Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Up the Junction
We left the Trent & Mersey temporarily last Saturday week as we turned right at Great Haywood Junction into the Staffs & Worcs canal. On the aerial photo we entered from the bottom left and left from the right, crossing the River Trent.

Gecko has been having a little rest in Stafford Boat Club whilst we attended various events further south. On Friday I went to Hampton Court for a cultural evening - jazz and beer. On Saturday afternoon I joined a guided tour of the London Transport Acton Depot and on Sunday we went to a garden party in Penn. Monday we trekked over to Beale Park for the IWA National Festival.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Look after the Pennies...
Returned from a few days in the Lakes. Younger son, Doug, and family rented a cottage in Bowness for a week and we joined them for Dominic's third birthday. Weather forecast was heeded - rain all week - so left the shorts I have been wearing since March on Gecko. Weather, needless to say, was beautiful. Last time we went to Bowness, Dougie was eight months old and it was the last week in April. Uninterrupted sunshine on the day we arrived and we spent the afternoon walking along the Lancaster canal. Next morning we could not see the lake which was all of 12ft from our window. Heavy snow was falling. Whilst we contemplated our next move a lorry slid down the hill and into the reception area. Anticipating the chaos a snowfall causes to road traffic I extracted the OS map and plotted an escape route on country lanes where we would meet no other vehicles. We eventually struck the M6 without problem and headed south. CalledTrust House Forte central booking from the services to give them our direction and requirements (pre mobiles). Called again at each service station until they confirmed a booking for us in Stratford-upon-Avon - well clear of the snow chaos. On our second morning there we awoke to a blanket of snow again and so repeated the process hoping for Salisbury as our next resting place. We finally came to rest in Abingdon which was only a half-hour drive from home. That is why I took the forecast of never-ending rain in August seriously .
The weather was fine when we set off this morning. First we had to empty the toilet cassettes and fill up with water. Before this was completed Kathleen and Robert - fellow Landmark Friends - had arrived for a trip to Radford Bank. The attraction here, in addition to the comfortable moorings, is the Radford Bank Inn where the carvery is still £3.59 all day Mon-Sat. On Sundays it is £3 more. The junction at Great Haywood is one of the busiest on the English canal network and BW still do not have a sanitary station there. Elsan facilities are provided by the Anglo Welsh hire base so it costs £1 to empty the toilet. So much for spending a penny!

Friday, 20 August 2010

English Rope Tricks - lesson 5
The Leeds & Liverpool canal weaves around the contours as it approaches the Bank Newton locks and this bend is so tight that a roller was installed to guide the towrope around the bend. This is the only one I have found but there may have been more.

And to finish this series of lessons - what does this post on the Coventry Canal protect?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

English Rope Tricks - lesson 4
As canal traffic increased the problem of rope wear on bridges and locks was tacked with more ingenuity.

This cast iron rubbing strip on the Shropshire Union canal may have protected the brickwork but took some wear itself

At Bank Newton on the Leeds & Liverpool canal a timber roller was employed

At Stone on the Trent & Mersey the wooden roller was clad in wrought iron

This technique was also employed on this lock at Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

English Rope Tricks - lesson 3
Another problem with horse drawn boats is what to do when the towpath changes from one side of the canal to the other.

This beautiful turnover bridge on the Macclesfield Canal solves the problem with some grace

This bridge at Church on the Leeds & Liverpool canal doesn't have quite the same elegance.

And when there are junctions, as here on the BCN, it can get quite complicated.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

English Rope Tricks - lesson 2
To avoid ropes wearing the stone and brickwork of locks some bridges have a split for the tow rope to slip through

This is at The Bratch on Staffs & Worcs

This is at Factory Locks on the BCN

And this on the Trent & Meersey

On the Worcs & Birmingham there are safety railings

And here at Wheelock on the Trent & Mersey we have a safety rail which prevents the split bridge being utilised as designed.

