Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Nantwich Jazz Festival

A friend of Janis’s from Nottingham Ray visited us while we were passing through Nantwich on our way north earlier and stayed aboard for a couple of nights.

It was while we were there that we came across an advertisement for the Nantwich Jazz Festival during Easter weekend. Janis and I both said what a pity we wouldn’t be there as we are keen fans of that genre but Ray admitted that he was a fan too and invited us to join him in his motorhome for that weekend of hot music. We couldn’t refuse such an offer could we?

So the day after we arrived here in Liverpool, we set off on Saturday for Nantwich by bus armed with my bus pass and Janis’s goodwill. It was a long hard-bottomed journey and we had to change at Chester as well with an hour in between buses.

However this particular city is well suited to waste the odd hour and we spent most of it in the covered market where we came across a delightful stall selling farm fresh dairy produce with a vast choice of lovely cheeses and ‘Ancient Bread’.

The cheese samples were delicious while with the latter we were reassured on reading the wrapper that ‘Ancient’ referred to the recipe that had been used many hundreds of generations ago rather than to the age of the contents, which had only been baked together that morning. By the time we completed our read and taste we must have bought up half the stall too but as we hurried back, well loaded to the bus stop we were also very pleased with our purchases.

On arrival at  Nantwich we were pleased to note that the town was even more welcoming this time than on our last visit, induced by the spirit of Jazz that was emanating now from almost every one of the numerous pubs that this small town had to offer. There was also a very warm welcome from Ray when we met and two more friends from Nottingham Mel and Anne, who had decided to come independently to the festival.



‘Zoot Serious’ performing in the Market Place


DSCN0555  Janis & Anne with Mr Zoot Serious himself

Janis and Anne posing with Mr Zoot Serious


DSCN0556  The N'Ukes

The N’Ukes ukulele band


DSCN0561  'Swingology'



We spent two nights in Ray’s luxurious motorhome while the time in between was mostly taken up with meandering from venue to venue guided by the printed programme that we had picked up previously. I had not seen any of the performers before but the standard was good and the acts ranged from the cabaret singer style suitable for the bar of the smaller pubs, right through to a swing octet and everything else on the way, including a Stephan Grappelli Hot Club of France type violin quartet, a traditional New Orleans jazz band, whose members were all older than me  but played magnificently nonetheless. it was all brilliant even though my ears suffered as a result of the heavily amplified rock and blues guitars in between.


DSCN0562  Ray and the girls

Ray and the girls in between numbers


We five friends had a great and happy time together and Janis and I had a lift back to Chester on Monday with Mel and Anne who had travelled from Nottingham in the former’s car. Here we caught the bus and arrived back at the ships, reassured on arrival that the leisure batteries had been fully topped up in the meantime through the efficiency of our solar panels and that our electric fridges were still operating.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Arrival at Liverpool

In the end we entered Salthouse Dock in Liverpool before Easter and the seven little ships that had amassed in the meantime like bees around a honeypot at Swing Bridge 9 in Aintree were all surprised but nonetheless very happy to undertake this Good Friday Passage at short notice.


Flypast for our arrival at Liverpool


The ten mile journey was in two parts, the first being from Aintree down to the old terminus of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Stanley Dock and the rest being the new canal way from there, through many of the old commercial docks to the north of the city, past the Liver Buildings and the other two ‘Graces’, through newly built locks into Albert Dock and beyond at the pontoons in Salthouse Dock.


DSCN0503  Stanley Bottom Lock

In Stanley Bottom Lock



Passing through Stanley Dock


DSCN0509  Victoria Tower at Stanley Dock sea entrance

Victoria Tower at the seaward entrance to Stanley Dock


Approaching the new ‘Sid’s Ditch’



the narrow Sid’s Ditch

Here at our mooring the top of the old dock wall looms ten feet above us and the ancient granite face is like a precipice making our boats tiny and insignificant. Close by on the quay, one of the old bollards fills me with nostalgia as I remember those old times arriving at Liverpool so many years ago now on Blue Star Line Ships after long and sometimes stressful ocean passages and the thrill of looping the eye of our first huge mooring line over one of these was quite emotional.



The front of the Royal Liver Building



The old and the new



The old Bar Light Vessel that I remember so well


DSCN0541  Albert Dock Bridge

Entering Albert Dock


DSCN0542  Follows numerous photos of Albert Dock

Busy Albert Dock today



The ancient dock wall behind our floating jetty



The new Salthouse Dock


The docks are no longer how they were though. The old commercial warehouses are now museums, hotels and restaurants and the whole area, though unchanged physically for the most part, has undergone a complete rebirth.

