tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Ashton Boatman 2017-08-20T19:01:08Z Chris Leah tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1185093 2017-08-20T06:36:46Z 2017-08-20T19:01:08Z Make a future for "Aster"

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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


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




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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1184232 2017-08-16T18:27:49Z 2017-08-20T06:38:04Z Cycle trip day 1, Bath and Swindon.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1183051 2017-08-12T20:18:10Z 2017-08-12T20:18:57Z Ecclesbourne Valley Diesel Weekend.

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


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


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

Class 31 arriving at Duffield with the DMU set

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

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

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

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


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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1174145 2017-07-16T20:44:38Z 2017-07-16T20:55:56Z Lovely Day on the Ashton Flight

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


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


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

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

Mary steers into lock 8.

Approaching Clayton Lane.

Crabtree Lane.

Passing the entrance to the Stockport branch.

Droylsden swing bridge.

Water sports adventure centre.

Entering the final lock.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1171702 2017-07-08T21:04:11Z 2017-07-08T21:04:12Z Down the locks to Sport City 8th July 2017

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


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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1159949 2017-06-02T10:48:16Z 2017-06-02T10:48:17Z Trip for People First Tameside May 2017

We did a trip with "Hazel" from Portland Basin to Lumb Lane and Back for People First Tameside on May 31st. Here are some pictures. Everybody enjoyed it.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1157659 2017-05-26T15:47:02Z 2017-05-26T15:47:02Z "Let's Face the Music, and Dance"

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





Lets face the music, and dance.


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1154764 2017-05-17T21:22:28Z 2017-05-17T21:22:28Z Castlefield Food Festival May 2017

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

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

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

Lovely dog on the next boat.

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

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

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1152439 2017-05-08T06:48:59Z 2017-05-08T07:23:20Z Recycling Trip May 7th 2017

A really enjoyable trip. Here's some pictures.





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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1150307 2017-04-29T16:19:59Z 2017-04-29T16:21:14Z A Long Weekend Trip on "Hazel"

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

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

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

"Hazel" between Hyde and Gee Cross.

Woodley.

A moorhen.

Aaron dozing.

Kim steering at Romiley.

"Hazel" at Strines.

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

A tight turn on the upper Peak Forest.

One of the drawbridges.

Peak Forest scenery.

Joan steering "Hazel"

Declan enjoys sitting on the roof.

while granny steers round another turn.

Furnace Vale.

Bugsworth basins.

David tries motor boat steering.

While Mary steers the butty.

Magical oak at Strines.

Brewing up on Monday morning.



Aaron works the drawbridge.


Woodley again.

Woodley railway bridge.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1148945 2017-04-24T17:37:05Z 2017-04-29T18:32:44Z April 2017 Recycling trip.


After being unable to do recycling trips by boat for a couple of months because Lumb Lane bridge was being repainted it was great to get out on the boats again for the first Sunday in April. Here are some photos I took on the trip. 

https://youtu.be/-HwTvrcq0kU





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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1148398 2017-04-22T21:49:52Z 2017-04-22T21:49:53Z Dumah

You can't just join Subud. You first become an applicant, visiting the Subud house once a week to have a chat with the helpers after they have finished their Latihan. This is because Subud doesn't want spiritual tourists. Being opened is a serious business.

One of the helpers who would often join in our chats was Dumah. A man with natural authority, his explanations of what Subud was about made sense to me. I remember him saying that, without Subud he would just be an animal, "well" he added, "sometimes I still am an animal". There was always a hint of potential danger around Dumah, though he was in fact a kind and compassionate man. At my opening my sense of 'what have I got myself into' was heightened by Dumah's Latihan, which seemed to be some sort of war dance.

Dumah has now joined the growing numbers of friends of around my own age who have moved on from this life. He died in Jamaica where he was born in 1953. Some of us had a sense that he had gone home to die after suffering several strokes. His funeral was at the church that he grew up in , the New Testament Church of God. It was quite an experience for those of us who are more used to polite English services. The church was packed with family and friends from around the world, mostly with a caribbean background, with a single row of reserved white people. I was among swaying clapping black ladies.

