Hooray and Up She Rises

"Southam" took a dip whilst tied at the Heritage Boatyard. That was Friday morning. Now, Sunday, she's up again thanks to Kim, Stephan and a few pumps. She's not taking on a huge amount of water but one of her pumps has stopped working. I think that's what caused the problem. I got there just a bit too late on Friday to prevent her going down.


From Middlewich up the Weaver

Me and Tony are having to take turns on "Forget me Not" and "Hazel" because we both have commitments back in Ashton this week. I joined the boats at Anderton Marina where "Hazel" was having her reserve batteries charged up.




She's providing a holiday afloat for retired boatwoman Hannah Hinde with her son and carer Duggie Shaw. Hannah grew up on Claytons oil boats and later worked wooden headers like "Hazel", carrying coal to Runcorn gasworks.


After working down the lift we headed upstream. I enjoyed steering the butty for a change while Aaron Booth took the motor.

The plan was to spend the night at Winsford, but, unfortunately, Vale Royal locks were out of action, so we  had to return to Anderton . Tony will be in charge going downriver for the next couple of days, then its back up the lift and on to Runcorn on Friday.

Cycle trip day 1, Bath and Swindon.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


Ecclesbourne Valley Diesel Weekend.

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


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


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

Class 31 arriving at Duffield with the DMU set

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

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

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

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


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.






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.

,


Mad March Recycling Trip 9th March 2010

Mad March recycling trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Grand Day Out 7th March 2010

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

A Grand Day Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Southam Goes Backwards Again.

2009-09-23 @ 19:38:51 by ashtonboatma

"Southam" goes backwards again!

"Southam" is currently our only powered boat, even though she was originally a butty. This is because "Forget me Not" is awaiting the installation of her Bolinder. It may be a long wait!

Since Easter the reverse gear on "Southam"s gearbox has been out of bounds because the brake band was worn out. This made recycling trips towing both "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" quite interesting.

Ike and Lester, the engineering dept, dismantled the gearbox about 10 days ago and I had a nice train ride to Accrington to hand it over to a very strange company who were never there. In spite of being never there, they re-lined it and, after another nice train ride, I got it back and the engineering department re-assembled it yesterday. I gave it a try today. It's great to be able to go backwards and er, well, sort of, Stop, if you're going forwards.

There's a "Hazel" sponsors trip on Sunday so I hope it functions properly for that.