Happy Stitches

Keep your stitches smiling!

Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Along the Shropshire Union Canal July 16, 2018

 

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Our last week has been just about ‘perfic’- warm but shady, a breeze, a view, cows in the distance, knitting, feet up, dinner cooking!

We took a little side trip along the Middlewich Branch the other day. This east-west canal usually connects two major north south canals, the Shropshire Union and the Trent and Mersey. Months ago, there was a major breach near Middlewich, draining the canal.  It’s going to take a lot of time and funds to fix it and is causing a lot of problems to boaters,  the businesses situated on the canal, and hire boat companies who promote the Four Counties and Cheshire cruising rings.

 

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along the Shropshire Union Canal

 

You can go along the canal as far as the temporary dams.  You can only get to the the last winding hole before the problem, unless you like going in reverse.  So that is what we did! We met up with some friends at an excellent pub walking distance from the canal. The canal was noticeably lifeless.  Apart from regularly moored boats, there were just a couple of visiting boats in the whole length that we traveled. The water, not moving much now, had become distinctly scummy and the two marinas, normally bustling,  were ominously quiet.

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Back in Chester after a day on the locks!

We then returned back to the mainline Shropshire Union and continued on up towards Chester. Here we devised a plan to get John’s mum to the boat so she could spend a day with us. Deciding that a tour of all the locks in Chester would be ideal, we cruised through the 8 locks. These are big and heavy and it was hot work. After going down the 3 step staircase lock, we turned around and went up again, returning back to where the hire car had been left.  We had time for a drink at the pub,  dinner on the boat, and then John took his mum back home!

 

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oncoming traffic

Yesterday marked Day 70 on Ali’s Dream.  We had an early start, completing 25 locks before lunch. The flight was fairly busy and we had a good number of locks.  This was very easy, as an uphill boat would exit the lock as we left each downhill one. Going downhill in narrow locks, after entering and stopping the boat, the helm can close the back gate and wind up one of the two paddles, and then hop back on the boat before it gets too low. The half-width gates can be opened, first the towpath side, then hop across the lock and open the far side, boat exits, whilst the far side paddle is lowered, far side gate closed, hop back and repeat and on to the next one. It appears that some 700 locks have honed us into a slick team!

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No need to warm up with soup during this hot summer1

Things are starting to wind down.  We are beginning to whittle down our supplies. However, the cans of soup purchased for a quick warm lunch on a cold day, will remain in the cupboards for Ali’s next journey.

 

This week’s half-price pattern:

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Socks are a fun, portable project!
Lucy’s charming bead-topped Double Diamond Socks feature a choice of two different diamond patterns. The Diamond Lace gives a traditional lacy effect, while the Waffle pattern gives a denser, more textured look.  A lovely treat for your feet!
The Double Diamond Socks pattern is half-price ($4.50CAD) until July 19,
Happy Stitches!

 

 

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Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Cruising into July July 8, 2018

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Breakfast on the sun deck!

July made its appearance in the midst of a heat wave. A UK heat wave usually only lasts 2 days, but this one has held out. We’ve adjusted to the weather by setting off even earlier in the mornings to catch the cool bit of the day.  It’s too warm to do anything other than read, and definitely too sticky to knit.

 

 

 

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Langley Mill at the top of the Erewash Canal

 

We celebrated Canada Day by doing 16 wide beam locks, making it up to Langley Mill, at the end of the navigable Erewash Canal.

The Erewash was rehabilitated from a stagnant swamp in the late 70s, and what a transformation it is! The water is crystal clear (you can see right to the bottom), with a disconcertingly vast number of fish. It’s hard to stop gazing at them and pay attention to steering! The fish are mostly 6” and smaller, but when walking up the towpath between locks I did spot a couple of pike at least a foot long lurking under the lily pads.

 

 

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We took a diversion the other day.  We were going to head north at Autherly Junction and get onto the Shropshire Union, but then I received a message from Riverknits on instagram that we were very nearby one another. It appeared that, if we turned left onto the Staffs and Worcs canal and headed down about 12 locks, we might be able to meet up. John and I decided to give it a go.

