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.

31st July 2010 On My Way at Last

2010-07-31 @ 05:29:46 by ashtonboatman

On my way at last

The donkey rattled and bucked along the line that had miraculously escaped Dr Beechings axe. It deposited me and my bike at Romiley and then scuttled off up the single track to Rose Hill.

The Sheffield train soon arrived and I climbed aboard. It was full of elderly walkers with boots and rucksacks heading for the hills. One venerable gentleman had a bagfull of maps and kept everyone else informed about the passing countryside with a running commentary. We threaded the beautiful Hope Valley and at each stop some walkers got off and other returning ramblers climbed aboard. Strangely, the homeward bound walkers were visibly younger. Perhaps the hills have a rejuvenating effect.

The geographical encyclopaedia got off at Grindleford, where we entered a long tunnel through to the suburbs of Sheffield. Soon the diesel unit was sliding into a platform to terminate at the main station.

In a bay platform there rested a shiny and sleek new East Midlands Railways train for London, first stop Derby. I boarded it but couldn't find a place for my bike. The train was empty and not due to leave for 30 minutes, so I went to look for another. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a Cross Country Voyager arrived and soon me and my bike were aboard and swishing through the Derbyshire countryside like a guided missile.

My destination, Duffield, flashed by and the train began to slow for the Derby stop. I unloaded my bike and went to look for the next Matlock train as these stop at Duffield. I had not long missed one, and so I spent 45 minutes happily watching trains come and go. Across the tracks the former headquarters of the Midland Railway is now a college.

A single railcar clattered into platform 1 with Matlock on it's destination panel. I clambered aboard and were soon rattling along back the way I had come. As we slowed for the Duffield stop I went to get my bike, but my way was blocked by the guard who was trying to fine an old lady for not buying her ticket at the station. She was having none of it and was quite happy to pay the proper fare but not a £20 fine. I thought this was a brilliant technique for discouraging passengers. It was obvious to me that the lady was not a fare dodger but just someone who didn't understand the rules.

Reluctantly, the guard let me past, then opened the door to allow me to detrain at Duffield. The bike ride could now begin.

26th July 2010 What I did on my Holidays

2010-07-26 @ 05:22:12 by ashtonboatman

What I did on my holidays

I have a strange idea of holidays. Unless I go on my own or with my partner or a few good friends, canal boating is work, though work that I enjoy. I don't like too much heat, so travelling to hot countries is out, even if I could afford it and didn't feel bad about the carbon footprint. I don't like inactivity, so lying on a beach is not for me. I don't have a lot of money, so that rules out all sorts of options.

What I like to do is to get on my bike and cycle slowly through the land, seeing what I see and stopping to explore whatever interests me. In the evening I find a secluded spot, usually a bit of woodland off the beaten track, and set up camp. I light a fire to cook a meal and sleep under a tarpaulin stretched between trees.

I mark a line on a map between two points picked pretty much at random, then follow that line as closely as I can. 5 years ago I set off on a line from Ashton to Zouch, a little known row of houses on the River Soar near Loughborough. I got as far as Duffield near Derby. Last week I decided to continue the journey.

My plan had been to set out on Monday, but the need to collect an engine for "Forget me Not" caused me to put it off until Tuesday. All of Tuesday was taken up with sorting out bilge pumps so that the boats had a chance of staying afloat whilst I was away. It was on Wednesday morning that I was finally able to drop the van off with a volunteer driver and set out.Full of the joys of the open road I set out on my bike, with bags and pots and pans dangling all over. I got about 300 yards when a telltale psssshishpsssishpssssish from the back wheel informed me that I had a puncture. I unloaded the bike, upended it and removed the tyre. Soon the tube was mended, but I discovered that my brand new bicycle pump would not put sufficient pressure into the tyre.

On a soggy back tyre I rode back to surprise the boatsitters at Portland Basin as I searched for another pump. The only one I could find had been sunk when "Hazel" went down and was a little rusty. It also lacked the right size tube, so I had to walk up to Wilkinsons to get a universal one. Their tube leaked so much air at the joints as to be useless, but I was able to transfer the universal adapter part on to another tube and get a bit more air into the tyre.

