Yesterday was the winter solstice so I arranged a fire in the evening to celebrate and remind the sun to return in the spring. A few friends showed up. It was nice.
Yesterday was the winter solstice so I arranged a fire in the evening to celebrate and remind the sun to return in the spring. A few friends showed up. It was nice.
These are just a couple of pictures I took last saturday morning after spending the night on "Hazel" to get her batteries charged.
Every Thursday there's a demonstration outside the jobcentre in Ashton, protesting about workfare, sanctions and the generally dickensian attitude towards anyone who is unemployed or too ill to work that prevails today. Some of the protestors are also very good at giving advice to those claimants who have been unfairly treated (that's most of them in my experience) or are simply baffled by the byzantine bureacracy that is involved in claiming a pittance to not quite live on.
Some people enjoy protesting, but, sadly, most of the public see protestors as a nuisance and don't engage with the issues being raised. Someone came up with the idea of coming up with a very appropriate Dickensian theme for last weeks demo. My lovely Em made the Victorian costumes and the Rev David Gray rewrote some carols to sing. He himself was typecast as Mr Bumble. Unfortuately I missed most of the performance but I understand it went down well, despite being interrupted by a couple of young thugs who Em thought were out of their heads on some substance. I got there at the end and took these pictures.
When Em and I were travelling back from getting married in Cardiff a couple of months ago we called in at Presteigne to see Hilary and Ian Marchant. They told us about the Presteigne pantomime which they were to appear in. We hatched a plan to visit Presteigne again to enjoy this theatrical performance. The weekend just gone was the one.
On Saturday 10th December we caught a tram to Manchester, then rode with Arriva Trains Wales to Shrewsbury where we boarded a single railcar to travel down the Central Wales line (now branded "Heart of Wales") as far as Knighton. Here we knew we had a wait, so we walked towards the town centre looking for warmth and refreshment. We found both in the friendly snug of the Horse and Jockey.
Unfortunately my picture came out a bit fuzzy. After enjoying our coffee and beer and the local chat we followed directions to the 'bus "Station". In this part of the world "Bus station" means the same as Bus Shelter elsewhere. There was some disagreement between the times given online and those shown on the timetable notice. The latter proved to be correct, so we had a long wait in the drizzly dusk of one of the less picturesque parts of Knighton. We had a good view of the roofs of the old town though.
The clock tower
and the chimneys as people stoked up their woodstoves.
We had begun to refer to this area as The Shire, Tolkien's idyllic home of the hobbits, not just because of the picturesque qualities of the landscape and buildings but also because of the friendliness and helpfulness of the people.
The little bus eventually arrived. We were the only passengers as it plunged through the puddle spattered darkness along winding up and down roads. At the village of Norton an old lady joined us, the driver waited patiently while she had a long parting conversation with her friend, then we were off again, not stopping until we reached the Radnor Arms Hotel where we had booked a room.
We were a little disappointed to be shown to our room in a modern garden annexe rather than in the historic building itself, but the accommodation was comfortable and the breakfasts were hearty.
We were starving, so we soon were out at the Chinese takeaway across the road. Em had a bit of a rest, then we set out for the Memorial Hall, a short distance away. The place were crammed. These productions are very popular. We found some seats and waited for the show to begin. It was called Oil be Buzzard, hardly a traditional panto. Lots of local in jokes but funny for outsiders too. Ian was playing a Mancunian gay emperor and Hilary played the emperoror's mother. Stephanie, their daughter, played Hildegard the Horrible, in charge of a zero hours contract sweat shop producing garments for the aristocrat. A thoroughly enjoyable performance.
We were invited to dinner at Chez Marchant the following evening.
Our plan for Sunday was for me to go exploring and Em to rest after a very tiring Saturday. After enjoying breakfast in the hotel, she returned to bed and I walked along the road towards Kington, passing a sleeping dragon on my way out of the town.
When I were a lad I used to hitch hike everywhere, but then the fearfulness promoted by those who seek to control us set in. Lifts became so few and far between that you could die of exposure before you got a lift at the average motorway junction. It was 6 miles to Kington. I could walk it, for there is no Sunday 'bus service, but I thought I might as well raise my thumb as I walked along.
The very first car stopped, but was going the wrong way. The second vehicle also stopped. It contained the couple who had breakfasted at the next table in the hotel. They hadn't planned to go via Kington but insisted on diverting to drop me off there. The lady, of South Asian heritage, was a social worker involved in fostering and adoption in Bristol. They were heading home. They dropped me in Kington town centre and proceeded on their way.
Kington is another pleasant friendly town of the Shire.
I walked around the shops, mostly closed on this Sunday morn, bought some food to keep me going at a surprisingly well stocked little supermarket, then walked back the way I had come to start my exploration.
