25 Days. 3rd November 2011

25 days

I was surprised to see, when I logged in, that it has been 25 days since I last wrote anything. How remiss of me! The fact is that I don't seem to have had the time to sit down and write. I did have a bit of time off. Emuna and I went to Llandudno for a couple of days for her birthday. Stuart has been away too. He had a weeks work in Belgium.

When I returned from Llandudno on 13th October I found that Stuart and Ryan had spread the oak boards out on the ground as a sort of flat pack boat. Stuart started laying out the spiling boards and selecting the timber for the new planks. It turned out that the logs that I had bought were rather too straight and this restricted the amount of planks that we could get out of them. "Hazel"s planks are curvier than I thought.

Meanwhile, the sides of the boat were steadily being removed until there was virtually nothing left of them. Just the new bottom with the 1951 conversion propped up on sticks. We decided to get the knees shotblasted, so they went off to a shotblasters, then to another as the first one nearly tripled the quoted price after they had done one knee. The idiots also removed the identifying marker that Stuart had put on the knee, despite being firmly told not to. It's a good job they only did the one, or we would have been totally unable to work out which knee went where.

Stuart thinks we need timber for 5 more planks. I heard of some trees being felled in Cumbria and so had a day out looking at them. They're mostly too thin, but there are a couple of useful ones. I just have to arrange transport now.

With the stempost in place I started work on the sternpost. Now that is nearly ready.

We have a few new volunteers. Jake is travelling regularly from Lincoln to help. Bernard has started taking care of the tools. Nick is coming for a day each week and Rita joins us when she has a day off from social working. At the moment Reg is up from Rugby, carefully planing bevels on the edges of the bottom strakes. What we need now are some fundraising volunteers to magic up the rest of the money that we need. Any offers?

Drizzly Day 11th August 2011

Drizzly Day

I had a few jobs to do in Ashton before starting work on "Hazel" today, and had a pumping crisis to deal with at Portland Basin as "Elton" was trying to play submarines as a result of a faulty pump. When I eventually arrived Stuart was already busy strengthening up the moulds for shaping the fore end planks. I had a look at the job of fitting the stempost, which I had removed a few days earlier to do a bit more work on the hoodings where the top strake fits in.

I trimmed a bit of old planking away to make it possible to slide it right up to the end of the new keelson, then thought about bringing it over and offering it up. I wouldn't be able to carry it on my own and Stuart was still busy with the moulds, so I decided to go and work on the sternpost.

After a little while alternately cutting with the power saw and hacking bits out with the adze to rough out the hoodings on this post.

Ryan arrived, apologising for his lateness. He and Stuart had been to a charity pie tasting at the buffet bar the previous night. http://www.beerhouses.co.uk/pub/stalybridge-buffet-bar/
He got stuck in to sorting out the electrics on the 3 phase table saw that we recently collected from Ashton Canal Carriers. http://www.brocross.com/canal/joel.htm

It is run from a 3 phase converter, enabling it to run from a single phase supply, but had been running backwards. Ryan tried swapping wires around until eventually it ran smoothly in the right direction, then blew a trip to cut power from the whole boatyard.

Giving up on this, there was some discussion about other jobs that Ryan could do, but none of them were quite ready to be started. I had reached the stage of preparing to cut another slice off the sternpost with the chainmill, but decided to leave this and get Ryan to help offer up the stempost. In fact all three of us worked on this and soon had the stempost in place and fitting quite nicely. When Stuart checked it though it was way off centre at the top. This seemed to be because the right hand (starboard ) side of the bow had moved and was pushing the stempost out of line. Ryan and I started cutting away the other side so that we could get a prop in place to adjust the side of the boat. Part way through this job Ryan's mother arrived and we stopped for tea and a chat. When we had finished, Jessica, Adeline and Elouise, Stuarts wife and two daughters arrived and we were surprised to see that it was nearly time to go home.

All day the grey sky had been crying a constant fine drizzle over us. It was the sort of rain that gets you really wet without you really noticing until it's too late.

The Last Day 25th Feb 2011

The Last Day

Consciousness came to me slowly in the morning. I lay watching the daylight slowly gain mastery over the darkness with a feeling of being strapped down to my knobbly earth bed. I was aware that my legs were aching after days of constantly pushing pedals, and parts of my body were sore from lying on lumps in the ground. My mind was quite keen on the idea of moving, but my body kept giving it erroneous information about the difficulty of breaking free from the invisible bonds that held it down.

Eventually, with the sun now high in the sky and dogwalkers once more uncomfortably active, I persuaded my upper limbs and torso into enough movement to supply my mouth with the usual first cup of coffee and bowl of muesli. The combined effect of caffeinne and nutrition was enough to persuade the rest of my physical being of the possibility of movement. Unusually, I raided my flask for a second cup of coffee and, taking great care because my body was still groggy, climbed down to sit directly above the tunnel mouth.


After the first train had passed, glinting in the morning sun, the black & white cat trotted confidently across the tracks and disapeared into the woodland on the far side. It occurred to me that the cat was probably feral. Another train, bound for distant Norwich, burst out of the tunnel http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/My_cycling_holiday_July_2010/Bikeride%20Eastbound%20train%20Arley%20cutting%207%2010.jpg.html

Revived by the coffee, I climbed back up and went to unlock my bike and wheel it over to the stile ready for loading. As I did so I noticed a man walking towards me down the slope of the field. A short but solidly built man in his late sixties, he was wearing a cloth cap and light brown smock. He reminded me of Mr Seden, a farmer from the village where I grew up

Ladbroke could refer to:

,_Warwickshire who had an uncanny ability for knowing when me and my friends had entered the bounds of his land.