 

Becci and Markus arrived a hour or so after we tied up. Their range of mini-skeins dyed in 72 colours was most impressive. All of the dye-work is performed on a 60’ narrowboat (with a 2 1/2 year old underfoot)! Formerly conventionally employed engineers, maternity leave and a redundancy payout spurred Becci and Markus into trying yarn dyeing full time. I’d say they’ve found their niche! They sell the prepared skeins at shows and through their web site, taking parcels to the post office nearest to where they happen to be tied up!

 

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25 hot locks before 12:30!

We’ve had our conference with Ali’s owner, and she’d like the narrowboat back at Swanley  in about two weeks.  It’s a bit shocking to have such a finite period, but now we can plan our final couple of weeks (assuming we don’t succumb to heat stroke).

To finish our trip off we plan to head up the Montgomery Canal. This is a fairly newly reopened branch off the Llangollen that we have never had time for on our other trips.  We have to book passage through Frankton Locks in advance.  This is limited to 12 boats a day, so we have to determine when we will be there and when we will return.

 

 

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This week’s sale pattern:

Wow, it’s hot out there!
Lucy’s cool cotton Swirling Sun Hat is a quick summer knit requiring little finishing. Knit the lace brim to fit the head, pick up sts around the brim, and work in the round up to the crown.

A quick and satisfying hot weather project!
The Swirling Sun Hat is half-price ($3.75CAD) until July 12,
Happy Stitches!

 

Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Along the Grand Union Canal July 1, 2018

After having spent some time on the Grand Union Canal, John, Ali’s Dream and I are back on the top half of our canal map!

When we reached Norton Junction, we might have turned left and gone to Braunston, Napton and the Hatton locks on the Grand Union, where we were a month or so ago.  Instead, we turned onto the  Leicester length of the Grand Union. There it magically turned back into a narrow  canal until we reached Foxton Locks.

 

 

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Flowers and cattle! A cloudy but warm morning on the Grand Union

 

Almost immediately, we were out into beautiful unspoiled Leicestershire countryside, with often not a building in sight. Huge fields of very dry arable land. We noticed cracks in the soil in the fields, and maize crops that didn’t seem to be getting much taller. That particular  section was closed last autumn due to lack of water, although we were assured that the near continuous rains of February to April had refilled the reservoirs. Despite that, every time we dropped a double wide lock 70 x 14 x8’, in volume, it felt like a lot of water going downhill. We met up with other boats occasionally and shared a few locks, but were alone for the most part.

Along our way, we took every canal side spur that presented itself. We took the Wendover arm: 6 miles up to a dead end, a windy narrow little channel that suddenly took you past a modern working flour mill, and later petered out in a small turning basin in a field.

The next one was the Aylesbury arm: after many narrow locks we reached a turning basin in the middle of the town that appeared to have been bulldozed and rebuilt without any soul. There were visitor moorings and services there, but we felt no inclination to stay.  After a quick raid on Waitrose, we were on our way.

 

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the irresistible Hambleton Bakery

 

Our next detour was to Market Harborough, which was quite a surprise: a lovely basin at the end, beautifully redeveloped but in keeping with the former port and wharves. We found excellent moorings and services, too. John and I took a short walk through town to the wonderful Hambleton bakery, a butcher, fishmonger, hardware and all sorts of excellent small shops.

 

 

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Halfway down the famous Foxton Locks

Foxton Locks are famous, with two 5-step staircase locks with a small pound between them. There were many gongoozlers milling about.   The locks are interesting in that they let any excess water out into a series of side pounds as you go down. This saves water but makes for a more complex operation. Fortunately there are volunteer lock keepers to keep track of both boats and people!

 

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Beautiful sunset on the Grand Union Canal

The weather continues to be extraordinarily dry and hot.  I have discovered the delights of dipping my feet,  socks and all, into a bucket of canal water.  What a relief, especially when they feel that they might catch fire! In the evenings, we endeavour to moor in the shade.

We are headed towards Nottingham now, then the Erewash canal before heading east towards Shardlow.

 

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Happy Canada Day from Ali’s Dream, John and me!

Hoping that summer has found you wherever you are, Happy Canada Day!