The actual burial was at the Southern Cemetary. More singing and drums whilst the sad task of putting Dumah into the ground was completed. I made a couple of videos but I don't know if they will work as I have problems with links on Posthaven.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxYcX-zi9cQ

https:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxYcX-zi9cQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smx7Tnd7f8g




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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1131813 2017-02-16T13:16:20Z 2017-03-19T21:08:08Z Long Weekend Well Being Experience aboard "Hazel"

"Hazel" was restored to be a Well Being Boat, specifically for people who have been suffering from depression, stress related illness and other mental health problems, but really, for everyone who needs a bit of a lift. So far everyone who has travelled aboard her has reported that she has improved their state of mind in some way (even when we ran a trip in torrential rain).

We're now adverising a long weekend trip on March 24th to 27th. There are places available in the back bedroom, £70 a night for 1, 2 or 3, the side bedroom, £60 per night for 1 or 2, and the forward salon £25.00 a night per person with a reduction if you book all 3 places. If you're interested post a comment and I'll get back to you.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1131142 2017-02-14T07:03:36Z 2017-02-14T07:03:36Z A Day at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard

Yesterday I was working at Knowl St along with Dave, Kim  and Stewart. I was mostly tidying up after the gales. Dave was welding various items for "Hazel" and "Forget me Not". Kim was renovating "Southam"s big ex army range and Stewart was making replacement sections for "Forget me Not"s temporary deck. There was a bitter cold East wind but we enjoyed our work in spite of this.

Dave welding "Forget me Not"s exhaust pipe.

Stewart with the deck sections he's made.

"Southam"s range.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1130150 2017-02-10T08:31:55Z 2017-02-14T16:59:34Z Collecting "Hazel", and saying goodbye to Hazel.

Thursday 9th February. "Hazel" the boat was in Stalybridge but we needed her in Ashton for the Valentines trips (still undersubscribed if you and your lover would like to book a place). Anyway, it was an excuse for a training trip.Tony had invited his friend Joe who found us after a mystery tour of Ashton.  We took "Forget me Not" up the 3 locks to Stayley Wharf, Kim Tranter having his first go at boat steering, which he took to like a duck to water. We then left her in the care of Joan Wainwright while the rest of us walked up to Knowl St Heritage Boatyard to collect "Hazel".

 

Nigel Carpenter shafted the boat down to the winding hole and winded her, before working down lock 7.

Jannice Brown and Barry Atherton joined us Tony Hewitson bowhauled down the locks through Stalybridge town centre. George Hewitt took on her usual role of lockwheeler in chief.

It was a dull cold day with occassional flurries of snow so everyone was well wrapped up but in good spirits.

Back at Stayley Wharf, Joan had been heating up some delicious soup that had been donated by Bev Ackford who was unfortunately unable to join us for the trip. This was shared out and consumed as Joan steered us along the long pound to lock 3.

Then down the two locks and along the next pound to lock 1.

From lock 1 it was a level run through the Asda tunnel to Portland basin, where our crew made an excellent job of breasting up with minimal instruction from me.

It was an excellent trip. Everyone worked well together and enjoyed themselves, mostly just seeing what needed doing and doing it without having to be told.

When we were tied up, some had to go, but the rest of us went up to the shop as it was Hazel the person's leaving do. After a little mix up we found her in the nearby Station Hotel where she organises a Knitting and Crocheting session on a Thursday afternoon. For the last 2 years Hazel Mayow has been our volunteer organiser but, now that the funding has run out, we'll have to organise ourselves or return to anarchy. Hazel has a liking for cake, so we covered the pub table with extreme ceam cakes from the Polish shop. Poles seem to excel in the art of cake making. Luckily Hazel hasn't completely gone as she wil be coing back as a volunteer. I took my camera with me but clean forgot to take photographs, sorry.