As I rode on through Dukinfield it soon became clear that the pressure was still not sufficient. I plodded on and soon came to Hyde North station, heaved my loaded bike over the footbridge and enjoyed bread and Houmus as I waited for the train. Soon the hourly nodding donkey to Rose Hill clattered over the points and stopped at the platform. I hauled my bike aboard the lightly loaded railbus and sat down as the engines started to rev. I was on my way at last.

A Winters Night on "Hazel"

A winter's night on “Hazel”.

It's the time of year when we don't get much sunlight and so “Hazel”s batteries need to be topped up from the mains every now and then. She has a huge bank of batteries that need a special charger and can't all be charged at once. Someone, normally me, has to stay to switch from one set of batteries to the other sometime in the night. I don't mind as I get to stay in “Hazel”s wonderful back cabin.

To charge up I have to shaft the boat the short distance across the aqueduct to Dukinfield and tie up beside the premises of Dixon & Smith, Motor Engineers. Pat and John are kind enough to let us plug in whenever we need power. Tying up is easier said than done because of all the rubbish in the canal. To get the bow close enough to get on and off the boat, the stern has to be pretty much in the middle of the cut as there is something big that catches the middle of the boat and causes her to pivot. There was nothing to tie the stern end to as the boat lies along the end wall of a factory. Between the factory and the water there is a small bank of rubble so, some time ago, I drove a pin into this and attached an old ratchet strap to it. In order to tie up I have to hook the ratchet strap with the cabin shaft and pull it to me. I then pass the stern line of the boat through the ratchet strap and tie the line to the timberhead. At the fore end there is a chain with a hook on the end secured to a post on the bank. All I have to do is put the fore end line into the hook and tie back to the T stud.

When tied like this, the back cabin is facing the railway bridge and I enjoy hearing Trans Pennine Expresses growling by, interspersed with the occasional freight. If I open the doors I can watch them and wonder if the passengers notice my cabin light below them on the canal.

For ages the weather has been rainy. I've been fed up of the rain, especially as I'm trying to work on “Forget me Not” on dock. Now, all of a sudden the wind has turned to the North and we're getting those cold clear winters nights that I love. Tonight the mopstick was frozen to crunchiness by 8PM.

I've been writing all evening, or rather talking to my computer, my friend Jackie will type up what I've recorded. Now it's bed time. The cabin is so warm I keep falling asleep. I tried opening the doors to let the heat out, with the range roaring away it gets extremely toasty in here.

Whilst writing the above paragraph I fell asleep. I woke again in a cooling cabin a couple of hours later, so I turned out the light and snuggled into my sleeping bag. In the morning it was cold. I had a flask to make coffee so I decided not to light the range. All I had to do was to shaft the boat back over the aqueduct to Portland Basin. I quickly dressed and put on all the gloves I could find, then climbed out into the crisp cold still dark morning. After disconnecting the charging cables I untied the lines, stiff with frost, and threw the ratchet strap back on to the bank. I then grasped the icy shaft with my gloved hands and, taking care not to slip on the frosty roof, pushed the fore end out into the channel, cat ice chinkling as the boat pushed it aside.

The stern end was stuck on something and, as I couldn't exert as much effort as usual because I was standing on a slippery surface, it took a while to get it free. By this time my hands were becoming very painful in spite of the 3 pairs of gloves that I was wearing. I decided that I would have to go inside to warm up. I went into the main cabin and lit a fire, enjoying its heat while I drank a cup of coffee.

When I had thawed sufficiently I climbed back on to the roof in the now bright and shiny but still cold morning, and started to move the boat towards the aqueduct, jumping down on to the towpath to give her a good tug with the fore end line before climbing back aboard to swing her round with the shaft and tie up abreast of “Lilith”. With everything secure I headed for home to get ready for another day working on “Forget me Not”.

12th July 2010 A Sign of the Times?

