Wednesday, September 30, 2015

So Many Pubs . . .So Little Time . . .

A good English Brew!

England knows how to do beer. They therefore have also figured out how to serve it . . . the answer is simple . . in pubs.

All along the canals we explored during our first two weeks, there were pubs strategically placed at junctions, towns or beside the locks. Anywhere the boatsmen would have had to stop was a good spot to put a place to get a beer. We did manage to try out a few on our canal trip.

Here in Chester however they have taken the pub scene to a whole new level. There are over 50 pubs within walking distance of
A lie . . . these two do not know Beer
the apartment. There is one right next door, two up the street, and two immediately across the bridge. During our walks around Chester I am constantly finding new and interesting pubs.

The names of course sound like old English Pubs.
Bear & Billet
Cross Keys
Old Queen’s Head
Pied Bull
Brewery Tap
Liverpool Arms
Pitcher & Piano
George & Dragon

The Brewery Tap
700 Year Old Cellar
My intent was to work my way through them, but OMG there are too many. I went to the Falcon on a recommendation of someone I met and the owner gave us a tour of the 700 year old cellars, and I saw the 200 year old oak barrels that he pulled my Ale from. I also had a pint in the Brewery Tap which claims to be 600 years old, and today on the way back from visiting the ruin of the original Chester Cathedral we stopped at the Cross Keys for a Green Monkey Lager in what they claim to be the 6th oldest pub in the world. Ok, I am getting the idea that age here in Chester may be a relative thing . . . 

How am I ever going to be able to enjoy the Mic Mac Tavern with its ancient 6 month history?

Another Cathedral

For someone who is not at all religious I seem to end up in a lot of churches and cathedrals on my travels. If there is some hidden significance in that I am not sure what it is.
Yup that makes me want to attend church

Here in Chester the Cathedral is a significant landmark, and it stands above the town center, visible from almost anywhere. After walking the City Walls, and visiting the Chester Rows (the downtown two storied shopping areas) the Cathedral was next on the list of things to see.

It is not hard to find or get to. Walk downtown and you arrive at the cathedral, like most cathedrals, it is pretty much in the center of the city. On first sight, this one looks like most other cathedrals, made of stone and partially covered with scaffolding for restoration. Entry to the cathedral is free, but once inside you are heavily encouraged to book the “Chester Cathedral Height” tour which takes you up the main tower of the cathedral.
Beautiful tiled floors

I started out by simply wandering through the vast open spaces inside the cathedral. Unlike some of the fancier cathedrals I saw in Europe, which are finished with plaster, paint and brightwork inside, this one is mostly unadorned stone, This makes it dark and the beautiful stained glass windows only allow so much light inside. Fortunately my camera does a great job in low light, and my pictures actually show more detail than you see in person. I love finding interesting details such as the Magistrates room, or the old doors and locks everywhere.

Amazing Wood Carvings
In the center of the cathedral is a beautiful separate area done in wood that was amazing. I am sure that this room has some special name and purpose, but I just enjoyed the amazing carved woodwork. The wooden seating surrounding the pulpit were all carved with dragons, birds, snakes and very odd people. Looking closely, some of these were a bit creepy and disturbing. A dragon eating a man’s head, birds fighting snakes, grotesque looking people. The religious significance escaped me, but the work involved drew me in. What was most appreciated about this area, was that although I was asked not to “touch”, the area was not roped off, and I was free to explore and examine the individual woodwork.

After exploring he main cathedral, we decided to pay for and take the Tower Tour. It is advertised as Climb 216 steps, 125 feet, through 1000 years of history to look out over two countries, and five counties. Although that is a good description, you also get a tour of the
Horsehair in the walls
bells and get the see the Pipe Organ from above. The Bell Tower was especially interesting. The bells have been moved to a modern building next door (the guide described it as “The Rocket Ship”), because the constant ringing of the massive bells was actually vibrating the masonry of the tower apart. To reinforce the stone, and solidify the masonry, horse hair was once added to the mortar, and as you climb the narrow circling stairs your hands brush this hair protruding from the walls. That could be a bit unsettling if you did not have the explanation. The now unused bell ringing area is now set up as a demonstration are to explain all about the bells.

