tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Ashton Boatman 2017-06-02T10:48:17Z 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.

]]>
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.


]]>
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.

]]>
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.





]]>
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.

]]>
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





]]>
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




]]>
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.

]]>
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.

]]>
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.

]]>
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.

]]>
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.

]]>
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.

]]>
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.



]]>
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.








]]>
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!







]]>
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.

]]>
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.


















]]>
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/

]]>
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?

]]>
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.






]]>
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.



]]>
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









































]]>
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.

]]>
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.

,


]]>
Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1091324 2016-09-18T21:22:19Z 2016-09-18T21:25:21Z Bollington Historic Boat Gathering

We had a really pleasant weekend at Bollington with "Forget me Not" and "Hazel". Lots of interest from the public, some possible bookings and we sold a fair amount of stuff. Heres some pictures.


]]>
Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1090891 2016-09-17T04:04:51Z 2016-09-17T04:11:52Z Bollington Trip

We decided to take "Hazel" to Bollington near Macclesfield for a gathering of historic boats. I tried to get some paying guests to help subsidise the trip, but without success. We had the usual problem of concessionary guests dropping out (to be expected when people have depression and similar conditions but very frustrating when you're offering something wonderful for free). At the last minute we got a couple of guests from Greystones  http://greystones-ashton.org.uk/ who seem to have benefitted from the trip enormously. It was a lovely sunny trip up the Peak Forest canal. At Hyde we were stopped briefly by a shopping trolley which can be seen in some of the pictures being carried on "Forget me Not". We spent the first night tied near Marple Aqueduct    http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm   


Andy takes an early morning walk over the aqueduct.

Getting ready to move on to the locks.

Crossing the

aqueduct.

after a really pleasant trip from Portland Basin up the Peak Forest canal. We had a really good group of volunteers to get us up Marple locks where "Hazel", being a butty, has to be bowhauled (pulled by human power) up the 16 locks.  http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm

Andy in a lock. Waiting for the lock to fill. Hazel (the person) bowhauling "Hazel" (the boat) Mick bowhauling, Andy steering.

At the top of the locks we turned into the Macclesfield canal and, unusually, there was plenty of room on the visitor moorings, so we tied up there.

Tony steers through the old stop lock.

Breasted at Marple.


Next day we had a very pleasant, if windy, run along the Macclesfield Canal to Bollington. http://www.macclesfieldcanal.org.uk/


http://www.happy-valley.org.uk/index.htm


















]]>
Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1083223 2016-08-24T20:01:47Z 2016-08-24T20:02:03Z On My Way Home

Sometime in the dark time before dawn I turned over and woke with my hand on something cold and gooey. My slow brain gradually worked out that it was a slug, Ugh! I picked it off my groundsheet and threw it as far as I could, then found several more and gave them the same treatment before dozing off again.


I returned to consciousness as the first light of day eased itself through a thick layer of cloud. The wind had not abated but its chill was no longer tempered by sunshine. Slugs were everywhere. I was reluctant to get out of my sleeping bag and lay there drinking my coffee and dreading making my first move. With my coffee finished I had no more excuse, so I got up, pulled my trousers and boots on then quickly loaded my bike. I rode slowly along the grassy path whence I had arrived, the grass dotted with more little black slugs than I’ve ever seen in one place.


I descended a bank to rejoin the main track, which had become a tractor rutted chalk road. I tried different ruts to ride in, and the grassy mound in the middle, but all were difficult for cycling. After about a quarter mile I reached a main road and followed it for a short distance before turning into the lane to Yatesbury. After a fairly level and straight ride I passed an old aircraft hangar on my left, and the remains of a second one. This was one of the earliest military airfields, opening in 1916, mainly for training purposes. After some civilian use in the 1930s it once again became a training centre for the RAF in 1939 and finally closed in 1960. The hangars, including some from the first world war, are now listed buildings.

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


I made a 90 degree turn towards the village and had a decision to make. My line went across fields from here and my copy of the Ordnance Survey map showed footpaths travelling quite close to it. However, there was a gap between bits of OS map and my smaller scale map that linked them up only showed roads. My alternative route was to cross the fields to Winterbourne Monkton then follow the A361 most of the way into Swindon. Memories of the footpaths to nowhere in the Windrush valley and the fact that I had already felt the odd drop of rain caused me to choose the latter course.


I passed through part of the village known as Little London and was surprised to see a bus shelter with timetable. This tiny village of 150 inhabitants actually has a bus service.

http://www.cherhill.org/buses/connect2wilts-Mon-Fri.pdf


My route across the fields was another rutted track that was difficult to ride on. A low hill to my right, Windmill Hill, bore Monkton Camp, presumably an iron age hill fort but I can find no information on it anywhere. It seems to me that this area must have been pretty violent in ancient times for it to have been necessary to fortify so many places, at enormous cost in time diverted from growing food etc.