Monday, 16 August 2010

English Rope Tricks - lesson 1
The first craft to carry freight on the canals fo the Industrial Revolution were drawn by a horse with a long tow-rope

With the advent of steam power, and later, diesel engines it was possible for one powered boat to tow an unpowered 'Butty'. Thus twice the load could be transported with no increase in manpower and no requirement for stabling etc en route. Photos from WRG
Evidence of the rope work can still be seen today....

On locks like this one on the Trent & Mersey

Or railings like these at Swindon on the Staffs & Worcs

On bollards like these on the Leeds & Liverpool

And bridges like this one also on the L&L

Friday, 13 August 2010

Beware of Man Recommending Restauants
I am always wary of recommendations for places to eat as everyones's taste, standards and budgets differ. However that does not prevent me telling you what I like.
In Stafford we had a snack at Ye Olde Soup Kitchen which is opposite St. Mary's Chruch in the town centre. The soup was thick and tasty - I could almost believe the Home Made description. This makes a change from the Brake Bros home made soup that is so common. The cheese scone and cherry scone were both freshly made. A pot of tea at £1.60 served three cups which I reckon is good value . The charming building is only surpassed by the staff who are eager to help, even if you have opted for self-service. In addition to the various dining rooms with oak beams there are tables on the pavement and also a roof terrace. I am assured by she who must be obeyed that the lady in this photo had not been over-induging in Ye Olde Soup Kitchen. How she know that I am unsure.
In the evening, to celebrate our wedding anniversary my shackles were removed temporarily and we took advantage of the Early Bird dinner at Granville's which is opposite J D Wetherspoon in Stone. This menu is available Mon-Thurs 6pm-8pm and is considerably cheaper than the ala carte menu. There is live music on some nights, especially at the weekend. Our food was imaginative, tasty and beautifully presented. M's Rioja was well received and I enjoyed a pint or so of Titanic. Portions are not belly-busting so you can enjoy three courses if you fancy.
Just to balance things up, the boat in front of us went to the steak bar next door to Granvilles and enjoyed that too.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

37 Not Out
Thirtyy Seven years ago today we were married and spent the first night of our marriage at the Compleat Angler Hotel in Marlow. Clicking on that link will tell you all you are going to learn about that night. The author of the slightly enigmatic book of the same name was Izaak Walton and he had a strong link to Stafford.
The bust we are pictured beneath here in St. Mary's Church was purchased by public subscription in 1878. It overlooks the font where he was baptised in September 1593. There are various conflicting stories about his early life. The little we do know is that his beginnings were humble and that at 18 he was apprenticed to a linen draper in London. The business flourished and he became fairly rich. He joined the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers which has led to further erroneous stories of him being an ironmonger. As a Royalist the Civil War and the Commonwealth were not comfortable times for him. When Charles II fled to France in 1651 after losing the battle of Worcester he hid The Lesser George (a gold and diamond jewel from the Order of the Garter) at a farm in Staffs. Walton smuggled it to a prisoner in the Tower of London who escaped and delivered it to Charles in France. Our connection with Walton is much less exciting. When he died, aged 90, he had lived through the reign of four monarchs and a republic; witnessed the Gunpowder Plot,Oliver Cromwell's dictatorship, the beheading of Archbishop Laud and Charles II attempts at religious tolerance. He was buried in Winchester Cathedral. The Compleat Angler has been published in 450 editions which is second only to the Holy Bible apparently.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

