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2016: Jessop's first voyage

 

Jessop

Jessop, soon after we adopted him in March

 

After last year's trip with its many problems we were desperately hoping for a trouble-free summer's cruising this year. During the springtime we had adopted a beautiful big black 2-year-old Labrador whom we had named Jessop after the great canal engineer William Jessop; he (the dog, that is) was rather over-weight and in need of training, but he was intelligent and keen to learn so we started our year's boating with a couple of short trips to see if he could adapt to a life afloat.

For Jessop's first trip we tied him to the back deck with a long lead so that he couldn't fall in, but within 5 minutes he had run to the edge of the deck so fast that when the lead tightened he had spun around and fallen in backwards! He was not happy, with his back end dangling in the water and his chin held flat on the edge of the deck by his lead, but at least he was safe and we roared with laughter as we hauled him back on board. Once we had dried him with a big old towel we expected him to be more careful, but instead he set about re-creating the incident in slow motion, one paw at a time, until he fell in again; by this experiment he learned exactly what he could do and what he could not do, so that from that day onwards he never made the same mistake again. In no time at all he had become a proper boat dog, setting up controlled experiments to establish what he should do (such as going inside the boat whenever he was told to) and what was forbidden to him (such as bringing his toys up to the deck where he could lose them).

We decided to take a month's trip down the South Oxford Canal to Aynho and back, knowing that we could easily return home if we had any problems with Jessop, but all went extremely well. Jessop made friends with some of our friends' dogs, lost countless tennis balls in the canal, and became quite fit after many long runs on the towpath and daily swims in the canal. He clearly enjoyed life on the boat, so we returned home and started planning an epic trip for the rest of the summer.

 

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A beautiful view from our side doors on the Oxford Canal summit
Emerging from the lock under the beautiful little Nell Bridge
Debbie gets ready to eat a delicious meal at "The Moorings" in Crick ...
... while Jessop waits hopefully at the table for his own dinner
Jessop really knows that he is just a great big lapdog

It would be our Ruby wedding anniversary in July, and we had booked the function room at the Samuel Barlow in Alvecote for a big party; it was also the boat's 25th birthday in 2016 and we decided to extend the party into the evening to make it a double celebration. The people at the Barlow did us proud, making it a wonderful party with a great atmosphere and superb food. We had about a hundred guests and it was fantastic to see all our friends from different circles enjoying our celebrations together.

 

Ruby

Click here, or on the picture, to see a page of the best photos taken by our guests on this wonderful day.

 

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Another beautiful overnight mooring; near the bottom of Atherstone flight
We passed this wonderful field of poppies as we made our way to Alvecote
A beautiful evening promised some fine weather ahead
This little rabbit was happy to pose for me on the towpath ...
... and you can even see the boat reflected in his eye

After our party we travelled up to our favourite Italian restaurant (the Plum Pudding at Armitage) for a quiet dinner together, and then we were ready to start travelling in earnest. By now Jessop was behaving himself really well on the boat, and we felt confident that he wouldn't fall off the back deck on the big rivers, so we decided  to head down the Severn to Gloucester again and spend a few days on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. We went straight down te Staffs & Worcester Canal to Stourport, and stopped at the Hampstall Inn, which is one of our favourite stopping places on the River. This friendly pub has good food and drink, provides excellent moorings, and is a great centre for walking the dog. It was in the field there that our dog Telford had enjoyed his last happy evening on Earth a year before, so it seemed appropriate to let Jessop run and play in the same field  He too thoroughly enjoyed playing there, and it almost seemed as if he adopted some of Telford's habits as he did so, bouncing around and jumping for joy in the long grass; it was as if that afternoon he officially took over the role of "Ship's Dog".

 

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Near Stafford we spotted a signpost that definitely hadn't been there last year
 It showed  the proposed restoration of the link to Stafford, as well as the HQ of RCR opposite
We love the garden of this house near Stourport
A fine selection of local beers at the Hampstall Inn

Arriving at Gloucester, we stopped only briefly before starting down the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal - a waterway which always delights us by being so pretty despite being a large ship canal. We continued to the end of the canal, dodging some torrential showers, and stopped there to spend a wonderful evening at the Dockers Club before making our way slowly back to Gloucester. We stayed there for a few days enjoying the sights of the city, visiting a couple of exhibitions including the Folk Museum (fascinating) and a display of Robots from various films (rather disappointing because it was unimaginative).

 

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From the canal there are beautiful views across the Severn Estuary
One of the sand barges from the river was at a boatyard on the canal
The mooring rings at Gloucester are rather larger than are needed for a narrowboat
In the Folk museum Debbie met a Dragon
The ceiling in this restaurant was completely covered with wine bottles

By now the weather was turning really hot, and we were glad that we had a relaxed schedule for our journey back up the river. The thermometer was showing 30C inside the boat and 54C on the outside (it did have the sun shining on it at the time, but then so did the black cabin-side which was far too hot to touch!). We stopped under a shady tree at Worcester for a couple of days, and also stopped again at Hampstall, before finally rejoining the canal at Stourport.

