Saturday, 26 August 2017


I never blogged the gap on our Canal cruise from the Shroppie to the Staffs & Worcs to the T & M. Writer’s privilege prevailed and I moved swiftly to blog the Caldon Canal and leave us on the T & M. T & M is Trent & Mersey Canal.

Now we know that DB is measured to fit the uninviting Harecastle Tunnel one future day but no current plans for that. 45 minutes under the low undulating roof is not an attractive call.

We have moved swiftly but slowly along the T & M remembering that speed is not for the Canals. The series of Locks at Stoke-on-Trent had a few boats on the move but no lengthy queues. I was at the wheel, as my back was giving me a spot of grief when I worked the Locks and it was best to take heed of the pain, medicate and not irritate. I am enjoying steering DB, I am not overwhelmed by her length anymore. We stopped at Trentham (pr. Trent-ham) as there is an Aldi a couple of bus stops away. Me and my trolley walk the distance and it is the best way to carry shopping, I am a Trolley Dolly on land! The previous week we moored in Trentham, under the threat of stormy black clouds. I had walked to Aldi and was indoors, there, when the ‘heavens’ opened and I heard loud bursts of thunder. Under the artificial lights, I couldn’t see the lightning flashes but I knew the storm was overhead and I was stuck in Aldi for a long time. It was still raining when I decided to leave but I think the spray from passing road traffic was wetter than the falling rain as I trudged along.

Still, that was then and this time there was no rain. Untie the ropes and DB cruised on past WEDGEWOOD. That’s what the sign looks like, hardly an aesthetic draw card given the timelessness of Wedgewood fine china and porcelain.

We moored DB at Barlaston right outside The Plume of Feathers, Neil Morrissey’s pub. It was a good mooring for the night and looked popular but we stayed on board DB, tired and content. We made an early start the following morning hoping to get good moorings in Stone. Chris had the Lock work to do and I was left sitting at the bottom of the Lock, as he went on to prepare the Lock ahead before returning to let me out. All good in theory. The second Lock, was a very leaky Lock and wouldn’t stay at optimum fullness to let the gate open with the muscle of one person. I moved DB so the nose was close to the shut gate and Chris tied the gate to DB’s nose and I reversed back and eventually, the gate opened! I took DB into the Lock and Chris opened one sluice gate, to let DB go down slowly and I went and made real coffee. It felt like I was ‘trapped’ and I was happy to see the Lock Gates open. The next Lock was a short distance away but not close and I thought I saw someone, human, at that Lock. I shouted out to Chris but when I looked again I didn't see anyone. As I neared the Lock someone was there opening the gates for a boat coming up! ‘Our’ Lock had been stolen!! At the time, we weren’t happy but I can see, now, that the person wouldn’t have seen DB was in the Lock ahead and wouldn’t have been aware that the ‘dog walker’ heading in the other direction would have been responsible for filling the Lock. Yes, the clue is if the Lock paddles are wound up and the Lock is close to being full then someone has done this for a reason. I don’t think our meeting was friendly. Oh well, there are plenty more boats on the Cut!

We stayed a couple of nights in Stone, checked out the many charity shops and waited for the sun to shine. We purchased a much-needed chimney hood at the friendly Chandlery in Stone. A couple of nights and we were ready to move on. I had been walking Della, late afternoon, the day before and I heard “Hello Sarah” from a holiday boat arriving at the Lock moorings. It was Ross and Dan, gongoozlers who we had met, on land, on the Llangollen Canal. How cool, they are taking the first steps to begin the dream of a new life living on the Cut. We passed them the next day, they were looking so happy and I’m sure they’ll have their own boat soon.
Weston upon Trent

It was cool that the sun made a rare appearance on the day we left Stone. It was a beautiful summer’s day, closer to an autumn day but the leaves on the trees are still green.  We weren’t long on the move when we spotted a sunny mooring at Weston upon Trent and decided to stop for breakfast. It looked like a nice spot so we called it a day. No need to move on, we were meeting a friend from NZ in Rugeley and we were well on time for that plan. We took a late afternoon walk into the village and were surprised to find a couple of home produce stalls just off the Canal. One had fresh eggs and we saw the chickens roaming free nearby. I put Della on a lead to remind her that these weren’t ‘chase me’ chickens as I knew she would be keen to play with them! We’ll never forget the time she came running out of the Truby King Reserve, in the grounds of the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, Otago, NZ. Della had a feathered friend, a chicken, held gently but firmly in her mouth. She released the chook and it scampered off.

