Category Archives: Music

Laid-Back in Northwich, or How To Turn 3 Nights into 8

As usual at this time of year, the head gardener was due to go off for a few days with her gardening chums visiting gardens (at least that’s her story). With an incipient cold, a car at Stoke-on-Trent, and sadly no Biggles for company, I decided we’d both head home on Monday for three nights. And then, with some serious mission creep, Song & Dance’s dancer announced that if I was coming South as well, Jackstraws Morris had their 40th Anniversary Day of Dance on Saturday 16th, and wouldn’t it be nice if… After considerable discussion we decided to decide later.

We’d arranged to leave the boat for those few (or possibly more) days at Orchard Marina, or at least we thought we had. “I’m sure that will be alright” said the rather laid-back chap who answered the phone earlier in week “just use one of the pontoons immediately in front of you as you come in.”

Anyway, some friends of ours who live at Lymm (Jackstraws Morris country members, no less) said they’d drive over to Orchard Marina then walk along the towpath until they found us. And so it proved, and we had a pleasant – albeit short – Sunday lunchtime cruise in yet more scorching sunshine to the aforesaid marina. And indeed there were a couple of unoccupied pontoons straight in front of us, so we chose one and backed in.

At which point our friends Christine and John poured gasoline on the flames, saying that they were heading darn sarf at the weekend for the Jackstraws Day of Dance, and if we’d like to wait until the Monday morning, they could give us a lift back. After considerably more discussion we decided to decide later.

The manager of the marina was nowhere to be found – a common occurrence it seemed – but the laid-back locals all seemed to think there was no problem leaving Song & Dance where it was for as long as we wanted. It looked like most of the boats were permanently occupied and it was quite a close community (although probably breaking lots of rules regarding residential moorings. Ho hum). Anyway, without more ado, the car was fetched from Stoke-on-Trent on Monday morning and we headed South for 3 nights. Maybe.

Actually, the marina business had us puzzled. Orchard Marina was – given summer and nice weather, and people out cruising – fairly full. But in the mile or so from Whatcroft Flash to Orchard Marina that we’d cruised there were two new/partially completed marinas with room for several hundred narrowboats between them and all of three moorings occupied. Don’t know where they think they’re going to get customers from. Maybe it’s a planning system ploy: after a few loss making years they get permission to convert the area to luxury flats or gravel pits or something. Who knows.

An Alarm, and a Chippenham Diversion

The plan soon fell apart. Rachel, the lady who sort of looks after Festival Park Marina, said she’d be in the office at 8:30 on the Monday morning, and we were a bit puzzled at how quiet everything looked when we turned up. Eventually Gavin, the chief engineer and technically the marina manager was located, and claimed to have no knowledge of their promise to put us up for a week or so. Seems Rachel had unexpectedly gone into hospital… And Steve, the chap who looked after all the Black Prince boats said it was quite impossible (read “a lot of hassle”) to put us anywhere where we could hook up the electrics.

Eventually Gavin found a piece of paper, had some discussion with Steve, and all was well. Being out of season most of their boats were in, but with the bank holiday/half term arriving, the place they needed to put Song & Dance to meet our agreed booking meant shuffling all their boats up one. We suspect Rachel’s name was mud, in her absence. But eventually we were tucked up safe and sound.

Anyway, after doing a mound of laundry, a couple of days later we caught a train to Banbury, retrieved the car from Cropredy Marina, and headed home.

We’d got used to fine weather, if somewhat erratic temperatures, and the trip south to catch up with the post, friends, and Chippenham Folk Festival went swimmingly. So swimmingly that you’ll be pleased to know that photos of Morris Dancers have been left out this year.

However, just to prove the Navigator was doing something useful, here’s a picture of (some of) Sheelanagig taken from the back of the main stage, and a chap doing some Mongolian overtone singing up the other end of town…

SheelanagigOvertone Singing

Despite our hassles dragging a car around last year, on return to Song & Dance we decided to leave the car at Festival Park Marina for a few days, while we headed off to Westport Lakes to do some serious planning regarding our hopes for a trans-Pennine cruise. Can’t believe that it’s the last day of May – where are the weeks going?

Dancing Mothers-in-Law & Ratty Runs

Wednesday morning saw us pulling up as near to Market Bosworth as we could, and tackling the mountainous ascent to the Co-Op, Greengrocer, Butcher’s shop and cafe. Not much seemed to have changed in the last decade, except the aforementioned peculiar cottage had done something very odd with the tree in the back garden, and the chippie had acquired a sense of humour (not).

Market Bosworth CottageBatter of Bosworth

All over the Coventry Canal and elsewhere, CaRT have been putting pegged coir rolls where the bank is suspect, as it allows Ratty (who was a Water Vole)  to get in and out with ease. And signs telling you all about it. In fact, despite any wind or willows, we are pretty sure we saw one swimming across the canal – rat sized but no obvious tale, so we got pretty excited. Here, they haven’t bothered with coir rolls – they just leave a hole very tenth post. Fran also got excited when she saw someone had named their boat after her, but was rather less impressed by the pram hood.