I think that is Beeston Castle on the hill
Our tour guide was a friendly young girl who seemed to take pride in her job and her city. She was a wealth of information, and knew the answer to most questions from all three of her visiting tourists on the tour. Did you know that the Curfew bell was rung every evening warning any visitors (Meaning he Welsh) to leave the city or be shot. Apparently anyone conversing in Welsh was considered to be plotting revolt so was open to being shot on sight. My heritage is English and Irish . . . . wonder what they did to the Irish? 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Subway . . Really?

Regis waiting for the Subway
During our travels, we try not to have to depend on having a car. We like to rent places where we can use public transportation such as trains busses and Metro systems. We found the Subways in Japan amazing, the underground in London excellent, and enjoyed the historic Metro in Budapest. If there is an underground system where we visit, we always make use of it.

Normally, subways are only in the largest cities around the world. Halifax does not have one, and even Ottawa functions without a underground system, so we were surprised to see a sign pointing down a set of stairs to the “Subway” here in Chester. This is not a large city, so we certainly did not expect this.

Here was a stairway in the sidewalk leading down under the streets. We decided to have a look and headed down the stairs. As we descended the steps, the expected “Subway” sounds came up the stairs to greet us. We could hear the trains.

Subway Art
At the bottom of the stairs we were greeted by the expected underground “Subway” corridors. There were interesting paintings on the walls and exits lead in three other directions. They all led up to four other street corners. Nothing lead to an actual subway train. In the middle were four large fans making the “Subway Train” noises.

Chester’s Subway is simply a way to walk under one major intersection. It looked like a subway, it sounded like a subway, it was called a subway . . . but there were no actual subway trains. I guess it is actually a “Subway” . . . .

Walking the Wall

Walking the Walls

There is our canal again
Chester is a very old historic city. The most significant feature of the city is its almost intact city wall, built over 2000 years ago by the Romans to keep out the evil Welsh barbarians to the West. As well, because of the walls, space in the inner city was limited so a two level shopping district developed where there are not only shops along the street, but also shops overhanging the streets on a second level.

It is recommended that your first activity in Chester is to walk the old city walls. This takes you completely around the old city and gives you a good orientation of the area. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before the apartment was ready, we decided to do as we were told and take a walk around the city walls.

Chester Cathedral
It wasn’t difficult; crossing the bridge that the cottage sits beside, you come to the main city gate and you can climb stairs to the wall. Although there are a few gaps in the wall where roads have been inserted, or sections are under repair, the wall mostly does go all the way around the city center. We had to stop for a walk signal on one road intersecting the wall, and we were forced to descend to street level where one section was undergoing a major repair, but most of the way you can walk on top of the old wall. In sections the wall is not very high, but it is built on steep embankments, but other sections the wall looks down on the canal system outside and the city on the inside.
This will keep those Welsh out!

From the wall you can see the River Dee, the Shropshire Union Canal, the Chester Cathedral, and the inner-city pedestrian shopping streets, so it does give you a very useful introduction to Chester.

And a horse race - Who Knew?
The other thing you see from the wall is the Roodee Chester Racecourse, a beautiful facility for horse racing. It is the oldest horse race track in England, and on our first day we happened upon the last horse race of the season. What is nice about this, is although the race course has lots of internal seating and facilities for people to watch the races, you can see perfectly well by just finding a spot on the wall. On race day, they close the streets to vehicle traffic and a carnival atmosphere develops. If you want a beer, or wish to bet on a horse you must actually pay to go into the grounds, but if you just wish to watch the horses, you can do it for free. A really nice attitude, and the race course does not seem to be suffering by letting people watch for free – the grandstands were full and the general admission spots along the sides of the course were packed. We enjoyed seeing one of the races from a spot on the wall. Would have liked to have put money on number 8, he won with 7 – 1 odds. . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Chasing Swans

A swan family on the canal
As you cruise through the canals of England, it is common to run into families of swans. They live all over the canals, and are completely at home there. You can be gliding along through the country, or gently sliding between brick walls in cities and towns, and a group of swans will come out to greet your boat. They obviously get fed by people in boats and when they see boats coming along the canals, they come out to see if food is offered.

