Remember when I was still at the recovery stage in Birmingham, poor old Bugerlugs had to be brought back to Rufford. As I was in no condition for doing nay sort of organising. So Noreen set too and put out an SOS to all our friends, within a day John Bamber came up trumps with a crew, two of his friends John and Kath who have their own boat a 47 footer volunteered, as they were a friend of a friend and we had no other knowledge of them than that it was for me a leap of faith but at the time God was being so good to me. and I thought how dificult can it be ?????
That’s the background to the story, John has been kind enough to send me a Journal of the trip which I found informative, Funny and interesting. It just shows everyone what type of people we have on the canal Kind, Resilient, Helpful Caring, and will do anything to help a follow boater
I will let Johns words tell the story:
God Bless you Both. We now have two more very good freinds
BRINGING BACK BUGGERLUGS
Or, Three People In A Boat [Two women, one man, and no dog]
With the later addition of one more man but still no dog
[With apologies to Jerome K. Jerome]
Monday 11th. July 2011 Kings Norton.
As I stood on the back deck of Buggerlugs on the Stratford Canal my first thought was that she was considerably bigger than our modest 47
’ Orion. It felt a bit like standing on the bridge of the Ark Royal [remember her back in the days when we had a navy?] My second thought was that she was pointing south east when we needed to be heading north west. This, swiftly followed by the thought that this was the narrowest stretch of canal I had seen since last year’s trip to Llangollen. I could all but touch the other bank . My last thought was that I don’t normally do so much thinking, especially on a Monday morning – must have been the stress. But never mind, a friendly local assured me that the nearby winding hole would accommodate us with ease. After what seemed a long time sailing we were about to find out.
Q. What do you get when you try to turn a 60’ boat with a deep draught in a 65’ winding hole that consists mainly of mud?
A. High blood pressure and possibly brown trousers.
Some time later we extricated ourselves from our predicament ,covered in mud if not glory. In our defence I still feel that the operation might have gone more smoothly had not the aforementioned local preceded us before mooring in the approach to the turning. But at least we were now pointing in the right direction and several hours after setting out we arrived back at the boatyard ready to begin our journey home.
All went well at first, and just as I was beginning to relax into sailing a strange boat [sorry Alan I don’t mean that Buggerlugs is strange, just strange to me, and every boat has it’s own little foibles] we came upon a junction of the Stratford Canal [us] and the Worcester-Birmingham Canal [temporarily the enemy]. Turning a 60’ boat around a 90 degree junction which is spanned by a bridge only inches wider than the boat is no easy test. Even so it is one which we passed comfortably if not very quickly. Thereabouts boating is obviously a spectator sport judging by the hordes assembled on the banking, willing our failure and baying for blood. If the the state of the brickwork on the bridge was anything to go by they had had more rewarding days, but, give them their due, despite their obvious disappointment they magnanimously applauded our success. Even the world-weary looking Boxer dog appeared vaguely impressed . And so,without further mishap, to Birmingham and our first night aboard.
After an early start Tuesday saw us arrive in Wolverhampton after an incident free trip through some fairly nondescript scenery. We took on water and decided that rather than cross the canal to the secure moorings we would stay where we were . Mooring was supposedly restricted to one hour but we reasoned that at that time of day there was room enough for any more arrivals. It was as we were tying up that Kathleen received the dreadful news that her brother, David, had been diagnosed as being terminally ill. Despite her worries Kathleen bravely decided to continue the journey, a decision urged by David himself. David helped me many times when I was fitting out our own boat and we both owe him a great debt. Last year he accompanied us on a trip to Llangollen and we had all been looking forward to another outing this year. Sadly this will now never happen and we will miss him a great deal.
During the course of the evening a hire boat full of young lads turned up and went onto the secure moorings. Later they crossed back to our side in order to go out on the town. They returned from the fleshpots at around four o’clock the following morning at which time they proceeded to move their boat back over the canal. Noreen and Kathleen were incensed: I slept on.
Wednesday was a very early start in order to tackle the Wolverhampton Flight. Despite requests from the two ladies I declined to sound the horn as we passed the hire boat where, not surprisingly, there was no sign of life. I did, however give it a bit of a nudge as we went by. The decision to set out early was vindicated as, with little other traffic, we cleared the flight in an amazing two and a half hours. This due entirely to the sterling efforts of our world class locking crew Noreen and Kathleen. Actually it would have been completed in that time, but at the penultimate lock the top gate obstinately refused to close having been left open for us by a boat ascending. We tried everything: bouncing on the balance beam; poking round the cill with the pole; simple brute force etc. But all to no avail. Whilst we were waiting for B.W. to appear a smart arse from a boat below came to sort us out. Despite being told that the gate was immoveable he would have a go. All he did was put one finger on the beam and the blasted thing closed. Obviously our efforts had finally dislodged something from the cill, but he just swaggered off looking smug. A face one would never tire of slapping.
