Ensign Brindley and Captain Turnbull ready to launch...
9am We departed Top Lock, Marple aboard the good ship 'Alice' amid a host of waving flag and the mighty cheers from the massed throng of Mark Singleton and his daughter. We gave the celebration champagne to Peter, 'Alice’s' owner, in disgust at the complete show of apathy by the Navigation Hotel well-wishers of the night before.
9.05am Stopped to empty the Elsan toilet.
9.l0am On our way again, spurred on by 'The Ride of the Valkyries' blasting from the ship's stereo on the cabin roof. Off into a bright new dawn with a pristine khazi and an empty bilge. En route The Ensign produced a magnificent bacon muffin to complement the '89 Co-op Bitter. (A cheeky vintage which appears to travel well.)
12.30pm Moored for lunch. Gammon steaks and beans with tea bread & butter. Most civilised. The Ensign had an extra helping of beans. (There will be a fair wind tonight.)
4-5.30pm Our first attempt at locks. Successfully negotiated the 12 at Bosley without submerging, capsizing or upsetting the other boaters too much. There was much shuttling to and fro in the locks as we attempted to keep 'Alice' central.
6pm Moored for dinner. Meat pie, peas and gravy with tea, bread and butter and jam. Did the crew of the Titanic dine so well, I ask myself? Following dinner and a stroll around the foredeck, we decided to motor on towards Congleton for an hour or so in search of a better mooring closer to habitation, (not to mention a pub.)
8pm On the outskirts of Congleton and the engine began running rough with limited acceleration. We stopped to add fuel. The engine ran OK for a while then died again. We managed to 'limp' to a temporary mooring then I assumed the role of barge horse and pulled 'Alice' to a safer haven. Rolled up my sleeves and removed a few feet of old rope and a Tesco's plastic bag from around the prop'. Tried the engine again but still no power so it looks as though we are stuck here for the night.
"I knew it was a mistake to let the Ensign navigate......"
9pm Retired to THE WHARF pub for sustenance. Ensign Brindley telephoned 'Alice's' owner who offered various suggestions as to the cause of our troubles. We decided to attempt repairs on the morrow. Enjoyed a couple of pints of the native brew, one of which the weary Ensign managed to knock off the table and christened my newly acquired Captain's trousers. We decide that his clumsiness is caused by the distinct roll of the Inn after our 10 hours afloat.
10pm To bed. All hatches battened down against the Congleton natives. Very still, warm night with not a breath of air finding its way inside the boat. Decide that it wasn't a very good idea to climb inside my sleeping bag. Restless night.
(Covered approx. 22 miles today)
7.30am Ensign Brindley brought me a mug of tea in bed. (This is very comfy, but there really isn't room for the pair of us in this sleeping bag.)
8am Commenced repairs on the boat in the cool of the morning.
8.05am Gave up the repairs. No fuel coming from the pump. As our combined knowledge of the intricate workings of the diesel engine could be written in longhand on the back of a postage stamp, and still leave room for a lengthy address, we decided to call the owner again. The intrepid Ensign set forth into the undergrowth around Congleton to contact a friendly native and perhaps a telephone box. Meanwhile, I was left on board to repel any roaming thieves and vagabonds intent on plundering our remaining stock of Bitter and also to cook the breakfast.
9am The brave Ensign returned safely with explicit and detailed instructions from the owner to, "Hit the fuel pump with something, that usually works." .......Ah'. what it must be to have a such a technical command of mechanics. However, before we attempted this rather delicate operation we breakfasted on bacon, sausages and tomatoes, with tea, bread & butter and jam. Who could ask for anything more?