The swans are not afraid of the boats, they swim right towards them and easily swerve out of the way if they get too close. They look elegant and regal, but they are not friendly; reach down towards them and they will bite.

After two weeks on the canals, you get pretty used to seeing swans, and although they are
Swans are everywhere
pretty special in many places, they are common on the canals. We had a bit of a different encounter with swans on our last day with the boat.

We went down on the Anderton Boat Lift, then came back up and decided to spent the rest of the afternoon cruising further up the canal. There was another tunnel we could do; not as long as the Harecastle Tunnel, but an experience worth exploring. This tunnel was only 500 meters long, so you could peer in and see the other end, and know if another boat was coming through the other way.

After stopping for lunch at a lovely mooring spot after the tunnel, we turned around to come back to Anderton through the tunnel the other way. I again looked into the tunnel and signaling Bill that all was clear, and we proceeded through. About a third of the way through I realized that there was something else in the tunnel with us; I could see the heads of swans swimming well ahead of us. The family of swans we had seen on the canal earlier was swimming through the tunnel. This was a mother, father and four young swans. Now this time of year the young swans are still grey, but are almost full-grown and as big as their

As we approached half way I realized we were going to catch the swans before the end of the tunnel. Sitting in the front of the boat, I could see the swans clearer than Bill who was driving the boat so I told him to slow down. Even at a slower speed we still were gaining on the family of swans. Bill slowed a bit more but was concerned about loosing the ability to steer the boat; we had been warned that going too slow would cause you to hit the sides of he tunnel.

The swans realized that this was not a good situation. They wanted to stay in front of the boat, because falling beside the boat they could get crushed between the walls and the boat. They frantically tried to speed up and were able to pull ahead for a while, but tired and we caught them again. Bill tried to inch to one side and one of the young swans fell beside the boat on the wider side. The mother was desperately herding the young ones to the safer side while keeping herself between the boat and the family, while the father led the way and pushed ahead encouraging the family to greater speed.
Finally as the end of the tunnel came into range, Bill slowed a bit more and the swans put forth another final burst of speed, finally pulling out of the tunnel inches ahead of us. Even the one that had fallen behind was able surge forward into the sunshine. A happy ending for all.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Heavy Lifting

Anderton Boat Lift
With nice sunny days and good weather on the canals, we have made very good time, and have arrived back in Anderton on Thursday afternoon, so we had time to schedule a trip down and up the Anderton Boat lift.

The boat lift was an engineer’s answer to how to move boats from the River Weaver which was used to bring cargo to and from the ocean ports, and the Trent & Mersey Canal which ran almost beside the river. The problem however was that where rivers tend to flow through the lowest part of the land, the canals were always higher as they were man made and built on a level plane between the low and the high, with cuts and tunnels through the hills, and embankments over the low areas. The result was a 50 foot difference between the canal and the river. The other options were an expensive and water wasting flight of locks, or an inclined plane which was expensive to build and run.

Entering the Lift
The boat lift is pretty simple; you build a metal tower supporting two watertight chambers (Caissons) that would hold two narrow boats each. You drive boats on one caisson at the river height and drive boats on above at the canal. The weight of each caisson is the same so it took very little power to utilize hydraulics to pump water from the bottom caisson which caused the top one to drop and then natural hydraulics took over, making them exchange heights. A huge engineering feat for it’s day, but it worked perfectly from 1875 to 1908, when the hydraulic system broke down and was replaced with a system of electric engines and heavy counterweights. This worked until 1983 then the whole thing jammed and was shut down. Unfortunately it sounds like the lift was operated originally with very little routine maintenance, and this caused problems. Fortunately dedicated volunteers rebuilt the whole thing and restored it back to the original hydraulic system only using oil rather than river water.

Looking WAY Down
The lift is not quick; it took us over two hours to go down, turn around and come back up. It is however a pretty impressive experience to drive your boat into a container of water and be lowered 50 feet down inside a big black metal structure. We went down in a caisson by ourselves, but coming back up we were with two smaller power boats out for a weekend on the canals. 