2010-07-12 @ 20:15:00 by ashtonboatman

A sign of the times.

It was a hot sunny day and I was busy working on the boats at Portland Basin when I noticed a wheelbarrow parked on the towpath across the canal. As we have wheelbarrows on the boats for collecting on recycling trips, I went over to see if someone had borrowed on of ours. When I got there I could hear banging and slushing noises from the other side of the stone wall. The ground drops steeply down about 20 feet of wooded rocky bank to the River Tame. I looked over and saw three men sploshing about in the river and dragging out rusty bikes, scaffold poles etc. One of them saw me looking and explained that they had decided to clean up the river.

This public spirited explanation was slightly marred by the fact that they only seemed to be removing metal objects, leaving behind much, equally unsightly, but valueless, plastic.

They dragged their ochre encrusted booty up the bank, over the wall and managed to load it into the sagging barrow ( which wasn't one of ours). I imagine they must have had a van nearby because it's over 2 miles to the nearest scrapyard that takes iron.

I think it's a good thing that people clear up and weigh in the clutter that others have carelessly discarded, but I also see desperation in the men's actions. I haven't seen this sort of activity since the 1980s when long years of unemployment spurred the picking up of beer cans, dragging ditches for scrap metal and other forms of scavenging. Anything to make a few bob to try to make ends meet. Are we now going to have another no hope generation like that of the Thatcher years? Growing up with no understanding of the concept of working for a living.

Stranded at Scarisbrick 2nd May 2010

2010-05-02 @ 16:30:07 by ashtonboatman

Stranded at Scarisbrick


"Southam" and "Lilith" are still stuck at Scarisbrick. It could have been worse, they could have been stuck in Bootle! The man at Red Lion Caravans opposite is being very helpful, charging batteries to keep the bilge pumps going and keeping an eye on the boats for me. Frank the engineer has stripped down the gearbox. We thought that it was going to need new clutch plates. I managed to contact the remains of the old Parsons company that made the gearbox, now run by one man in his spare time. He can supply new clutch plates, but we would have to wait 12 weeks and they would cost £600. Luckily, after discussing the problem with the man, I don't think we need them. The difficulty lies elsewhere and should be relatively easy to fix. With a bit of luck the boats will be on the move again soon. I've learned a lot about old marine gearboxes, especially how much it costs to get bits for them.

Meanwhile I've arranged a tow for "Forget me Not" so that we can do the monthly recycling trip on Sunday 9th May. It's a week late from the usual first Sunday because of the Bank Holiday weekend. If you would like to come on this trip just turn up at Portland Basin, Ashton under Lyne, at 9.30 AM on the 9th.

Mad March Recycling Trip 9th March 2010

Mad March recycling trip.

Despite having to scrape a thick coating of ice off the van windscreen I was surprised to find that the cut had frozen overnight yet again. Fian had spent the night boatsitting and I was a little concerned as she tends to feel the cold. Smoke was drifting from "Forget me Not"s chimney, so she was obviously awake, but I followed proper boating etiquette and avoided her cabin until she emerged. She said she had had a wonderful night and actually enjoyed being woken by squabbling geese at 3 AM!

After checking the bilges and feeding Captain Kit I carefully climbed across the ice sugared boats and started "Southam"s big engine to back her over to the towpath side for easy access by volunteers. "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" made a fine sight breasted up at the wharf. Soon people began to arrive and I had a busy time allocating people jobs, giving out safe boating information to first timers, of whom there were many and generally checking that everything was ready, dealing with a closed damper on a range that was causing people to be kippered etc.

As 10 AM approached I asked everyone to climb aboard and began shafting "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" round to face towards Droylsden. This was easier said than done as the ice, though thin, was a great impediment.

With the two currently unpowered boats a little way past 90 degrees of their 180 degree turn I noticed that the person I had asked to steer "Forget me Not" had taken it upon himself to go and start "Southam". Despite my waving he untied the boat and set off, but stopped again when my dancing, waving and shouting was relayed to him.