"I was just coming to move that bike" said the farmer "one of my cows could have broken its leg on it and that would have cost me a lot of money". It occurred to me that this fantasy was slightly more unlikely than one of the said beasts being struck by lightning. In any cow/bike interaction I suspect that the bike would come off worst. He didn't seem angry but appeared to be one of those people who enjoys lengthy but resigned grumbling. I did my best to re-assure him that I meant his cattle no harm, was about to depart and would leave no litter. He continued in an unstoppable monotone, complaining about the trouble that was caused by people who didn't understand the countryside, then wished me a good day and departed back up the grassy slope.

Soon I was following him, wheeling my laden bike past the herd of precious cattle up to the stile and on to the road. I pedalled slowly uphill to the roundabout, then turned left to continue my Southbound route.

The next village was Astley, where, behind the church, I spotted the ruins of a castle. I decided to investigate, and found the fascinating remains of Astley Castle. This moated sandstone fortress used to belong to the father of Lady Jane Grey. Her brief tenure on the English throne led inexorably to her own and her father's demise. In more recent times the place was an hotel, but it burned down in 1978. The way in was now barred as it was being restored by the Landmark trust.

Astley Castle is a ruinous moated fortified 16th century manor house in North Warwickshire. It has been listed as a Grade II* listed building since 1952[1] and as a Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1994. It was derelict and neglected since it was severely damaged by fire in 1978 whilst in use as a hotel and was officially a Building at Risk. The building reopened as a holiday let in 2012 after extensive and novel renovations that combine modern elements with the medieval remains.

I dislike being excluded from anywhere so I stalked around the dry moat, seeking a weak point in the defences. I found a place where the wall had crumbled to a climbable slope, which I breached, without damage to myself or the venerable structure. I then spent a good 15 minutes exploring the fascinating ruin and taking pictures. I discovered an easier route out which brought me into the churchyard. Remounting my bike, I pedalled onwards.






I was now cycling through the lands of my ancestors. A while ago I went to a gathering of descendants of the Griffiths boating family at the nearby village of Keresley.


My parents grew up in Coventry, just a few miles away, and went walking in the countryside round here in the 1930s. For a while, as I rode along narrow lanes, it seemed like nothing much had changed since my parents walked this way 80 years ago, then a neatly radiused curve brought me to a concrete bridge over the roaring traffic of the M6. To my left lay the sprawl of Corley services.

Soon the madness was behind me and I was back on to country lanes again. I came upon a road junction great trees towering over it. Behind the first row of trees was a great sandstone outcrop. My map showed an ancient hill fort at the top of it, and what an excellent place for a fort, looking out over the valley with a precipitous slope for any invaders to have to fight their way up. The hill is called Burrow Hill. At Daventry, where I went to secondary school, there is a hill fort at the top of Borough Hill. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=5057

climbed some of the lower rocks and sat down for a munch of food and a drink of apple juice. With my nutritional needs satisfied I climbed to the top to see what was there. The hill top was a flat ploughed field, nothing remarkable, though I imagine Time Team would enjoy digging trenches through it. I descended again to my bike and started slowly pedalling up the hill through a rocky defile towards the village of Corley http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/71506

Over the top of the hill I reached Corley village, where I joined a bigger road. It was now downhill, so I didn't mind so much. I left the main route to go down the delightful Hollyfast Lane. This tiny road was at first a winding tunnel of holly trees, then opening out a little with frequent oaks http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=19468834 still travelling steadily downhill. A sharp left turn at the end brought me into the beginnings of posh suburbia, with big houses in their own grounds set back from the road, leading me into the junction with another main road at Brownshill Green.

I became a little confused along the main road. What was shown on my ancient map did not accord with what I found on the ground. There should have been a winding lane going off to the right, instead there was a roundabout and a new straight road. I followed this as it was going in the right direction, then noticed that the original lane still existed, but was chopped into truncated sections. I diverged on to the old lane where I met frisky horses carrying their teenage owners.

The hill against me steepened and I dragged my way slowly into the suburban fringes of Allesley. I made my way through the old village and then found a concrete footbridge over a dual carriageway into proper suburbia of semi detatched houses. At the other side of this estate was the main A45 dual carriageway. I followed this roaring road through grim grey urban dreariness for about a mile. Anticipating a substantial train fare I was pleased to see a bank. I stopped to extract folding money from its hole in the wall facility, then carried on to turn away from my Southbound trajectory to head for Tile Hill station.

I had always imagined that Tile Hill was rather upmarket. The reason for this stemmed from my childhood. My big sister, 11 years my senior, had an Adam Faith lookalike boyfriend who came from Tile Hill. The romance came to an abrupt end when his parents intervened to prevent him from getting too involved with a mere typist. The upshot of this was days of big sister lying in her boudoir crying her eyes out. Every now and then I would burst in singing "Big girls Don't cry" in a high voice and she would shout "Mum, get him out of here".

As a result of this outbreak of mid 20th century snobbery I had imagined that Tile Hill would be a sort of minor Hollywood, with the mansions of the wealthy set in rolling acres behind high walls with electric gates. Instead I pedalled along a mile or so of dreary industrial units. I was glad to reach the station, but surprised that the booking clerk, though clearly in his office, had a closed sign up. I went on to the platform and enjoyed watching trains rush by http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/My_cycling_holiday_July_2010/Bikeride%20Tile%20Hill%20Voyager%207%2010.jpg.html

The ticket office reopened before my train arrived so, with my wallet lightened, I climbed aboard a crowded local train to Birmingham. With a change at New St station I was able to complete the return journey in just a couple of hours. My holiday was at an end. Another time I will continue my southward trek.