The lift is lovingly worked and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers who keep it working smoothly. There is no cost to use the lift unless you wish to reserve a specific time and then it is only 5£ per trip. I am glad we got back in time to experience it

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Living On A Narrowbaot

Misty Morning On the Canal
There are distinct “classes” of people in boats on the canal. In many cases, those of us who are renting boats for a holiday are the bottom of the list, getting in the way of the “serious” boaters as we learn our way around their canals. Narrowboating has become very popular and judging by the cars in the parking lots of the fancy new marinas along the canals it is also very profitable.

There is however another group of people on the canals, those who actually live on their boats. To them, the boats are not a weekend recreation, they are their homes. As you motor along the canals, you will often see boats moored alongside the canals in areas away from the normal 24 hour or 48 hour spots. These boats do not always look as pristine as some on the canals, they look a bit worn, a bit faded, well actually what they look like is “Lived in” which is actually what they are. You will see stacks of wood on the roof, or bags of coal, and often bicycles or even baby strollers, and almost always plants, sometimes entire gardens decorate the roof and front and back areas.

At one stop where I was waiting for Bill to pull the boat up to get water, I could see another boat pulling into the water spot. This boat was piloted by a young woman and the boat looked a bit worn and “Lived In”. As it pulled up, two dogs stuck their heads out of the front, and a boy of about 12 – 14 jumped out of the back with the aft line in his hand. When I
asked if they would pull as far forward as possible, he jumped to untie and move his mooring spot. The young woman piloting the boat needed to give him no instructions, he knew exactly what to do, and when Bill maneuvered our boat in behind, he immediately jumped to help tie us up as well.  As his mother packed a cart with washing and recycling, she told him to fill the water tank.

As I waited for him to finish (He tried to hook our boat up as well as his, but it would not work), he and I chatted. He told me about his two dogs. He told me about trying to fix the broken water tank cap (“You know how much they want for one of these ? 18 quid . . . . ridiculous!”). He asked where we were from and I asked him about living on a boat. He knew how to do anything on the boat, and his mother obviously trusted him to do it, as on one of her trips back and forth, she told him to move the boat if someone needed the water spot.

Moored by the Bridge
While he was filling his tank and helping me fill mine, he took both dogs for a walk, rode is bike to get a circular saw from someone he knew that he thought he could fix, and kept me completely entertained while I was filling the water tank.

I am enjoying this narrowboat vacation, but this stop for water gave me a completely different perspective of life on the canals. I enjoyed my brief visit with Alfie, and I developed a great deal of respect for the life he leads. My time filling the water tank with him added a great deal to the trip. Thanks Alfie!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Day Off

Rain Clouds Moving Away

After days of travelling on the canals and working the locks as we go, we have stopped for a

day at a town called Audlem. The weather was calling for lots of rain overnight and today, and we were ahead of schedule (Regis was driving the boat, and you all know how she drives . . .) We tied up just before the bridge to town at Lock 12, and had lunch at the tavern at the Bridge; yup, the pub is called “The Bridge”. This morning braved the rain, and moved the boat two locks, to moor just below the town where we could refill out water tank, and we are staying here for the day.

Sitting in the sun on the canal.
Although it rained all morning, this picture is where I am sitting writing my blog. The boat has two small sitting spots on the bow, and when we came back from sampling the lunch offerings at another of the town’s pubs, the sun was shining again and it is lovely. The folks in the boat moored ahead of us are a lovely British couple who we met at the water spot and they are doing the same as us, spending the day here. Across from me sits the “Autumn Mist” and as you can see it’s owner is also enjoying the lovely British day.

Our Neighbour
The rain has stopped the dark clouds are rolling off to the West, and there is lots of blue sky. I can hear the water leaking out of lock # 15 ahead of me, but it will have to wait for tomorrow, for the birds are singing and I can sit out here in my sweater enjoying the afternoon. People walk by on the towpath on my right with a friendly greeting, and the occasional boat slowly putters by on the left either heading up to Lock 14, or down to Lock 15 and the driver invariably gives us a wave or a friendly “Good Afternoon”.