I had an idea that I could follow the trackbed of the
Prestiegne branch back to that town. The girders of the bridge over the road
had been removed decades ago, but it was clear from the stone abutments that
the lines had been diverging immediately after leaving the station. I climbed
up on to the embankment, which gave me a better view of the little diesel loco
(a Planet I think) in the station.
The Presteigne branch was so densely wooded that it was almost inpenetrable. It was now about 2 PM and the light was already beginning to fade. Had it been summer I would probably have persevered, but, anxious to get back in the daylight, I backed out and descended to road level again.
I walked back to the main road, which I followed through the village of Titley.
I waved my thumb at every passing vehicle, but the afternoon drivers were less generous than those in the morning. The 14th vehicle stopped. The driver was a South African man in his 50s. He told me that he had lived in Britain for 30 years, and in Kington for the last 18. He loves this country, and this area in particular. We got on to the subject of the damage that mankind is doing to the planet. His contribution to saving the planet was the invention of a more efficient barbecue. I wondered how these concerns squared with travelling about in a large motor car but I was unsure how to raise the matter without seeming ungrateful for the lift. He brought it up himself. He clearly felt a conflict between his love for the planet and the seductive comforts of the 21st century.
Back at the hotel, Em had rested all day and was preparing to go to a talk on traditional Welsh woven fabrics. She found the hall filled with about 100 people and enjoyed it tremendously. I suspect that such a talk in Ashton would struggle to get half a dozen attending.
Like so many traditional crafts, the handful of woolen mills that remain in Wales are run by elderly people who would like to retire but have no-one to hand the business on to. Their machinery is ancient and renewing parts as they wear out is a problem as there are no longer any suppliers and very few skilled engineers who can make parts. With prices in the hundreds of pounds per blanket they do not supply a mass market!
I went exploring the town in the gathering dusk
Outside an antique shop there was a basket of old Ordnance Survey maps, something that I have a particular weakness for. I selected several that I didn't have in my collection and went in. There was no-one in the shop to guard its wares but a door was open into living accommodation at the back. I went to the door and called, but no-one stirred. After a short wait I shouted louder. A small elderly man slowly and carefully descended the curving enclosed staircase. He took a little money for the maps and told me that he was closing down in a couple of weeks as he had to go into hospital for a major operation. He grumbled about the taxes that he has to pay, presumably not seeing the link between paying taxes and getting his operation for free. In America people can be bankrupted by an unexpected health problem.
There's at least one other shop in Presteigne that apparently remains open, often unattended, 24 hours a day, with much valuable stock outside under an awning. Here in The Shire it seems that the default assumption is that people are honest, whereas elsewhere the assumption is that they are the opposite. One of the irritations of modern life is the constant need for ID, to prove that you are who you say you are. The Groucho Marx trick of looking in a mirror and saying “yes, that's me” doesn't work any more. I always feel insulted when I'm required to produce my ID, I know I'm trustworthy, why don't they believe me.
We returned to our room for a while then walked down to Ian and Hilary's house near the river where we spent a pleasant evening eating a nice meal and discussing the bizarre nature of the modern world, Ian's new book, his magnum opus, a history of the hippies, among many other things.
In the morning we rose early to pack before breakfast at 8. We walked slowly to the bus "station" on the site of the former railway station. The bus we caught was the once a week service to Ludlow via Knighton and was surprisingly well loaded.
We had a long wait in Knighton before the next train so we looked for a cafe in the town centre, getting a closer look at the clock tower that I had previously photographed from afar.
The cafe was not very friendly. We were now on our way out of the shire and returning to normal. I asked for black coffee and when the cafe lady put milk in it I reminded her that I asked for it black. She argued, saying that I had asked for white coffee. This was a bit silly of her as not only would I never ask for white coffee as I am a bit allergic to milk, but there would be no point anyway as white is the default setting for coffee in the British Isles. Grudgingly she made me a replacement beverage. Em decided that she wanted to wait on the station, so we walked there, then sat for a far from unpleasant hour in a new but traditionally constructed platform shelter. Em sat in her wheelchair because the slats of the seat were of cold steel. I sat on the seat and started reading the book that Ian had lent me, "Sailing into England" by John Seymour.
The train, once again, was a single railcar, quite well loaded.
I enjoyed the journey through the wet countryside beside a meandering river. This time the train stopped at some of the request halts. Once upon a time this was an important double track freight route to South Wales. It was saved from closure by Beeching because it runs through seven marginal constituencies. Now it is single track with about half a dozen trains each way per day and, as far as I know, no freight.
Our little railcar terminated in a bay platform at Shrewsbury. We walked along the main platform to await the Manchester service. Shrewsbury has a wonderful station, overlooked by the castle
and with a view of the abbey.
