Get yourself a cuppa and put your feet up, this is a long post.
Having seen New Year in on the North Stratford Canal we commenced the new year by cruising in to Birmingham or as Tilly would have it know, BUMingham, she’s not too keen!
A meeting with Amy from Dark Horse Theatre Company about a project in the summer set out our years cruising as I’d need to be in Huddersfield then York for the show. Then it was time to pack and get myself ready for ten days in Vienna. This would be the longest I’ve been away from boat life since we set out in 2014. Half of my clothes were packed up along with a basic scene painting kit and I jetted off to what was a mixed experience. Despite the problems I had a wonderful time working with a great team in the theatre, I hope one day to return.
Whilst I marvelled at the wonderful scenes in Vienna and pulled my hair out at work, trying to keep a calm exterior, Mick and Tilly headed back out into the countryside towards Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham. Here they met up with a friend Chris who was planning a boat build.
Mick and Tilly came back into Birmingham to pick me up and then we set about exploring the BCN. There is plenty to explore and we didn’t quite manage to go everywhere, but we did our best.
We headed up Smethwick New Locks onto the Old Main line. Stopped at Dudley Port Basin, coconuts accompanied us down Brades Staircase, then through Netherton Tunnel where we’d planned on visiting Hawne Basin, but thick ice thwarted our first attempt. The following day we succeeded and had a bumpy ride along the Dudley No 2 to fill our diesel tank.
Factory Locks brought us back onto the Old Main Line, we visited Wolverhampton, turned onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal and wiggled our way through the rubbish to Pelsall Junction. Here we had a wonderful get together with my bestestest friend and her son Ted (my Godson) who were over from Sydney, an all but too short lunch with them before they headed onwards on their whistlestop tour of England.
The Cannock Extension and Anglesey Branch were ticked off followed by the Daw End Branch, The Rushall Canal, Tame Valley Canal and up the Ryders Green Locks back into the centre of BUMingham early February.
I designed costumes and made the white card model for The Garden for Dark Horse whilst we sat out storm Ciara which was to wipe out the Figure of Three Locks on the Calder Hebble. The damage to the locks looked great and not fixable quickly, a rethink to our cruising route was needed for me to get to work in the summer.
We went to the Symphony Hall and listened to Schubert and Berg spurred on by Dimitrios from NB Galene. Storm Dennis kept us from cruising to our next evening of entertainment at Titford Pump House, a bus replacement did the job so that we could see Alarum Theatre Company’s Acts of Abandonment. Little did we know at the time that this was to be our last live theatre until December.
A night out in the countryside for Tilly and a last night in the city to fill our bellies with curry. Then we were off again, up Smethwick Locks under the M5 where the scaffolding was being taken down. We turned up the Oldbury Locks following a boat that turned out to be NB Sola Gratia. A spin round the Titford Pools was in order before we returned for another diesel top up at Hawne Basin.
The Walsall Canal now beckoned us, that was a bumpy ride over trolleys, trees and all sorts! A fantastic fabric shop, the New Art Gallery right by our mooring and The Leather Museum kept our interest for a couple of days before we climbed up the Walsall Locks back up to Wyrley and Essington Canal.
The ladies at Urban Moorings welcomed us for an overnight visit, time to work the washing machine hard as we plugged into the electric. Then we kept our fingers crossed for a mooring at The Black Country Museum, which thankfully worked.
Marion and John came to meet us for an afternoon at the museum and we all enjoyed fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar in between visiting shops and watching chain links being made. The following day we took a boat trip into the Dudley Tunnel, had a second visit to the museum along with a portion of chips before heading out to moor in Tipton and have a visit from Heather from NB Bleasdale, followed by a pie at Mad O’Roukes Pie Factory.
The 7th of March saw us descend the Wolverhampton 21, leaving the Birmingham plateau behind us. Blimey we managed to pack a lot into the first ten weeks of the year! Just as well really. Onto the Shroppie where I had my first successes with gluten free sour dough bread, Tilly got to remember life in the countryside and we were treated to Shroppie Sunsets again.
The recent storms had brought down numerous trees and caused landslips so our progress was a touch slow heading northwards. We had a lovely lunch with Alison and Laura the Margees at Norbury Junction, they were to be our last visitors on board Oleanna for quite sometime.