9.30am Commenced the repairs. Hit the fuel pump with something as instructed. It didn't work. Thought about hitting Ensign Brindley with something, but then HE probably wouldn't have worked ...... and there's a long way to go. Took the fuel pump off and looked at it most severely. It still didn't work. Called it a few choice named we had heard old bargees use when the horse had trodden on their foot, or they had banged their head passing beneath a low bridge, but still it didn't want to play. Sat down on the canal bank with a can of Co-op Bitter to contemplate the situation. Rather early in the day to be imbibing, but the sun has risen above the yardarm, and we are more than a little concerned that the beer will go off if left too long.
10am Took the stubborn fuel pump to a nearby native garage to seek the advice of a learned mechanic. He laughed. Said that he didn't know all that much about fuel pumps, but this one wasn't working. We said we knew that. He laughed again. On the verge of calling out the Narrow Boat Doctor, if there was such a person, when 'Alice's' owner arrived, hot foot from Marple. He cast his experienced eye, (not to mention his experienced nose, ear and throat), over the offending article and declared it to be …… "Knackered!" (Aren't we all?)
10.30am Peter the Owner and the Ensign ventured once again into the wilds of old Congleton to purchase a new pump. This was obtained for the knock-down price of £25 in local currency which the stalwart crew elected to pay. Meanwhile, I had again volunteered to remain on board to guard our rapidly dwindling stock of Co-op Bitter. Life can be hell at sea.
11.30am New pump fitted. SUCCESS!!! It works. Now this Expedition to Froghall can get under way again. With the trusty diesel once again throbbing beneath our feet, (and the trusty Bitter throbbing in our heads), we set off into the shimmering heat of a Congleton noon-day sun.
Note: The crew had wondered why the old pump had had the word 'Carburettor' on it and not 'Fuel Pump.' The owner said that was because it had come off a Jaguar Motor Car. Of course!! Why didn't we think of that? Having found the ship's First Aid Kit in a margarine box, and Ensign Brindley's life savings in the soap dish, we should have guessed. It's all done to confuse the enemy ….. AND ME!!!!
2pm Reached the hamlet of Kent Green, site of an oft recommended Inn, 'The Bird in Hand,' run by an elderly female character whose name was legendary in the many dockside bars of Strines and High Lane. Beer and Porter only, with the ale being carried up from the cellar in large enamel jugs. We were eager to meet her. Sadly, she had passed away a few weeks previously. We thought that most inconsiderate of her, but then perhaps she had heard that we were coming. Not to be defeated we explored the quiet lane beside the now empty Inn and located 'The Rising Sun', not 25 yards away, lurking in the undergrowth. Here we were to pass a pleasant hour or so with the locals before deciding that, as we had secured a good mooring, we might as well make camp for the night and return to this charming hostelry for our evening meal. This we did, enjoying a repast of Steak & Kidney Pie with the inevitable Chips & Peas followed by Gateaux & Cream, coffee and a large glass of Cointreau. All for less than a fiver in English money. (Well, not a lot less.) Left the warm glow of the Inn, (and the warmer glow of the landlord's nose), at closing time to enjoy a good night's rest.
(Covered approx. 4 miles)
7.15am Tea in bed again. (This gets terribly messy, but it keeps the crew happy.) I came second in a game of cribbage last night so had to prepare breakfast.
7.30am Under way with the ensign at the tiller and The Engineer/Bilge Rat/Navigator & Part-time Stoker, (ME), at the stove. It proved to be something of a juggling act with only the two gas rings, trying to manage bacon, sausages, eggs, beans and a kettle. As my culinary artistry was reaching its mouth-watering peak the Ensign hove to at a lock. (Actually, he crashed into the canal bank as he yelled, "Lock Ahead!") As it was my turn to do the manual bit going through this particular lock, I turned off the gas under everything as I leaped ashore to go and attend to the paddles, lock gates, etc, etc. This was the last lock on the Marple to Macclesfield leg of our great journey. Safely on t'other side we moored, consumed my ruined masterpiece of a breakfast, then set off again to explore the uncharted waters of the Trent & Mersey Canal. We are about to set foot where no white man has gone before, (well, not for a day or two) …. Will we see another dawn? Will the natives spare us? Will we return safely to the Navigation and Viv? Read the next thrilling instalment.