The grass is green in the fields on either side of the canal, the leaves on the trees are just thinking about changing colour, the British Porter balanced on the gunnel beside me is delicious, and all is right with to world from my perspective.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What's In a Name?

The boat we are is called “Great Blue Heron”, and the last boat we had was the named after some other bird. All the ABC Boat Hire boats are named after birds. I already had Bill tell you about the boat named “Gandolf”. Not all the boats have names, but there appears to be quite the artistry in naming narrowboats.

Originally, when all the boats on the canals were working boats they were all painted serviceable black with only the small rear cabin being brightly painted. These cabins became true works of art, but the names on the boats were usually the names of the companies running the service. This of course was useful advertisement and fancy artistic lettering and bright colours would have been useful in attracting new customers. The restored narrowboats used for recreation on he canals today often carry on this tradition, although I doubt that the “Narrow Dog Trading Co.” or “L, M & D Light Transport” are actual companies trading or transporting on the canals, and I know that these boats carry only people out for a vacation on the canals.

As with many boats, the lady of the boat seems to get her name on the side, so there were lots of “Elisabeths”, Mary Ellens” or “Heathers”, but there were also male names such as “George”, “Tom” or “Alfred”. Of course cute names are always popular such as “Four Jacks (Carrying four Jack Russell Terriers), “Mixed Emotions”, or “Great Escape”. Some names however you have to wonder about. What is with the purple boat named “African Dream”; what is African about a Narrowboat? Or why paint your boat pink and name it “Trojan”? What is “Armadillo” “ish” about a Narrowboat? Also, Gandalf was not the only fictional character to get painted on a boat; Aslan the lion from C. S. Lewis also made the side of a boat.

Also featured on many boats are their home location. We did discover that you can actually put anything you want on here, so “Middle Earth” works as well as “Anderton Marina”, and if some farmer named “Henderson” rents out private mooring spots, the boats “location” becomes “Henderson’s Wharf”, so the whole process is pretty flexible.

There were some neat names. I enjoyed the “Blue Buzzard”, and looked hard to see if “Dorothy Goodbody” referred the body work on the boat or the boats owner.

How Narrow is Narrow?

Will we fit under here?
These boats are called “Narrowboats” because they are always only 7 feet wide. There are boats on the English canals that are wider, but they are limited in the canals they can use. Today we found out exactly why they are so narrow. The locks in this part of England are all single locks, and are just a foot or so wider than the boats, so it is tight sliding the boats into the locks. Our’s being a “hireboat” and rented to inexperienced and often inept folk form all over the world, it had plenty of scratches and scrapes from hitting the sides of the locks. One day we followed a boat that looked so perfect there were hardly any marks on it’s sides. I watch the lady driver slide that boat around a bend and into the lock with inches on either side without touching at all. I commented to her partner who was working the lock, “Wow, she is really good!”, and he proudly replied “Oh yea, she is VERY good!”. I cannot imagine even a day without scraping the bumpers of the boat on something, but their boat was pristine after weeks of use.

All the bridges are this narrow
Today my IPad map program warned us that there was a section coming up that was Narrow. This was through a section of rock where rather than build another series of locks to go up and then back down, or detouring a long way around the hill, they went through the rock, digging the canal. However, they did not make it the full width of most of the canals. Originally this section would have been wide enough for one boat to go through easily, but over the years, trees have narrowed it and weeds have obscured the sides, so it often looked like there was not room to put a boat through. You had to take your time and carefully thread your way through. To make it worse, one of these sections was so long that you could not see to the end, so oncoming boats could not see if anyone was in the narrow section. Travelling in September it is off-season, so the number of boats on the canals is much less than in the summer. We often go for a long time without meeting another boat, but approaching the end of this narrow cut, we saw two boats frantically trying to slow down before they entered the section as they saw us coming up. If you met another boat in this section of the canal, you would have to back up to a spot wide enough to squeeze by. The cut was designed with passing spots but the weeds and trees have claimed these spots in modern times.
Sliding through . .