At Winterbourne Monkton I dropped into a valley, passed a derelict farm and stopped at a concrete bridge over a dry river. The name Winterbourne means a stream that only runs in winter. The chalk rock here is porous so rain tends to soak into the ground. Only in winter is there enough rainfall for the rivers to run.


https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getcom.php?id=251


I used up the last of my hot water for cocoa and ate my morning muesli. A rope was rigged from a tree where children had been enjoying swinging out over the empty river bed.Thus refreshed, I moved on to the A road. This wound up and down through a wide rolling hillscape of mainly arable, the golden crops awaiting the combine alternating with fields already shorn.


I almost missed my left turn, signposted Saithrop, simply the name of a farm on my map. The road zig zagged up a gentle slope among corn fields, horse fields and little bits of woodland, then suddenly plunged down the escarpment that had done for so many of the parliamentary cavalry back in the seventeenth century. In the valley the road flattened and straightened with wooded borders. I reached the route of my old friend the Wilts & Berks canal. A right turn took me parallel to it and soon I was able to pick out a towpath hedge and ditch following the contours to my right.


Where the canal crossed the road my planned route took me along a public right of way straight along my line, but a big notice saying “Private Road Locked Gates” put me off. I elected instead to continue along the road, past Wharf Farm, then turn left over the M4. I found that new roads had been built to access a Waitrose supermarket. I turned past the front of the new shop and found, to my amazement, a stretch of re-opened canal with a little trip boat. There was no way down to the towpath but a friendly cyclist, who I met coming out of Waitrose, advised me of a route. This took me over the hump backed bridge that I could see.


The next bridge was that of the old Midland & South Western Junction Railway, now a cyclepath. I very nearly got the classic photograph of a heron perched on a No Fishing notice, but the bird was camera shy and flew off as I aimed my lens.


https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187049-d2350277-r278582692-Wilts_Berks_Canal-Swindon_Wiltshire_England.html


The restored canal petered out at a road junction, but it’s route was clear further on, even to the extent of having left a gap for it in a multi storey car park.

There was no sign of the North Wilts however, which used to drop away down a flight of locks to my left.

http://www.wbct.org.uk/branches/swindon/town-centre-route/


The canal route led me into a pedestrianised shopping area. I was feeling peckish again so I looked around for a fast food outlet. I noticed “Swindon Tented Market” so I thought I’d look in there as I like markets and I’d rather buy from a local trader than a multinational chain. The market is not really a tent, it’s a building that is made to look like one. Inside was a sad sight with more empty stalls than active ones. I found a food stall called Eggilicious and was welcomed by its proprietor who was sitting outside reading a paper whilst someone prepared food inside the stall. He persuaded me to have a minted lamb wrap. His name was Ash Mistry and he had relatives in Ashton, in fact, his brother in law lives on the next street to me. He told me the story of the market. It used to be run by the council but, being good neo liberals, they had leased it to a property company. The property company submitted redevelopment plans to replace the downmarket market with upmarket coffee shops etc. The plans were rejected, but most of the traders had moved out and now, though the company is at least pretending to try to get stallholders back, uncertainty and high rents are persuading them otherwise. At some point the management will of course claim that there is no demand for market stalls.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/14195754.Tented_market_thrown_historical_lifeline/


The wrap was surprisingly substantial and very very delicious.


http://www.eggelicious.co.uk/


Something was driving me to get on a train and, as my ticket as far as Cheltenham was for any train, I thought I would go there and explore a bit. I found Swindon station and presented my ticket at the barrier. It was accepted and I pushed my bike through and lifted it up the steps to the platform. Soon an HST for Cheltenham arrived. The announcement said that bicycle space was at the front of the train, but as I turned to head that way the announcer, probably robotic, added that only pre booked bicycles could travel on that train.


https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-07-11/debates/16071126000002/GreatWesternRailway%E2%80%99SBicyclePolicy


I headed back towards the barrier and asked the ticket collector, “what’s all this about having to pre book bikes”? He said that it had been Great Western (them again) policy since May, like it was obvious and everybody must know. I pointed out that as I had come from Greater Manchester (yes there are places beyond the reach of the Great Western) it was unreasonable to expect me to know. The implied but unspoken question was ‘why the hell didn’t you tell me when you checked my ticket’? I went to the ticket office to book my bike but the booking clerk said that as the next train was a unit not an HST I wouldn’t need to book. “Check with the guard” she added. Back on the platform I headed for the bay where a diesel multiple unit for Cheltenham was waiting. The platform display bore the details of the journey, headed by the dire word “Cancelled”. The guard was on her ‘phone. When she had finished her call I explained my situation. She told me that because of a points failure the HST which had been waiting for ages in the opposite platform had to be diverted. Its driver didn’t know the diversionary route, but her driver did. They had cancelled her train so that her driver could take the more important train to South Wales. Very helpfully she went off to make arrangements for my bike to travel on the next Cheltenham train, another HST. When it arrived, after an hour sitting watching trains and people and typing up an account of the first part of my trip, I found it had six bike spaces, only two of which were taken by my bike and one other.


