Make a future for "Aster"

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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


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




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.

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













Steaming "Hazel"s Eyebrows (16th November 2012)

Steaming "Hazel"s eyebrows!

Sounds painful, but that's been the main task today. I'm not sure what they're really called. They are the pieces of wood that go under the metal guard irons at the bow and stern of the boat. What pleasure boaters would call rubbing strakes.

There were four eyebrows to steam all together, so we did them in two batches of two, bow and stern. They all bent nicely, though there's always a bit of stress when it comes to steaming wood. The steaming equipment only just completed the job. When the second batch were nearly ready the pipe from the boiler to the steambox started to disintegrate. It's done 28 planks altogether, but for some reason todays steaming was the last straw for it. It was a bit much to expect a plastic pipe to take all that heat, but it did it, only failing at the very end.



Hazel Sponsors Day (19th October 2012)

Hazel Sponsors Day.

"Hazel" sponsors are wonderful people. They sponsor "Hazel" for a day a year, at a rate of £28 a day. Some have raised considerably more additionally. Every year we arrange a day for them to gather. This usually involves a boat trip. Some have stuck with "Hazel" through the difficult years when it seemed like the boat would never get restored. Between them they raised most of the £31,000 now in the "Hazel" fund, which we'll soon be digging into as the grant funding is nearly spent.

This Sunday they're all invited to have a look at the boat, there will be food in the nearby pub, then a trip up the Huddersfield Narrow Canal to Mossley and back. It's only a fairly short trip, but trips on this canal tend to be rather adventurous. "Southam" has never been up there, so I hope she doesn't get stuck.

Tomorrow I have to arrange getting the boats up to Stalybridge and ready for the trip. We're probably taking 3 boats, "Southam" "Forget me Not" and "Lilith". Getting them up the 7 locks to Stalybridge is going to be a challenge. Those locks are always difficult.

It's going to be a busy weekend for me!

Why not sponsor "Hazel". Get involved with this amazing project. http://wcbs.org.uk/



Two Steps Forward (January 2012)

Two steps Forward.......

We had a great day on Wednesday with me and Stuart driving up spikes we got 24 done, a record. Making a start for a repeat performance on Thursday, everything went wrong. First of all the big drill that we were using to drill spike holes broke. The auger was in the wood so I put the Makita cordless drill on it to extract it, and the auger snapped. Stuart gave it up as a bad job at this point, but I foolishly persisted, using a huge old drill that is really intended for jobs like cutting sterntube holes. It was hard to keep such a heavy drill straight and I succeeded in breaking the other auger.

We've now replaced the augers, but if you happen to have a heavy duty electric drill that you never use, we accept donations!

Just to add to the joy of January, when I got home from work on Friday I found that I'd given myself a bad back, so I'm relegated to blogging today!

The good news is that we should get the next phase of funding soon, so the "Hazel" project won't run out of money in March as I had feared. There's still a shortfall in funding though, so don't be shy about donating



Spiking up (December 2011)

Spiking Up.

We now begin the long slow task of spiking up the bottoms to the garboard strakes. About 400 holes to be drilled from the top of the garboard through the 9" width of that plank and through the 3" thickness of the bottom boards. A big 10mm square spike then has to be driven up from underneath (an excellent job for anyone wanting to increase their arm muscles) to pop out at the top edge of the plank where it will be bent over. That bottom is not going to fall off!


Comment from: ashtonboatman [Member]

Just a note on boat jargon. Sorry, I forget that not all readers speak boat. The garboard strake is the first plank of the sides of the boat. This is attached to the flat bottom of a narrow boat by big iron nails or spikes driven up through pre-drilled holes through the bottom boards and through the width of the plank. It's hard work.