But carefully the old has been blended with the new in a way that all has been updated with such sensitivity so that the Twenty First Century glass fronted buildings nearby, the giant ‘Liverpool Eye’, the hundreds of visitors, with the necessary ice cream vans and children’s amusements in no way spoil the overall and continuing picture that will remain Liverpool Docks.

We are very pleased to be here and temporarily part of it.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Temporarily, the end of the line

When we set out from Warwick at the beginning of last month, we had great plans of conquering the North. We had decided to take ourselves up the magnificent Lancaster Canal as far as we could get after visiting the beautiful City of Liverpool by motoring in front of the famous Liver Buildings along to the visitor moorings at Salthouse Dock.

For both these journeys there were aspects that needed to be booked in advance so after we arrived at Wigan last weekend, we called into the C&RT North West office on Monday morning hoping to set up both to fit into our previously and meticulously planned schedule.

We spoke to one lady first who gave us application forms for completing the Ribble Link, the short tidal estuary passage that boats have to make to pass from the Rufford Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the southern end of the Lancaster Canal. We soon realised that we needed to book an exact time on a certain date in order to make this passage and looking at the schedule it was obvious that many other boats were wanting to do exactly the same thing. There were very few spots left for us to book going northwards within the next month and no dates available at all till September for making the return passage.

Now both Janis and I were looking forward to spending perhaps a fortnight in the Lake District while we were so close but also we had planned to be back in Birmingham by September so there was a necessary need to change our plans.

We decided to give up the Lancaster Canal idea and plan it (well in advance) into our next visit north. Instead we decided to concentrate our efforts on the Liverpool Canal Link Passage. Another lady helped us with this and we had yet another form to fill in.

Much better luck this time we experienced. However…..

The Link was closed at  the moment, only temporarily mind you, while one of the bridges en route was cleared of a pile of rubble that some third party had dumped therewith, making it unsafe for passage beneath according to the Health and Safety Executive.

So we decided to push on from Wigan on Monday hoping that the way would be clear for us by the time we arrived at our destination.

The weather was wonderful for the journey with bright Sunshine all the way and following the flat, lock free flood plain of the River Douglas was an absolute pleasure. I spied my first Swallow of the year perched on a telephone wire with his distinctive pointy tail and wings protruding well below the wire and all of a sudden there were so many multi families of Mallard in evidence the young, like little furry ping-pong balls, scurrying across the water so fast as to be almost running over the surface. Let’s hope that most of them survive through these early days of life from the keen notice of so many predators.



Part of Wigan Pier looking back to Trencherfield Mill


But on tying up here, near Swingbridge Number 9 at Aintree yesterday there is still no clearance beneath the bridge at Stanley Dock and it is now looking likely that we shall have to wait till after Easter before any further movement is considered.


 DSCN0477  Turtle at Eli Meadows Lock

A Turtle at Eli Meadow Lock


DSCN0479  .....and Mallard eggs. Abandoned maybe

Mallard’s nest at Eli Meadow Lock


The blue bloom of Bluebells


Alert Jackdaw




Vulnerable Mallard family

Dunham Massey to Wigan


‘Roots and Wings’ at romantic sounding ‘Waters Meeting Junction



Approaching the Barton Swing Aqueduct


DSCN0440  .... and southwards

On the Aqueduct looking west along the Manchester Ship Canal


DSCN0448  The Manager of the Duke of Bridgewater's coalmine at the Delph Entrance. His House

The head of the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal at Worsley


DSCN0452  Unusual Balance equipment at Henshall Top Lock Wigan

The unusual ‘balance beam’ mechanism at Henshall Top Lock, Wigan

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dunham Massey Hall

On Tuesday night after a satisfying day’s run of more than seventeen miles from Runcorn, we moored the two little ships on the wide towpath opposite the National Trust Property called Dunham Massey Hall. It is the ancestral home of the Earls of Stafford and this year is an important one in its long history. For one hundred years ago the house was changed into a military hospital for the benefit of a total of nearly three hundred wounded soldiers, sent home on ‘Blighty leave’ from the Western Front.