Passing NB Bessie Surtees on the Tyrley Locks we actually got chance to chat for the first time. A stop to stock up in Market Drayton, we saw our first homemade mask (a pair of y fronts repurposed) and the start of empty shelves in supermarkets with people gleeful to have a twelve pack of toilet roll under their coat.
The Audlem flight was busy with plenty going down and NB Mountbatten coming up, delivering coal as they went. Theatres closed that day and we started to put into practice new ways of working locks hoping to keep ourselves safe. As we socially distanced around the shops in Nantwich people were joking about the virus. We shopped, adapting what we bought to what was available and then got ready for our first Zoom with family on the 21st March.
We stocked up with NB Halsall at Calverley then made our way onto the Middlewich Branch and down Cholmondeston Lock. The following morning (23rd March) we listened to our gut instincts. If lockdown was to happen we’d rather not have to negotiate locks to get to shops or services, so we winded and headed back up Cholmondeston Lock onto the Nantwich pound. Our gut instinct was correct.
The next few days we saw plenty of boats moving, finding places they wanted to spend the coming weeks, heading for home or temporary ones like NB Briar Rose. Jac my sister in law eventually managed to get a flight back from Melbourne where she’d been to celebrate her Mum’s birthday, at last everyone was where they should be.
We tried different moorings out for size as the need to fill with water or get shopping arose. It was also good to keep Tilly moving, both to stop her from getting bored and to help the local wildlife survive.
Our decision to be on the Nantwich pound turned out to be a good one, we ended up mooring at the bottom of Hurleston on the visitor moorings most, this became ‘Home’ for us where we watched spring turn into summer.
Watching the field behind the hedge be ploughed, planted and start to grow. Listening to the Lapwings enjoying the bounty in the potato fields. Getting to know our neighbours at a distance. The wheelie shoppers. The huskies out for their morning walk. The egg farm at the top of the locks. Weekly veg boxes from Nantwich Veg Boxes which we collected for ourselves and NB AreandAre. Supermarket deliveries were sought each week, sometimes only managing click and collect. The sun shone and Tilly had freedom. The coal boats kept us stocked up with fuel and our waterless (composting) toilet took one need to move out of the equation.
By mid-April my design for The Garden had been reimagined into an illustrated audio play. I was to do the illustrations, then they would have audio and some animation added to be available online. Chippy panto started to gear up with the hope that all would be back to normal-ish by the end of November for the show to be mounted.
We winded, went for walks, watched plays on the internet, winded, ate cheese scones, winded again! Tilly ventured further afield, across her field. We had barbeques, brownies and watched the reservoir banks get mown by remote control.
By Mid-May we were allowed to travel, so we hired a car for a day trip to Scarborough to see how our house was after the tenants had lost it during lockdown. In need of some tlc we now made plans for the rest of the year. We would be returning to life on land for a while, but planned on cruising as much as we could before then.
On the 23rd of May the suspension of the 14 day rule was lifted, our ‘home’ mooring was now 48 hours only so it was time to start moving again. Some boats around Hurleston headed off straight away, others remained a full 14 days before pushing off. We spent the next two weeks pootling to the far ends of the pound, Hack Green and Calvereley, the gunnels got a repaint and we said farewell to NB AreandAre who were heading up onto the Llangollen.
With a full boat of veg and fruit from Nantwich Veg boxes, a Sainsburys shop and a visit from NB Halsall we were ready and on the 10th June we pushed our ‘home’ mooring away for the last time this year, Calverely was visited for a top up of water a toilet refresh and then we were off, turning onto the Middlewich Branch and descending Cholmondeston Lock, our first lock in 80 days. New gardening gloves became my boaters PPE and worked well, better than sanitising every five minutes.
Across onto the Trent and Mersey where we headed for Bramble Cuttings for a couple of nights. We’d been hoping to be able to drop down onto the Weaver but the Anderton Boat lift was still closed. So instead we winded at Whatcroft flash and headed up the Cheshire Locks hoping to catch Bosley Locks being open for a day to make our way onto the summit pound of the Macclesfield.
It was nice being back on familiar ground again, although it took a little while to be able to do the Trent and Mersey hurdles over the lockgate beams with ease after sitting still for so long.