I had a dilemma that often occurs when working with volunteers. It's important for smooth running and safety that everyone follows the skippers instructions, but if you're too severe in imposing your authority you soon find yourself working alone.

I ran over to "Southam", which was now drifting in the middle of the cut and could only be accessed by climbing down off the footbridge. I found that the stern end mooring line was still tied to the T stud, it had been simply lifted off the mooring pin and thrown aboard instead of being untied and coiled ready for use as it should be. Even worse, the mooring pins had been left in the towpath. I climbed back on to the footbridge, retrieved the pins and re-gained the boat, explaining, I hope tactfully, that I had good reasons for my steering allocations and pointing out the shortcomings re lines and pins.

Moving the boat forward I nudged her past the bows of the other two boats and quickly explained that as I towed "Forget me Not" forward the line from "Lilith"s stem should be taken back and tied on to "Forget me Not"s stern. I took the strain of "Forget me Not"s line on "Southam"s T stud and pulled her forward, though she bounced off the knuckle of the Peak Forest turn because "Southam"s premature move had resulted in the turn being incomplete. My instructions must have been misunderstood because "Lilith"s line had not been carried to "Forget me Not"s stern and, as the two boats had separated, had to be thrown some distance. At the third attempt the line made its target, but almost too late. Boats do not have brakes so, once "Forget me Not" was moving her 15 tons or so was not going to stop. Seeing "Lilith" lurch into line I engaged forward gear again, but a few minutes later waving and shouts of Stop caused me to pull the lever back to nuetral again. "Lilith"s line had not been properly secured and was slipping off. There was no way I could actually stop the train of boats so had to let them drift while the line was re-secured. "Southam" stemmed up un the outside of the turn by the old Junction Mill chimney, now an icon of Ashton. "Forget me Not" wedged in alongside and, once more, the ice made things difficult as we tried to shaft the boats off the rubbish. As I tried to back her out "Southam" picked up a sturdy canvas bag on her blades, which had to be cut off, hanging over the side with a knife while young Daniel Cocker held on to my feet.

Eventually we got going again. Julie Edwards had rung up earlier to say that she would be late and would catch us up. She was waiting at Margaret St Bridge and hopped on to "Southam"s sterndeck as we passed, sharing with me the noise and smoke for the rest of the journey.

Despite my efforts with the knife, there was clearly stil some rubbish on the blades. The engine was struggling and making black smoke, the rudder was juddering and the water was boiling round the stern rather than going back in a clear stream. I kept giving bursts of sterngear to try to throw it off. This had some effect, but never got the blade completely clean and it would always pick up some more. As we passed the site of Robertsons Jam factory, now nearly demolished, a grunt from the engine indicated more rubbish collected. I tried reverse again and the engine stalled. Restarting it, I tried forward again. This unravelled the rubbish, but, looking down into the water, I could see something trailing behind that would obviously go back on to the blade if sterngear was engaged.

We tied up "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" breasted at Fairfield Junction quite neatly and winded "Southam", a manoeuvre slightly impeded by the crap on the blade, then everyone unloaded themselves and started digging out barrows from "Forget me Not"s hold. There were lots of new people and setting off on the collection round was a little chaotic. Most people got the hang of it quite quickly though and soon the two teams were busying themselves collecting from the Moravian Fields estate.

With so many people the speed of collection made up for time lost at the beginning of the trip. I became a little disappointed by the quantities and began to wonder where half the volunteers were, beginning to grumble that they were probably back at the boats having a brew, only to find that they were actually all busy emptying a garage full of stuff that had been donated.

When we had knocked on the last front door and barrowed the last load back to the boats, Fiona started handing out dishes of the excellent food that she had brought, with alternative options for carnivores and herbivores. Time to relax and eat and chat.

After two plates of excellent grub, I picked up the cabin shaft and started poking at the tangle of garbage on the propeller. This turned out to be mainly carpet, which was wound tightly on and bound with all manner of fibrous plasticky stuff. After much prodding and pulling I managed to get it all off, building a great mound on the sterndeck.