Ratty RunDSCF6910

About the nearest accessible place of even a half-decent size is Stoke Golding, a delightful village which we’d never visited before, and from which comes the energetic Stoke Golding Country Dance and an erstwhile Mother-in-Law, who collected it.

Stoke GoldingStoke Golding

The moorings below the village were splendid, with just a short walk across the fields to an excellent pub The White Swan, at which dinner was partaken.

And so, as we neared the end of our detour (the much by-passed Ashby Canal runs pretty much North – the direction we’re heading, but then you have to retrace all your steps), we decided it really was a lovely canal to wander gently along – we’ll be back, and stay awhile. Perhaps we’ll even visit Bosworth Field.

Sent to Coventry

The five miles from Sutton Stop into Coventry Basin is not, shall we say, overly scenic, although not without interest. For example, it passes the largest 24 hour Tesco in the country, and the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City FC and The Wasps RFC.

We normally cruise just listening to the bird song, but this sunny morning going through the industrial backwaters we had music on deck, on shuffle. It’s always interesting to see how often “random” tracks somehow match the environment, but all the iPod could offer passing the Ricoh Arena was a number from Ian A Anderson, whose lack of interest and/or knowledge of all matters ball-kicky is self-confessed and legendary (and doubtless applies to matters ball-hitty too). Ah well. And then, ten minutes later, as we emerged from a bridge hole, the iPod burst into Brown Sugar just as a huge hoarding came into view advertising the Rolling Stones playing at the Arena in a month or so. Hmm…

In hot sunshine, we reached the refurbished Coventry Basin in time for lunch. It’s an odd place. It might have been rescued from dereliction, but apart from a boat hire base and a few old warehouses that one can’t get to, there’s not much there of interest.

DSCF6887

The Canal & River Trust sign (click on photo to “go large”), suggests you can spot quirky crafts in old warehouse – we spotted none, unless a Polish grocer counts – and relax in cafes and bars. Well, there was one small and very basic cafe, and what might have been a night-club that opened up at about 7.30pm for a private birthday party; most of the units were unoccupied, and the place was pretty much devoid of people, passing trade or much interest. Even the “local wildlife on the water” were a few desultory Mallards and a passing Black-Headed Gull. And large chunks were surrounded  by temporary fencing as the cobbles were lifting and becoming trip hazards. CaRT living in cloud-cuckoo land again!

Coventry BasinCoventry Basin

Coventry BasinJames Brindley, Coventry Basin

There is an old crane, and a statue James Brindley – a sine qua non of such places one suspects.

Coventry BasinCoventry Basin

Nevertheless, the basin’s very close to the centre of Coventry, so after sampling the solitary cafe’s wares for a snack lunch we girded our loins and set off for town.

Fake Morris, Furrows and Welsh Elves

I’m afraid that we can’t escape Morris dancing. Real people can skip this post.

An early start on Saturday morning had our friend and morris dancer Sue arriving from the station weighed down by TWO morris outfits. Some people don’t know when enough is enough. Still, at least it was sunny, and on the way to being seriously hot for the time of year. Jam today! The Red Queen will be turning in her grave. Rather different to dancing in the snow, like a couple of years ago.

Jackstraws, Ashmolean Museum

First up was the Ashmolean Museum. You might think that Jackstraws had forgotten their hankies and their sticks, but this dance was actually sponsored by government cutbacks. It also cunningly disguises the fact that Shirley had forgotten to bring some kit for country member and sister Chris. Good job she had a Jackstraws T-shirt.

Basingclog MorrisBasingclog Morris

Basingclog Morris seem to appeal to both the young and the – errm – slightly more mature dancers. And no morris display would be complete without the ever-young octogenarian Bob Prince lurking in the background.

Jackstraws, Oxford Botanical GardensJackstraws, Oxford Botanical Gardens

After lunch, it was the first time Jackstraws had danced in the Botanical Gardens, which was a nice spot apart from the rather unsuitable loose gravel dancing surface. And when numbers are short, dances for four-up are definitely a good move.

Brackley Morris Men

As well as dancers and musicians, Brackley Morris Men seem to have a Morris Dog too. Seen horses, cows and fools, but not seen a dog before: wonder if they come under the same rules as other assistance dogs. Perhaps they can warn of anyone likely to suffer ill effects or emotional outbursts from an outbreak of unnecessary Morris Dancing,

Oxford Botanical GardensOxford Botanical Gardens

After all that, a late afternoon coffee watching the stunts of the punts on the river, and a wander round the gardens, we adjourned to the boat. With the girls spruced up, we were all too tired from all that sun and exercise for a ceilidh, and retired to the Lebanese Restaurant across the bridge in Jericho for the third year running, for some decent food and some nice wine courtesy of the late Serge Hochar.