Back in the bad old pre nationalisation days of British Rail there was a single national policy for bikes on trains. It wasn’t always perfect but at least you knew what the rules were wherever you went. Now with myriad different franchises running the trains, and tickets booked in advance to save money but not necessarily knowing which company’s trains you will be travelling on, there’s all kinds of scope for getting stuck somewhere because they won’t take your bike. Clearly travelling with bikes was getting popular on Great Western so, rather than making more bicycle space, they slapped on restrictions. A very British solution. Of course, increasing bike space might reduce passenger space for no extra revenue which, as the railways are run for profit rather than to serve the public, could not be allowed.


The run to Cheltenham was uneventful. I enjoyed the ride from Sapperton tunnel through the Golden Valley with brief glimpses of the Thames & Severn Canal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovym4LPoyL4


http://www.cotswoldcanals.net/1891-sapperton-canal-tunnel-trip.php


Cheltenham station was busy. I negotiated the crowded footbridge to reach the booking office as I wanted to be sure of room for my bike for the rest of my journey. This was to be on a Cross Country Voyager such as I had travelled on from Manchester to Birmingham on Monday. On that occasion I had noted that Cross Country’s bicycle policy was to take just one booked bike and one unbooked bike on each train. I had been lucky, there was a space, but I wanted to be sure for the return trip. With my bike booked I headed out into Cheltenham.

A Voyager at Cheltenham.


My first port of call was a cafe, as it was early afternoon and hunger was creeping up on me. Some of the Cheltenham ladies in the cafe found my bike amusing. After an unremarkable ciabatta I went to explore the former Great Western route, now a cycleway through the centre of the town. Once this was an alternative main line to the midlands, reaching Birmingham via Stratford on Avon. According to Dr Beeching it was a duplicate route, a waste of money, and so it had to close. Much of the route now is used for running steam trains.

http://www.gwsr.com/


I went off cycling down the roads to explore a bit. Realising that my ‘phone was low on battery power I thought I would sample a pub and charge it up. I chose the first one I came to, the Kings Arms. It was not really my sort of place with continuous sport on a big screen and not much in the way of real ale, but I enjoyed my pint of bitter and was enjoying my writing.

http://www.pubsgalore.co.uk/pubs/12378/



With some charge in my ‘phone I went back to the station and sat on the platform writing and enjoying watching trains come and go.


A Train for Maesteg, South Wales, at Cheltenham.


When my train arrived I loaded my bike into its pre booked space, on Voyagers you hang your bike by the front wheel to save space, then found my pre booked seat. I became a little conscious of the fact that I hadn’t really washed for a week. I wondered if that was why the rather posh and fragrant lady sitting next to me moved to another seat.


At Birmingham New Street my bay in the carriage filled up. Opposite to me sat a retired couple returning from a holiday in Penzance to their home in Glossop. Beside me was a Wiganer who reminded me a little of Alf Hall, the stereotypical simple Lancashire man. He had been to visit an elderly aunt in Worcester. A conversation was carried on between the three of them in which everthing that the Glossop couple said they’d done the Wigan man said he’d like to do, then asked all kinds of daft questions about it. This would be followed by an explanation of his bad knees and speculation as to how much they would restrict him. I imagine that the couple were retired teachers as they seemed to have a shallow smattering of knowledge about almost everything. I was tempted to join in when they came round to talking about canals, but decided that I would get irritated by the banality of it and returned to studying the passing countryside.


Suddenly my muscles painfully locked up in my right leg causing me to exclaim “owwwww” and ask to be let out of my seat. I marched up and down the corridor until the pain went away and my leg would work properly again. I regained my seat with apologies, explaining that I had been cycling for 5 days. The Wiganer, of course, wanted to know all about it, then began speculating about whether he could do the same. He started listing all that he would need to carry with him, which would require a support vehicle, to carry it all. He wondered how his knees would stand up to it. I suggested that he start with really short bike rides and gradually build up. The teachers nodded sagely. They were concerned about me camping on private property without permission, very bourgeoise. I explained that I left no mess, though I now regret not explaining to them my rather anarchistic view of land ownership.


“I think”, said the Wiganer, “you must be at least ten years younger than me to cycle all that way”. “I don’t know” I said, “I’m 63”. “Oh bloody ell” he exclaimed “yer older”.