The next task was to wind "Forget me Not" and "Lilith". This is carried out by pulling them forward alongside "Southam" then, as their bows approach the tug's stern, pulling back on their front lines whilst shafting the stern ends sideways. This usually swings them round quite neatly and puts them in a good position for setting off, which was achieved quite neatly this time.

With the train travelling quite nicely along the canal and Kevin enjoying having a go at tug steering, I decided to walk alongside, stopping at Lumb Lane bridge (one of the lowest on the canal system) to try out the video function on my new camera The early morning frost had given way to a really nice sunny day, with refreshingly cold air. I enjoyed my walk, but kept my eye on the boats to make sure that everything was OK. I jumped back on board before the tricky turns through Guide Bridge, which were negotiated neatly by the steerers. I took over at Margaret St bridge to deal with the tricky arrival at Portland Basin. The procedure here is for "Southam" to head straight for the wharf then swing round to run parallel to it. "Forget me Not" follows and, if you judge it right, she will run neatly alongside the wharf to be stopped with her back end line (which is on the front of the engine room) while "Lilith" neatly slides alongside her. "Southam", once the towline is thrown off, then goes over to the towpath side of the canal to make it easy for volunteers to get off. She is then shafted back across to tie alongside "Lilith" (trying to do this by engine power is a nightmare because of the impossiblity of manouvering this boat in reverse gear).

Very quickly all the volunteers melted away in the afternoon sun and I made my way home.

A Grand Day Out 7th March 2010

2010-03-07 @ 18:53:58 by ashtonboatman

A Grand Day Out

It was my birthday on Friday. Emuna and I have a tradition that we have a day off on our birthdays but I decided to postpone mine to Saturday so that I could have a steam train ride. Though Emuna is a lot better than she was, her M E restricted the choice to local lines, which really means the East Lancashire Railway. I checked the timetable on Friday evening, only to find that it was a special diesel weekend! Never mind, I thought, it will still be a day out.

It's only a short walk from our house to Ashton station where we caught the 11.26 train into Manchester Victoria. Under the shattered remnants of a once grand glass roof we caught the tram to Bury and rattled through the North Manchester suburbs, through wooded cuttings and across the bleak country alongside the Bolton & Bury canal beyond Radcliffe to arrive at the buffer stops at Bury interchange. Emuna was dismayed to find that the escalators weren't working.

We walked through the busy centre of Bury to the old Bolton St station where we bought tickets from a very clerkish little man with round spectacles. The next train to Rawtenstall wasn't for a while so Emuna went to purchase coffee while I mooched around society stalls (The class 15 society etc) on one of the platforms. Rejoining Emuna, I realised that the bubble car (a nickname for the single railcars built in the early 1960s to replace steam trains on branch lines) standing nearby was about to depart for Ramsbottom. As we intended to stop for lunch in Ramsbottom we carried our coffees aboard and enjoyed them as we shaked rattled and rolled up the single track.

It was on this train (can a single vehicle be a train?) that I realised what an extraordinary band of passengers we had joined. Usually on a preserved railway one shares the train with a wide cross section of people enjoying a day out in a historic and slightly romantic environment. Diesel weekends, however, are strictly for hardcore anoraks! No-one was actually wearing one of these fabled garments, I don't know if you can still buy them, but they were all wearing clothing of uniform mundanity. Emuna suggested that they were all lads who couldn't get girl friends, but the presence of older members of the tribe with children, and sometimes spouses, suggests that reproductive success is not entirely unknown.

Along the lineside stood more diesel devotees armed with cameras to record for posterity the progress of our humble railcar.

Ramsbottom station is pretty much in the town centre. Years ago we enjoyed a pleasant meal in a cafe in sight of the station and had decided to pay it a repeat visit. It turned out to have been transformed into an upmarket coffee bar, so we walked up the main street, lined with charity shops, looking for another cafe. Nothing appealed so we decided to investigate the imposing "Grant Arms". This proved to provide very enjoyable meals. Outside it is a bizarre sculpture of a vase lying on its side.