All in all it was an excellent day. Thanks everyone.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1117776 2016-12-23T20:08:16Z 2016-12-24T12:51:12Z Trouble at t Aqueduct

The Tame aqueduct links Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire, with Dukinfield, Cheshire. A solid stone aqueduct with 3 arches it crosses the River Tame. Most people think that it's on the Peak Forest canal, but, strictly speaking, it's a branch of the Ashton canal. The Peak Forest starts at Dukinfield Junction, an end on connection immediately on the South side of the structure.

For months now, Keir, contractors for the Canal & River Trust, have been giving it a much needed renovation. The job has gone on longer than expected as it turned out to be in worse shape than anticipated. that's something I'm familiar with on old wooden boats. They're nearly finished now, but I became puzzled as to why they appeared to be attempting to fill the river in. I've now asked some questions and learned the story.

The first part of the job was to erect a lot of scaffolding on both sides and underneath the aqueduct. I did wonder when i saw this going up, what would happen if heavy rain in the hills should cause the river to rise. The scaffolding was pretty much blocking the two side arches, but this is OK because the water runs through the middle one doesn't it? Apparently they were warned that actually it wasn't OK, but professionals know best.

Everything was fine until we had that day of wild weather a few weeks ago, when thw whole country was disrupted by flooding. Every drop of rain that falls in Stalybridge, Mossley, Greenfieldm Saddleworth and all around has to exit via the Tame aqueduct. When there's a lot of rain it brings with it trees and rocks and shopping trolleys by the dozen. The scaffolding acted as a seive, holding back the debris, thus completely blocking the side arches. The middle arch couldn't handle so much water, so it began to back up, thus increasing the pressure on the old stonework. Something had to give and luckily it wasn't the aqueduct, they built 'em well back then, but the river bed. The force of water scoured it out down to the aqueduct foundations.

The aqueduct can't be left with its foundations exposed, so they made a roadway down the steep steps that lead down to the river and have brought in an incredible tracked dumper that can drive up and down this slope to deliver countless tons of rock to restore the river bed.

Rock being deposited in the river bed.

The scaffolding has now mostly gone from the West side.

The steep roadway.

The dumper breasts the summit.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1117594 2016-12-22T22:47:13Z 2016-12-23T06:05:59Z Solstice Fire

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.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1117591 2016-12-22T22:39:19Z 2016-12-22T22:39:19Z Early Morning on "Hazel"

These are just a couple of pictures I took last saturday morning after spending the night on "Hazel" to get her batteries charged.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1117589 2016-12-22T22:34:11Z 2016-12-22T22:34:11Z Bah Humbug at the Jobcentre

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.



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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1114936 2016-12-17T19:58:28Z 2016-12-17T19:58:53Z A Weekend in the Shire

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.

My intention was to explore a little of the network of rural branch railways that used to serve this lovely area. These started with a horse drawn plateway which, by way of the Hay tramroad, linked up to the canal in Brecon, 35 miles away. This ran as far as New Radnor to tap the mineral resources. Later a railway was built through to join the main line at Leominster, the plateway was converted to a standard gauge railway and a branch was built to Presteigne. The three routes met up at Titley junction, where not a single house can be seen. It's a 2 mile hike from the junction station to the village of Titley. The lines were never really busy and the old tram route from Titley Junction to join the Hereford Brecon line at Eardisley was the quietest, going from nowhere to nowhere much via nowhere in particular. It closed in 1917 and its track was commandeered for military service. After the armistice the line was re-instated and it carried on with one train a day until finally succumbing to another wartime economy measure in 1940.

The Presteigne line struggled on with passengers until 1951, the last goods train running in 1961. The New Radnor extension also closed completely in 1951, leaving just the Leominster to Kington route. This had recieved a boost during the war as military hospitals were built nearby, receiving frequent trainloads of wounded men. Nevertheless, the peacetime passenger service ceased in 1955 and, with the passing of the final freight train in 1964 the whole network was dead, or was it merely sleeping?