I thought I might be tired after my travels so I had booked a ticket all the way to Ashton rather than cycle up the towpath. They routed me via Stalybridge so, at Picadilly I rushed to the distant platform 13 to catch a Trans pennine train which whizzed me past Portland Basin. At Stalybridge I sat enjoying the cooling evening air as I waited for the local train, until a bunch of noisy smoking swearing pop music playing teenagers, lads and lasses, arrived to spoil the atmosphere. When my train arrived I headed for the opposite end of it for my short one stop ride to Ashton. A brief bikeride from the station and I reached home, where Em had a tasty curry ready for me.

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





Now you can save money on train fares and help to get wooden boats restored

https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx













]]>
Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1082032 2016-08-17T21:47:33Z 2016-08-24T20:22:38Z Caen Hill Beckons.


Go by train, buy your tickets here  https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx

I hadn't travelled as far as I intended on Wednesday so I decided to stick mostly to main roads on the Thursday. The road towards Purton was busy with morning commuters as I pedalled along.

I turned off to go through Purton the back way, through an industrial estate, over a level crossing then up a steady hill on a narrow lane past hobby farms of miniature goats, rare breeds and ponies. I came across a horse all done up like it was ready to go jousting. It was busy scratching its bottom on a fence post until it saw me and enquired if I had any carrots.

I waited at the level crossing for a London bound HST to pass.


It was an easy undulating ride along main roads to the next town, Wooton Bassett. Famous for its townsfolks all too frequent spontaneous tributes to dead soldiers returning from Afghanistan, this town has a lovely old wide main street, probably a former market place. I was tempted by the town museum, located in the old Town Hall, but great magnets were drawing me on towards the end of my line.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/3989429.Wootton_Bassett_pays_silent_tribute/


http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/town-hall-museum-royal-wootton-bassett-p1572593

I did stop briefly at the railway bridges for Wooton Bassett junction, to have a drink and look at the junction where the direct route to South Wales via the Severn tunnel diverges from Brunel's original London to Bath and Bristol railway. One way traffic was being imposed on the road as preparations were being made to rebuild the bridges ready to electrify the railway. I took a picture of an HST from Wales, still in front line service after 30+ years but soon to be replaced by Japanese trains which actually go no faster.



http://www.hitachirail-eu.com/super-express-iep_57.html


Up to the 1980s Britain led the world on high speed train technology, then government indifference ( Margaret Thatcher was known to hate railways) and slavish adherance to a free market ideology largely destroyed our train building industry.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2013/01/meeting-our-makers-britain%E2%80%99s-long-industrial-decline


There was nowhere to get away from the parade of growling lorries and impatient motorists so, after quenching my growing thirst, I remounted and went in search of the Wilts & Berks canal, which also ran this way. I found it down a lane, deep in a wooded cutting at the back of someone.s garden.



Lyneham was next on my itinerary, mostly famous for it's RAF base, where the sad cargoes from the Afghan war were landed. The airfield might have been interesting if I could see any aircraft. It turns out that it is no longer an airfield, just a maze of grey buildings and high security fences.  I plodded on towards Calne.

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


At a field used for weekend car boot sales there was a huge sculpture of a motorbike made entirely from scaffolding.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10571599.Bikers_heading_for_monster_bike_meet_at_Calne/


Calne seemed a nice busy old town. My map showed a branch of the canal terminating near the river bridge, so I went to have a look. The terminal basin has been built on with modern flats called, unsurprisingly,

“The Wharf”. A new gate into a park on the canal route depicts a modern steel pleasure narrow boat. Perhaps one day such craft will be able to navigate to the town.


http://calne-castlefieldspark.co.uk/


nehttp://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/towns-and-villages/cal-p462553


After Calne I had decided to diverge slightly from the main road, partly to move nearer to my line but largely because I wanted a break from the traffic. I turned down a pleasant lane towards the farming settlement of Broads Green, then on through the nicely unpretentious Heddington Wick and on to a place where my only route was along an alleged public footpath. There was no signpost but there was a very overgrown stile to show where the path should go. I lifted my bike over the gate and followed the field edge to an electric fence, near to which a herd of big cows was gathered.


They were clearly surprised to see me limbo under the wire then drag my bike after me, forming a defensive circle to face me. To say that I was scared of cows would be an exaggeration, but I am uneasy in a field full of them. One nightmare that I still remember from childhood was of being in a field full of cattle that were running about madly and kicking their back legs in the air. Suddenly all went black and I woke up very frightened. As I walked towards the herd it broke it's defensive line and the cattle began to behave just like the ones in my dream before once more forming a circle, this time all round me, shoulder to shoulder. The herd was treating me as a predator. As I walked forward the ones ahead of me shrank back and the ones behind advanced, so the circle moved across the field until, as I approached the far gate they melted away and went back to the serious business of grazing and filling their udders with milk.