G. O. M.
About two years ago one of my readers wrote to say she particularly enjoyed the G.O.M bits of my blog. It took me a little time to work out that she was referring to my Grumpy Old Man bits (apparently this was a TV programme). I have not heard from here recently and suspect that is due to the lack of G.O.M. material.
During our spell on L&L a few months ago we left the boat in Skipton for a few days and on our return found it had developed a hairy green coating. Yes, the BW veg squad had strimmed all along by the boats and the trimmings were well and truly adhered to paint and glass. It took a deal of time and effort to remove this unwanted addition to our external decor. You may imagine my response, therefore, when this morning's chores were disturbed by the noise of a strimmer approaching Gecko. You may imagine it but fortunately you did not witness it. I am not proud of the attitude I exhibited but it did stop the morons before they qualified for a ducking. I offered to move the boat along to a piece they had cut but they took umbrage at my remonstration and said i would have to sign a form! Whilst moron 1 went to fetch the rucksack which presumably contained their job description and risk analysis moron explained that they were insructed to knock on any boat and if it was unoccupied they could strim away merrily. I pointed out that I was in the boat, the cratch cover was open and they did not knock.
For which he admitted responsibility. When moron 1 returned with the appropriate form and I prepared to relate the incident on the form they decided that a form was no longer required and departed. What is the logic of spraying boats with grass only when they are unoccupied?
For six years I worked in London and cycled there each day. Often this involved canal towpaths. During the rail strikes I regularly cycled from Ricky to Paddington, a total journey of 40+ miles each way. As I trekked down to the Elsan today with the cassette on a trolley I was nearly wiped out three times by mad cyclists. There is a breed of cyclist who are ready to spend £500 or more on a bike but cannot scrape up £2.39 for a bell or enough breath to announce their presence. Perhaps they fear the equilibrium of their finely balanced steed would be disturbed or maybe it's down to street cred. Well one of them had a fright when i stopped to check the cassette was still ok on the trolley unaware of Chris Boardman hurtling towards me. He had to take a detour onto the grass between the mooring rings and the canal and only just made it. What a shame the grass had been strimmed otherwise he might have found it a little more difficult.
Wind Instruments
It has been suggested that my reference to a FLATULIST in the blog of Aug 5 - Bears and Treacle - should have read FLAUTIST. I can assure you that this was not one of my frequent typo errors - the wind instrument he performed with was not a flute.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Trouble with E in Stone
Eleven months since our last visit to Stone. Always enjoy it here. A canal town which is happy to be so. There is even a new board announcing its claim to be be the birthplace of the T&M canal. It was here that Josiah Wedgwood and friends met to form the Trent and Mersey Canal Co.
During our last visit we encountered a poor example of written English in the form of an advertising banner for a nursery school - see blog 17 Sept 2009 - Teacher teach thyself.

It seems that the teachers are not the only ones in Stone to have problems with the letter E.

There have been attempts to smarten up the town in several places and so it was the more disappointing to see this result of Saturday night fever. With all the CCTV camera around it must be possible to identify the culprits as they would not have been in a state to conceal themselves.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Bodgers & Skivers & Shoddy Goods
In the years BG - Before Gecko - when I was a child growing up in the Chilterns, we were surrounded by beech trees and High Wycombe was the centre of chair making. We used to make camps in the woods and from time to time we came across the evidence of previous occupation.
In particular the Bodgers - men who lived in the woods and made chairs using foot operated lathes. I have seen the modern incarnation of these craftsmen at craft fairs since then and cannot understand why the term bodger has become a derogatory one.

In a later incarnation when I was buying leather goods and visiting factories I often marvelled at the skill of the Skiver who removed the top layer of leather for processing.

When, in the early 20th century, cotton manufacturing in Lancashire found itself uncompetitive in world markets some milsl like the one we visited recently in Helmshore started processing Shoddy - yarn made from scrap. From this they produced everyday household items such as tea-towels in addition to calico. The process of recovering this material produced a fibre of short staple which was unsuitable for weaving fine fabric but was ideal for the more mundane household requirements.

Why have such worthwhile activities as Bodging, Skiving and Shoddy production developed such derogatory connotations?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Hidden Treasures
The church of St. Michael in Macclesfield is not attractive on the outside. It is dark and dumpy.
Inside, however, there are treasures to be found.

Some fine windows by Wm Morris & Co. These were quite late and it is unlikely that William Morris carried out any of the work himself.

Perhaps a more authentic example of Arts & Craft work are the windows by Christopher Whall who made every piece personally by hand.