Sunday was again nice and warm. Sue whizzed off in her different kit, followed by us… not quite sure where the day went: strolling around Oxford tripping over Morris and other dancers of all shapes sizes and varieties. To avoid causing offence, there are no photos of the Belly Dancers, even if this lot seem rather less bellied than last year’s. And I was frankly appalled to discover that the Outside Capering Crew’s Bacca Pipes dances used fake pipes made of copper tubing painted to look like clay. No wonder they never seem to break one.

Having travelled down through Oxfordshire, where the old Ridge and Furrow mediaeval agricultural system is often still highly visible at the edge of the canal, it only seemed appropriate to finish the weekend by going to see  the excellent Furrow Collective, who weren’t as a loud as False Lights, despite Alasdair Roberts’ electric guitar. We were also very taken by the support act, a Welsh trio called Elfen (with the emphasis on Fen).

And after a gloriously warm and sunny weekend, we noticed a decided nip in the air as we walked home at about 22:30. Milly M and Bones were still tied up at the end of the cut  at Hythe Bridge, having overstayed the 48 hours, just like Song and Dancei  and Mallard (a fellow morris dancer) a few hundred yards down. Seems par for the course at Oxford Folk Weekend.

False Fears and False Lights

Setting off again in bright warm sunshine – we could get to like this – we were soon at Dukes Cut Lock/Junction, where there was a genuine Red Board warning us about the Thames, but t’Interweb suggested that things were improving rapidly even though we’d seen very little traffic.

Ploughing down through Wolvercote and the Agenda 21moorings (read floating “ecological” slum), we arrived at Jericho to find a mooring – on proper rings – right where we wanted it. Our worries were found-less.

After taking advantage of the sunshine to touch up some paintwork and a spot of lunch, we headed into Oxford centre to sort out some tickets and stuff. After an hour of wandering around the city centre, the cook noticed she was missing a much-loved earring. Another three-quarters of retracing our steps led to her heading back to the boat “just in case” to see if the earring was there while I went off to get some tickets. The missing item was on the floor of our bedroom on the boat. Walking around a busy city centre shopping area with your eyes glued to the pavement and gutter is an interesting experience. Not.

Mind you, one little mystery was solved. As you walk from the Jericho moorings into town, you reach Isis Lock letting down onto the Thames, and a small arm of the Oxford Canal continues for about 500 yards past residential boats to a small basin at Hythe Bridge where there are a couple of 48 hour visitor moorings. It’s a busy, noisy spot right by the main road; the water is full of “end of waterway” rubbish and litter; you probably need a gang plank to access the shore; and in the absence of a winding hole, you either have to reverse down the 500 yards or reverse back when you leave. We’ve never bothered, and rarely see anyone else down here. But tied up were Milly M and Bones. Obviously sloped off for a weekend together…

Actually, we’ve bumped into Maffi in Oxford Cornmarket on previous Folk Weekends, and he has a boat full of guitars so perhaps he’s a closet folkie.

Anyway, with earring restored and tickets purchased, we went off to see Sam Carter and JimDoug in their folk rock band False Lights in the splendid Wesley Memorial Church. They were loud. The PA struggled. And so to bed.

Ships That Pass In The Light, and A Sign of the Times

Back at the boat, after a less exciting lunch than we’d been hoping for, we raised two fingers to closed butchers, and headed off. We had an appointment with some some Russian Blue cats on Saturday, and didn’t want to be late.

Not far down the cut, we called in at Crick Marina (owned by the same people who run Song & Dance’s winter home at Cropredy) for fuel and a pump out. Manoeuvring a narrowboat in unsheltered confined spaces in a strong wind is always interesting…

The only time we’d been there before was by car, to the huge annual waterways festival held there every year. It looks very different then.

We’d planned on finding somewhere near the top of Watford Locks for the night, which meant passing through Crick Tunnel, then trying to locate somewhere reasonably quiet. A boat had just emerged, and left it’s headlight on, and just as we were about to tell them, realised it was our friends Ian and Janet from Guildford Folk Club and Yately Morris on their boat Tuesday Night. They used to moor in Cropredy too, but last year, at the Crick Boat Show, won a free year’s mooring somewhere else (near Napton Junction, we think). If we’d been three minutes earlier, we’d have passed in the dark of the tunnel, and never known it was them. Guess we’ll see them in Guildford in due course to catch up.

On this section of the Grand Union (the “Watford Gap” area), the M1 motorway, the canal, Mr Branson’s finest express trains and Watling Street (the A5) all converge through the same gap in the hills. Finding somewhere reasonably quiet for the night can be a challenge, but having been this way before, we knew a likely spot, and luckily had the place to ourselves.

Should you have wanted to, you used to be able to access the infamous Watford Gap Services from the towpath, but alas no more. The angle of the barbed wire at the top of the high security fencing that now surrounds it is clearly set up to prevent anyone getting out of the services onto the towpath (as opposed to the other way round). Rumour has it that as a favourite “first stop” after Dover for lorries heading north, it’s a prime spot for illegal immigrants to jump ship (or lorry, as it were) and head off into the hinterland. So us boaters have to forego our Big Mac, Costa Coffee and Krispy Kreme Donuts…

What a hardship.