Tuesday, 21 July 2015

2nd chapter of the 2015 edition

re Some more bedside reading......

Since our last newsletter (22 June) the weather hadn't improved so we decided to go to Shefffield on the train.   This involved getting the local bus from the Bugsworth Basin which only ran every 2 hours.  This took 4 minutes to get to the station - a few miles away along a very winding narrow road.   When we arrived at the 'station bus stop' which was about 200 yds away from the station we had just 3 minutes to catch the train.  We had to run up and down the overpass to the other side of the track but somehow managed to make it - thankfully the train waited for us!

Lovely Peak district views

 Spectacular scenery along the track through the Peaks District which apparently is the second most visited National Park in the world behind Mt Fuji in Japan.   Lots of hikers tramping along in the drizzle and camping out.  

Arrived 45 minutes later at Sheffield station and caught a tram into the city.   Quite a big place with all the usual large shops and an amazing glass roofed area with tropical plants growing in the centre of the office/shops.  

The Information Centre suggested we went on the 2 mile 'City Walk' which would show lots of historical sites.  Bit of a disappointment really as most of the sites now had new buildings built on them.    The cathedral was pretty interesting though - with some parts built in the 12th century right up to a very modern part with a glass ceiling turret.   

We also visited Kedlam Island which was a museum of steel making - everything from huge steel beams to the most delicate silver wear and the most powerful steam turbine engine which they cranked up twice a day.

On the way back to the station we passed a beautiful old building - cheekily went through the door 'to have a look'.  We were met by the Beadle (the security/caretaker) of the building which turned out to be The Cutlers Hall.   The Cutlers are a group of craftsmen who have made silverware in Sheffield over the last couple of hundred years.      We were told there were meetings going on in all the big rooms so we couldn't see them.    However, after a few minutes the Beadle - finding out we were Ozzies - said we could walk along the hallway to see the displays of cutlery and silverware.   There was even a Swiss army type knife about a foot long that had 250 utensils (knives, scissors etc) inside.  Amazing!  Then he opened the door to the main dining room which was set up for a dinner of Cutlers that evening.  The most amazing display of silverware and crystal glassware on the long table and lots of crystal chandeliers and cabinets all round the room holding incredible pieces of silverware.

Just before leaving, the Beadle presented us with a book '100 Years of Stainless Steel in Sheffield' which he then went off to get signed by this year's Master Cutler.   This position used to be held by the best silver craftsman in Sheffield but can now be held by people connected with the industry.  The Master Cutler then introduced himself, David, a lovely fellow who was wearing a huge silver medallion (like a mayoral chain) round his neck.  He explained he wasn't a silver craftsman but 'had started a few manufacturing companies in Sheffield''.    Altogether an unreal experience just because we wanted to see what was behind the fancy doors.

Next day the sun was shining so we set off towards Manchester.   We went down 16 single locks at Marple AND I drove the boat with Terry doing the locks.   Managed to get down without losing too much paintwork getting into each lock

After a long day we moored  'in the middle of no-where'.  Next morning we went down the final 12 locks of the Ashton Canal into Manchester City.   Hard locks because they were all fitted with anti-vandal locks which needed a key so it took twice as long to go through.     
Aqueduct near Marple
We moored up right in the heart of the city with the huge main station (Manchester Piccadilly) only a 5 min. walk. 

Great graffiti artists in Manchester!
Manchester is such a busy place - lots of double-decker buses, taxis and double length trams as well free buses around the city centre.   It must have been a huge industrial city in the 1800s but most of the warehouses and mills have been turned into apartments as well as lots of new high-rise apartment blocks being built.

Inside Manchester Cathedral

John Ryland Library - a massive beautiful building given to the Manchester people by a rich lady in memory of her husband.y
Some really lovely old buildings in the town centre particularly the Town Hall and the John Ryland Library which houses some of the oldest books in the world.   

People seem very friendly.  Whenever we've been standing on a street corner looking lost (happens often) someone has offered to help us find our way.   But the further north we travel the stronger the accents are becoming - just about need subtitles to understand most people.

Went down to the Manchester Quays area where the BBC (Media City) moved to recently.  Couldn't do 'the tour' as it is booked out weeks ahead but the new buildings are very impressive. 