9.15am Approached the 1.5 miles long Harecastle Tunnel. There was ‘NO ENTRY' before l0am, so we moored in the reddish waters at the mouth of the tunnel. Rigged up the extra headlight Peter had recommended on the roof of the cabin, then set forth into the inky blackness of the old, crumbling, Victorian tunnel, with the first 'convoy' of the day. We very soon lost sight of the boat in front, and the one astern dropped back until it was almost out of sight. The Ensign was at the tiller charging along at a fast rate of knots. (I kept telling him that water-skiing was not until tomorrow!!!!) The tunnel was dark, damp and dripping with the roof getting ever lower and threatening to knock the chimney stack off Alice's roof. The intrepid Ensign had obviously taken an instant dislike to the tunnel wall on my side, because he kept hitting it …. with the side of the boat. I was mightily relieved when we emerged once more into the bright sunshine some 40 minutes later. I dread to think what might have been our fate had the boat's fuel pump, alternator, wow & flutter valve, or even the battery packed in mid-tunnel!! Doomed for ever to wander this damp, rat infested tunnel. Almost as bad as been forced to watch 'Neighbours.'
Out of the tunnel and the Trent & Mersey meandered through the quaint industrial dereliction of the once-proud Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. We chugged along peacefully at the regulation 4 miles per hour, 'Alice' nudging her way carefully through the discarded bottles, planks, plastic bags and the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of this sleepy city. Oh, how good it feels to be close to civilisation once again.
12 noon Steered 'Alice' off the Trent & Mersey at Etruria and into the still waters of the Caldon Canal. Moored to enable the industrious Ensign to empty the Elsan. (So that's what they mean by 'swabbing the poop'!) After these necessary ablution, AND a quick scrub of his hands, the Ensign busied himself at his secondary task of preparing our lunch. In fact, a feast surely fit for a King. The wonders that man can perform with only a tin opener and a packet of curry flavoured soya mince have to be tasted to be believed. His culinary skills are certainly wasted on this scurvy crew, (or should that be curvy screw?)
1.30pm Cast off up the Caldon. Travelled only a couple of hundred yards before we encountered our first flight of 'Staircase' locks. This fiendish invention of the canal builder's art has baffled many a novice crew undertaking their first canal trip …. but not US. Leaving the faithful Ensign at the helm I leapt fearlessly ashore to tackle this new obstacle. Thinking with a calm brain and that ice cool logic developed over many an hour spent afloat on Marple Lakes, I set to work. First, I opened the top paddles, shut off the mid-lock gates abaft the beam, paddled the bottom windlass, then lifted the full mizzen thwarts bilge. The water was soon rushing through the sluice, startling an elderly couple asleep in the long grass beside the locks, before it cascaded around 'Alice' at her mooring. The Ensign smiled, grimly and pointed at the first lock. It was still full of water with the lock gates firmly closed, and 'Alice had nowhere to go.....
Returning to the task in hand I closed the middle and upper paddle trunions, greased the pinions on the side flanges then hauled in the bowline onto the stern cleats. Easy when one knows how …. For some inexplicable reason The Ensign had not anticipated my rapid combination of thought and action, and was still doing his Figurehead impression on 'Alice's' bow and waiting for me to prepare the first lock. All the water had, somehow, bypassed the bottom lock of the flight and was roaring away downstream to join the Trent & Mersey. I deduced that the canal builders must have made a slight error and misread the plans during the construction back in 1795. Decided that I would write to the canal owners and inform them just as soon as we return to civilisation.