Our good progress continued in increasingly attractive countryside and by early evening we arrived at Norbury Junction where we moored for the night. The only hiccup had been at Autherley Junction where, it seemed, all the prats on the cut had foregathered with the sole intention of denying us access to the Shroppie. A right angled turn to the right immediately followed by a right angled turn to the left into the narrowest of stop locks is difficult at the best of times without the added complications of idiots straying all over the canal, and, even worse, people trying to jump the queue. But with commendable forbearance and patience from Noreen and Kathleen and much effing and jeffing from me Buggerlugs prevailed.
Thursday began peacefully enough but our enjoyment of the beautiful Shropshire countryside was soon to be spoiled by the numpty in front who insisted on passing through Woodseaves Cutting at about one m.p.h. This part is so narrow as to be impossible in places for two boats to pass one another. Numpty was fine. When he saw a boat coming he could pick his spot, leaving us to flounder in his wake. More by good luck than good management we managed to avoid three oncoming boats as well as an overgrown and irregular bankside. Surely it’s not difficult to work out that the faster you pass through such places the less likely you are to encounter oncoming boats. What should have been an enjoyable sail through a spectacular gorge-like cutting was ruined by an inconsiderate boater.
On reaching Tyrley Lock I was drawn to vent my spleen yet again. [what do you mean grumpy old git?] Two women were parked up on a water point washing their boat. Not only were they monopolising a water point and wasting B.W. water, but they were also obstructing the entrance to the lock. However, here our luck changed. By some miracle, which only a boater could fully appreciate, as we approached the lock the top gate opened, a boat came out and we were in. Believe it or not this was repeated at every one of the next fourteen locks. Good fortune followed us all the way to Audlem and after twenty five locks only two had been set against us – the boater’s equivalent of winning the lottery - and one where our water was stolen by a couple, who coincidentally, like Katheen and myself, come from Westhoughton . Course it was Kathleen who discovered this. I was not disposed to speak to someone who was prepared to stoop so low.
But pride comes before a fall and just as I began to think this boating lark a piece of cake, [more of cake later], just as I thought it was safe to be in the water, I met my nemesis - The Shroppie Fly. No, not some monstrous insect that destroys narrow boats before devouring their crew, but a mere public house, the grounds of which housed the B.W. waterpoint.On a beautiful summer’s day the garden was full, and let’s face it everyone’s a critic. As I tried to pull into the water point ,which is a tight fit, Buggerlugs , for the first and only time in the entire trip, decided to misbehave. [Nothing to do with the driver – honest!]. Whilst the front end was snugly in the right place the back end stubbornly refused to move from mid canal. After trying every manoeuvre conceivable I was forced to throw a stern rope to be dragged shamefacedly in. Filled with water we dropped to the next but one pound where we found good moorings . After a long day in the sun I could have killed for a pint, but I am ashamed to admit that I lacked the bottle [and therefore the pint] to renew acquaintance with my erstwhile audience.
Returning to the subject of cakes it would be remiss of me not to mention Noreen’s talent for baking. So good is this, and so generous is she with the results, that by the end of the trip I was struggling to get through the hatch. When you are standing despondently on deck with the rain pouring down your neck there can be few more heartening sights than the appearance of a tray loaded with tea, flapjacks, gingerbreads, shortbreads, chocolate cake etc.
Friday was a longish day – the Middlewich Branch seems to get longer every time we do it – and quietish - until a motley crew of hire boaters, already drunk by mid afternoon, were foolish enough to cross swords with Noreen whilst acting the rubber pig at a lock. Only one winner there then! Arriving in Middlewich by tea time Noreen and Kathleen disappeared to Tesco whilst I retired to the Cheshire Cheese. Well, come on, surely you don’t begrudge me a couple of pints after being trapped in a tin can with two women for the best part of a week! But all too soon, and laden with shopping, they returned and dragged me out of the pub.
After long hard days Saturday proved to be a bit of a stroll. Our strategy of an early start to avoid oncoming boats at the tricky junction with the Trent and Mersey at Wardle Lock proved successful as we did not encounter another boat for several locks. Then a short trip to Anderton which we reached by lunchtime despite stops for breakfast, and later for water and showers. Here we stayed as we were due to pick up an extra crew member in the shape of John Bamber who duly arrived, bringing with him one huge kit bag [which for the next four days did it’s best to deny everyone access to the bathroom] and a load of weather – all of it bad. For the rest of the trip we were to be permanently wet.
Sunday proved to be something of a marathon. Seven hours of torrential rain, the only dry bits being in the tunnels, left me and John soaked to the skin. Whilst we waited our time to enter Preston Brook we witnessed what must have been a record number of boats exiting the tunnel. In fact there were so many that they were queued from Dutton stop lock to the mouth of the tunnel. This was making it difficult for boats from our side to enter : we were unable to do so because of the idiot who moored straight opposite us, refusing to pull forward despite having room to do so. They say that no man is a prophet in his own land and it was certainly true that Noreen was not a prophet on her own boat. In trying to reduce the queue she advised anyone who would listen [i.e. nobody] to leave the lock open until they had all passed through. Surely they didn’t’t think they would drain the entire contents of the Bridgewater into the T & M. The difference in water level at the lock must be all of two inches. But by now we had managed to squeeze into the tunnel and we were back on our way, so who cares? Actually it was the angry boater somewhere around Stockton Heath, to whom I must apologise. Yes we were going too fast, my only excuse the weather. I couldn’ make out quite what you were shouting but I can assure you that we did not have an anchor on board.