Rural Riding 11th February 2011

Rural Riding

As I plodded along the A444 on my overburdened little bike I soon began to regret taking this particular course. I could have followed country lanes a short way to the West. The main road was slightly closer to my straight guiding line, and ran through pleasant undulating countryside, but my enjoyment was interrupted all too often by a miniature tornado as another great juggernaut passed me with inches to spare. Coupled with these frequent interruptions was the awareness that a lapse of concentration by the driver of just one of these tarmac hungry leviathans could permanently terminate my journey.

The road seemed endless, though the map shows me that it was only a few miles. Eventually I reached the roundabout junction with the M42. I was pleased at this, as I knew that I was now near to my turn off, back on to the little roads. I stopped on the grass verge opposite a service station for a drink of water. I thought I'd better record my strange velocipede for posterity, so here's a picture of it http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/My_cycling_holiday_July_2010/Bikeride%20laden%20bike%207%2010.jpg.html

I left the mad main road at the delightfully named Appleby Parva and followed a little lane uphill towards a prominent radio mast. Over the summit, I coasted downhill into the village of Austrey. From here, strictly speaking, I should have headed for Orton on the Hill, but the on the hill bit didn't appeal to me, so I veered westwards a little along Warton Lane. This was arable country, with dry dusty fields of wheat and barley on each side of me,basking in the afternoon sun.

I stopped in the middle of nowhere and dug out my food bag. I climbed over a gate and struggled through the parched weeds of the headlands to reach a willow beside a dried out pond. Perching myself in the arms of this friendly tree, I hungrily demolished the remains of my loaf, whilst reflecting on what a comfortable campsite the dry pond looked, as long as it didn't rain.

It would have been pleasant to stay there all afternoon, such a comfortable spot I had found,but, with my belly filled, I remounted my cycle and carried on towards the brick houses of Warton village. From here my route took me back, South Easterly, towards my straight line. The road fell steadily into the Anker Valley and the harvesting activity seemed to grow more intense with huge shiny tractors rushing about http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/My_cycling_holiday_July_2010/Bikeride%20tractor%20grain%20harvest%207%2010.jpg.html and the moaning hum of combine harvesters trailing dust behind the hedgerows.

Not far away was the large mining village of Polesworth. Our boat "Forget me Not" was built here in 1927, but, sadly, nothing remains of Lees & Atkins boatyard. My route would take me through the nearby town of Atherstone instead.

I've often passed through Atherstone. Mostly along the dual carriageway bypass which is part of the A5. At other times I have flashed through in a speeding train on the Trent Valley main line. A few times I have travelled through by boat on the Coventry Canal, the main focus being the flight of 12 locks. On my first holiday on my first boat I stayed the night on the margins of the town, camping by the towpath as at that time my boat had no cabin. Despite all these fleeting encounters with the place I still knew little of it and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

I had in mind the need for provisions, ready for my evening meal. My route into the town, along Sheepy Road, brought me straight to an old fashioned open market, lively with stalls and shoppers. I stopped to buy vegetables, then remounted and carried on under an archway that led into North St. I found Long St, the route of the pre-bypass A5, busy with shops and shoppers, unlike so many old high streets that have succumbed to the out of town superstores. Here I bought more food then, with my bags bulging, peddalled uphill to the top lock.

I had purchased some cake on Long St and intended to sit by the top lock to eat it. I was disapointed to see that Rothen's coal wharf was now empty and up for grabs. The business has relocated elsewhere but is no longer shifting coal by boat. It is little places like this that make our canals interesting. I expect it will be replaced by yet more upmarket housing. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant urban spot and I enjoyed watching a long steel boat work up the lock and set out towards Coventry.

Coleshill Road is a long slow drag out of town. This country has been quarried and mined extensively in the past, but now, with the extractive industries gone, it is interestingly hilly and wooded. I turned left and rode along a little lane with the huge Monks Park Wood to my right. I came to the village of Ridge Lane and turned left, until soon I came upon the embankment of a disused railway. Checking my old O.S. map I realised that this was the old Stockingford goods branch. The part that I had come across was actually a headshunt at it's terminus, the Ansley Hall Colliery being accessed by a trailing connection.  I though about following the route to find a place to stay for the night, but it was still a bit early and I had an idea about staying beside an active railway.

Riding on I passed the site of the old pit, now an industrial estate. A right turn on to the B4114 brought me past Ansley Hall and onwards through green and pleasant land to Church End. Here I turned left at the beginning of the village towards Ansley. This turned out to be a rather unremarkable brick village, made up largely of 1930s semis. I passed a pub with jolly looking people standing outside smoking.

At the far end of the village is a roundabout. Here I turned left and cycled along looking for the start of a footpath. I found a stile and lifted the bike over, then set off, pushing my bike across a grassy field. As I breasted the brow of a low hill I looked across the panorama and registered a brief disapointment. I had my eye on some woodland shown on the map surrounding the Easterly portal of Stockingford Tunnel on the railway from Nuneaton to Birmingham. My disappointment was in seeing that this wonderful wood seemed to be completely surrounded by the kind of security fence that Network rail now use to protect the railway from mischievous children, and vice versa.

I carried on down the hill and was delighted to find that the Northern edge of the woodland, with a public footpath bordering it, was only protected by the olders style fence of concrete posts and steel wires. This made the expense of the newer, inpenetrable, border rather pointless, as one can just walk round and enter here.