The turquoise train slithered us rapidly further and further from the shire to deposit us at, well, Mordor would be unfair, perhaps Babylon would be more appropriate.
Monday seems to have become the main work day at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard so last Monday I enlisted some help to lever "Hazel" off the mud and get her floating on an even keel again. This meant that we had to deploy the wheelchair ramp to access the boat, but it was a lot easier to work inside as the boat was no longer at an uncomfortable angle. The water level remained about a foot down all week.
Saturday 26th November was the appointed day for the Stalybridge lights switch on and Santa's floating grotto. We would need to move "Hazel" down one lock and tie her at Armentierres Square above lock 6. On Friday I checked the levels and found the pound where we needed to go almost empty. The same applied to the long pound between locks 3 and 4. The trip boat, "Still Waters" had intended to come up to Stalybridge on Friday, ready to do trips on Saturday, but had to cancel due to lack of water.
There were several streams feeding the cut between locks 7 and 8, so there should have been enough water, but, the lowered weir on that pound meant that all that water was running to waste in the river rather than feeding the canal between Stalybridge and Ashton. Consequently, any pound with leaky lock gates was getting depleted. It occurred to me that if I cracked open the paddles on lock 7 to let through water equivalent to the amount running in from streams, then it would divert water to feed the canal without dropping "Hazel" back on to the mud again. I did this then went home, had my tea and took Em to the cinema with a couple of tickets won in a raffle. After the cinema I went to check. Everything was fine, the level was OK above lock 7 and it was slowly rising below. By the morning I estimated that the pound through Armentierres Square would still be low, but usable.
10 AM was the alloted time for moving the boat, so, about 9.30 I arrived to find "Hazel" sitting on the mud again, but the pound below prettywell full. At first I thought I must have miscalculated the paddle setting. Later I found that a pair of CRT men had drawn the paddles to fill the pound below, thus dropping "Hazel on the mud, exactly what I'd been trying to avoid. CRT are fo course world renowned experts on water management.
With much effort and ingenuity we got "Hazel" into the channel and floating again, then shafted her down to the winding hole and amazingly were able to wind. We worked through the lock then bowhauled past Tesco to tie just above lock 6. Phil Ash volunteered to stay with the boat to talk to passers by whilst the rest of us went to Ashton to bring "Forget me Not" up.
It was a very cold and frosty morning. I was a little concerned about getting the engine started but things turned out to be worse than I imagined. The battery was not exactly bursting with joyful exuberance and, though the engine turned over slowly, it simply would not fire. Suddenly, a horrible smell of hot electrics filled the air and everything went dead. Clearly that boat was going nowhere in a hurry. We returned to Stalybridge in the van to announce that we would have to bowhaul on the morrow.
On wednesday the water at Knowl St was nearly over the copings, on Thursday it was down so that "Hazel" was sat on the bottom, thpogh I estimated that we'd be able to get her afloat with a struggle. Friday morning the water was well down and the boat tipped at an unpleasant angle. Two men in yellow jackets came down the towpath so I asked them if they knew what was going on. They said it was because of the work at lock 8, regating. they were on their way to lock 7 to let more water out. It was going to be like this for a
One of the men got on the 'phone to his gaffer. He re-assured me that as soon as they had been able to get the stop planks in on the bottom gates the level would be allowed to rise again.
Later in the day our shop got a call from a neighbour who was concerned about the angle that "Hazel" was lying at. I cycled up there again to find the water a lot lower and the boat at more of an angle. I put out a couple of extra restraining lines to the timberheads as I was beginning to have a niggling worry that if the water got much lower she could roll over as she seems to be sitting on the edge of a ledge. With this done I rode up to the work site to see what was going on. They had stop planks in but were struggling to get them to seal. The workmen assured me that the level would rise again over the next couple of days, however, they've taken a plank out of a weir that overflows into the river and they're not going to put this back in, so the level will remain about a foot down. I think we'll be able to get off at a foot down but I'm dubious about winding at Mottram Road as that winding hole is shallow at the best of times.
The pound above lock 8 is also partially drained, which probably explains the excess of water on wednesday.
Winter's a comin in. The stoppage season has begun and, as "Hazel" has to be in Stalybridge at the end of November and lock 1W is shut for the whole month, she has to go now. It was Friday 28th October that we towed her up the 7 locks to the Heritage Boatyard where we're still not supposed to tie up.
I invited lots of people for the trip up the locks expecting most people not to show up. Nearly everyone did come so it was a bit hectic looking after so many newcomers on the locks, which is why I didn't get round to taking any pictures.
The prickly Pyracanthas in the front garden needed some severe pruning and we had a pile more from last year to deal with and it's Samhain, the pagan festival to celebrate the departure of the Sun. What better excuse for a good fire.