I find the windows by Paul Woodruff most remarkable. They depict in three panels, the boy Jesus flanked by his parents. If you look at stained glass figures the faces are usually all the same - and rather featureless. The detail in Joseph's face demonstrates an unusual skill and confidence.
Another unusual item is in the chapel of the Savage family. On the tomb of Sir John Savage VII and his wife the effigy of Lady Elizabeth is higher than her husband indicating her more noble birth.
To the rear of the church is this street - 108 Steps. I did not verify the title but took it on trust. (see also blog post of May 21 - Where is Barlick)

And to finish with one exhibit from the Paradise Mill museum - a silk tapestry of narrowboats

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Bears and Treacle
We have been on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals for a couple of weeks but are rejoining the Trent & Mersey on Thursday. We have found it difficult to moor at anywhere other than recognised moorings as the profile of the canal is very shallow and we are unable to get close to the bank. Bridges have also been quite a struggle as we crawl through the narrow and shallow channels. Scenery is wonderful, especially on the Peak Forest we are told. It rained all the time we were up there and could see nothing but mist.
The towns of Macclesfield and Congleton were renowned for silk production in the 19th century but there is little evidence of this now apart from the Paradise Mill Museum in Macclesfield. Here they demonstrate the various machines and processes involved in producing silk fabric.
The name Macclesfield is believed to originate from Michael's Field (the parish church is St Michael's) and although it is often referred to as the Silk Town many locals prefer the nickname Treacle Town. The origin of this moniker is rather confused but seems to involve a barrel of treacle breaking in the street some centuries ago and the local poor taking advantage of this free food supplement. I was unaware of this before visiting the town. I was, however, more familiar with another claim to fame. About five years ago The Times named Macclesfield as the Most Uncultured Town in England. When we eventually found the visitor information office they did not mention this to us. Nor did they tell us about a local resident, Paul Oldfield - or his stage name of Mr Methane - who was/is a professional flatulist.
Congleton, on the other hand, has a much more welcoming ambiance. The town hall is really quite delightful inside and out and the tourist information office were actually happy to tell us about the town. Of course the locals do not call it Congleton. To them it is Bear Town which is quite obvious when one waits for a Bear Town Bus. The origin of this is Elizabethan from a time when bear bating was popular. The town bear died the night before the town's summer shutdown, or Wakes, and the population agreed to use the Bible Fund to buy a new bear in order that the celebrations should not be interrupted.
They even have a song written about it...


The Wakes coming on and the bear he took ill
We tried him with potion, with brandy and pill
He died in his sleep at the eve of the Wakes
The cause, it was said, was strong ale and sweet cakes


The cheeses of Cheshire are famed, but beware
Of stories they tell of the Congleton Bear
Congleton Bear, Congleton Bear
They sold the Church Bible to buy a new bear

He'd served the town well and held served the town true
To lie him in state was the least they could do
The old bear was dead, a successor they'd need
A new bear was wanted, and that at great speed


Now a parson is useful in times of great need
And imbibed with strong porter he quickly agreed
The parson, his Bible he gave then and there
We sold it in Nantwich to buy a new bear


The new bear, a she-bear, was toast of the town
To music and laughter she danced up and down
So loudly the cheering would waken the dead
It caused the old bear for to rise from his bed


Pills, potion and brandy induced a deep trance
And refreshed by the music he began for to dance
He danced down the road causing many a gaze
And word quickly spread that the old bear was raised


He rolled his dark eye as he spied the she-bear
And with an embrace they danced jigs pair-and pair
The cheeses of Cheshire are famed but beware
Of stories they tell of the Congleton Bear

To be fair to Macclesfield we did find some hidden treasure but you will have to wait until tomorrow for that.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Sofa So Good - 3
After a weekend away from Gecko attending 30/50th combined birthday party and stokcing up on Boo Dee Curry we took a little trip to Little Moreton Hall (NT) to be greeted by this topiary. Please dig into the archive and read blog posts for 7 May 2007 and 16 July 2008 for further understanding.