On the walk into town, we passed a cutting at the side of the road which had enormous puffball mushrooms growing. Getting more information later, from the internet, we verified that puffballs were not toxic and we watched them being cooked on Youtube. Cptn went back and picked one and I prepared it....cut it like a loaf of bread, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil, lightly fry it then place it under the grill until it is golden.
Slice of Puffball

We moved on to the outskirts of Rugeley waiting for our friend to arrive to stay with us for two days to cruise to Burton-upon-Trent.  
Nice view near Aquaduct over R.Trent, Rugeley

It felt like we were moving to familiar waters, the threat of rain was holding off and just as we were untying the ropes a Narrowboat came into view from behind. 

Dead centre of Rugeley

There was no way I was going to cut in front of them but the draw of the water pulled DB back towards the boat moored behind. I throttled forward and bow thrust into the Cut to avoid contact with the boat moored in front. Matey, on the moving NB was only slightly in front but no contact was made. I kept DB, at a distance, behind and was going past at Tic as they were mooring up at the Tesco mooring.
“SLOW DOWN!!!” they yelled
They were angry. No time to explain. Best I forget.

We are bumping, not literally, into boat
people we knew from Mercia Marina. We did spend about 2 years there and for that time the gated marina was our home. It was a surprise to see Cptn being warmly greeted at the Top Lock at Fradley Junction. I didn’t recognise, the people, from a distance but it was Christine and Adrian. Nice to see them, they moved away from Mercia a couple of years ago as well. Then when we moored in a tight mooring between 2 Nb’s at Alrewas, on the Nb behind us was Sharon and Trev. Sharon had made the curtains for Avalon Mist and she had told us of a garage being advertised for rent when we needed a place to put our boxes shipped from NZ. That was then....
Alrewas wasn’t as busy as former times we have been there. In fact the Canals we have cruised along are not busy. C&RT have done well keeping boats on the move and moorings that have people overstaying are no longer noticeable.
Stop talking and let me out!

The cruise to Burton-upon-Trent was quiet, with little waiting time at the Locks. I was steering DB as I was still having time out from the Locks to avoid ‘heavy’ work. 

Cruising a straight stretch of Canal beside the busy A38 and I was aware there was a Nb coming towards me. I moved to the (R), as is the rule, and it swerved in slow motion to its (L) which means it is on ‘my’ side of the Cut. It looked like it was going to ‘wind’ but it wasn’t right whatever it was doing. I made to move to my (L) and it pulled out to its (R), so I moved back to my (R). Whatever!
As we passed and got stern to stern
“What are you doing?” I called out, puzzled.
“Wild Geese.” he said.
“APOLOGIES.” he said.
Miscommunication as hearing gets lost due to the noise of the boat engine and the nearby motorway.
Wild Geese, I like it. It could be in the Boaty slang Ducktionary....
No wild geese in this lot.
Shobnall Fields is a good mooring in Burton and it is just slightly more than a hop skip and jump into town. But I was on a mission to get my Ukulele back into play and I had made stringing it into a problem. I knew there was a Music shop, and I took my Uke to Pete Oakley Music to get my baby restrung and while I remembered to get a stud put on it so I could have a strap attached. Yay, my Uke sounds playable again.

Shobnall Fields

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


Etruria Sanitary Station.

We are loosely following the 4 Counties Ring so why not use the possibility of 4 weather forecasts to predict the conditions we may be cruising under. It’s all very well to hope that cruising will only take place, for us, under predicted fair-weather. The %-age risk of rain minimally varies but the time it may fall differs. Gone are the days, here, when the heart spoken words “What a glorious summer day” could last for the whole day let alone ½ a day. We are on the west-ish side of the Island and maybe that is part and parcel of the land/Oceanic climate here. But for the sake of sanity under the Jet Stream the polar front has stalled over the UK bringing wet and windy weather. Then the talk moves to Jet Streak... So much information, maybe it should just be called Jet Maelstrom. Anyway, instead of saying “What a beautiful day”, I am saying “What a warm sunny day at 9.30, this morning, and now, at 10.53 it's raining cats and dogs.” The weather may as well be timely in its description. 

One morning, on the Caldon Canal I woke up, I wake up every morning, the day was dawning treating me with a clear blue sky and when I rose a ray of sun shine beamed through a crystal hanging in the port hole window. Happy vibes! I dressed, early, to take Della for her morning walk. Della is a creature of habit and knows that when she has done her business it will be her same-as- always doggy breakfast, James Well Beloved biscuits soaked in water with a taste of added Pilchards. So we get off DB and I look into her black dog eyes to tune into which direction to take the walk – I look and point saying “That way, or the other way?” Decisively I command “That way.” I want to take a photo of nasty Bridge 42 while we are moored at Cheddleton.
See the gouged bridge!!