We worked hard on the Saturday, Tony, Aaron and me, cutting back the flesh ripping bushes and dragging the resulting brash down on to the slip, then loading it on to "Forget me Not".
Sunday afternoon we worked "Forget me Not" down the locks again to tie abreast of "Lilith" at Portland Basin.
At 4 PM on Monday 31st, me, Aaron and Tony took the boat up to a spot on the Peak Forest where there's a big area of Himalayan Balsam. We worked hard in the gathering darkness to get the brash unloaded and built into a bonfire. Pyracanthus is vicious stuff. I got some special thick gloves for handling it but it stabbed right through them.
With the bonfire built I went off to fetch Em and people started to turn up. I donned my wizard's hat and returned to the scene to ignite the fire with my magic shaft.
Charlotte took these pictures. It was a really enjoyable evening with cake and nice people.
Wednesday was Em's birthday. Unfortunately I'd left her presents at home! as she'd often passed through Shrewsbury on the train and it looked a nice place, Em wanted a chance to explore, so we had booked two nights at Cromwells Inn in the centre of town. The hotel was great and the people really friendly and helpful. I was shocked to find out that it had been the subject of fake reviews on trip Advisor. http://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2012/08/18/internet-troll-threat-to-ruin-shrewsbury-hotel/
This is getting horribly common nowadays, including the blackmail, give me a refund or I'll give you bad reviews. I know of a writer who upset a cult leader and consequently gets his books slagged off online from cult members all round the world. I've no doubt we'll get a bit of this with "Hazel" sooner or later.
In our room was a huge for poster bed. It was incredibly comfortable. Part of the charm of the place was its old uneven floors. Some people had complained about this on Trip Advisor!
On our way to Shrewsbury from Brecon we called at Presteigne to visit Ian and Hilary Marchant. Ian is the WCBS patron and is a writer and broadcaster.
Ian has just completed his magnum opus, a book about the history of the hippy movement. His next project is a radio sitcom that he credits me with the idea for (do I get a percentage?) It was nice to sit and talk with such interesting, intelligent and generally nice people. It was a little worrying to learn that, because of brexit, Hilary is trying to get Irish citizenship. Will the last intelligent person to leave the country please turn out the lights.
After touring round Shrewsbury several times we found Cromwells and the staff helped Em get our cases to the room while I drove about a mile out of town to where i could park for free, then I walked back past the old Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Shrewsbury Abbey Station. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrewsbury_Abbey_railway_station
There's too much to explore in Shrewsbury for just a couple of days, especially for someone with M E http://www.afme.org.uk/
We had booked a room at the Markets Tavern Hotel in Brecon.
It was a really pleasant drive up from Cardiff. The room was nice, the staff friendly and helpful. Brecon is a really pleasant little town. Its a shame you can't get there by train any more. Pre Beeching there were trains to Newport, Merthyr, Neath, Swansea, Hereford and Newtown. There's an old fashioned cinema where we went to see "The Girl on the Train". It was gripping but not the best crime mystery I've ever seen. Em was fascinated by some of the tiny houses, even smaller than ours. Are there a lot of tiny people in Brecon?
I travelled separately from Em on my journey to Cardiff to get married. I took a hire car for our holiday and on the way called at the Severn Valley Railway and the Lea Bailey Light Railway in the Forest of Dean.
I arrived at Bridgnorth just in time to see rebuilt Bullied West Country pacific "Taw Valley" set out for Kidderminster with a train of LNER varnished teak coaches.
The Great Western (formerly Port Talbot Railway) saddletank number 813 was being polished up and was alleged to be in service but I could see no sign of smoke or steam.
At the end of the former line to Shrewsbury (shame that never got saved) stood a Western diesel. I like the Westerns so I took a couple of pictures.
As part of the current vogue for building replicas of loco classes that missed out on preservation the frames, bunker, wheels and assorted bits of a new Standard class 3 2-6-2 tank were on show. Personally I feel that there are now enough steam locos and the resources would be better employed in ameliorating the climatic consequences of running them rather than building more.
From Bridgnorth I drove on through the wonderful countryside of Shropshire and Herefordshire to seek out the elusive Lea Bailey Light Railway.
I like little railways where a small band of volunteers are trying to get things established. Part of the currently very short line lies on the trackbed of the Mitcheldean Road and Forest of Dean Junction Railway, which was completed but never used. The Merry band of volunteers were busy moving rocks as part of a project to relocate their compressor after it was flooded by an unexpected outflow of water from the mine adit. Eventually they hope to be able to run trains up the old route towards Drybrook. I enjoyed meeting this optimistic little group or railway builders and wish them success.
The Simplex waiting for volunteers to finish loading stone.
From Lea Bailey I travelled through more wonderful countryside until I got to the M4 near Newport, then it was a plunge into the rush hour traffic to get to our friend's house in Cardiff.