David (left) and Jack. What a good looking pair!
5.30am I know that it was my intention to have an early start today on our journey back down the Caldon, but to be woken at such an unearthly hour by a sprightly Ensign enquiring what time it was, was a bit much. (Is keel hauling still against Navy Regulations?) I think that the sun must have got to him yesterday. (He's new to the tropics.) Age must have its privilege, so I turned over for another couple of hours.
7am Eased my weary military bones from my bunk and partook of my morning ablutions. (One always feels so much better after one has abluted!) Inspected the crews quarters then strolled the fore deck as I sipped a warming mug of tea. Decided to step ashore, missed the gap and plunged upto my knees in muddy Caldon. The Ensign chuckled heartily. He would! After a quick swill, ready to face another day.
7.30am Cast off after donating a couple of bottles of Privet & Rhubarb wine to the beard and bald head of Chris. (THAT should ensure he keeps on the move.) he was still curled up in his floating hen cote. Not a care in the world except what his mangy mongrel would bring 'home' in its mouth next. As we gently chugged away from the Black Lion and Consall Forge the Ensign set to and rustled up the inevitable mouth watering Sausage Butties and Tea which we consumed in the peace and tranquillity of the early morning. Spent a pleasant morning gliding down the Caldon at all of 3 miles per hour.
1pm Stopped at Foxley for lunch. Moored close to a canal side pub, stepped into the cool of its interior and, after a couple of refreshing tankards of the local brew, ordered 2 ham salads from the ample menu. We took our drinks and meals into the garden and found a table beneath a shady tree, then set about playing "Find the Ham.' Eventually found mine hiding beneath a sliver of cucumber.
2pm On our way again and then …. DISASTER ! The Ensign's suntan cream has run out. NOW what will he do? The heat is searing, burning through our clothing, so hot that I am seriously contemplating removing my vest. Oh, for a cold beer. We drank the last from the fridge a couple of days ago, and it's a long walk back to Marple Co-op. In an effort to keep cool the pink Ensign sat beside me at the stern as I wrestled with the tiller, trailing his feet in the cool water. Tiny fish could be observed dying with the added pollution.
Our route took us back through the same housing estate with the same bored-looking, half-asleep, fishermen sitting in exactly the same spots on the banks as they were when we last saw them. Are they for real? We peer at them closely looking for some sign of life, but there is none. Just the hunched shoulders, head bowed towards the rod in front of them as they gaze into the murky waters at the worm they are drowning. Perhaps the local Council bring them out each morning and prop them up there to ward off evil spirits and to frighten passing bargees.
3.30pm Moored beside Hanley Park for a couple of hours to allow The Ensign's skin to cool down. He retires to lie down in the cool interior of the First Class Cabin and asks to be awoken at 4.30 with tea and a lightly boiled egg. I am about to enquire what his last servant died of, but he is already deep in slumber. A thought crosses my mind as I gaze down at him prostrate on his bunk …. His nose will come in very handy as an extra rear light when we pass through the Harecastle Tunnel tomorrow.
6pm We reached those x@*}!% Staircase' locks again! ! This time we cheated and passed through in the company of a cabin cruiser, the Captain of which appeared to know exactly what he was doing.
6.30pm Rejoined the Trent & Mersey Canal. Back to civilisation and the industrial dereliction of Stoke-on-Trent. As a famous sea Captain was once heard to remark, "If the world had piles, then this is where they would be."
We eventually moored for the night beside a large Water Park, just a few hundred yards from the entrance to the dreaded Harecastle Tunnel, ready for the morrow and an early start. I had been at the tiller for the last hour or so whilst The Ensign busied himself in the galley. We moored, tied up and, within no more than a couple of minutes we were seated in the shade beneath a large tree, table laid and gorging ourselves on Meat Balls, Boiled Potatoes, Carrots & Peas with a delicious thick gravy and a bottle of wine, expertly chilled in a bucked of canal water. This has to be Gordon Blew cooking at its very best and I must remember to write to Blue Peter and recommend The Ensign for his, 'BEING ABLE TO COOK, GET UP VERY EARLY AND LOOK AFTER THE ELSAN' badge. He richly deserves it.