2pm Having eventually negotiated the treacherous 'Staircase' we chugged off into the unknown up the Caldon Canal. Our route twisted through a maze of narrow waterways and equally narrow bridges. Rows of charming 19th century mills bordered the canal banks, their crumbling walls and rotting timbers teetering on the brink of total collapse into the murky waters below. We hurried on our way, passing a throng of cheering fishermen, casting many a smile and merry quip in our direction as they bade us "Good Fortune", on our voyage with the old nautical two-fingered wave of the hand. What a jolly bunch they were.
6pm Eased 'Alice' into a sheltered berth outside the village of Endon. We had all had a long, tiring day and were ready to sample more of The Ensign's culinary delights. Again, he excelled himself by producing a coagulation of cheese omelette which contrived to firmly affix itself to the plate, the cutlery and the roof of my mouth. After the meal, washed down with a glass or two of a delicate apple wine, we each retired to our bunks for the night, replete and thoroughly exhausted …. AND THAT WAS WHEN I HEARD IT …. The steady drip.. drip.. .drip... of water INSIDE the boat. Thoughts of the TITANIC, the MARY ROSE and other infamous and horrific maritime tragedies raced through my tired mind. We were sinking! ! (Well, we would have done in a couple of weeks.)
I alerted the brave Ensign, but he was already beneath his quilt and, with his hearing aid turned off and the Victorian ear trumpet out of reach, was oblivious to my urgent cries for assistance. I sprang from my somnambulant posture and my keen ear led me to a spot beneath my bunk. By carefully removing an assortment of boxes, bags, tins, odd shoes, empty bottles and The Ensign's spare truss I was able, by lying on my left side, right foot wedged against the engine compartment and my right arm twisted through an angle of 167 degrees, to force my hand behind the ship's panelling and feel the gaping wound in 'Alice's' side through which the waters of the treacherous Caldon Canal were pouring.
My urgent shouts eventually alerted the recumbent Ensign who, peering through those bleary eyes from his place of nocturnal repose at the First Class end of the boat, asked what I was doing lying in such a deformed posture beneath my bunk. When I apprised him of our predicament he enquired, "Has the water stopped coming in?" I answered in the affirmative, to which he manfully replied, "Well. I'll see you in the morning then. Will you be wanting a pillow if you're going to stop down there all night?" A true friend and ally. Only concerned for my welfare and comfort. My verbal response to the good Ensign is lost in the mists of time, (fortunately), but the oaths were sufficient to bring him rapidly to my assistance. Our first attempt to plug the hole with fire cement out of a tube was a dismal failure as the rushing torrent quickly found its way through the sticky solution. The jagged aperture was eventually filled, and the chill waters stemmed, by the insertion of a tiny brass screw which fitted snugly into the hole. Once again my military training and The Ensign's engineering brilliance had saved the ship, and we could both sleep safely in our beds. Such were the men of Nelson's Navy. Hearts of oak, nerves of steel, and stomachs that could sink a thousand Co-op Bitters.
(Covered approx. 17 miles today)
7am Awake after a good night's sleep. After the excitement of last night's events and the contortions of showering in the tiny cubicle, we had rounded off the evening with a few games of cribbage and a couple of bottles of Chateau Brindley '55 Apple Wine.
7.30am On the move again. A steady hand on the tiller and the heady aroma of frying sausages wafting out of the galley. The bold Ensign has donned his apron and is busy at the stove again. That internationally famous Northern delicacy of Sausage Butties and Brown Sauce, accompanied by a mug of scalding tea, is enjoyed al fresco as we glide steadily into unknown territory. Through sleeping English villages and fields of grazing cattle which we attempt to awaken with repeated blasts on the ship's hooter. We nose our way gently through trees, their branches dipping towards the water's edge as the pale morning sun glistens through the dense foliage, making dappled patterns on the still water.
The aged Ensign scratched the grey stubble on his chin, his wise old eyes peering into his empty cup. He broke wind noisily, belched and remarked, "There's Froghall up yer Caldon" …. Ah! If only I had thought of that.