Also went to the National Cycling Velodrome - used for the Manchester Commonwealth Games It has the National BMX track next door which was being used by some very young riders (only looked about 3 or 4) using tiny bikes with no pedals to get up and down the bumps.  

Decided to catch the train to Leeds as we couldn't get there by canal - our boat is too big and the locks are a few feet shorter than us.  The trip on the train took an hour through more lovely Peak countryside.

Leeds is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited.    Had a tour around the Town Hall, a very impressive building then hopped onto the free city circle bus and went to the Indoor & Outdoor Markets.  These were built in Victorian times too and have amazing architectural features.   Even still has the original Marks stall (before Mr Marks joined up with Mr Spencer to form the great M&S stores found all over the UK).

We then walked through the main shopping centre which featured some stunning Victorian arcades with glass domed roofs and lots of fancy tiling.  

 Two of the Victorian arcades in Leeds
In the afternoon we decided to go to the Royal Armouries Museum which we thought would just hold some modern weapon collections.  Wrong!   The most extensive display of weapons going back centuries from around the world - war, hunting, tournament (jousting etc enjoyed by King Henry) plus a magnificent tower 4 floors tall with medieval weapons displayed all up the wall.  We could have spent a week there and still not seen it all!

Decided to also visit Stockport - which turned out to be only 7 minutes on the train from Manchester.   In the 1800 and early 1900s when hats were worn by everyone this area had a big hat making industry with lots of mills.  We went to the Hatting Museum which had a great display with every sort of headwear from all over the world as well as some modern hats from local designers.  On the lower floor was where the felt hats and caps were made in the 1880s.   Clever machinery but terrible conditions to work in.   The rabbit 'fluff' was soaked in boiling water with sulphuric acid and other nasty chemicals to make the felt which then had to be shaped by hand to make the hats.   Smelly and dangerous work often done by young children.

We went down the extensive underground air raid shelter built in 1940 which could hold more than 6,500 people.   The sandstone tunnels went on for miles - with displays of what life was like in the shelters during the war - an audio system explained each area.   Very interesting.

Then went to see Staircase House, a Stockport family home for 500 years, which was completely brought back to life after being badly damaged by a fire in1995.  Very well done - all the rooms decorated as they would have been in the 1600s and you can even sit on the beds and chairs.  Most uncomfortable though!

The drizzle cleared up and we had the hottest July day on record -  over 36C with the centre court at the tennis at Wimbledon being over 40C.   Massive thunderstorm that night with heavy rain and a spectacular lightning show which cooled things a little.

Went down to London on the very fast Virgin train for a few nights - Olive turned six and had decided she wanted a 'sleep-over' with 3 of her friends instead of a party to celebrate.  Perhaps 'sleep' was the wrong term - the girls were still awake with lots of giggling and squealing well past midnight and then were up early on Sunday morning.  

Back in Manchester we set off for Liverpool.   Quite an easy run for a couple of days alongside the Manchester Ship Canal with not many locks to go down.  

Bridge over the huge Manchester Ship Canal - holds 800 tons of water and opens to let big ships through.

The water in the canals is so clear with lovely patches of water lilies and lots of bird life too.  Pity about the 1000s of plastic bottles and rubbish that is floating around - not to mention the wheelie bin floating past where we moored up one night.   It was too heavy for Terry and our neighbour to lift out of the water.  Bit suspicious with the lid screwed down - so we didn't wait around to find out what was inside!  The last 9 miles into Liverpool are controlled by CRT (Canal & River Trust) so we had to go in a convoy of 11 boats as there were a couple of swing bridges across busy roads that had to be closed as we went past.  

The entrance into Liverpool is amazing.   We passed many huge docks with large warehouses used in the 1700 and 1800s mainly for salt and tobacco cargoes - most now converted to apartments.  As well there was a thriving slave trade transporting slaves from Africa to America too which made many Liverpudlians very rich.

We are now moored up with 24 other narrowboats at Salthouse Dock - right in the heart of the city.   Very touristy here - with lots to see.  Liverpool must be the party capital of the UK with many groups of 'hen party' girls shopping during the day and hitting the 100s of bars and nightclubs at night.