 

 

This week’s sale pattern:

 

 

Happy Canada Day to our Canadian friends and Happy Fourth of July to our American ones!
To celebrate, my  Zinnia DK Blanket and its accompanying Tutorial are our very special downloads of the week.

The Zinnia is a spectacularly beautiful double-layer blanket; something lovely to knit on, whenever you need it. Knit a smaller Zinnia and create a lovely chair pad or coaster!
The Zinnia DK Blanket and its accompanying Tutorial are both half-price until July 5,
Happy July Stitches!

 

Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Our Last Days on the River Thames June 23, 2018

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We enjoyed our last few days on the River Thames, which was busier and busier the further down it we went. We enjoyed viewing all the crazy houses, castles, follies, and wide varieties of boats while also looking forward to more mundane, workaday peace of the canals to come.

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One magical day stood out! We leisurely cast off from our bank in Windsor in the morning (aka, not quite at the crack of dawn), watching  the castle looming larger and larger, then disappearing behind the trees. The canal then looped around behind the Home Park (or castle grounds), giving us a lovely view from the opposite side. The bank was clearly marked: no mooring– trespass being a criminal offence.

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We chugged on as the skies slowly cleared and tied up at Staines-Upon-Thames, where I had a quick meet up with a knitter who lives near the canal!

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We headed on out, past many houseboats of all shapes and types of grandeur, cottages on the little Thames islands, loads of folks out enjoying a beautiful Sunday.

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In one lock which, on that day often had 7 or 8 boats in at a time, we were the largest by miles, with a wooden speedboat, an inflatable canoe, a lovely launch, and a be-fendered plastic boat. We have grown accustomed to those crafts all giving us a wide berth, as we are 20 tons and steel with no brakes. We nearly collided with a thoroughbred  rowing scull awaiting their race at a regatta! There was nothing more I could do than stay in the Channel. Fortunately, they finally noticed our hoot and  looming bulk and realized there was no contest.

 

Shortly after that, we came around a bend to see a very odd craft. Upon closer inspection, we realized she was the Royal Barge Gloriana!  Decided not to take her on (even though she was on the wrong side of the river. You’ll have to take my word for it, she really is spectacular.

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We’d been looking for somewhere to tie up for the day and had been failing for the last couple of hours. I had hoped to moor near Hampton Court but had doubted this would be possible. Then we found one spot that might just be long enough. The boat is 57’. We squeezed in, the gap was 56’ 9”. With a slight overlap of rudders we managed it. Imagine my delight when I looked across the footpath to find that we were right by the golden railings of the back garden of Hampton Court Palace! We went for a little stroll and were surprised to find we could freely stroll around the grounds, rose and kitchen garden. We even saw a flock of green parrots in one of the trees.

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As we were returning to to boat we found we had been locked in at the side gate. Luckily we could see the main entrance and headed that way and were politely let out by a uniformed gent!

Only wish we could have stayed another day to check out the Royal School of Needlework.  I guess it’ll just have to wait until next time.

 

This week’s sale pattern:

#443 Faroese Flower Shawl

The graceful, shoulder-hugging Faroese Flower Shawl is knit in one piece from the neck down. This gorgeous, airy piece features floral lace stitches and an unusual petal trim at the bottom.
A beautiful summer project!
The Faroese Flower Shawl is half-price ($6.00CAD) until June 28,
Happy Stitches!

 

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Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Daily Life June 19, 2018

We retraced our route somewhat at the beginning of the month, and perhaps even enjoyed it a bit more the second time around! The weather was clearer and the views better. The addition of our boarding plank has widened our options for mooring, too.

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Good morning! Beautiful wild roses on the towpath.

Our days are full, and we are usually underway by 0700. Tying up at the end of the day depends on conditions and objectives.

 

Once the engine has been started, one of us heads out and prepares the first lock, and we are off.

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a beautiful day, swing bridge in the distance

Apart from a couple of notable flights the locks have been about every 20 mins, with another 20 spent negotiating the upcoming one.

Between locks we: eat breakfast on the deck. Boil the kettle. Make a cup of coffee.  Clean teeth. Wash up the dishes. Put away the dishes. Clean the bathroom- it needs regular maintenance!  Make another cup of canal coffee. Tend to the plants. Dead head and water the flowers (feed on Fridays). Plan and make water/sanitary/ garbage stop.