Our chairs were brought out onto the towpath to watch the setting sun at Tilly Railings and a barbeque was enjoyed on the Dane Aqueduct as we waited in line for Bosley Locks to open.
With a single hander in front and one behind everyone helped out where we could making our passage up the locks a very jolly if hot one that only took 2.5 hours. Over the next ten days or so we pootled our way along the Macclesfield Canal, such a lovely stretch of water and oh those bridges! Still our favourites.
Calling in at Bollington Wharf we had our gas locker lid mended and had a top up of diesel. Foxgloves filled the canal banks and woods, we stopped at favourite spots along the way turning under the snake bridge at Marple onto the Peak Forest Canal at the end of June, heading for Whaley Bridge and Bugsworth Basin.
Saturday 4th July the pubs could re-open, we however went for a walk and waited for our delivery from Sainsburys along with a diesel top up from NB Alton. A batch of cheese scones were made to help us down the Marple flight on the 7th, we were the second boat down and it felt like we were pioneering boats going where no one had gone for months.
A couple of nights at Droylesden Marina saw to the washing pile and to recharge our batteries before we descended into Manchester. Our last narrow lock of the year was to be Ancotes Bottom Lock 1 on the Ashton Flight where we paused for a night at Telford Basin before tackling the Rochdale 9 on our own the following day. Patience and sheer determination got us out of Lock 92 at the bottom and was rewarded with a cheese scone as we made our way out to the Bridgewater Canal and Worsely.
The 14th July saw us rising up the Wigan Flight. We’d made arrangements to share the locks with NB Billy but it was decided by the volunteer lock keepers that they might be over long to share with, so instead we teamed up with John and Lindsey on NB Merganser. With the help of the Wigan Flight crew setting ahead we made good time up the flight, we then slowed down leaving the others to head off ahead of us.
The next few days we found ourselves leapfrogging NB Billy, or should that be hopfrogging? But we finally caught them up at Blackburn to share the locks. Another spectacular sunset was enjoyed by all near Foster Swing Bridge.
We’d planned to take our time along this stretch, but with local lockdowns looking possible in the area we decided to push on. The Burnley Embankment was busy with walkers and not a place to stop so we continued on to the bottom of Barrowford Locks. The following day we were caught up again by NB Billy so we shared the final flight up to the summit with Clare and Pete.
Our sixth anniversary of being fulltime boaters happened to coincide with pulling up at our favourite mooring on the network, the curley wurlys above Bank Newton. The following day the clouds lifted and we got to see the view. A barbecue was just managed before it started to rain.
It wasn’t quite plain sailing down into Skipton as the skipper of NB Amelie ended up in the cut at the bottom of Bank Newton and then we had problems with lock gates and swing bridges. Mick and I had an overnight in Scarborough leaving Tilly in charge and with the magic food bowl primed. On our return to Skipton we were met by two octogenarians leaning out of the upstairs windows of their house waving. We joined Margaret and Robert for a lovely meal, good to see them even if we were a bit nervy being in their company inside.
Sunny weather accompanied us onwards and finally I managed to take the photo I’ve been after for four years, Oleanna coming towards me under Parson’s Bridge. Now we have the matching pair, Lillian going away from us, Oleanna towards.
At Bingley five rise we teamed up with NB Barley to descend with the help of Lock Keeper Clare, carrying on to Saltaire in the sunshine.
A pause in Rodley meant we could meet up with friends Graham and Tracy in their new garden room, very nice to have a good catch up with them. The following day we took the opportunity to have lunch with my cousins Julie and John, our first pub in months.
Meeting up with Jenny and Andy on NB Barley again we shared the locks down into Leeds with them early the next day. A lack of water meant it took an hour to do one pound as water was let down from above, but we made it in the end to Granary Wharf. Shame the lack of water followed us, in fact the basin did a good job of emptying itself overnight. It took quite a few hours before boats had enough water to be afloat again, we all made a hasty exit as soon as we could.
Back into the big locks of the Aire and Calder we motored on to Ferrybridge where now only three of the power station cooling towers remain, a very sad sight.
Down Bank Dole Lock, the slow filler and we headed to Selby. Our trip up the Tidal Ouse was an interesting one a there were SO many trees floating about, we had to try our best to loose them before passing through what few bridges there were. Kingfishers escorted us just about all the way to Naburn which was a real treat. Instead of pulling up in York we decided to head on up to Ripon, we’d spend time in York on our way back, or so we thought!