More news to follow.....

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The 2015 adventure begins

Left Melbourne on a Royal Brunei flight with quick stops in Brunei and Dubai.  Arriving at Heathrow in London was amazing.  We were out of the terminal and on our way in only about 20 minutes instead of the normal 2 hours

Spent our first 3 nights with Sooz and Ten at their lovely new home which they moved into last November.  It’s just around the corner from their last place and even nearer the school which is handy.   The girls have grown so much since we saw them last September – Iris who never stops talking is now at playgroup a few days a week at the same school as Olive.  We also met Winnie – their new Groodle (a golden retriever/poodle) who is 12 months old but still a big playful pup.

Travelled by train to Leicester to pick up the boat which was at a marina near Foxton Locks.  At the weekend we went to the Crick Boat Show where it rained – as usual – but luckily not as heavily as last year.’

We then set out north, along the Leicester branch of the Grand Union Canal, stopping a few nights in Leicester because of heavy rain.  The city is still under the Richard III spell.  His body has now been reburied in Leicester Cathedral and there is a large exhibition showing how the body was found in a car part and all the tests done to prove it really was Richard IIIs body.  The rain stopped so we moved off only to moor up shortly after at a place called Thurmaston because of incredibly high winds – said to be up to 80 mph.  We really rocked that night!   It turned out to be a suburb of Leicester so we ended up catching a bus back to Leicester for lunch to celebrate Terry’s birthday.

We then made our way up to the Trent & Mersey Canal and retraced part of our first journey on the boat 4 years ago.   It was great to get back to the single locks which were made for narrowboats and much easier than the double locks (barges) around Leicester.   While moored up in Stone the TV we bought last year ‘died’ so we caught a bus (carrying the tele) to Stock on Trent – only 6 miles away we thought, but it turned out we went the ‘scenic route’ – probably about 20 miles – and visited lots of surrounding villages.   Luckily we were able to replace the tele under guarantee but it’s not easy travelling around without  a car sometimes!

Raining again so we spent the next weekend at Stoke and then went through the Harecastle Tunnel.  Not as scary as when we did it on our first trip 4 years ago.  This time we were the first boat through in the convoy as we were ‘experienced’.   The trip still took 45 minutes ion pitch blackness and we had to wear life jackets this time as someone went overboard last year and drowned.

From there we began in new territory where we haven’t been before.
We turned onto the Macclesfield Canal which is known as one of the most beautiful canals in the UK>  It’s built along the sides of the hills up quite high (over 500 ft above sea level) so there are some stunning views over the surrounding farm land.  Lots of lovely stone cottages and little villages dotted along the valleys.  

This canal was built in just 3 years as a short cut to Manchester.
We’re now at the Bugsworth Basin on the Peak Forest Canal.  This was a big industrial site with mines and kilns to provide limestone and lime for building.   Eighty canal boats a day were loaded and unloaded back in its heyday.  The BBC were filming here yesterday for the programme ‘Barging around Britain’.

The weather hasn’t improved much – absolutely freezing with daily top temps of 12 and 13C and lots of drizzle so the hills are shrouded in mist.   This area is where the industrial revolution started back in the 1700s when a fellow invented the machinery to make cotton using water from the rivers to drive the machinery.   There are huge mills along the canals but sadly most of them are either derelict or being used for other businesses or housing.

Yesterday caught a bus to nearby Whaley Bridge where ‘well dressing’ an ancient custom in this area was in full swing.   The village ladies spend a week making pictures out of flower petals which will be displayed at the festival next week. We then caught a bus to Chinley Village but everything was closed so we hopped on a train.  The ticket collector asked where we were going – we replied “where does the train go?”   So he suggested we get off at New Mills on the way to Manchester.   This was an amazing place built on the top of a hill with mills along the river gorge way down under the village.   No wonder everyone is fit here – everywhere you walk is either steeply uphill or downhill.

So……… There are lots of spring lambs and calves around, baby ducklings and swans and the purple rhododendrons (weeds here) are all over the hills looking quite beautiful – we just have to wait for Summer to appear and it will be perfect!