customers are now buying online, we need to start moving there ourselves. Some work has been done on this recently and we're now earning about £100 a month through online sales. This could be expanded greatly , and a lot of the goods that currently goes to the tip turned into money,with more volunteers to do the work, yet when it comes up for discussion I'm always told it's not worth bothering.


Another thing will be to look for another free shop. Our esteemed treasurer will, of course, point out that nothing is completely free, there are always electricity bills and water rates etc to pay, but the potential income from rent free, albeit temporary premises, is huge. The gain for the landlord is that they get property that is awaiting redevelopment looked after and can get it back when they need it. The problem then, of course, is staffing it. This genuinely is a challenge and, despite 'Big Society' rhetoric, government policies are actually discouraging genuine volunteers. However, we managed it before and, with real effort in recruiting volunteers, and with possibly a paid manager on a short term contract in case the shop has to close suddenly, it can be done again. I for one am willing to put some effort into this once Hazel is finished. Any more offers? We really need more volunteers who are able to get stuck in and make things happen.


Castlefield Food Festival May 2017

We decided to take "Hazel" down to the Castlefield Food Festival. The trip along the Ashton summit and down the 27 Ashton and Rochdale locks to Castlefields, Manchester, was wonderful. We had 6 guests on board, the weather was wonderful  and there were no problems.

I usually take the butty through locks as this is more complicated than the motor. This time I took the motor and left Tony Hewitson in charge of the butty. All went smoothly.

In some ways the festival was a disappointment as we were fenced off from the main festival site and so didn't get to meet as many people as we would have liked, though we made some good contacts. We also found that having guests stay on "Hazel" in central Manchester is a good way of making money. Could be useful.

Lovely dog on the next boat.

I like the constant passing of trains over the viaducts at Castlefields.

The return trip was a lot more difficult. It rained all day, we only had 3 people and we had multiple problems with rubbish and low water as we tried to get through Openshaw. I bowhauled "Hazel" singlehanded through the most of the 18 Ashton locks. I didn't take any photos! Having set out at 09.30 we finally reached Ashton sometime after midnight.

A Long Weekend Trip on "Hazel"

At the end of March we organised a trip from Ashton to Bugsworth and back over a long weekend, Friday to Monday. Unfortunately only one couple, Mary and David, booked a cabin, but we ran the trip anyway.

The weather was glorious, if a bit chilly at night. The Friday took us to Chadkirk, where lovely gardens run down to the canal and there's a mediaeval chapel, holy well and is handy for access to Romiley. On Saturday we worked up the 16 Marple locks and along the upper Peak Forest canal, turning off up the Bugsworth arm where we tied in the former interchange basins.

Sunday was an easy pootle back as far as Strines, where we tied under magic oak trees, then on Monday, down the locks again and back to Ashton. Our guests have now signed up as crew.

"Hazel" between Hyde and Gee Cross.

Woodley.

A moorhen.

Aaron dozing.

Kim steering at Romiley.

"Hazel" at Strines.

Phil demonstrating where not to stand when steering "Forget me Not".

A tight turn on the upper Peak Forest.

One of the drawbridges.

Peak Forest scenery.

Joan steering "Hazel"

Declan enjoys sitting on the roof.

while granny steers round another turn.

Furnace Vale.

Bugsworth basins.

David tries motor boat steering.

While Mary steers the butty.

Magical oak at Strines.

Brewing up on Monday morning.



Aaron works the drawbridge.


Woodley again.

Woodley railway bridge.