Beyond the gate a narrow strip of woodland ran off to the left. Beside the first trees was a pen of young game birds, being raised to be released then shot for expensive fun. To the right was a mayhem of felled and uprooted trees, trunks and wrenched off limbs lying higgledy piggledy like corpses on a battlefield. Ahead was Bromham House Farm, where I could hear tractors manouevering. According to the map the footpath went to the left of the farm buildings, but there was no way through there. I had to pick my way between grey concrete buildings and slurry pits before finding the driveway out on to the A342. The farm workers either studiously ignored me or stared like I had just landed from another planet.


http://bayntun-history.com/BromhamHouse.htm


A turn at the village of Rowde brought me on to a straight fairly level minor road to my destination, Caen Hill Locks. They looked very neat with mown lawns and recently painted balance beams. I had joined the locks at the bottom of the spectacular straight line of locks that is so often photographed. I stopped at the first of these to enjoy the last of my rations, aiming to buy more food in Devizes.


Two steel boats were working down the locks and I fell into conversation with the lockwheeler. She was a woman in her fifties, stylishly dressed with a red hat. She had a grumble about lack of maintenance because the full lock had partly emptied and she had to let some water in so that we could open the gates. I told her she should try the Ashton Canal. She was not happy about the way that the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) run the canals, particularly the office based culture that is ignorant of the waterways and their people and will bully mercilessly those who cannot move on because of illness or other unforseen circumstances. There are some good people working for CRT but unfortunately this is the kind of story I am hearing a lot of and experiencing myself to some extent. There is a disconnect between the lovely being nice to everyone and everything surface gloss and the heartless reality on the ground.


We talked about historic boats. It turned out that her son had just bought an 1890 iron butty. She took a leaflet and we went our ways. My way was uphill on the neat towpath, the, leaving the canal, into the centre of Devizes.


It was market day and the town was busy. I had promised myself a meal in a cafe when I reached Devizes, so I locked my bike on the market place and ordered baked sweet potato and vegetable chilli in a cafe' next to a vegetable stall, I sat outside, watching the people and listening to the, often unintelligible, calls of the stallholders.


http://www.devizes.org.uk/index.php/shopping/markets


One call that I did understand was “Five creamy avocado pears for just one pound”. I thought that wasa good deal so I purchased some. I explored the busy town centre and did some more shopping so that I could cook myself a meal. Feeling the need I followed the signs to the public toilets and though it cost 20p I was amazed to find such clean and pleasant facilities with an attendant. I took the opportunity to have a good wash. Such facilities in towns around my area were closed years ago because of spending cuts, but here there seems to be no austerity. I’d even noticed that some villages have public libraries while we’re struggling to hold on to our main libraries.


It was time to move on. My new line to Banbury I would follow as far as Swindon. The first part would involve gaining altitude by following the bridle paths up Roundway hill. The first part was so straight and even in its slope that I thought it must be an old inclined plane. I can find no record of such though. The chalk quarries on the hill were presumably disused well before the coming of the canal as they were used to bury the dead from the battle of Roundway in 1643. A strong parliamentary force was unfortunately routed by a smaller royalist army. The parliamentary cavalry ran away, many of them perishing as, in their panic, they plunged headlong down an escarpment. The poor bloody infantry got left on the hill. They in turn tried to retreat  but ended up being massacred.



The hill was steep and I had to push my bike most of the way up, stopping on the seat above the Millennium White Horse to enjoy the view and use the last of my flask with its foul tasting water for cocoa. I ate the first of the avacados. Camper vans were discreetly parked beside the wooded old quarries. I set off along a white chalk road through arable fields, travelling mostly down a gentle hill with the site of the slaughter to my left. A combine harvester trailing dust rose gradually above the hilltop like a ship breasting the horizon in a dry sea of wheat.

After crossing a main road my route lay along a bridle path through a golf course. I’m wary of golfers. I know a place where golfers (who pay a lot of money to be there you know) regularly attempt to intimidate walkers on the public footpath across their course. I was pleased to see a clear sign for the path, skirting the edge of the course. I followed it up the hill and searched for a gate. The golfers were not hostile, but not helpful either. I eventually found a stile, bridle paths should have gates for horses to go through, and carried my possessions over in several vourneys.


The field I had entered was one of unkempt rough grass which I will not dignify with the title of hay. The only way out seemed to be through a gate to my right into a sheep field. From this I had to scale a steel gate into a wheatfield atop Morgans Hill. I crossed this, keeping to the tramlines left by tractors to avoid damaging the crop, then lifted my bike over a fence and a gate in quick succession to find myself at the ancient Wansdyke which follows the contours of the hills.




http://www.wansdyke21.org.uk/wansdykehomepage.htm

I consulted the map to regain my bearings. To my left were two pylons, to my right Furze Knoll, toped by trees and grazed by black beefy cattle. I should have gone the other side of the pylons but it didnt matter, I was on a footpath again and if I follwed ot I would hit the old Roman road that I needed to traverse. All around me was history and prehistory etched into the landscape.


http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3102173

The Roman road was nicely surfaced in fine chalk.