DSCN0380  Front aspect of the house

The Front Aspect of Dunham Massey Hall


DSCN0384  Pink and white Hyacinths to rear of the house

The Sculpture.
Each concrete block represents a patient at the hospital


Though these men were well looked after for the whole period of the war by the nursing staff, medical conditions were still quite primitive, infection from wounds being the most difficult challenge in those pre-antibiotic days. Plenty of fresh air and massage of the limbs was the best advice offered then to recovering soldiers.


DSCN0382  Scooter Park in the Gardens

The scooter park in the garden


DSCN0391  Wood Anemone

Blue Wood Anemone


DSCN0393  Trinity Flower

Trinity Flower




Our mooring was barely half a mile from the Georgian house so we decided to pay it a visit expecting the run of the place to be very much to ourselves this early in the year.


Pink Hellibor


Pink Magnolia

When we arrived however, the large car park was already full and the booking hall absolutely heaving with people. What we had forgotten of course is that it was half term week and what a wonderful place Dunham Massey would be to take the children.

It was most instructional as well, as the house had been re-laid out as a war hospital very much as it was in 1914 including the operating theatre with all its primitive instruments and a fine group of excellent young actors, who, behaving like ghosts and quite oblivious to the vast amounts of visitors getting in the way all the time, re-enacted very harrowing scenes of what would have gone on then. I was moved enormously and each time that I found myself in one of these scenes, I had to surreptitiously reach for my handkerchief to blow my nose.



Quite unperturbed by my close proximity


Colourful Magpie


The weather was fine and the vast deer park and gardens were ideal for families and children to let off steam outside. Janis and I had lunch and then joined a conducted tour of the extensive Summer and Winter gardens abundant still with Spring blooms at this time of the year as well as many other flowers and trees that were completely new to me.

Six hours later we returned to the ships tired but wonderfully happy with the day.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A Fine Day in Liverpool and Another at Norton Priory

On Tuesday last 1st April Janis and I caught the bus at Runcorn Bus Station and it took us swiftly and non-stop across the Mersey via the suspension bridge to Liverpool Bus Station opposite the Albert Dock. It was near here at The Liverpool Yacht Club that that we were going to a lunch reunion of of my old shipping company and the day was beautiful for it. It  was lovely to meet old shipmates again though we all looked a bit older now after a gap of forty years or so. But stories were retold with youthful enthusiasm and it was exciting and good to see all the happy faces again.

Then later following our return to the ships Janis made ready for her trip to Newark the next morning

So now I am boat-sitting for a week here at the end of the Runcorn Arm of the Bridgewater Canal while Janis is away. I appreciate being stationary for a while as it gives me a chance to catch up with small chores around the ship that there hasn’t been time for since leaving Warwick.


A handsome fellow strutting along…….


….. and full of diligent concentration

Normally at this time I would have been concentrating on touching up the outside paintwork but as the weather this week, apart from just one day’s relief, has not been good enough ‘Futurest’ still possesses the coat of unkempt dowdiness that she collected over Winter.


A brave but mud spattered Daffodil

As well, because of the weather, I have managed enjoy a bit more reading than usual and I value immensely the time to be able to do this. But walking the local area has also been an activity that I’ve enjoyed enormously. I know the town of Runcorn and its environs thoroughly now and though I’ve not been that impressed by the rather rundown outlook of the town centre, on Friday we experienced another warm sunny day which encouraged me to walk a couple of miles back along the canal to the ruins and museum of The medieval Norton Priory.



The Norman under-croft at Norton Priory


IMG_1008  Foundations of priory buildings

The foundations of the priory





….. and the humble Dandelion


Situated deep in woodland that belies completely its proximity to the urban area of the town, one arrives on foot at the priory suddenly and completely by surprise. All that remains of the Norman building that was built in 1219 is the foundations of most of the walls but the grounds and the recently completed museum makes it well worth a visit.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII the abbey, as it was then known, was bought by the Brooke Family and the old buildings turned into a Tudor country house. In the eighteenth Century however, the old house was almost completely demolished and a fine Georgian mansion was built over the top of everything. Then later when this was removed as well leaving just the original Norman under-croft, archaeologists uncovered the foundations of the rest of the priory and have been able since to reconstruct 3D images of how everything would have looked in the Twelfth Century. In the end I spent most of the day there exploring the ruins and the extensive gardens that have been lovingly restored.


The Great Crested Grebe


Immature Great Black Backed Gull


Tufted Duck




I returned to the ships by way of the promenade path along the side of the Manchester Ship Canal, managing as a bonus to take some good photos of birds on the water.