Also very narrow are the bridges on this section of the canal. Apparently the wealthy land-owners insisted that the only way they would allow the canals to go through their land was if fancy tall bridges were built to show everyone that the surrounding countryside was owned by someone important. It appears that the canal companies appeased the land-owners, by building the bridges high and fancy, but made them extra narrow to recoup some of the extra cost. You have to squeeze through some of these with inches to spare on both sides, and the height of the bridges make them look even narrower.

Our boat has a few more Shropshire Stripes (that’s a NASCAR reference for those who don’t get it – Google up “Darlington Stripe”), but we made it through,

Forraging . .

Berries plenty . . .
We went to a presentation in Ottawa about Urban food foraging, but have never actually used those skills taught there until this trip. Although I must admit , a lot of foraging is being done in the delightful “Historical” pubs along the canal. While we of course are visiting because of the amazing historical significance of these structures, we have also managed to forage some meals from them. We have also managed to use some of the wildlife along the route to feed our faces.

Lots of Blackberries
Early on Bill discovered that blackberries were growing in amazing numbers along the canal. He disappeared at one stop for an hour, returning with a mug of berries which went on our cereal the next morning. He became a bit of a problem from then on, and we had to constantly remind him to “get on up and open the lock and leave those berries alone”. Finally we found ourselves in a lock with no boats waiting and a huge patch of berries glowing in the sunlight beside the lock, so we left the boat in the lock and picked a couple more mugs of delicious ripe blackberries.

Today Regis made excellent use of these berries and added some store-bought mixed berries as well as a ripe pear and mixed it up in a berry crumble.

Haggis on the hoof . . .
As she was baking this delicious desert we happened to be working our way up through a series of locks with three other boats. The smell of the crumble cooking was wafting out of the back hatch, and Bill commented that as much as he was enjoying the faint smell of the diesel engine pushing our craft along, he was finding the baking crumble a delicious alternative. As well the folk form the other boat working the locks with us were suggesting that they may forgo their planned trip to the pub to come get Regis’ desert. Although we assumed this was a friendly joke, they did ask “Where did you Canadians decide to moor?”.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Middle Earth

Bill Towndrow - Guest Blogger
Stopping in Barlasten, which featured the Wedgewood Museum and showroom, the girls went off to the museum while Bill and I went to the pub to quench our thirst after a long day of boating. Soon after we sat down a couple with a beautiful “long-haired” greyhound came in and sat down with a couple of pints. Bill went up to the dog who was so friendly (The Pub had a clearly written rule welcoming “Well Behaved Dogs”), and this dog immediately nuzzled into him to be patted. I also went up and chatted with the people, but Bill was there for a while discussing dogs, boats and other canal items as he discovered these folks were also on a boat.

Following a delicious meal of burgers, Rabbit stew and gnocchi, we wandered back to the boat. Bill started telling Margaret about a “Really Nice” boat named “Gandolf”  back a ways that he wanted her to see, and while Regis and I went back to the boat, they went walking to see this boat.

It turned out that  “Gandolf” was owned by the Greyhound and his friendly family. Bill loves chatting with people about their boats and when he and Margaret explained how much they loved the boat they got invited inside for a tour. The rest of this Blog is being done by a “Guest Blogger” Bill Towndrow as he describes this beautiful craft.

Bills New Friend
Start with a bare hull, in this case a “traditional” design which means that starting from aft, there is a low headroom cabin fitted with a small coal fired cook stove surrounded by pine cabinetry making use of every cubic inch for function. The stove is important, not only can you cook and bake with it, it keeps the boatman as s/he steers, warm during inclement weather. This is a traditional boatman’s cabin and in days when these were workboats, whole families were raised in this space only a few feet long.

Forward of this is the engine room. The engine is much like ours, perhaps a little more powerful.