I rode confidently along it for about a mile, then turned off up another bridleway towards Cherhill Down, topped by a great needle of a monument. A combine harvester was making the most of of the dry weather to work late into the evening gathering the grain.


I began to push my laden cycle up the steep path on to Cherhill Down. This is a National trust site and the grass is varied and speckled with wild flowers. The monument was passed some distance to my left and I headed for woodland where my map marks Tumulus in gothic script. A family were out enjoying he hills, calling to a daughter who wanted to go a different way.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/24/cherhill_down_and_oldbury.html


https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/calstone-and-cherhill-downs/features/the-lansdowne-monument?awc=3795_1471467793_48d9652c7ec96a37fd98256df63ab483&campid=Affiliates_Central_Mem_AWIN_Standard&aff=78888



Evening was drawing on and I wanted to eat, but fires were to be “avoided” on this land and there were lots of walkers and runners about who I thought might grass me up. I found a nice spot between two mounds, which I think were ancient burial mounds, parked my bike against a tree and sat looking out at the amazing view. I soon went to get my coat as, despite the sunshine, there was a constant cold North westerly wind. I ate a couple more avacados as I was getting peckish, then the cold wind forced me to take shelter behind a mound and did some typing.


When I got bored with typing I climbed the fence into the wood and collected dry sticks. In the middle of the wood was a concrete surface that could have been the top of a water tank. I carefully laid out the things that I would need to cook a meal. By about 7 PM the hill was devoid of people, so I scrumpled up some paper, covered it with sticks and set light to it. In order to do minimum environmental damage I positioned the fire on a small area anready trodden bare by animals.


Soon I had a good blaze going and I began cooking. When my meal was ready I braved the wind to go and sit looking at the wonderful view. A whistling roar to my right drew my attention and I watched in amazement as the RAF Red Arrows aerial display team flew past in formation, barely higher than my hilltop perch.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DE-A4rLyWW8


By the time I had tidied up and put things away it was getting dark, so I laid my tarpaulin in the gap between the mounds, rolled out my sleeping bag, rolled up my coat as a pillow and wriggled my way into the warm soft envelope of my sleeping bag.

I didn’t know it was the night for the Perseids meteor shower. I woke in the middle of the night and opened my eyes to a wonderful panorama of stars, then one moved. As I watched, pinpricks of light would flash across the fly, the heavens putting on a free firework display for me. I watched for a while then dozed off again.


http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower































]]>
Chris Leah
tag:ashtonboatman.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1081460 2016-08-16T07:07:32Z 2016-08-24T20:17:23Z The South Cotswolds.

Travelling by train, book your ticket here to save money and help historic boats. https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx


One of the delights of sleeping in the open is to wake up in the middle of the night and open your eyes to the stars. That night they put on a particularly good show. At 6 am prompt the activity at the brickworks moved up a gear, then a London bound HST rattled by. It was time to breakfast, pack up and get moving. I was away by 8, over the level crossing and starting the long slow climb through Blockley. I had re-arranged my belongings to reduce the weight in my rucksack, which made for greater comfort.

Blockley

http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/glouces/Blockley.htm

Blockley is a lovely cotswold stone village. Above it the gradient eased, then started to allow me some bits of downhill. I am always wary of places with the 'on The Hill' suffix, and my next target was Bourton on the Hill. Just before the village I joined briefly a main road. A handy garage cum corner shop invited me to stop and stock up on nibbles. I noticed that there were many Indian foods on sale and I was served by a pleasant young Indian woman who took an interest in my journey. I asked for water and she directed me to a tap by the carwash. Thus provisioned I carried on. I didn't actually go through Bourton on the Hill, it is on the side of the hill and my route took me along the ridge, gradually trending downhill. I passed a driveway marked Sezincote Indian house and garden, so I wonder if there is an Indian community here, hence the spicy foodstuffs at the garage.

http://www.sezincote.co.uk/


A short run along an A road brough me to the turning for Lower Slaughter. This was an exciting plunge down a steep road. I was glad I had fixed my back brake. The village itself is lovely, with the river running beside the main street as at Bourton on the Water. Unlike Bourton however, this place does not set out to attract plebian trippers. It oozes wealth and upmarket cars are constantly passing to and from the ho

Lower Slaughter.