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our bed doubles as the charging station!

Tidy up the bed and prep the items for charging (we only have a cigarette lighter adapter to a small inverter- that can only be run after the engine has charged the battery for the engine start for an hour.)

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 We can only charge devices whilst underway. Part of the daily routine. Works surprisingly well.

The one battery is reserved entirely for starting the engine, and we always ensure that it is fully charged before charging the domestic ones or the plug in the inverter to charge the devices.

 

Usually only one item can be achieved between locks or swingbridges. No wonder it takes all day!

 

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dinner prep

By 4 or 5pm we are ready to stop, eat, drink and fall asleep. The sun insists on staying up later than we do!

 

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we enjoyed dinner with our friends, who generously shared their laundry facilities. A nice evening for drying, as well!

We had a lovely invitation from friends in Woolhampton. They offered us both dinner AND a washing machine. We couldn’t resist, and luckily caught an excellent drying evening, too.

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lovely temporary mooring stop at Tesco–we were able to shop and load our groceries easily!

 

 

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Still looking down at the water and continuing along our way.

And hardly a stitch knit!

 

 

 

This week’s sale pattern

#662 Celestial Baby SwaeterMy Celestial Baby Sweater is a lovely gift for the newest addition to your family! An easy-fit, easy-knit sweater with button-shoulders for a baby or toddler. Knit yours out of machine-washable yarn, and it will become a treasured garment!
The Celestial Baby Sweater is half-price ($3.75CAD) until June 21,
Happy Stitches!

 

 

Narrowboat Adventures 2018: Our Journey Continues June 7, 2018

Filed under: Canal boat,home,Knitting Travels,Narrowboat Journey 2018,Narrowboating — happystitches @ 20:04

June5SteamingintoHungerford

 

Travelling downstream along the Thames added to our progress considerably. A river is quite a different proposition to a canal. No lack of moving water, it being replenished from many feeders and has to be channeled downwards and out to the sea. Many of the locks are left with one set of the paddles open, a definite no-no on canals, where every drop is husbanded. I didn’t really enjoy the automated or manned by a lock keeper locks — not nearly as much fun or exercise!

 

 

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There are long stretches where you can see nothing apart from the wide river and bushes and trees, then towns with interesting buildings and many ostentatious houses with enormous lawns leading down to the river! These often include docks with equally fancy boats. The boats were noticeably larger and with greater air drafts as we went further down.

 

Mooring up is tricky along a big river too. All the fancy gardens are clearly labelled “Private – no mooring”. The wild banks have many trees. Sometimes there are fairly smooth sheer bits of bank that might work. At least the river is wide enough that you can turn the boat and go back to a suitable spot — not an option on a canal. I believe it is also done to moor the bow to a tree or a pin and just let the stern fall to the current.

 

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yellow iris along the Kennet&Avon canal

We reached Reading sooner than expected and decided to continue on to the start of the Kennet and Avon. We turned into the mouth of the Kennet and faced a formidable current against us.

We slowly made headway against the flow. We reached a ‘one boat at a time’ section controlled by a traffic light!  You had to push the equivalent of a pedestrian crossing button. When the light changed to green, you could proceed, giving you 12 minutes to reach the lock at the other end. This section wiggled and wound around the Center of Reading taking us right through the middle of a ritzy shopping area, where we formed the entertainment for those drinking at the bars and restaurants on either side. After having exited the next lock, we were happy to tie up for the day.

 

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happy to tie up for the day, getting in a few stitches canalside

 

The Kennet & Avon is different. The first day or two was a mixture of river and canal sections and lots of “Danger” signs. The River Kennet was flowing strongly against us. Wherever it leaves the canal, it swooshes off over a weir, sucking your boat to that side. For the period that it runs as the waterway it works against you, and where it enters the canal, it pushes you across (often just as you approach a lock). The locks here are very large and somewhat aggressive, not at all consistent in size and method of operation.

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chocolate box village!

 

Here in  Wiltshire, the rolling hills and unspoiled scenery are glorious with villages few and far.  In them, thatched cottages abound.  The canal took us uphill for 3 days and once we  passed the summit headed down to Bristol.