My plan was to explore the trackbed at least as far as Titley Junction, where the owner of the old station house has relaid about a mile of track and occassionally opens to the public and runs steam trains.

Kington station building still exists within the industrial estate that has grown up on the station site.

The whole area still had a hobbity look about it.



I found my way on to the old trackbed and followed it through pleasant green fields beside the river.Arrow. Soon I passed an isolated farm.


A bridge over the river was missing at Bullocks Mill so I had to walk along the nearby small road.


A crossing keepers cottage survives, though it looks like it may have originally been a watermill.


Behind the cottage the trackbed once more crossed the river on a now absent bridge. I walked uphill past delightful houses, standing aside to allow the passage of 4wd vehicles.

I particularly liked this ramshackle shed.

My idea was to find a way back on to the trackbed but as the road was clearly going up the valley side and turning away from the railway I decided to walk back. A long hike along the switchback road eventually brought me to the main Kington- Presteigne road and I walked along its winding tarmac for the best part of a mile before I saw a public footpath waymarker pointing in my desired direction. I walked downhill across a soft and spongy field. It being dinnertime I sat down on a piece of agricultural machinery to eat my meagre lunch of meat and cakes. A flock of sheep stood staring at me, unsure if I posed an existential threat to them. After about 5 minutes of cautious advance they all suddenly bolted for the gateway behind me. From my rural perch I could see in the distance the private station, a diesel locomotive and several carriages.


Refreshed, I descended steeply into a field of inquisitive horses, then over a brow and through a gate to join a little road. As I got nearer to the station I noticed a classic road coach parked in the field next to the railway.
It looked like there would be no way of viewing the railway without impinging on the owners privacy. I rather dislike private collections of any kind, but that doesn't make it OK for me to go blundering through someone's garden. I was pleased to find that there was a public footpath running alongside the station yard, making it possible to view the interesting jumble of rail and road vehicles and components, including another couple of classic road coaches.

 

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.








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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1111596 2016-11-30T20:36:47Z 2016-11-30T20:37:13Z Santa's Grotto on an empty Canal.

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.


Lots of kids enjoyed meeting Santa on board the boat through the evening and there was a constant queue of kids, parents, grandparents, aunts etc waiting in the freezing cold to get aboard. I kept an eye on things from the back cabin hatches, never having had an ambition to be an elf. Eventually all the children had gone home to climb the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Santa, elves, marshalls, Dan Cocker, who had organised the whole thing, and mys elf enjoyed a brew and mince pies aboard the boat. When everyone had gone home I banked up both fires for what promised to be a chilly night, then settled down to sleep in the back cabin.

I had a dream about living with a cloth snake that loved me to bits but which I regarded as treacherous. I also, in the dream, had two cats. I had to keep feeding the snake lest it should consume one of the cats. Analyse that if you can!

Sunday morning at about 9.30 everyone began to arrive. We had a good team, Tony, Phil H, Aaron, Alan, Neil and me. We worked down the first three locks smoothly and efficiently, then we were on to the long pound, still about a foot down. We took it in turns to play horse and it was hard work as the boat was dragging in the mud. She stopped on an obstruction at the first bridgehole but we were able to deal with this by dragging her back a short way, then all pulling hard to take a run at it. A little way further on she jammed again, in a narrows where there was once a bridge. We tried the same technique, but to no avail. I decided to walk back to the locks and send down some more water. As I left I noticed that the stern end had lifted about 3 inches on the underwater rubbish.

I drew a paddle on each of locks 4 and 5, but as these were short pounds they would soon be depleted. The next pound up had boats in it which had been sat on the bottom on Friday but were now floating again. I drew the paddles and carefully watched the water level as it dropped. I didn't want to empty the pound. I was just about to shut the paddles again when Tony rang to say that "Hazel" was past the obstruction. I walked back down the towpath, shutting paddles as I went, and caught up with the boat at Clarence St Bridge.