(Although we heard, and glimpsed, some beautiful vintage 2 cylinders put-putting away as they passed.) The difference, as the lady of the boat said was her favourite part, is that this engine is in it’s own compartment.  You pass by the engine as you pass forward to the main cabin. Above you is a small two sided skylight called a pigeon box, and two wide doors on the side to allow venting of engine heat when the radiated heat was not wanted.  Whether this heat was directed on board or vented to the outside, the heat first dried the laundry hanging around the space. If you spend a week or two in a small floating space, an area to dry towels and basic laundry items is much appreciated. Also, there would be no pleasure servicing our engine, located under the plates where the tiller is located. This engine is low down but fully accessible, just like an engine room on the largest sea-going ship. And like its larger sea-going sisters, it has a long propeller shaft and hence the reason for the rear cabin being less than 6’ high.
Where in England is this?

Also, decorating all these spaces, the lady of the boat painted traditional castles and roses, all beautifully executed.

But it gets better…  Moving forward from the engine compartment you enter a galley and saloon that is bright, spacious and airy.  Every piece of wood, real wood, not laminate panels, was crafted and fitted by the man of the boat with help from her ladyship. All painted in cream, with the area below the gunnels paneled in varnished pine, it felt like a cozy palace. I know that’s an oxymoron but it felt warm and inviting as well as spacious. Fitted with a new technology diesel cooktop and stove, a diesel space heater, a dining table for 4 that still allowed someone by, wooden floors and even a well-equipped spice rack.  Oh, and before I forget, two very comfy armchairs and ottoman. This is a space you can live in.

And the traditional paintings of castles, etc, definitely took on a Tolkien-like fantasy as the artist herself, this lady of the boat, expressed her artistic license. The dragon “Smaug” even graced the inside of the forward saloon doors. Outside, on the bow, was “Gandalf” in Middle Earth script, in case you missed his name painted on the side.

You can have your glamorous, “bespoke”, boat. Give me this hand crafted, personalized work of design and art. When you enter a space and immediately relax, it is a compliment to the craftsmen - this husband and wife team who bought the bare hull, spent 2 weeks camping on it bringing it home, then spent 3 years creating what is truly unique, truly individual.

And the “port” of registry – Splatt Bridge, (love the British place names) where they keep their house, Middle Earth. So the question is: is Splatt Bridge a portal to Middle Earth? Because while she convinced me Splatt Bridge is real in our world, she never claimed Middle Earth was.

Oh, Oh NO GO!!!

The Engineer at work
When you rent these narrowboats, they give you about 15 minutes of instruction, and this includes a brief explanation of that mysterious thing that purrs, growls putters and vibrates under your feet pushing the boat through the canals. For some renters I expect it must be strange to have to check the oil, pump grease onto the propeller shaft, and reach into the murky water in the prop access box, but for me this is all part of the fun; I enjoy working with anything mechanical, and the other day I actually had to do a repair of sorts.

We had just gone through a lock and I powered out of the lock with no problem and docked at the British Waterways water access point to fill our water tank. However when I went to leave, the boat would not go forward. The propeller was spinning in reverse, but when I put it into forward, the boat moved backwards . . . way weird . . .

Pulling up the access hatches (Makes it sound like a real BIG boat), to give me room to see
The Cause of the Problem . . .
all the bits that make the boat go. Everything looked in order and there were no exploded transmissions or fluid leaks, so the next thing was to open the prop hatch and see what was down there. Now even though it is only about a foot down through the water to see the propeller and it’s shaft, the water is VERY muddy! So, looking down is not usually on option; you have to roll up your sleeves and reach down and feel around.

I was expecting perhaps a tangle of weeds, but instead my hands contacted fabric, a tangle of something unexpected . . . feeling around with a fair bit of trepidation, I finally determined it to be an old mat. Probably like one of the annoying mats in our boat situated at each door that refused to lie flat and having to be readjusted constantly.

Underway again - leaving Bill behind
Tugging did nothing, and it refused to budge, so my handy French “Opinel” belt knife came out and I started slicing bits away blindly under the water. I was finally able to extract a large hunk of ugly matting, and the shaft was clear.

Secure the prop hatch, close down the engine hatches, fire up the diesel and engage forward. Water churned out the back of the boat and we were underway. McGiver succeeds again . . . .