Revived by a rest, a meal and a small amount of alcohol we walked back towards the station. Emuna insisted that I take a picture of a sandwich shop called "Big Butts" content which I suppose is some sort of joke on the towns name.

The next Rawtenstall bound train was headed by a rather boring locomotive, nicknamed a Hoover, but I insisted that we walk to the back of the train as there was a diesel of distinction, a Deltic, bringing up the rear. It turned out to be switched off, so I could not enjoy the highbrow tones of its engines as we traversed the stoneclad valley of the Irwell. Emuna took to gurning at lineside photographers.

We left the train at the Rawtenstall terminus and went to explore the town. Sadly, a lot of the shops are now closed, including an entire 1960s shopping arcade.

We came upon an establishment that claimed to be Britain's last temperance bar. Curious, we entered, and found ourselves in a dark wooden bar with a single plain table and spindly wooden chairs. The proprietor stood behind the bar and asked for our orders. I explained that we didn't know the options, so a pale young man with an oddly peaked grey woolen hat stepped forward with a menu. Emuna chose dandelion and burdock while I went for lemon and ginger. This was much nicer than the oversweetened pop bought from a supermarket, with a pleasant tingle from the ginger. All around were shelves of healthy teas and old fashioned advertisments for various concoctions.

A young woman floated in who would easily win the prize for best dressed person of the day. She wore a vivid electric blue dress with a huge silver cross that hung in the space where many women nowadays seem to prefer to display eye popping amounts of cleavage. From each ear hung another cross, smaller, but still a greater weight than I would like to dangle from my lobes. She eyed me with suspicion and conversed inaudibly with the lad in the peaked wooly hat.

More regulars arrived, including the girl's mother, who was surprisingly elderly. They all ordered drinks and Emuna and I gave up our chairs for our elders and betters. Two little ladies, whose husbands probably worked in a mine, in a mine, where a thousand diamonds shine, sat down and stared at us. We began to feel like we had strayed into some strange private cult. Perhaps the girl in the blue dress is the new Joanna Southcott

Joanna Southcott (or Southcote) (April 1750 – 27 December 1814), was a self-described religious prophetess. She was born at Taleford, and raised in the village of Gittisham in Devon, England.

who is destined to give birth as a virgin to the new Messiah and Rawtenstall will be the new Jerusalem. Perhaps, deep in the vaults of the adjacent Methodist church is a box containing arcane truths revealed unto her.

We finished our drinks and walked towards the station, surprised not to have been asked if we were local in the Royston Vaseyish atmosphere of the pub with no beer. Reading some of the advertisements for the diesel weekend in the booking office I realised that the trains were actually going to run all night, and for a mere £27.50 one could have unlimited overnight travel between Rawtenstall and Heywood!

The train arrived, topped and tailed by class 37 diesels. We went to the leading carriage in order to be close to the engine. It was an open coach of the kind with sets of 4 seats facing inward to a table. Opposite sat two middle aged men and a boy of about 8, presumably the son of one of the men, who were encouraging him in the irritating displacement activity of repeatedly spinning a coin on the formica topped table.

In the next bay were a group of gricers http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gricer who, judging by their estuarine vowels, hailed from the South Eastern corner of the land. Though almost certainly into their third decades of life, their humour was consistently teenage. It became clear that all of our fellow travellers at this end of the carriage were planning to avail themselves of the opportunity to travel all night.

The engine had been steadily beating like a giant heart, but, in response to the guard's whistle, it started to haul the train out of the station, demonstrating why this class are dubbed "growlers". Though they spent most of their 40+ years in service on relatively humble trains some of the class had a brief fling in the spotlight when Gerard Fiennes, then General Manager of the Western Region, had them re-geared to run in pairs up to 100 MPH for pulling the top expresses from Paddington to the West. Later Mr Fiennes published a book called "I tried to Run a Railway" which upset the transport minister and he was promptly sacked.

OK, so I'm a bit of a secret gricer myself!

Between Ramsbottom and Summerseat there are two tunnels close together. The driver braked through the first of these, then gunned the engine through the second, longer bore, to the delight of all as the prolonged growl of the engine was magnified by the tunnel lining.