I climbed aboard and put the kettle on. As we approached the lock I could hear the bottom of the boat grinding over submerged stones. The towpath washwall has collapsed in places and, though parts of it have been rebuilt, there are lots of rocks in the canal. We stopped in the lock to enjoy cups of tea and consume the remainder of the mince pies. It seemed unlikely that anyone else would want to use the lock.

The next couple of pounds were nicely full of water and I was able to take some photos as we went through Whitelands tunnel and into lock 1.


Lock 1 has been closed for a month for repairs. For years it has been leaking profusely from the chamber into the towpath tunnel. CRT have dealt with it by injecting expanding foam into the wall, a process I'm familiar with for keeping old wooden boats afloat. It seems to have worked.

Aaron legged the boat through the bridge, then I took over bowhauling. Everyone else climbed aboard. As we approached the Asda tunnel Neil and Alan climbed on to the roof and prepared to leg. They had been selected as leggers as they are the tallest. Asda tunnel is difficult with an unpowered boat as it has no towpath, it's too wide to leg off the sides and the roof is a long stretch to reach too, but possible. The technique is to lie on your back and  reach up with your legs, then simply walk along the concrete roof upside down. A few feet above shoppers are busy filling their trolleys, unaware of the boat moving below them.

The tunnel opens into an artificial ravine with no towpath. There used to be one but, in 2002 a retaining wall started to collapse and had to be supported with half a mountain of limestone. Since then no-one has been prepared to put up the money for a proper repair. Tony took up the long shaft and expertly propelled the boat under Cavendish St bridge and past the mill of the same name. Where the towpath resumed I took up bowhauling again for the last 100 yards, before throwing the line back aboard for Tony so that he could guide the boat to tie abreast of "Forget me Not". An excellent trip!







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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1109274 2016-11-19T08:30:20Z 2016-11-19T08:30:20Z Where Has All the Water gone?

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

fortnight. This is a problem as "Hazel" has an appointment with Santa at Armentierres Square next Saturday.


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.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1105016 2016-11-02T21:30:52Z 2016-11-02T22:56:21Z Boating, Hedgeing and celebrating Samhain.

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.

I had intended to take the boat back that night but it got late and I got tired so I decided to stay on board and move the boat in the morning.
This is "Forget me Not"s back cabin in the early morning.

Once more with flash!

A new tree will be planted on the site of the fire, a sort of phoenix tree, growing from the ashes.


















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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1099161 2016-10-16T15:10:17Z 2016-10-16T15:10:18Z Shrewsbury

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Marchant_(author)



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/

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1098988 2016-10-15T18:58:26Z 2016-10-16T15:11:44Z Brecon

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?

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1098918 2016-10-15T13:21:01Z 2016-10-15T19:19:43Z Boring trains on my journey to Cardiff 6-10-2016

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitcheldean_Road_%26_Forest_of_Dean_Junction_Railway

The Simplex with its short train in the loop. The Simplex hauls the loaded train up a gradient.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH_LOy09ibo&feature=youtu.be

The Battery Electric in the former gold mine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hizis44pAd4

Preparing to unload the rocks.


The Compressed Air locomotive.

The Simplex with volunteers loading stone.

The Simplex waiting for volunteers to finish loading stone.

The Battery Electric loco.

Tipping some gravel out of the skip.


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.






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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1098787 2016-10-14T20:37:14Z 2016-10-16T09:50:27Z Getting Wedded after 27.9 years


I met Em on Ashton bus station in November 1988.  We hit it off straight away but for years and years we lived in separate establishments. Hers a neat and tidy little house, mine a leaky old boat. Eventually, sometime after I became homeless because "Hazel" sank (this was before her restoration) she allowed my scruffiness to move into her house, and I learned to live with her regular cleaning frenzies. Neither of us were really that bothered about being married, being old hippies, and we certainly didn't want a wedding with all the fuss that it entails. The trouble is that we're both getting to the time of life where Google ads frequently send us links to funeral services. When one of us pops our clogs, unwed, the survivor would have an awful time dealing with the legalities of property, pensions etc. We're not going to follow the Hindu tradition of Suttee so, barring horrible accidents, one of us has to go first. We decided to quietly slip away to Cardiff and get a couple of friends to act as witnesses.