8pm Having feasted on the aforementioned gourmet offering, we settled back into our chairs to bask in the warmth of the setting sun and enjoy a glass or three of the best French Red/Apple & Blackberry combination. Shortly, we were approached by the elderly owners and crew of an adjoining vessel who complimented us heartily on our apparent organisation and catering expertise. The offered to provide us with mugs of coffee in exchange for a tumbler of our brandy. The coffee was quickly produced and we invited the couple to join us at our table.
11pm The evening is cool and the air fresh and invigorating. The conversation has been scintillating and the company warm and friendly. Unfortunately, my legs appear to developed a will of their own from the knees downwards. My attempt to return to the boat to obtain additional liquid refreshment, resulted in my falling over the seated Ensign, catapulting the pair of us into a tangled, writhing mass on the ground. I have a strong suspicion that the good, but misguided Ensign may have added some foul and noxious substance to our meal earlier in the evening. (He will stoop to any depths to get his hands on my tiller.) Surely, my present unsteady gait cannot possibly have been brought about by the numerous empty wine bottles and the missing half bottle of best Napoleon Brandy???? It must have been something in the food.
The party came to a close around midnight and we carried our stores, unsteadily, back to the boat ready for an early start on the morrow. Checking through the inventory once safely back on board, table, chairs, crockery, cutlery, empty bottles and our supply of brown sauce, I found to my alarm that I was unable to locate my favourite pipe. It had been in my possession ashore, but now it was gone, and there was no possible way that we could sail without it. A thorough search of the surrounding grasslands had to be made. The reserve spotlight was rigged on the cabin roof of the boat and the area scanned with its powerful beam. We startled a few sleeping swans and the odd couples in the long grass, but there was not a sign of the missing article. This caused much consternation, not to mention wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth. The eagle-eyed Ensign saved the day once again by locating the object safely tucked in my shoe beneath my bunk. In retrospect, the obvious place to have put it.
(About 20 miles today)
5.45am Awoke to the (slightly) welcome sight of a pre-dawn mug of tea being thrust into my face. The gruff, post-alcohol voice of The Ensign informed me that it was just a quarter to six. I thanked him for that information and informed him that I hadn't been aware that there were TWO such times in one day. He said that he was going for a swim in the lake. I said did his Mother know that there was insanity in the family? He went, stout chap, and splashed about whilst I turned over and rested my weary bones for another couple of hours.
7.30am Off again on the homeward bound leg of the journey and joined the convoy awaiting passage through the Harecastle Tunnel. Saw our friends(?) of last night and they are still speaking to us …. so it can't have been THAT bad.
8am Tunnel opened and, as it's my turn at the tiller, The Ensign immediately retired to his bunk where he at once lapsed into a deep slumber, snoring contentedly. (that’ll teach him to rise at such an unearthly hour.) Keeping sight of the boat in front and the one behind, the passage didn't feel as claustrophobic as the first time. The waterway appeared much wider, so I kept in the middle away from the dripping walls. That way I managed the whole length without a bump and we were soon out into morning fresh air and sunshine again.
Once out of the tunnel The Ensign appeared on deck to air his knees. Within a mile or so we rejoined the Macclesfield Canal and began the final 30 miles of our journey. Will The Band be waiting to welcome us? Will there be bunting decorating the streets? Will there be free ale at The Navigation? Will there be crumpet for tea?
The next couple of hours were torturous as the intense heat of the sun burnt through our flimsy, tattered clothing and into our already blistered skin. These long voyages can be hell, but we struggled on manfully, oblivious to the pain and complete lack of Co-op Bitter.
12 noon Moored at Congleton Wharf and made our way to the welcome haven of The Wharf Inn. Feasted on Steak & Kidney Pudding, freshly made chips, peas and a muffin. All for £1. (Is this really 1989, or have we entered a time warp?) Returned to 'Alice' and rested in the shade for the remainder of the afternoon.