Back at Bury, time was pressing and we hurried through the town centre to catch a tram. A stray gricer stood on the platform to photograph the tram. Back at Victoria we had a short wait for the Ashton train. As the train sped across the remnants of Ashton Moss my 'phone rang. It was Fian, our shop training co-ordinator. She was going to boatsit for the first time but had been unable to contact the boatsitting organiser to obtain a key. I arranged to meet her, walked home with Emuna and met Dave the driver who had just finished his days voluntary work. He handed the van over to me and I drove to the basin to meet Fian and show her the basics of staying in a back cabin. I drove home just in time to eat a lovely meal prepared by Emuna.

Hunger abated, we set out in the van to collect our friend Sandie from Stalybridge, then hurried to Rusholme for the Saturday night Latihan. http://www.web.net/latihan/more.html The latihan left me with a stiff neck,lately I seem to be leaving the latihan with various pains that wear off in an hour or two. It's very odd, but that applies to everything about the latihan. (Who am I to talk about strange cults. Subud members are always pointing out that it's not a cult, Sometimes methinks they protest too much). After tea and biscuits and a long chat with a lady who is using Facebook for the first time, we returned to the van, now a little heavier with some donations for the charity shop from a Subud lady who is on a mission to declutter her home. Sandie and Emuna nattered about spiritual things, particularly the incompatibility between Subud and Gurdjieff work http://www.gurdjieff.org/.

We dropped Sandie off and went to visit a friend who has lung cancer. He's just had radiotherapy which burned his oesophagus and made it difficult to eat. Hearing that my birthday cake was chocolate he developed a craving for chocolate cake (made by Emuna to my mother's secret recipe), so we took him some. He enjoyed it in spite of swallowing still being painful. The conversation was of things on which I had no strong views and so, though I enjoyed the company, did not join in, drinking lemongrass tea and watching something forgettable on the TV instead. Tiredness was creeping over me, so soon we headed for home to draw the curtains on a grand day.

1st March 2010 Another Trip to the East

2010-03-01 @ 08:17:21 by ashtonboatman

Another trip to the East

Not India or China but Grimsby and Lincoln. After the last trip we got offered some funding that the wonderful Fiona has been working on for ages "in principle". On the strength of this I booked a ticket for another trip to the sawmill. This turned out to be premature as we're still waiting for the funding to be confirmed. This is frustrating as we can't buy timber or promise anyone a job restoring "Hazel" until we're sure that the money will be forthcoming.

Nevertheless, I was able to discuss logs in more detail, but later realised that there had been let's say a misunderstanding over the amount of cubic feet of timber we had been discussing. I'll have to go back again.

My next destination was Lincoln, where we are hoping to load the timber on to a boat for transport to Stalybridge. My friends there had invited me to stay, but I've been yearning to spend a night in the wild for ages, so I decided to visit them the next day. I cycled into Grimsby along the sea wall beside the Humber. Being Grimsby I thought it would be appropriate to dine on fish and chips. People in the town centre seemed puzzled by the concept of a chip shop, though there was plenty of choice if I wanted a kebab, curried dog or Kentucky Fried Rat. Eventually I tracked down the appropriate establishment and took my ample portion to the station to eat.

A very big young man with a red goatee beard approached me. He started the conversation by complaining about Polish people coming here and taking all the jobs. It always amazes me that racists are so arrogant that they assume that everyone will share their tiny minded views. His next line was to try to blag some money out of me, unsuccessfully.

I climbed aboard the railcar for the Barton on Humber branch and had a free ride to Burton Haven. I always have a dilemma on trains where the guard isn't bothered about tickets. Should I save money for myself or insist on paying so that my journey will be counted next time the authorities try to close the line. This time I took the selfish option.