http://www.britainexpress.com/counties/glouces/Lower_Slaughter.htm

There was a bridle path following the stream signpsted to Bourton on the Water, soI thought I'd follow it. In fact it soon left the river and made its way through boring horse fields. Part of the route was being surfaced with road planings by a gang of elderly people puffing hard with loaded barrows. I entered Bourton through a housing estate and missed the pretty bit. I've seen it before and visited its tourist traps.

http://www.cotswolds.info/places/bourton-on-the-water.shtml


In my childhood Bourton on the Water was a favourite destination for a day out, either in a bus from school or in our old Austin A30 with my parents. We would traipse around the same old attractions time after time. The most memorable one for me was the Witchcraft Museum, now gone. My mum particularly liked Birdland, where you could see all kinds of brightly coloured birds, including the amazing insect sized humming birds. When she had raised an abandoned thrush nestling to the flying stage we took it to Birdland for release, figuring that a tame thrush would do better there than amongst the rough birds of our village.


In fact I should have gone through the pretty bits. I carelessly took the wrong road, past the Model Village and Birdland,. Eventually I realised that I had taken the wrong road, but I had gone quite a long way and didn't fancy riding back. I spotted a public footpath going in the direction of the correct road and I thought I'd follow it. Bad mistake! I struggled through very narrow bits and forced the bike through prickly bits. The path crossed the Windrush, that was good, but then it followed the river downstream. I came to a kissing gate and had to unload everything, lift the bike over, then load up again. There were about 5 of these, then the path crossed back over the river, not good, and skirted a lake. It crossed the river again and doubled back on itself, then became a farm track. A sinposted bridle path looked like it was going the right way, so I took that route, only to find it deteriorating into rutted field crossings. A herd of bullocks followed me across one field, then stopped at the gate mooing to the herd in the next field, who took little interest in me but engaged in a mooing match with the first herd.


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

In the next field the main track seemed to turn left, so I followed it, only to find it doubled back on itself towards a farm. I struggled across rough ground to another corner of the field but found no way out, having to traverse a third side before finding a gateway on to a tarmacked road. I thought this must be the road I was supposed to be on, so I turned left and was surprised to cross the river again. I asked a man out walking his dog where it went. He said Great Rissington, the village I was trying to avoid. He asked where I wanted to go but I couldn't remember the name of the village. He suggested Sherborne (the second one of the trip). Yes, I said. “Go back the other way and turn left at the top of the hill” he said “mind, it's a bit of a steep bank”! He was right, it was. Eventually I was rewarded for my troubles by a lovely long steady descent to Sherborne. I like it when descents are steady. I can just freewheel at a nice speed. On steep descents I have to use my brakes and I hate wasting all that energy. If I go too fast my hat flies off and I have to stop to recover it. The trick is to keep my head down slightly so that the wind hitting the brim forces it down rather than giving it lift.


Sherborne turned out to be a pleasant little row of cottages, most of which actually looked like they might be inhabited by working people rather than the elite. In fact, as I headed South through the cotswolds the area seemed to get more properly rural and less of a suburban idyll. A short sharp uphill stretch brought me to the main A40. I leaned my bike against a stone wall and got out my flask to make a brew with the last of the hot water. As I sat on the wall a weasel darted across the road straight towards my bike. It stopped on nthe tarmac, stood on it's hind legs, waggled its head a bit then darted back to the opposite verge. I had clearly blocked its regular path for I saw it cross further down the road and start searching for a way through to the woodland beyond.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/gridref/SP1700014000

I only had to ride a short way along the A40, mercifully, before taking another lane. I seemed to be on a bit of a plateau and I fair whizzed through the countryside. There were plenty of lorries about, serving the local agriculture which is pactised on a large scale with big machines here. The air was full of the fruity odours of the countryside and everywhere you could hear the distant hum of combine harvesters making the most of the sunshine to gather in the golden grains.


The valley of the river Leach cuts into the plateau and my speed picked up as I started to plunge downhill, only to screech to a halt as the slipstream of a passing artic had kindly removed my hat.


Three villages cluster together, Coln St Aldwyns, Hatherop and Quenington. In Quenington I came across a co-operative village shop/cafe, run by volunteers from the local community. I stopped to buy supplies. It was all a bit upmarket, but I suppose that's what people want there. It seems ironic that the co-operative system, which began in working class Rochdale, is now seemingly thriving in the wealthier areas but doing very little in the Northern mill towns of its cradle. I noticed as I travelled about that the Co-op itself seems to be thriving in this part of the country, whereas around Ashton it is rapidly selling out to the likes of Asda and Rajah Brothers. Part of the key to community co-operatives is having enough willing, capable people with time on their hands, something that we tend to lack around Tameside.


Quenington Co-op.