I locked my bike to the security fence and unloaded it, climbed a stile and pushed my bags between the wires into the woodland. I climbed over to follow them and began to construct my shelter.
With the shelter constructed I turned my attention to cooking my tea. There was a hollow in the ground in the corner of the wood. I used some bricks that were lying around to build a fireplace into the bank of this hollow. I collected dead and dry wood and, using a few scraps of paper that I had saved, lit a fire. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/My_cycling_holiday_July_2010/Bikeride%20camp%20Arley%207%2010.jpg.html Soon my pan was bubbling nicely on the heat. I sat and looked down into the cutting and watched trains passing. The smoke from my fire began to drift into the cutting and hang there in a blue grey haze, resolutely refusing to disperse. I began to worry that a train driver could bring the authorities down on me by reporting that the woods were on fire.

Soon my meal was ready and I found a comfortable perch, high over the tunnel mouth, where I sat and ate while watching trains. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of freight traffic, mostly container trains headed by Canadian built class 66 locomotives. http://class66.railfan.nl/ The passenger trains were all diesel multiple units, travelling between Birmingham and East Anglia.

Nicely full, I was feeling tired after all my travelling. I had an idea that I might be able to go for a latihan http://www.subud.org.uk/latihan-inner-awakening.html in Birmingham. However, the idea of traipsing into Nuneaton to get a train, then finding my way from New St Station to wherever the Subud house was, then finding my way back late at night, was becoming rapidly less appealing. I decided to lie down for a bit in my shelter. The footpath, which was next to my shelter, was unpleasantly busy with dogwakers. I decided to ignore them, and they mostly studiously ignored me, walking past quickly with eyes averted. A black and white cat slinked up the footpath and, seeing me, crouched down in fear before darting back whence it came. I wondered where it had come from as the map showed no houses nearby.I lay enjoying the birdsong and the sound of passing trains. Gradually I drifted off to sleep.

31st December 2010 Due South

Due South.

Consciousness returned in the early morning sunlight. I reached out to find my flask and lay on my side for a while, sipping coffee and enjoying the lake view. With breakfast completed I struggled out of my shelter, finished dressing and went for a walk. A short way along the canal is a new arm to a huge great marina. On the towpath side a footpath marks the end of the woodland and leads to a long footbridge over the railway tracks. On the far side is the barren site of the old Willington Power Station. http://www.crepello.net/Willington/PowerStation.htm I crossed over the bridge and enjoyed watching trains rush by for a while. Although the lines from Burton and Stoke came together nearby, they carried on in parallel for as far as I could see. I crossed the bridge and stayed Due South.

Consciousness returned in the early morning sunlight. I reached out to find my flask and lay on my side for a while, sipping coffee and enjoying the lake view. With breakfast completed I struggled out of my shelter, finished dressing and went for a walk. A short way along the canal is a new arm to a huge great marina. On the towpath side a footpath marks the end of the woodland and leads to a long footbridge over the railway tracks. On the far side is the barren site of the old Willington Power Station. http://www.crepello.net/Willington/PowerStation.htm I crossed over the bridge and enjoyed watching trains rush by for a while. Although the lines from Burton and Stoke came together nearby, they carried on in parallel for as far as I could see. I crossed the bridge and stayed Due South.

for a while to watch a couple of trains rush by.

Returning to my campsite, I packed up my things and loaded the bike, then pushed it past scattering rabbits to the towpath. Save for a few ashes from my fire, there would be not a trace left behind.

My next target was to be Caen Hill locks near Devizes in Wiltshire, though I would not make it all the way on this holiday. This appeared to be on the same straight
line on the map as Willington, so I just had to follow my line, due South, through the midlands. Initially I would retrace my journey across the bridge and causeway to Repton.

At Willington Bridge I stopped to watch the river rolling by. On the site of the old toll house was an information board about the river crossing. It described the celebrations that accompanied the freeing of the bridge in 1898, and the repeat performance to celebrate 100 years of free river crossing in 1998. http://www.derbyshireuk.net/willington.html

Soon I was pedalling across the flat flood plain again, then labouring up the hill through Repton. As the village fell behind me I was feeling thirsty. I spotted a little stopping place and rode into it. This was the car park for a pleasant young Woodland Trust plantation. I quenched my thirst, then enjoyed a short walk among the young trees. http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/our-woods/Pages/about-this-wood.aspx?wood=5201

Back on my bike, I followed the quiet B road meandering along a pleasant valley with fields interspersed with woods. Eventually a line of suburban houses marked the outer limits of Swadlincote. I pedalled uphill past them and soon came to a main crossroads on a ridge. I was now feeling hungry and, wishing to postpone my descent of the hill until after I had eaten, I turned right to see if I could find a nice spot to stop and eat. I was disappointed, so I turned down a footpath between some houses in the hope that it might lead to a park. After winding round a sub station the tarmacced path plunged into a wooden canyon of back garden fences. There was a sort of step at the back of the sub station, so I decided to sit on this to eat some sandwiches, much to the surprise of some of the paths regular users.

Swadlincote is a former mining town, mostly made up of pleasant warm brick terraces. It first came to my knowledge in the mid 1960s. The constituency was represented by George Brown, then Foreign Secretary. On his first visit to Moscow he was asked what he thought of the Soviet Union. He replied that he thought it was "Just like Derby or Swadlincote really" Later, in the 1970s, a van driving job brought me this way regularly. At least one of the local pits still used steam locos and I would often stop for 15 minutes or so (no spy in the cab in those days) to watch an "Austerity" saddle tank shunting.


Nowadays the pits are long gone, though I'm not sure what has replaced them save a ski centre.

I returned to my ride, whizzing down the hill, then plodding up the other side and past the ski centre to find the Measham road. The scenery now became post industrial. This road once ran through coal mining terrain, but now the winding gear and screens are long gone and the pitheaps have been tastefully landscaped. I wish they wouldn't do this. Landscaped areas always look stunningly predictable, old spoil heaps and quarries left to nature often become simply stunning in time.