 

 

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above the Caen Hill Locks

We did our usual crack of dawn attack on the Caen Hill Locks. We had about an hour to go before we reached them and we were just in the first lock when the thunder clouds rolled in and drenched us. Fortunately it wasn’t very cold rain and working the locks kept us warm.

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29 locks in five hours!

These locks were distinctly heavy and we were just getting a system worked out between us (each set seems to be different), when up popped a couple of Canal & River Trust volunteers offering assistance!  As there were no other boats around, they stuck with us most of the way despite the deluges. We cleared the 29 locks in about 5 hours.

 

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May 28, Bradford on Avon–gongoozlers on holiday!

We had planned to pump out, get rid of rubbish and take water in the sleepy little town of Bradford-On-Avon but, as we reached the bottom of the locks, there were suddenly a lot more boats!  A fair was being held and the quays were brimming with people. Luckily for us there was a CRT guy on the quayside ensuring that the sanitary berth was only being used for its intended purpose and we left as soon as we were done.  The towpath was awash with people, dogs and bikes and also heavily wooded.

Eventually we found a spot where we could moor in –  a concrete ledge prevented us from getting fully alongside, but gave us a grandstand view of a string of frazzled hire boaters failing to make the next bend.

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Along the Kennet & Avon canal,  the lilacs were starting to go over, the ducklings becoming adolescent, the yellow iris coming out. Swans just hatching and the Canada geese herding the chicks into community daycare systems.

Next we worked our way west until we connected with the River Avon.  The intersections between canal and river were less frequent and the current not as strong. Here we encountered a bit of a problem:  in order to secure to a rough bank, you had to be able to get off the boat to drive in  mooring pins, but we had no boarding plank suitable for bridging the gap!

We reached the final lock that released us onto the Avon and called the lock at the Bristol Docks to check that their lock was open and headed on downriver. Both gates of the entry dock were open,  we tied up and paid our dues and then chugged on into the Bristol Floating Harbour.

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entering Bristol Floating Harbour

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the new pedestrian bridge in Bristol

After a fair stretch of Feeder Canal we turned into the heart of Bristol. Tall buildings both ancient and modern, exotic bridges, and all manner of boats, coastal vessels, harbour ferries, water taxis, Dutch barges, sailing, tugs, historic exhibits, gigs, paddle boards, with narrowboats being in the minority. We spent the afternoon being tourists, and evening watching the harbour traffic. The harbour was impressively well organized, with visitor moorings and facilities for water, rubbish and sewage in several locations, and the harbour was immaculately free of trash.

 

 

 

 

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Making use of our new boarding plank!

 

We have become fairly adept at planning day visits from friends and family! Arrange to meet up at a location where they can leave their car and access the canal, enjoy a day together, then plan the departure at a canal side pub where a taxi can be obtained to take them back the 6 or so miles that we have achieved.

We had a full shopping list request for our good friends who visited last week, top of which was a 2 meter long plank! They were happy to oblige and we are now equipped with our own official boarding plank.

 

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Bristol Harbour

 

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Meanwhile, back at home, we are continuing with our weekly half-price sales: this week we’re featuring my Aqueduct Hat and Tea Cozy pattern!  I had so much fun designing this project–an homage to the Pontsycllte Aqueduct in Wales and a lovely knit for the narrow boaters and tea drinkers in your life!

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Narrowboat Adventures 2018: First Days May 21, 2018

These first three weeks on the canals have flown by!  John and I are having fun on the cut, we found ourselves dropping back into our canal routine rapidly.

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First Glimpse of Ali’s Dream

We found Ali’s Dream easily. We met her owner Jackie  and the rain eased off for our move in with our garbage bags.  Once again, we felt like we were playing a life-size game of tiles: move something to one place, then  move it again for the next item.

We set out early next morning for a full on shop at Tesco, we needed food and various boat-hold items to make life more comfortable!  And then we were off, on the canals…

A quick little diversion onto the Llangollen to meet up with our friends on Willow

A quick little diversion onto the Llangollen to meet up with our friends on Willow

First off, we took a short detour up the Llangollen to meet up with our friends from Willow (we did the Rochdale together last year).  After all, they were only 4 miles, 5 locks and 2 lift bridges away!