5.30pm Cast off from our mooring as the day cooled. Negotiated the Bosley Locks on our own after most of the other canal traffic had already moored for the night. 'Did' the locks without any hassle, we're old stagers at them now. Decided to head for the Inn at Fool's Nook where we would dine. (The galley stock cupboard is looking decidedly empty.) I worked up a healthy appetite over the next couple of hours by jogging around the fore-deck and joining the melodious Ensign in a stentorian rendition of his repertoire of ribald sea shanties.
8.45pm Moored at Fool's Nook. Partook of leisurely ablutions and changed into shore clothing for the evening's festivities ahead. Headed for the Inn's Lounge Bar.
9.05pm Informed by the Landlady that meals finished at 9pm sharp. The cook had put his feet up for the night and there was NO WAY he would be disturbed. We both settled for a packet of Cheese and Onion flavoured and the Inn's remaining ham sandwich.
11pm Back to the ship for a supper of mugs of soup, plus whatever else was left in the corners of the larder. I tried to introduce The Ensign into the wonders of reconstituted Chines noodles, curry flavoured, but he declared it akin to eating knitting and stuck to his Vegetable Soup. I therefore had to consume both packets of said noodles as the voyage was rapidly coming to an end. We finished the night with a needle game of cribbage, the prize being the remains of the ship's 'kitty'. This came to the grand total of £1.11p, plus two buttons and a piece of fluff of unimaginable origin.
(Travelled about 15 miles today)
7.30am A sensible time to rise. Perhaps The Ensign is at last getting the message. We began the clear up operation on the boat. This promises to be a major task and we both agree that we should have had a lady in each morning to 'do' for us. (Must make a note of that for the next voyage.)
8.30am Set off on the final leg and anticipate sighting our home port of Marple around 2pm. A cool breeze has suddenly sprung up and the crew have to change into winter rig of long trousers and long sleeved jumpers. The Ensign dons his full suit of foul weather clothing, including blue plastic hood …. but I think he is overdoing it a bit, plus his appearance tends to frighten dogs and small children passing along the tow path. It's amazing what a difference to the temperature this extra 3 miles further north can make.
10am ALARM! ! ! Heard that ominous sound again as the engine began to search for fuel. (There's two full cans of the stuff in the bilges !!) Stopped the boat and donned my Engineer's cap. Carried out the usual checks of the engine and it would appear that the 'new' fuel pump. purchased only a week ago, has given up on us. Tried the usual mechanic's tricks of shouting at the offending piece, swearing at it under our breaths, then asking it kindly …. but it just sat there doing nothing. A bit like The Ensign. Remembering a tip from the Owner I lifted the fuel tank onto the deck and rigged up a gravity feed direct to the engine, by-passing the dead fuel pump. To our great surprise and relief it worked and off we set again. Jolly pleased with ourselves at having cleared the problem so rapidly. (Must remember to send of my subscription to Junior Engineer Monthly.)
The fuel pump and clog recovery patrol of the 2nd Nether Alderly and Pott Shrigley Cossack and Brownie Corps. spring into action, led by Senior Tri-cyclist Igor Clenckbuttock on his iron-clad rail-mounted, 1925 velocipede. Note the rear-mounted narrowboat emergency repair kit and butty box. Unfortunately Igor ha just run over the lady's left foot.
11am Our celebrations are short lived. 200 yards short of Bridge 19, somewhere in the wilds of Cheshire, the engine decided that it had chugged its last. Our speed again dropped away to zero and we pulled slowly into the bank. Ensign Brindley, game unto the last, set forth along the uncharted towpath in search of a friendly native with a telephone from whence he would again seek assistance from Peter the Owner. This he did and, having made contact, Peter arranged to rendezvous with us at Bridge 15 with a replacement fuel pump which he hoped to purchase from one of the Marple Antique Fuel Pump shops.
We now had to get the boat, and ourselves, to Bridge 15 somehow without an engine. I stood with the intrepid Ensign on the tow path in true hitch-hiking pose …. right trouser leg and right thumb raised. But there were no passing ships to offer us either a tow or a toe. We both realised that there was every possibility we would remain in that position for the remainder of the day unless we took some drastic action. We brewed up !!! Later, not to be defeated, we decided to pull 'Alice' the couple of miles to bridge 15.