The road was signposted to a place called the Conkers Discovery Centre, but before reaching it I turned right along the road towards Overseal. I crossed the little used Burton to Leicester railway, then uphill to turn left on to the busy A444 towards Nuneaton.

4th November 2010 Willington

2010-11-04 @ 07:08:25 by ashtonboatman


I pushed my laden bicycle through the wasteland woods. Near the lake was a large clearing, grass shorn a lawn like sward by the constant action of rabbits teeth. Here and there were the ashen remnants of big bonfires, the many hewn and mutilated trees indicating the source of fuel. The trees were largely silver birch, hawthorn, poplar and willow, with a smattering of oak. Though most of the damage to trees was done by axe, clearly some of the vandals had been armed with a chain saw as several trees, including a substantial oak, had been cleanly reduced to stumps.

I picked a camping spot, next to a bushy hawthorn near the lake, but, still lacking provisions and water, I decided to go and explore the village. I carried my possessions through soft and mossy woods and hid them behind a tree beside the railway, then mounted my 'bike again and rode back along the towpath into Willington.

My first pre-occupation was still water. On my way from the Trent bridge I had passed a church. Churches often have taps to assist people leaving flowers on graves, but this one had only a rainwater butt. Returning to the village centre, I decided to buy food before the shops shut. In the shop I took out my camera battery to see if, in addition to bread and vegetables, they could supply one of these. As anticipated, the request was met with a shake of the head, but this was backed up with directions to an ironmongers that might be able to help.

I cycled quickly along a street of 1960s suburbia to find a row of shops, of similar vintage, amazingly all active. I locked my bike in front of the ironmongers and went in. The place was piled high with all kinds of tools and household items, many in display boxes that were fading from long exposure. Knowing something of the economics of running a humble charity shop, I wonder how such places survive in the face of competition from out of town superstores.

An elderly gentleman appeared from the back of the shop and I showed him the unusual battery. He took the battery, turned to a rack of different kinds of battery, picked one out and handed it to me. With the exchange of a few coins the transaction was completed and my problem solved.

Up to now I had avoided asking a shopkeeper for water to avoid them embarrassment. I was aware that, after just one night in the open, I would be unkempt and therefore rousing their suspicions. A request for water would mean that they would have to either leave me unsupervised in the shop or think of an excuse to refuse my request. However, I had the feeling that I was trusted in this shop. My request for water was accepted like it was a daily occurrence, and I left with two of my problems solved.

Back at my campsite I extracted my belongings from their hidey hole and busied myself unpacking and setting up my shelter. Once I was satisfied with this I went gathering dead wood (no need to cut down live trees), then, with paper and dry sticks to kindle it, I lit a fire and began cooking.

With only one pan my culinary style was rather cramped, but I was soon reclining beside the lake and eating a kind of sausage and vegetable stew that was very satisfying. As I ate, the kettle heated on my little fire to provide me with a nice cup of Earl Grey tea. I sat to drink this on the bank of the lake and enjoyed watching the ducks and moorhens, busy on the water. Every now and then a train rattled by to punctuate the ornithological activity.

My phone was down to a single bar of battery power. I needed access to mains power to recharge it, but the only way I could think of, despite my dismal experience the previous night, was to visit a pub. I Sorted out my most valuable things to take with me and pedalled back along the towpath into Willington. There were several hostelries to choose from. I went into one by the crossroads and sat watching an American police thriller on TV. It was one of those complicated ones where some of the cops are crooks, some of the crooks are cops and a lot of bullets get fired.

I was quite tired and I enjoyed my pint and the film, though it was not one that I would choose to watch. I lost myself it the tortuous plot. A slim young couple came in to play pool and chatter lightheartedly. It was like some strange ballet as they paraded round the table, eyed up their shots, aimed their cues, all the while chattering and laughing.

When my glass was empty and my 'phone charged I returned to the street, unlocked my bike and rode back 'home' to the lakeside. Dusk was now gathering. The lights were on in the trains as they rattled by. Still the waterfowl were active on the water. I climbed into my sleeping bag and lay on my side watching the restless birds and the passing trains until I fell asleep.

5th September 2010 The Wide Valleys of Middle England

2010-09-05 @ 18:19:15 by ashtonboatman

The wide valleys of middle England

It was still dark when I woke. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the twittering of birds as the sky gradually brightened. Last night's fire had provided me with a flask full of hot water, so I made myself some black coffee and lay listening and watching.

With sleepiness eased away by the caffiene hit, I sat up in my bag and fumbled about until I had the makings of a bowl of muesli. The sun was up now and I heard early morning dog walkers on the footpath, no doubt wondering about my bike that was locked to a tree.

Breakfast completed, I dressed and started packing my equipment, dragging it through the hedge and loading it on to my bike. I noticed my friend the wren pecking around my rucksack and looking at me with interest. In folklore the wren is a king of birds, wise and cunning, symbolising wisdom and divinity http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/articles/mythology_folklore/the_wren_-_king_of_birds.asp I like the story of a wren winning a competition for who could fly highest by hiding in the eagle's feathers until the eagle could go no higher, then popping out and flying up some more.

A woman walking her dog eyed me with suspicion as I pumped my tyres. I mounted my humble steed and pedalled slowly uphill along the footpath, soon passing the woman along a field edge. The path led to the edge of an estate of middle class houses, circa 1970. My route lay through the middle of this, so I spent 20 minutes pedalling through suburbia looking for a way out. The ancient map that I was using was a little ambiguous about roads in this neighbourhood. My intention had been to find the little road that crosses the Derwent valley to the village of Elvaston. Instead, I found myself among the roaring traffic of the Derby ring road.