On and on we motored, the sun climbing steadily into the sky and warming the decks of our ancient craft. Through lock after interminable lock, as we ventured ever deeper into the wilds of rural Staffordshire. (Thinks. Did I check my insurance policy before we left?) The peaty blackness of the River Churnet joined the slowly flowing Caldon for a few miles producing a water the consistency and colour of a rugby club's bath water .... AFTER the match. The odd fish was observed struggling to the surface to gasp in a tiny lungfull of air before disappearing again beneath the dark waters. Ducklings and infant coot coughed their way upstream in search of food as we slowly glided past.
11.45am Reached Consall Forge where the River Churnet parted company with the Caldon Canal and slithered noisily over a weir. Here was The Black Lion Inn, famed in all the canal guides for its 'splendid isolation. Accessible only by a long meandering footpath, or by canal, we had been informed. Unfortunately, no-one had told the 200 odd day trippers, or the chapter of pseudo Hells Angels gathered at the pub doors waiting for opening time. Perhaps the newly-constructed road from the nearest village had something to do with the unexpected influx of trade.
We moored alongside a floating slum measuring some 12 feet long by 7 feet in width. Atop the slum sat a beard with a bald head. Slum, beard and bald head belonged to Chris, a travelling Boat Painter of some 20 summers, (and quite a few winters), who had 'dropped-out' of the rat race. He had attended the University of Nottingham where he had gained a degree in Peruvian Basket Weaving and Advanced Origami before deciding that there must be more to life than eating and wearing clothes. The Ensign and I hosted Chris at The Black Lion as he was 'boracic', (lint = skint), and badly in need of liquid sustenance (not to mention a new pair of shorts.) Our new friend was accompanied by a mongrel of indeterminate breed which passed the time stealing food off the plates of other diners. Chris said he was trying to learn the same trick.
The Landlady appeared at the door of the inn, attracted by the disturbance caused by the noisy Hells Angels. The verbal lashing she gave them from a distance of some 75 yards made 'Alice's' very timbers shiver .... not to mention me, The Ensign and Chris. Even the mongrel had abandoned its quest for food and was cowering under a table, front paws clamped firmly over its ears.
Ensign Brindley was unchained from the galley for the afternoon and we repaired to the Dining Room of the Inn to feast on Swiss Steak, chips and peas. Chris received payment for a recently completed painting job of some 'Yuppie's' boat, and repaid our generosity of earlier.
3.30pm The Inn having closed for the afternoon we took a trip up the remaining mile of the Caldon Canal towards Froghall. The final 75 yards were through a narrow tunnel but, as the witty Ensign quickly pointed out …. "There's Froghall up there" …. so we retraced our steps to our previous mooring to rest, recuperate and await the opening of the Inn.
7pm Having re-plugged the gaping hole in 'Alice's' side by hammering the screw home, (it had started leaking again), we rested on the for'ard deck in the cool of the evening. The Ensign, in his capacity as Ships Entertainment’s Officer, had omitted to provide either Orchestra or Cabaret on board for the evening so we had to make to do with a cassette of "Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band & Kylie Minogue Sings Paul Robeson." The crowds were gathering again for the Black Lion's evening session, like wart-hogs around a watering hole. As the doors opened they surged forward into the bar, standing three deep and baying to be served. Being more accustomed to the refined atmosphere of The Navigation, we remained on board sipping The Ensign's home brew and playing the inevitable crib.
10pm The Inn's customers were leaving. Climbing into their cars and drifting off to their boxes with thoughts of work on the morrow. WE drifted up to the pub for the last hour before turning in around midnight.
Sometime during the night the bewildered and befuddled Ensign made one of his frequent nocturnal journeys to the loo, managing to switch on the ship's headlight in his frantic fumblings. This bathed the surrounding countryside in light and drained 'Alice's' emergency battery. Fortunately, the lamp only shone for a couple of hours before it was spotted and switched off, otherwise 'Alice' would have required a bump start the following morning.
(Covered approx. 11 miles today)