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

I got the co-operatoors to fill my kettle and water bottle. It was the foulest tasting water of my trip. I hope they don't make tea with it. Outside I got talking to a customer who nearly knocked my bike over with her car door. She explained how the co-op was set up and was interested in my journey and the boats. As we talked a huge low loader, laden with what looked like heavy concrete blocks, stopped to ask directions. The lady explained the route and the driver said he was glad he needed to turn right as he wasn't sure he'd get round to the left.

This is racehorse country and I passed a considerable stable block.

Inow had the scent of the end of my route in my nostrils, but, after all the frustrating meandering about in the Windrush footpaths it seemed unlikely that I would reach Devizes today. I looked at my map for likely campsites in the Wooton Rivers area. My route brought me to what used to be the A419, now bypassed. Across the way my map suggested, lay the route of the Thames & Severn Canal. I went down a lane to have a look. I found a big lake with a burned out Range Rover and a bridge over a dual carriageway, but no sign of the canal.

http://www.cotswoldcanals.net/photo_index.php?cid=ts&page=gallery&filter=&rc=157&rsos=120

It was a straight level run towards Cricklade, but before I got there I came across one of the most cycle unfriendly road layouts ever. There was a roundabout and Cricklade was signposted down a sliproad on to the dual carriageway. I checked and double checked the signs to ensure that it was not a motorway, but with juggernauts hurtling along and no cycle reservation I really didn't fancy it. As I rode down the sliproad I was hooted at by a bus and a lorry, which made me think I shouldn't be there. There was a footpath indicated over stiles across overgrown fields but no cycle route. I went back and followed the pavement over the bridge for traffic from the other direction to see if there was a path on the other side. The path doubled back along the dual carriageway in the wrong direction. There was nothing for it but to brave the speeding motor molochs and set off along the A419. Luckily it was less than a mile to the Cricklade sliproad.


Somewhere in the middle of all this should have been the junction between the Thames & Severn and North Wilts canals, but I could find no sign of either.


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



Cricklade claims to be the first town on the Thames. It has a good shopping street, where I topped up on supplies and on my way out of town I passed the proposed Northern terminus of the Swindon & Cricklade railway.


http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org/


This is a preservationist project along the abandoned trackbed of the erstwhile Midland & South Western Junction Railway. This meandering country route provided a way for trains to go from the Midland Railway to the London & South Western railway without too much interference from the Great Western ( you may have picked up by now that I'm not a huge Great western fan. )


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


I left Cricklade Southbound on a B road, looking out for signs of the old canal. At Dance Common I found what looked like a filled in channel, though it may actually have been the remains of Saxon ramparts.

A little further on a sign announced the site of the canal.

The river Key aqueduct has been restored with lottery money but is still bone dry on top. I stopped to have a look and decided to stay. There was a pile of ash from a previous fire so i didn't even have to scorch any grass to cook my tea!

As the map shows, there was once quite a network of canals in this area. Only one is fully navigable, the Kennett & Avon, whose Caen Hill lock flight was my destination. That this waterway survived and was eventually restored was down to the perseverance of one John Gould. I visited him once when I was working on the British Waterways Bill in 1990. He told me never to trust British Waterways, for they promise you one thing then do another. I think the same can be said of any large organisation, private or state owned.


The Kennett & Avon fell into deep decline after it fell into the hands of, you guessed it, the Great Western. They couldn't, by law, close it or forbid traffic, so they knobbled the remaining carriers by malicious regulations, like no cabin fires on a Sunday.


The Thames & Severn was another broad canal which struggled to compete with the railway. This was partly because it was poorly engineered with a chronic lack of water, leaky pounds and a constantly collapsing tunnel. In the early 20th century the county council took it over and paid out a small fortune in repairs, but to no avail. My dad remembered visiting Cirencester in the 1930s and being surprised to see a canal derelict. His local waterway, the Coventry canal, was then thriving. An active restoration project is working on re-opening the route, currently concentrating on the stretch from the Severn up to Stroud.

The Wilts & Berks and North Wilts were narrow canals built, surprisingly, to carry coal. The Somerset Coal Canal was a narrow branch off the Kennett & Avon to tap the Somerset coalfield. It was converted to a railway (Great Western of course) in the 1870s but an amazing lock flight can still be found at Coombe Hay. The railway was just a rural branch but achieved fame after closure as the location for filming the “Titfield Thunderbolt”.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF56_x2K4f4


The idea of the Wilts & Berks and North Wilts was as a distribution network for the black gold of Somerset. With the loss of this traffic the routes faded away. The last pit in Somerset was served by the Somerset & Dorset Railway (not Great Western) but closed in the 1960s.


http://www.northwiltscanal.org.uk/


It looked like rain, so I unleashed my pop up tent and planted it on what would have been the outside edge of the aqueduct. It did rain, but I was snug and dry and woke up to a bright morning.
























]]>
Chris Leah