We successfully found them, went on a little further to the next winding hole and turned around so as to be facing the way we wanted for the morning. That night, we moored up next to Willow and caught up with news.  Our friends were delighted that we had come to visit.

 

After that, we headed south in our intended direction.

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Blissed out on the canals…

…and suddenly, May was upon us!

Spring arrived late this year. Cows have only just gone out to pasture (they look joyous), trees are budding, and green is the colour of the moment. The first fluff ball ducklings are hatched, swans are nesting and the birds are very vocal. We’ve seen our first kingfisher. The spring flowers are a delight: occasional daffodils ( have they escaped or do they exist in the wild?), celandine, primroses, bluebells, cowslips (haven’t seen these in years), pussy willows all turned to pollen, glorious blossoms on the trees.

The best evenings are spent outside.  One evening I heard a cuckoo calling in the late day sunshine and calm. I hadn’t heard a cuckoo in years.

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We explored a new-to us canal: the Staffs and Worcs, which proved surprisingly rural after an urban start outside of Wolverhampton. The ingenuity of the original canal builders- here James Brindley and the Bratch locks- is astounding.

 

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We found a Sainsburys store close enough to the canal to come back with more plant pots and compost (and food). John fitted a new water pump and nearly has the boat to to his satisfaction

 

We moored up just outside of Stourbridge More for the  bank holiday on May 7, with unaccountably good weather for the long weekend.

Stourport basin, entering the Severn, reaching Worcester and heading up the Birmingham and Worcester canalMay6

Stourport Basin, entering the Severn, reaching Worcester and heading up the Birmingham and Worcester canal

Stourbridge was very pretty and our gateway to the upper reaches of the River Severn on a glorious day. The River was flowing gently and was mostly wooded on both sides.

We had to turn back off the river at Worcester: a sharp left hand turn, but the river was wide and it was easily done. The first two locks on the Birmingham and Worcester Canal were very wide, giving access to the town dock basin for much bigger river boats. We then began our journey towards the Oxford Canal back on narrow channels.

 

Bank holiday Monday turned out to be a scorcher. We went from bringing the plants in for fear of frost to midsummer temps. This was also the day when there appeared to be a problem with the charging of the domestic batteries. The fridge shut down, the newly installed water pump gave up, and on and on! We called in to a small boatyard for confirmation of the diagnosis and the aid of many fuses, a work-around, and some shore power to perk things up we were eventually back underway.

 

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Readying ourselves for 36 locks in one morning!

Next day, we completed the Tardebigge Locks – a personal best with 36 locks before lunch!

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at the top of Tardebigge Locks

We started very early in case it should be as hot as the day before.  There were was no one ahead of us and, amazingly, almost all the locks were set in our favour. This meant that the last boat through had been downbound the day before, leaving all the locks empty (except for a couple that had filled or partially so owing to leaks). A huge saving in time and effort for us! The weather was cooler, the heatwave over thankfully.

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This saw us onto the Grand Union Canal and into double wide locks. This was the last leg of last year’s journey but, unlike last time, there were other boats around with which to share some of the locks. This can be fun, as you meet and chat with other boaters, exchanging jibber-jabber. Or you can catch up with a single-handler who has been out so long that he has apparently lost the ability to speak, and end up doing twice the work to help him through. It takes all sorts on the canal!

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the interior of Ali’s Dream–home away from home!

We’ve had a few fun nights with squeaking smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and I’ve become expert at finding them and replacing batteries! Otherwise the engine controls are working like silk, the fridge is staying frozen, the shower can get both shoulders wet simultaneously, the new water pump is working and life is good.

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On the bank, the moorhen chicks are hatching, the mallard babies are getting bigger (but still insist on trying to race the boat – whilst peeping frantically for mum), the yellow iris are appearing, the lambs are getting tubby. Sheep are nothing but eating machines. We’ve seen two batches of cygnets. The new flowers are planted (we might need a longer boat to accommodate them all!) Now headed for the Thames and new waters in a day or two.

 

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Some evenings, I even find time to knit!

 

 

 

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