Desperate to get off this roaring dodgems rink I followed a track that seemed to follow the river downstream, but it petered out and the way was barred by a huge fence protecting a sewage works. I returned to the road and soon crossed the river. I was pleased to see that there was a riverside path heading downstream, and I thankfully set off along this peaceful, smooth surfaced route, encountering only friendly walkers and the occasional cyclist.

The Derwent is a beautiful river that tumbles down from the bold limestone hills, but here, in its last few miles before securing oblivion in the mighty Trent, it is ponderous and wide. It is a heavily managed waterway, with weirs every now and then, high, neatly graded flood banks and pumping stations. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to ride beside its gently curving banks. Eventually I reached the little lane to Elvaston and set out for this pleasant brick village. On my way I skirted the grounds of Elvaston Castle, Where the famous "Women in Love" scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling naked was filmed http://www.derbyphotos.co.uk/areas_a_h/elvaston.htm 


After following the bendy road through the village I turned left on to what, not so many years ago was the main A6, now by-passed, so it was a pleasant quiet cycle ride into the river crossing place of Shardlow.

One of the first buildings in the village was a shop, a welcome sight as I needed provisions. In particular I wanted a battery for my camera, but the shopkeeper shook his head and said I'd only get one of the sort I needed at a specialist camera shop. I trundled on and crossed the canal near the magnificent restored warehouses http://www.clockwarehousepub.co.uk/

It would have been nice to head down the towpath, which would keep me close to my straight line on the map, but I was aware that the long horse bridge at the junction of the canal and the Trent had been removed, sparking a long running controversy about its replacement http://homepages.which.net/~shardlow.heritage/lhbdocuments.html Instead I carried on past the marina and across the Trent bridge until I saw a cycle route marked Long Eaton and Kegworth. Kegworth was on my route, so I followed it. Somehow Kegworth disapeared from the sign posts, but I carried on alongside a road until I reached a river lock. I realised my error. I was looking now for the river Soar, but this was Sawley lock on the Trent. My map was of little use, pre-dating many of the roads and omitting the smaller ones. I retraced my pedals a little way and decided to strike off down a lane that said "no through road for motor vehicles", which seemed to indicate that unmotored vehicles would be able to get through.

After skirting Sawley Marina, the road took me through rough low lying fields. A tractor with a flail mower was busy macerating the hedges. The land had a degraded feeling, as often happens in the vicinity of cities. I passed a gravel pit and struggled up a steep bank to find myself at a huge roundabout, mad with hurrying traffic. This was just what I was trying to avoid.

I dodged across the roundabout and followed a dual carriageway that was familiar to me as I had often driven this way on journeys to and from my parents home. It led me to a junction on the M1. After crossing this I was able to leave the motor mania behind as I freewheeled downhill into Kegworth.

I turned off the A6 and rode gently downhill through Kegworth until the river came into view. Some steel boats were moored in a loop of the river and beyond the main river bridge the road crossed a cut that took boats on a shortened route. A flood lock, with the gates chained open most of the time, closing only in times of flood to control the water.

I left the road and carried my bike down some steps to join the towpath, no more than a rough path through a field. I sat down and ate some of the food that I had bought in Shardlow. I watched first a fibreglass cruiser then a smart washer josher type narrowboat with brass all over it pass by.

My map didn't show my destination, Zouch, as it is such a small place. I wasn't sure of the best way to complete the trip. My thought had been to follow the river, but the path looked very rough. The alternative would be to go along the Eastern edge of the valley through Sutton Bonington. My judgement was swayed by a signpost pointing towards a bio-energy project, so, lunch over, I set off along Station Road towards Sutton Bonington.

The station was a long lost stop on the Midland main line. Little trace remained and today's trains whizz past without a thought. A right turn on to College Road took me parallel with the railway past the campuses of this a university village. I imagine that the bio energy project that took my interest was somewhere within this complex, but I saw no further trace of it. 

Another right turn took me across the railway again and down Marle Pit Hill to join the long long main street. Eventually the village was behind me and I came to a junction. A right turn took me across the flood plain of the wide Soar valley. My destination, Zouch, was entered by a bridge over the lock cut of the Soar navigation. Just upstream the weir stream leaves under a low towpath bridge. The village is just a gathering of houses each side of the single road. On one side is the main flow of the river and weir and on the other side is the navigation channel leading down to a lock. It seems a pleasant, unassuming place, though it must be rather nerve racking to live here in the winter, at the mercy of the Soar's vicious floods.

Zouch is the last settlement in my gazetteer of british place names, which is why I selected it as my first destination. It should not be confused with the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouch, though I suspect the derivation is similar. Ashby got it's name from the Norman Roger la Zouche, which apparently means stocky. I have found no source for the name of this little gathering of houses, but I imagine it was in some way related to the same short fat frenchman.

20th August 2010 Derby

2010-08-20 @ 21:41:55 by ashtonboatman


I'm not sure exactly where the path left the old railway track, but parts of it became obviously too steep for trains. I suspect that the railway once went on to a now long demolished viaduct. The path ended at a gateway on to dreary industrial estates and roaring dual carriageways. I'm afraid Derby is a city that has never attracted me. It has always seemed too quick to replace the old and interesting with the modern and mundane. Perhaps I have been over influenced by accounts of the campaign to save the Derby Canal back in the 1950s. The canal had fallen into disuse and was one of the few that didn't get nationalised in 1948. The Derby Canal Company sold it to Derby Council who systematically destroyed it. Now volunteers are trying to get a least some of it ressurected.