There was a fair bit of fuss really, I had to have a bath and wear posh clothes, Em dressed up and carried flowers from Victoria and Springy's allottment. It was a lovely little ceremony and we promised all kinds of difficult things then got a bilingual certificate to prove we'd done it. Thanks to Springy, Victoria, Joy and Ric for being witnesses. Afterwards we all went for a really nice meal in a pub near Taffs Well.


I hope nobody is too upset at missing out on the wedding of the year with carriages and top hats and the blushing bride done up like a meringue. Sorry, but both of us would have hated that.


I'd like to show you the wedding pictures but the only one of her that Em will allow is this one from our honeymoon.



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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1096408 2016-10-06T07:27:13Z 2016-10-14T19:53:41Z A Busy Weekend

"Hazel" was booked for a birthday trip on Saturday 1st October so we loaded up our guests at Portland Basin and towed her with "Forget me Not" to tie near Marple aqueduct. The weather was sunny and the water up to weir level so it was a really good trip with good company. Our guests really enjoyed it. We left them there as some of them were staying overnight, running back to Portland Basin with "Forget me Not" ready for the recycling trip on Sunday morning. Once again this was in wonderful autumn sunshine, we had a great bunch of volunteers and a good haul of saleable stuff to go to the charity shop.


After the trip me, Tony and Aaron took "Forget me Not" back up to Marple ready to bring "Hazel" back on Monday. For the return trip our only guest was Bridget, who was testing the boat for wheelchair friendliness. She's suggested a few modifications but thoroughly enjoyed the trip and I hope she'll be back as a volunteer. Here's a few pictures of the recycling trip and the Sunday evening trip up to Marple


Passing Guide Bridge Station. Lisa and dog.

Kevin on "Lilith".

Click on the link for a video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1K40v_6ULA&feature=share


Into the M60 bridge. Under the M60 Waving to the old folks flats. Past the site of Robertsons Jam Works. Nearly there. "Forget me Not" on the way up the Peak Forest to Marple at Dunkirk Bridge. Manchester Road, Hyde. Emerging from the M67 tunnel. The wharf on the right once served a coal pit. Now it's silted up and clogged with American Pennywort. Approaching Adamsons, Hyde. Passing Captain Jacks. Adamsons turn. Captain Clarks Bridge.

Here's another video link to click.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr0GYUjPtb4&feature=youtu.be









































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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1093096 2016-09-24T20:49:15Z 2016-09-24T20:49:15Z Swanning about on the Macc

The days seem to be rushing by at the moment. I can't believe it was nearly a week ago that we set off back from Bollington. we spent the first day going nearly to Macclesfield to wind then heading back towards Marple. Here are a few pictures from our trip.

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Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1092527 2016-09-22T18:53:44Z 2016-09-22T18:53:45Z BoringTrain Pictures

While we were away at the Bollington Historic Boat Gathering I had to keep popping home to check on the boats as we had no volunteers able to look after the pumps. this involved various train journeys. I like trains, even modern ones. Here's a picture of a Cross Country Voyager set rushing through Adlington as I waited for the local train to Manchester on 16th September 2016.

On the morning of the 19th I got a train from Hyde North to rose Hill then cycled along the Middlewood way to Bollington. As I waited for the train a couple of nodding donkeys (class 142) arrived on a Manchester working.


Immediately out of the station they clatter over the pointwork to join the route from Hadfield (formerly the Great Central Woodhead route)

I was surprised by a class 66 with a train of stone empties heading for the Peak District, carrying on with the kind of work that the Peak forest canal was built for.

Eventually my train arrived.

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Chris Leah