I alighted at the tiny halt and the railcar rattled away into the night. I followed the public footpath signs across a timber wharf beside a little inlet. Cranes silently awaited the next ship. I was pleased to see that this little port was obviously still in business. I wanted to bivouwac as close to the water as practicable, but with a chilly wind blowing I decided to use one of the timber stacks as a windbreak. Nevertheless, though cocooned in a sleeping bag and tarpaulin,I just had to open my eyes and move my coat aside to peer out across the Humber at the lights of Hull several miles away.

I woke on a grey, cold but dry morning and, after exploring the area a little, caught a railcar, busy with commuters, as far as Habrough. Here I had a long wait, but there were plenty of passengers to chat with. My railcar to Lincoln was again well loaded and I enjoyed the journey across a gently undulating rural landscape.

After some self generated confusion I met Debbie and her two youngest sons beside Brayford Pool. Brayford Pool is a wonderful city centre lake where the Fosdyke canal (built by the Romans) meets the River Witham. Since mediaeval times it has been famous for its swans. Nowadays the pool is a tourist attraction, but development pressures are putting the swans at risk. Everyone (almost,see http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=283935 ) claims to love the swans, but most fail to understand their habitat needs. Their grazing grounds have been taken to build the university and increasing construction and trip boat activity means that there is hardly anywhere left where they can peacefully get out of the water. At night they suffer constant harrasment from drunken idiots and at all times they are at risk from discarded fishing tackle.

The last time I was at Brayford Pool was in 1959, trainspotting with my brother while my dad and sister visited the cathedral. I don't remember much about it, I was only 6, but cine film taken at the time shows the pool full of swans and barges. My main interest was the parade of steam trains at the level crossing.

Debbie and her partner Lee are wonderful people who have become advocates for the swan population, constantly fighting against all kinds of vested interests. They have formed the Lincoln Swan Management Team to try to help the swans survive in this increasingly hostile environment. Because the swan's natural food supply is cut off, this group now spends about £1000 a year on grain to keep them alive, as well as constantly clearing litter from their one bit of usable bank ( currently threatened by more trip boats).

After eating at the University we went to what Debbie calls the Mothership, a Lincoln size barge with it's hold fitted out tastefully using reclaimed timber and wonderfully warmed by an Aga. Next to the barge is the converted wooden butty "Chance 2". This boat appears to be a Nursers boat and may have once been Thomas Clayton's "Mersey" before being sold to Chance & Hunt. When I first saw her, on the Shroppie in 1987, she was called "Valentine" and belonged to the self sufficiency writer John Seymour. Back in about 1970 I recall a centre spread in the Leamington Spa Courier about the houseboat conversion on this boat, then named "Chance 2" and moored at the Blue Lias near Long Itchington on the Grand Union.

Lee and Debbie's two older children now have their own boats, so choosing to carry on the water way of life. We looked at and discussed possible timber loading sites. It's annoying that proper use of the waterways, for carrying stuff, now has to be sneaked in around the all important leisure trade.

Lee returned from work later and Debbie served up a tasty meal before I had to leave to catch the 17.21 train back to Grimsby. Here I had a long wait. Irritatingly the later train from Lincoln just misses the last Manchester train but I couldn't get an earlier train because my cheap ticket was for a specific service. It didn't matter as I enjoy exploring new places and went for a walk round Grimsby. As I came back to the station I saw a fox confidently trot across the level crossing.

Sitting on the station ( why do they use cold stainless steel for station seats?) I met the bearded giant again. He asked if I smoked weed. I explained that I don't smoke anything, which seemed to annoy him. It's my policy not to be intimidated, but this man is very large and seems rather unpredictable, so I decided to maintain a low profile. Consequently I did not intervene as he launched an all out attack on the vending machine ( does anyone ever look at the much vaunted cctv?). He left via the footbridge with various items of stolen junk food and, as he walked along the opposite platform, berated me for not sharing my chips on the previous day, telling me that he is well acquainted with Jesus and I will not go to heaven.

Further entertainment was provided for me as a train was delayed by a fight which broke out in the doorway as the guard stood by and watched.

When my train arrived I was ready for a sleep, so I remember little of the journey. From Piccadilly I rode up the towpath to check the boats at Portland Basin, then home and so to bed.