I picked my way through a great greyness of light industry until I eventually found the city centre. Aside from the roaring roadways I found an old bridge over the Derwent with an old chapel of warm brick clinging to the far side. http://www.derby-guide.co.uk/bridge_chapel.html

The main reason for my excursion was to get an effective bicycle pump before the shops shut. I rode further into the centre looking for a pedestrian to ask. A woman directed me to the main bicycle shop and I started riding along the route that she indicated, but quickly forgot the details. I came upon a pedestrianised area and wondered about the legality of cycling through it. I was reluctant to walk because my foot was sore with plantar fasciitis. A cyclist rode confidently across the paved area, so I decided to do the same.

Turning a corner I noticed a small black skinned police officer. I don't know if they've abandoned height requirements for police, but this one was tiny. I doubt she would be much use breaking up a pub brawl. She waved me to a halt and politely explained that cycling was not allowed in this area and they were going to have a crack down and start fining people next week. It was the nicest ticking off I've ever received ( and I've had many). I wonder if this little arm of the law has learned to charm criminals into submission. Another cyclist came the other way as she spoke and she stopped him too. Luckily I remembered that the shop I sought was on Ashbourne Road, so I diverted her attention from my misdemeanor by asking directions. The way was straightforward so, giving my thanks to the smiling law enforcer, I hobbled round the corner before remounting.

The route was straightforward, though clogged with traffic and roadworks. It took me along Friargate, under the ornate bridge that once carried the railway near which I was to stay. It is now a bridge to nowhere as the continuing viaduct has been bulldozed away to make way for yet more roads. Apparently these are the arches that inspired Flanagan & Allen's famous song http://www.derbyphotos.co.uk/features/friargatebridge/ http://www.derbyphotos.co.uk/areas_city/friargate.htm

The bike shop was full of expensive space age bikes. I wandered round fascinated. I like bikes, and like to have a range of different types to ride. Poverty restricts me to only having the ones that others throw away. This is fine as many people are hugely wasteful. I was once given an almost new racing bike because its owner didn't want to be bothered fixing a puncture. This shop made me briefly wish for wealth. I particularly liked the ingenious hi tech folding bikes, lightweight and with a million gears but folding to the size of a briefcase. I felt a bit silly just going in for a bike pump,but it's hard to get proper ones nowadays.

I picked a suitable traditional pump from the display and paid for it at the till. Outside I went to pump my tyre but found that I didn't have the adapter to enable it to pump through a woods valve.

The Dunlop valve, (also called a Woods valve or an English valve) is a type of pneumatic valve stem in use in some countries, such as Japan,[1] Czech Republic, India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and developing countries. It has a wider base than a Presta valve, similar enough in size to a Schrader valve to use identically drilled valve holes in rims,[2] but it can be inflated with a Presta valve adapter.[3] The inner mechanism of the valve can be replaced easily, without the need for special tools. The inventor was C. H. Woods. It superseded Dunlop's original valve for pneumatic tyres.[4]

I must have left it with my gear at Breadsall. I had to go back into the shop for one. The young assistant looked in vain through various boxes of bits. "Sorry" he said, "but we don't seem to have one", then added "I don't think we've sold a bike with Woods valves all the time I've worked here". This was better than the last whizzy bike shop I went into for a Woods valve where they actually laughed at me. They are rather unfashionable it seems, though a lot more practical and easy to use than any other type. I asked directions to Wilkinsons as they sell adapters.

After running the gauntlet of traffic and roadworks again I found Wilkinsons, bought the adapter and, at last, got my back tyre properly inflated.

It was teatime. The shops were beginning to shut and my stomach was feeling empty. I had some bread and various spreads that needed using up, so I decided to consume these. I cycled around until I found a bridge under the railway that used to be for the canal, now a cycle track. I sat on the lawn between the old canal route and the river and ate my simple meal. Cyclists whizzed past, giving me odd looks as I dined. Trains whirred and rumbled over the bridge.

With the loaf finished, and the last dregs of coffee squezed from my flask, I decided to try to follow the line of the canal. This took me through some riverside parkland and under a concrete road bridge until I came upon the weir above which the canal used to cross the river on the level. Boathorses crossed a simple wooden bridge as they towed their boats. I wondered how they managed when the river was in spate.

I didn't feel like going home to my hedgerow, so I thought I would go and watch activity at the station for a while. I'm always fascinated by trains coming and going. I parked my bike at the bike rack. Every other bike there seems to have a noticed attached warning that it will be confiscated if it's not removed by a certain date. Some of them were very expensive looking bikes. The station was very active. I wondered what had become of the old Derby Works. I was just speculating about this when an Inter City 125 or HST set emerged from the works, which I think is now an East Midlands Trains maintenance depot. It passed the station, then cruised back on a parallel track with an orange boiler suited mechanic hanging out of the cab and waving like royalty to the passengers on the platform. It's odd that it seems like yesterday that these trains were the latest thing, but that was 35 years ago and now they are being retired.

I don't know why, but when I'm in a strange town on my own, which I like,I always imagine that, when I feel the need for company I can overcome my natural reserve, go into a pub and become the wonderful witty gregarious person that I always think I should be. This was what I thought to do next. I had spotted an old fashioned looking pub called The Brunswick, so I moored my bike to a convenient lamp post and entered. The interior was pleasantly traditional with lots of wood. There was a huge range of real ales, some brewed on the premises I understand. I was served a pint of one of these, can't remember what it was called, by a dour barman and sat in a corner. The beer was very pleasant, but there were hardly any other customers and I began to feel uncomfortably socially inept. I became very aware that I was oddly and scruffily dressed and a little dirty from my day's activities. I drank my beer and silently left to return to my hedge.