A quiet Day 30th September 2011

A quiet Day

After the hectic activity yesterday it was quite a quiet day on "Hazel", just me Reg and Ryan. Reg left at dinner time to go and visit his daughter in Leeds. To be honest, there's not much of "Hazel" left now. The new bottom forms a base to build the boat up on, but we've now removed most of the sideplanking after carefully spiling it and recording the plank edge bevels. Highlights of the day have been offering up the new stempost, it looks like it will fit, and removing the old sternpost to make a copy. As usual there was a bit of forensic archaeology involved, working out which bits of the boat have ben replaced in her 97 year history, and which bits (not many) are original. As I removed the bottom strake at the stern end I was surprised to find that it was made of oak and about 60mm thick.I was expecting 2" pitch pine. I decided that it had been replaced at the same time as the bottoms as there was only one set of ironwork in the wood, indicating that it had never had replacement bottoms fitted to it. The question is, when was this done? It looks likely that the sternpost was renewed at the same time. Was it 1951 at Rathbones dry dock in Stretfored or 1970s at Ken Keays in Walsall.



25 Days. 3rd November 2011

25 days

I was surprised to see, when I logged in, that it has been 25 days since I last wrote anything. How remiss of me! The fact is that I don't seem to have had the time to sit down and write. I did have a bit of time off. Emuna and I went to Llandudno for a couple of days for her birthday. Stuart has been away too. He had a weeks work in Belgium.

When I returned from Llandudno on 13th October I found that Stuart and Ryan had spread the oak boards out on the ground as a sort of flat pack boat. Stuart started laying out the spiling boards and selecting the timber for the new planks. It turned out that the logs that I had bought were rather too straight and this restricted the amount of planks that we could get out of them. "Hazel"s planks are curvier than I thought.

Meanwhile, the sides of the boat were steadily being removed until there was virtually nothing left of them. Just the new bottom with the 1951 conversion propped up on sticks. We decided to get the knees shotblasted, so they went off to a shotblasters, then to another as the first one nearly tripled the quoted price after they had done one knee. The idiots also removed the identifying marker that Stuart had put on the knee, despite being firmly told not to. It's a good job they only did the one, or we would have been totally unable to work out which knee went where.

Stuart thinks we need timber for 5 more planks. I heard of some trees being felled in Cumbria and so had a day out looking at them. They're mostly too thin, but there are a couple of useful ones. I just have to arrange transport now.

With the stempost in place I started work on the sternpost. Now that is nearly ready.

We have a few new volunteers. Jake is travelling regularly from Lincoln to help. Bernard has started taking care of the tools. Nick is coming for a day each week and Rita joins us when she has a day off from social working. At the moment Reg is up from Rugby, carefully planing bevels on the edges of the bottom strakes. What we need now are some fundraising volunteers to magic up the rest of the money that we need. Any offers?



First of October 2011

First of October

October 1st, and already its hitting records for October temperatures. In the blazing sun plenty of volunteers turned up to work on Hazel. The work is still mostly stripping down. A frame has been built to support the conversion whilst the boat is removed from beneath it. After me and Stuart, Tom Kitching http://www.tomkitching.co.uk/ was the first to arrive and we had a good tidy up of the slip as it had become cluttered with old sideplanks. Ryan Hinds and Pete Nicholson http://www.assuredfinefurniture.co.uk/ arrived at about the same time. Me, Tom and Pete went off in the van towing the trailer to the Ashton Packet Boat Co http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ashton/ac8a.htm to deliver a generator and collect a table saw.

Another van trip followed as there was a huge display cabinet in the back which the previous days driver had been unable to deliver. Me and Ryan had a pleasant ride out into the countryside over the Monks Road

enjoying spectacular views and lively conversation.

When we got back there was even less of Hazel left. I started taking information off the old sternpost ready to make a new one. Pete's wife, Frances, arrived and the worked together stripping down more sideplanking and recording bevels from the plank edges. Ryan sat and suffered in the sweltering October heat as he doesn't thrive in hot weather. By the end of the day, the conversion was free and Stuart had started removing the top strake and lining plank and ripping out iron knees.

http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Hazel_October_1st_2011/