With one of us pulling and the other stood on the bows, (the pointed bit at the front of the boat), pushing 'Alice' into deeper water away from the bank with the aid of a long pole, we made fairly steady progress. The 'Puller' trudged along the towpath, bent double to his task. Passers-by caused much merriment with their witty quips such as …. "Is this the remake of The African Queen?" …. "Which one of you is Humphrey Bogart?" .…"I've heard of cheap holidays, but that's ridiculous." …. 'Are you trying to save fuel?" …. "Do you give your horse a carrot at the end of the trip?" To which the Ensign would reply.… "No, Sir, he's been promised his oats."
We are just thankful that Peter didn't own a light aircraft and we'd borrowed that!
12.30pm Pulled 'Alice' under Bridge 15. The fearless Ensign leapt from his most precarious position on the bows of the boat and hurried off into the undergrowth in search of a friendly publican. Meanwhile, I collapsed in a heap on the towpath after my two mile imitation of a barge horse. Peter The Owner arrived some 10 minutes later clutching an antiquated fuel pump which, by its appearance, last saw service during World War One. We awaited the return of the good Ensign who would know about these things. (That is, World war One …. not fuel pumps.) He came hot foot through the trees clutching a quartet of cool cans of ale. These we rapidly relieved him of and consumed.
Fitting the fuel pump became a major mechanical exercise as air was continually being sucked into the system. This all appeared terribly complicated to The Ensign and I so we lay back on the grass to keep out of Peter’s way. It seemed that no amount of packing or tightening of the clips around the pipes would solve the problem or make it airtight. Eventually, about 5pm, it appeared to be right and the engine was running smoothly. Sadly, this was after the pub closing time, so we couldn't even buy Peter The Owner a drink in celebration. He took his leave of us, saying that he would see us back in Marple.
5.15pm 'Alice' chugged away from Bridge 15 and Higher Poynton, carrying us on the last few miles of our epic voyage. We sped through High Lane at 4 mph, the last centre of habitation before our home port, (if you discount Hawk Green), then Windlehurst and the once great Hall. The sight of those crumbling walls must have been too much for our trusty old craft because, with a final cough , shudder and a puff of diesel fumes the *$)(+%& .. engine breathed its last.
Out with the tow rope and start pulling again. "Bow hauling" the old mariners called it. Nearing Hawk Green we had to accept the inevitable …. WE WERE KNACKERED !!! Then a passing 70 footer, all fancy paint and chrome and crewed by two very elderly gentlemen and their wives, offered us a tow for the remaining mile. We swallowed our pride and gratefully accepted. Pulled into Top Lock Basin we were released from the tow and, somehow, managed, with a spluttering engine, boat hook and a rapid side to side waddle of the tiller, to guide 'Alice' back to her home mooring.
7.30pm Safely moored alongside The British Legion again from where our journey began, what seems like a lifetime ago. Locked up the boat and head for Ensign Brindley's home to collect his car for all our gear. We had to pass the Navigation en route, so called in to celebrate our safe return to the bosom of our loved ones.
No Band!! No Fans!! No Flags!! No Bunting!! No Fuel Pump !!…………….
(Approx. 17 miles on the last day. 105 miles in all)
Without doubt it had been 7 days to remember. Seven days of sunshine, fresh air, early nights and even earlier mornings, (thanks to Mr Brindley’s early rising habits). No TV, telephones, newspapers, traffic jams or awkward customers at work. Just a complete break away from the Race to Earn a Living, and a week lived at in the slow lane at just 4 miles an hour.
And what of Froghall,Consall Forge, The Black Lion and the laugh a minute fishermen of Stoke-on-Trent? As the couple said as they bought their Away Day rail tickets …..
Well, that was MY version of the holiday. And every word of it true I tell you. I know, I was the one keeping the daily diary. What follows on the next few pages is the same few days as seen through the (bleary) eyes of 'Ensign' Brindley, now safely back on shore so I suppose we can revert to his everyday name of 'Thingy'. He penned his epic after reading through my diary, and I've a sneaking suspicion that the truth was slightly 'bent' on occasions in order for the poem to rhyme. That's MY excuse anyway.