I unravelled the dirty blue tarpaulin that would form my shelter and tied it to the bushes. As I did this I noticed a wren hopping from branch to branch, almost within touching distance and showing a curious interest in my activity. At first I thought that I might be near its nest, but it showed no sign of distress, just interest. I dug some paper out of my bag and broke up some thin sticks for kindling. With a flash of flame from my lighter I soon had a good little blaze going and, with some bigger sticks added, settled the kettle on it. The wren continued to watch, though from more of a distance. The light began to fade and I poured the boiling contents of the kettle into my flask before extinguishing the fire and wriggling into my sleeping bag under the tarpaulin.

17th August 2010 On Me Bike

2010-08-17 @ 20:39:35 by ashtonboatman

On me Bike

I unloaded my little bike with all its dangling bags and pots and pans through the narrow doorway of the train and carried it over the footbridge. Duffield used to be the junction station for the branch line to Wirksworth. I was pleased to see that, under the name of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway, http://www.e-v-r.com/ the tracks are now relaid ready for train services to start next year.

I mounted my bike and rode up the hill to the strangely quiet A6. A handy co-op enabled me to stock up with various provisions and I was soon on my way. The reason for the road's tranquility was the total closure of this former trunk route through Duffield. I zigzagged my bike between hi vis clad workers with pnuematic drills and bumped over dug up sections of road until, clear of the roadworks, I turned left towards Dufield Bank.

I stopped on the railway bridge and watched a couple of Voyagers streak by as I snacked on some of the food I had bought, I tried, fruitlessly, to increase the pressure in my back tyre, then carried on to the other side of the valley.

Duffield Bank was once the home of a wonderfully eccentric Victorian country gentleman named Sir Arthur Heywood. He was fascinated with the idea of constructing the smallest practicable railways and envisioned a world where these tiny lines would serve the needs of farms, factories and country estates. Though I have little time for aristocracy, the idea of networks of tiny railways (allied of course with narrow canals) serving our transport needs seems to me to be the kind civilised of world that I would like to live in. For me though, everyone would need to be of equal standing rather the master and servant relationships of Heywoods day.

In an old quarry behind his house Sir Arthur had built a complex layout of lines to 15 inch gauge. He designed a range of little locomotives, along with goods wagons, passenger coaches, a dining car and sleeping carriage. On occassion he would get his bemused servants to drive the train round and round the circuit all night while he slumbered in the sleeping car.

Sir Arthur Percival Heywood, 3rd Baronet (25 December 1849 – 19 April 1916) was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Percival Heywood. He grew up in the family home of Dove Leys at Denstone in Staffordshire.

He is best known today as the innovator of the fifteen inch minimum gauge railway, for estate use.


Though narrow gauge industrial railways were once common, Heywoods ideas never really caught on. One of his locomotives, however, much rebuilt, is still in regular service hauling tourists on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in Cumbria. http://train.spottingworld.com/River_Irt

Duffield Bank certainly lives up to its name and I struggled up a hill before the road levelled out a little and I pedalled my way towards Little Eaton. My tyre was still feeling very soggy and I kept my eye out for somewhere that might sell a bicycle pump, though I knew this was unlikely.

Litlle Eaton, now a pleasant suburb of Derby, was once the transhipment point between the Little Eaton Gangway and a branch of the Derby Canal. This ancient transport system for locally mined coal lasted until 1908, when it was superseded by a railway.

The Little Eaton Gangway, or, to give it its official title, the Derby Canal Railway, was a narrow gauge industrial wagonway serving the Derby Canal, in England, at Little Eaton in Derbyshire.

I searched in vain for the site of the former transhipment basin, then followed a road that led towards Derby. I noticed a parallel ditch hidden in rough woodland and, on investigation, realised that this was the old canal. 

The Derby Canal ran 14 miles (23 km) from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Swarkestone to Derby and Little Eaton, and to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre, in Derbyshire, England. The canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1793 and was fully completed in 1796. It featured a level crossing of the River Derwent in the centre of Derby. An early tramroad, known as the Little Eaton Gangway, linked Little Eaton to coal mines at Denby. The canal's main cargo was coal, and it was relatively successful until the arrival of the railways in 1840. It gradually declined, with the gangway closing in 1908 and the Little Eaton Branch in 1935. Early attempts at restoration were thwarted by the closure of the whole canal in 1964. Since 1994, there has been an active campaign for restoration spearheaded by the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust and Society. Loss of the Derwent crossing due to development has resulted in an innovative engineering solution called the Derby Arm being proposed, as a way of transferring boats across the river.

Further along the road was a roundabout where the local road met with the Derby ring road and the old canal was oblitterated by the thundering new routeways. I had strayed a little from my line on the map and, to rejoin it, I would have to follow one of these dual carriageways. Here commenced the least pleasant bit of my journey as I laboured uphill, harried by uncompassionate trucks. I reached a point where a trackway that seemed to go in the right direction dived under the rubber strewn highway. Thankfully I scrambled down the banking to join this milder road, which I followed across the fields to the village of Breadsall.

I coasted steadily down Rectory Lane into the main Village. My ancient map showed various routes going in the South Easterly direction that I required, but the only one that I could find, Station Road, very firmly stated itself to be a private cul de sac. I rode out of the village in the direction of Derby, but, not wishing to get entangled in the urban sprawl, decided to follow a bridle path that I spotted going the right way. After a few hundred yards I was surprised to see a set of level crossing gates ahead of me in a wooded area. This turned out to be the trackbed of the old Great Northern line from Derby to Nottingham, now transformed into a footpath and cycleway. Near the crossing the old Breadsall station remains had been excavated and put on view. 

It was now past 4 PM and I was concerned to find a bicycle pump. It was clear to me that the ratty old pump that I had brought would not achieve sufficient tyre pressure for a comfortable ride. I found a good camping spot in the corner of a field and hid my survival packs under some bushes before whizzing off down the old railway track, which was surprisingly steep, towards Derby.