The arch of the Bridge is low over the Canal and has bitten other boats and it grabbed the starboard side of DB's front wooden wheelhouse panel. Honestly truthfully I wasn’t going fast and I had throttled back in reverse to slow almost to a stop to avoid contact. I turned on the bow-thruster, bzzt bzzt sounded as I buzzed to Port too late and the panel got grabbed but not swallowed. It looked and sounded worse at the time it happened. I am not happy about being involved in damage.  

Beyond the weather has been the journey along the Caldon Canal. We went on this Canal as far as Cheddleton in 2011 on Nb Avalon Mist. I remember it was and still is a narrow Canal and there were some windy days. I had my first attempt at ‘winding’ (turning the boat around) at Cheddleton, we didn’t venture to Bridge 42! 

Cheddleton, AM 2011...hi-vis marks the spot
After ‘winding’ AM I had jumped onto the towpath holding her stern rope and one of my feet went straight into a one-foot deep muddy hole. That must hold some humour! I wasn’t happy but no bones were broken, I remember it well. BW (British Waterways) were quick to the scene with orange high-vis to mark the point of danger!

I like the Caldon Canal, it is a quiet Canal with little boat traffic. Once we had moved out of the Potteries area and the Stoke-on-Trent ‘burbs we went past Hanley Park, nice but I wouldn’t moor there, and out into beautiful rural land. We moored further on, past Milton, and chatted with happy people walking the clean asphalted Towpath and picking the ripening blackberries.
Near Milton

“You wouldn’t think there was this beauty so close to Stoke.” said a happy pedestrian. 
I think  ‘Keep that a secret from the Southerners.’ 

We turned onto the Leek Branch of the Caldon Canal to make the short 2-mile cruise to the end of the Leek line. It was well worth it, the countryside is gorgeous green forested and lush. There was wood on the towpath from a fallen oak tree. Tempting but the canal was too shallow to get alongside the towpath and the lengths of tree were too heavy to ‘person-handle’. 
Leek Branch

Further along is the 130 yd Leek Tunnel. 

No difficulty for us to go through this tunnel, and it was the cleanest tunnel we have seen in our experience of passing through Tunnels on the waterways. There are a few moorings at the end of the Leek Branch but the moored boats were not close together and we struggled to moor. We tied up and met land friends who had driven to Leek to meet up with us outside Morrisons! Their journey was 25 miles, by car, and took just over an hour. When I phoned them to say we were close to Leek, our journey was about 1 1/2 miles, by boat and 1/2 mile on foot and took us about 1 1/2 hours. It is an IQ challenge to work out distance and timing as a water gypsy!

Later, we cruised back to be near to the Caldon Canal for an early start, the next day when we cruised as far as we could along the Canal past Cheddleton and onto the River Churnet. It was like being in the Botanical Gardens on the R. Churnet. 

R. Churnett

Beautiful and a couple of floating tree trunks purposely blocked the weir meaning a sharp turn to Port put us back on the Canal cruising a narrow stretch past the Consall Railway Station.
Consall Railway

We had to wind at Flint Mill Lock as DB is too wide at her cabin top for the Froghall Tunnel. Nevermind, next time I will walk the towpath!

The Holly Bridge, Denford

The Caldon Canal is worth the cruise from the beginning of the Canal at Etruria off the Trent and Mersey Canal. There is history along the way and there is no need to cruise the distance at speed. Be wary of the bridges, they are low. Another small accident was the low chimney got taken out under another bridge arch. That was owner error and I should have made sure the flat chimney cap was in situ! It was time to replace it, anyway!

The days' end of our journey was a fast, we thought, 2-mile cruise from Etruria to the Harecastle Tunnel. 

We thought being so close to the Tunnel we should measure up with the skilful advice of the Tunnel Keeper to see if DB would be able to make passage through it one day in the future. "YES" was the answer but we would be placed at the end of the queue so we would have no pressure to move at speed. It is a long tunnel, and there are low heights to be wary of. One day I will steer her through. Cptn has taken AM through 3 times and doesn't enjoy it. I think our lighting is better and I'm up for the job! 
Measuring up!


We thought that we would be able to Wind at the tunnel. We tried but we are too long.
Clear this bit away and it may be possible to Wind!!

Reversed back to Westport Lake, the Bowthrusters battery was tired but Cptn did the job well. Next day it was only a couple of bridges and the battery had recharged and we were able to wind and head in the right direction along the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Reversing looks easy!


A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.