Above Boroughbridge a familiar boat came into view, NB Billy. This was the last time our bows would cross this year. At Oxclose Lock we had some time for Tilly to explore before heading up into Ripon Basin to meet up with Robert and Margaret again and for Tilly to show off her ability to spot otters.
On our way downstream the river was rising, we stopped off for a meal at The Dawney Arms making the most of the Eat out to Help out deal. Wonderful food and chance to meet up with Kerry the Landlady and hoped that the river level would ease overnight. Fortunately it did and we made our way in to York. We had hoped to meet up with old friends whilst we were in the area, it turned out the only people I got to see where Jaye and Duncan for lunch. Social distancing, rising rivers sadly put paid to seeing other people.
Over the next ten days the river rose twice. On one fall we made it back into York to pick up a supermarket delivery but very quickly headed back to Naburn where we ended up breasting up in a line of four boats tied to the floating pontoon by the water point. Levels didn’t rise so much as to necessitate wellies or waders, but it did put paid to the London Leckenbys joining us for a few days at the nearby campsite. A big disappointment all round.
But on the 31st August levels had dropped sufficiently for us to head back to Selby accompanied by Richard and Heather on NB Isabella, new boat owners. Naburn was their very first lock, Selby was to be their second! It was such a beautiful morning, we led the way but then let them go first when we reached Selby, we were likely to be able to stem the tide better, but they managed the lock with ease.
At West Haddelsey we had a visit from Bridget and Storm, so lovely to see them. We’d planned on being good and sitting out, they’d even brought their own chairs and the camper van for their own toilet. But as it started to rain we bent the rules taking shelter inside Oleanna. This was the day I gave a second phone to the god of the cut.
For a replacement we headed down to Goole, calling in at Viking Marina to check we would have a mooring later in the month. After filling up with cheap diesel we then headed off up toward Doncaster and Sprotbrough where we caught up with Mick’s niece Fran, before returning back onto the Aire and Calder to do maintenance jobs and enjoy our last days onboard.
On the 18th September we pulled into our berth at the marina, finished off the contents of the freezer and started to pack. Two trips in a hire car to Scarborough and we were moved, Tilly joining us the second time.
Back then we imagined we’d be down to Oleanna doing jobs on day trips and by now we’d have had a couple of weeks out on the cut, but this simply wasn’t to be.
Jobs in the house keep me busy, along with starting work on the postponed Chippy panto. Mick for a while applied for supermarket jobs, hoping to be a delivery driver. The only job he was offered was as a meet and greeter just before Novembers lockdown. We both decided that maybe we’d cope without the money.
Then before Christmas came the news of the Aire and Calder breach. Fortunately plenty of people are keeping an eye on all the boats including Oleanna.
Blimey what a year!
So our vital statistics for the year 2020 according to canal plan are
Total distance is 792 miles, 2 ½ furlong and 339 locks . There are 82 moveable bridges of which 5 are usually left open; 233 small aqueducts or underbridges and 41 tunnels – a total of 19 miles 6 ¾ furlongs underground and 8 major aqueducts.
This is made up of 365 miles, ¼ furlongs of narrow canals; 242 miles, 4 ¾ furlongs of broad canals; 81 miles, 3 ¾ furlongs of commercial waterways; 76 miles, 1 ¾ furlongs of small rivers; 0 miles of large rivers; 27 miles of tidal rivers; 202 narrow locks; 118 broad locks; 18 large locks; 1 lock on major waterways.
Sadly with Oleanna’s log book where it should be, onboard, I’m not able to offer up the engine hours, litres of diesel, gas bottle or bags of coal. This year I can’t even work out how many boxes of wine we’ve gone through!
However I can tell you that from one page of journeys on our trip computer, missing out all the journeys in between the start of the page and the end, the total distance travelled would have been 2.25 furlongs. Instead it actually amounted to 56 miles 7.5 furlongs with 19 winds (turning around). This was of course in Lockdown 1. Grand total number of winds this year, 67.
Here’s hoping that the pandemic calms down, we all get vaccinated and the breach on the Aire and Calder gets sorted so that we can go boating again. After all we didn’t plan to move back on land permanently!