 

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The Edward Elgar holiday cruise ship looks good in the sunshine
Phew it's hot !!!
These chainsaw carvings near Kidderminster are still looking good

Now we made our way northwards, stopping at Tixall Wide to let Jessop have the most wonderful swim. The next night we treated ourselves to a superb meal at Neil Morrissey's pub the Plume of Feathers at Barlaston, before meeting friends the following night at Stoke on Trent for a visit to the improbably-named Holy Inadequate pub. Finally we made our way to this trip's northernmost point and spent a weekend at Bugsworth Basin, arriving at Furness Vale early on the Monday morning for an appointment with TW Marine.

Ever since our new engine had been fitted 2 years ago, it had been apparent that it was not as quiet and smooth as it should be. Eventually the problem was traced to the exhaust system, which was actually such a good fit that it was not flexible enough; TW Marine are specialists in this area, and they managed to make us a custom-built "hospital" silencer which completely quietened the engine and cured the associated vibration to make it an absolute joy to cruise (you can't hear the exhaust - even in a tunnel - unless you lean over the side and crouch down to it). At the same time, the old exhaust exit was modified to become a fan-assisted air inlet which should help the running of the engine considerably, especially in hot weather. While TW were doing the work we took the opportunity to visit another unusually-named pub, the "Soldier Dick" in Furness Vale itself. The work over-ran slightly, so that we had to set off extremely early the next morning (before 6am) and travel 23 miles and 11 locks in one day so that we could get back to Kidsgrove in time to catch my pre-booked train; in fact we were very lucky because at 6.30am a tree came down behind us in the strong winds and blocked the canal for 2 days.

 

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Jessop enjoys a swim
A beautiful mooring on the Macclesfield Canal
Another beautiful mooring on the Macclesfield Canal
Crossing the A5 on the aqueduct

For some reason at this point I more-or-less stopped taking photographs, so I will just describe the rest of our voyage briefly. Jessop continued to be on his best behaviour the whole time, which made him a joy to have on board and we had a great trip throughout the summer. We went down Heartbreak Hill to Middlewich and along to Hurleston Junction (24 miles and 30 locks) in one glorious day, and then we travelled slowly up to Llangollen to enjoy the glorious scenery of this beautiful but rather busy canal. From Llangollen Basin we walked up to the Horseshoe Falls; Jessop enjoyed himself tremendously on this walk, but disgraced himself by finding something large and rotten in the water above the Falls, and insisting on eating it all before coming back to us! On our way back down the canal we stopped at a restaurant which used to be another of our favourites, the Jack Mytton, to see what it was like under its new ownership; it is still very good, but we did not feel that it was still outstanding in the way that it used to be.

We stopped outside the Anchor Inn, at High Offley, and after an on-board barbeque we joined the group of happy boaters  who were swapping tall tales in the bar. As the beer flowed throughout the evening the boaters got happier and the tales got taller; overall it was a fantastic evening in this wonderfully unspoiled old-fashioned public house.

A few days later we reached the Fox and Anchor at Coven Heath, where we discovered RHUBARB GIN !!! What a fabulous drink this is. We were going to drink it with a splash of Tonic, but the landlord came running up to us and insisted that we try it with Ginger Ale; he was right, the result is incredibly tasty as the ginger brings out the taste of the rhubarb.

Reaching Fradley we realised that having made really good progress in the mainly fabulous weather, we had enough time in hand to divert down the River Trent to Newark, so that is what we did. Stopping overnight for a meal at Branston, near Burton on Trent, we were amazed to see the beginnings of a huge housing development beside the canal; a whole new village is being constructed there so the while character of the area will soon be irrevocably changed. Carrying on further we find that both Beeston and Nottingham are ridiculously crowded, with no spare moorings anywhere, so it was  lucky that we hadn't planned to stop there.

After a brief stay in Newark we came back up the river in beautiful hot sunshine. There were many cruisers on the River, and most of them seemed quite impatient; many were particularly inventive in the way they reported their position to the lock-keepers on the VHF radio. For example when we were still about a mile away from one lock, the cruiser that was just a hundred yards ahead of us reported that he was only two minutes away from the lock and that the nearest boat behind him was a slow narrowboat (us) that was at least a couple of miles away. He seemed rather surprised when I used our own radio to report the positions of the two boats accurately, and wouldn't even look at us as we passed through the lock together.

We had an uneventful trip back home via Fradley and Fazeley. The canal was quite busy, so we made slow progress, but we didn't mind although some of the delays were a bit frustrating (such as waiting for more than half an hour to get through Newbold because none of the boats ahead of us realised that two boats could pass in the tunnel and so they adopted a "one through Northwards, one through Southwards" regime), and we arrived back home by the end of August.

We had just one more brief trip to make this year, up to Braunston where we were booked in for a hull survey (required by our insurer now that the boat is 25 years old) and the usual blacking; but here disaster struck again! The survey found that in the last 2 years we have suffered from some form of electrolytic corrosion which has caused such extreme pitting that the sides of the boat urgently needs over-plating. As I write this (December 2016) the repairs have just been completed, but we still have no idea what has caused the problem. Weather permitting, we will be able to collect the boat later in December so we will be spending Christmas on board, and then taking the boat down to Northampton for the rest of the winter.

 

Jessop

Jessop, looking very fit after 6 months with us

 

 

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