In Lymm I introduced John to the Bulls Head and a great local character called Brian. We rarely visit Lymm without taking a pint there. Always Brian seems to be there and always he seems to be several pints in front of me. He has spent much of his working life on the canals and has a fund of great tales to tell. Without Brian and his like the cut would truly be a poorer place. It was here also that John, a retired policeman, became reacquainted with an old boss, former G.M.P. Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker. Now there is a man who really must have some tales to tell!
On Monday morning we were faced with the problem of where to stay that night. The obvious answer was Leigh but we wanted to get further if possible. A phone call to B.W. revealed that Plank Lane swing bridge was open until 18.00 hours and so we decided that a bit of a dash was in order. However that was no excuse for John attempting to get Buggerlugs to climb a tree. Particularly as I was standing on the gunnels at the time. This was the test of a long standing friendship as I flattened my upper body against the roof whilst praying for soft foliage. Fortunately I emerged unscathed at the other end and so we are still friends, though I couldn’t’t help wondering whether that guy hadn’t been right about an anchor on board after all. At Boothstown we stopped for water, diesel and a pump out. We managed the pump out – one out of three isn’t that bad. Dave had run out of diesel after a hectic weekend due to the anniversary celebrations for the Bridgewater Canal [250 years], and we aborted the taking on of water in order to make Plank Lane on time. Opinion amongst the onlookers was that we would not make it, but Dave and I were more optimistic. I also learned from him that his mother had been taken into hospital following a heart attack. We were all saddened by this news and wished Muriel a full recovery.
When we arrived at the marina it was full and so I had to moor alongside another boat, which, coincidentally, also came from Fettlers Wharf. On seeing us the owners asked after Alan and informed us that they had been following our progress on his blog. It’s strange, but wherever you go the name Buggerlugs draws attention, a smile or two and usually some wry comment – the best one I heard was from the scouser at Middlewich: “me mam used to call me that just before she gave me a slap”.
We left the marina at a little after 16.00 and ,as a normally sedate driver, I am embarrassed to remember the wash we left behind us. In justification it did pay benefits and we made the swing bridge in good time before mooring at Dover Lock . There we were joined for the evening by Alan Hall who lives nearby and who, very generously, had driven us down to Birmingham the previous Monday and would later drive us home from Rufford. We met in the pub but did not linger. It isn’t the most hospitable of canal side watering holes. I have often sailed by in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Tuesday morning saw us through Wigan with Noreen and Kathleen walking from Poolstock Locks right through to Crooke village. Kathleen never likes those high bankings in Wigan and Noreen seemed to be of the same mind. They can be problematic, especially in the wet which it most certainly was. John had been helping at the locks, and was also walking the pounds, but at Wigan Pier he sneaked back on board while the other two were out of sight. Time not being a pressure we had the luxury of mooring up for lunch at Appley Bridge where Kathleen and I had left Orion the previous week. All was well with the exception of a missing centre line. To the cheapskate who took it thanks a lot. Try a chandlery next time. Rope’s cheap enough. That evening we moored by the Rufford Branch where Noreen very generously took us all out to dinner at the ship. There she proceeded to eat a fish which was almost as big as her and probably bigger than anything Alan manages to pull out of the canal.
And so on Wednesday morning the final leg of our journey, up the Rufford to Fettlers Wharf. A passage marked only by Kathleen’s unconventional method of leaving a boat to prepare a lock. Basically this involved a headlong dive from the gunnels followed by a forward roll across the towpath before nonchalantly resuming the vertical position whilst still maintaining a firm grasp on the windlass. If they could include it as an event in the 2012 Olympics Team G.B. would be certain of one gold medal.
The end of the journey was a somewhat sad occasion. Some nine days earlier Kathleen and I set out with some trepidation to share a confined space with a total stranger and now we were parting as firm friends. For Noreen it must have been even more difficult, having to entrust her boat and home to two people she had never met before. From the very start we seemed to hit it off together and in the whole of the trip there was not a cross word or difficult moment. Noreen even showed great forbearance during the first few painful hours whilst I struggled to come to terms with handling Buggerlugs. Noreen and Kathleen made a superb locking crew, all the more laudable when you consider the worries which each of them carried with them. All I had to do was to sit on the back and generally point north. A piece of cake [which was dispensed, by Noreen, at regular intervals].
Despite the circumstances it was in many ways an enjoyable experience and Kathleen and I are both pleased to have been of some assistance to two wonderful people who we now count as friends. It is good to see them back at home and we both hope that Alan’s remarkable recovery continues apace.
John Bamber and Alan Hall, though not boaters themselves, gave freely of their time and played no small part in the successful outcome of our venture. All in all it just goes to show that sometimes the best part of boating is not the boating itself but the people you meet along the way. But then before getting too carried away you remember all the tossers you would rather throttle. Never thought about that before: boating, a metaphor for life!