The Valiant Years – Part 2

In my blog post The Valiant Years I shared my delight at having been contacted by Tony Shearwood, whose mum and dad owned Enceladus in Valiant guise throughout the 70s and into the 80s. Tony took the time and trouble to go back through the collective Shearwood memory rolodex and he shared some cracking stories, which I in turn will share with you.

Take it away, Tony.

BWB’s Water Valiant soon to become the Shearwoods’ Valiant

“Once we sold the old girl, we had no contact with the new owners or any knowledge of what had become of her. My next ‘contact’ with her was when watching the Narrow Boat TV show on one of the less well known TV channels and there she was in the background shots, sadly looking very tired and in need of some desperate work. To be honest it was too sad to see, my Dad had spent thousands of hours keeping her shipshape, and to see her looking so desperately in need of love was heart breaking.

Anyway, that’s all changed now.

Sad to see…but happy days ahead

From memory, it was a Lister LR2, which had a huge flywheel and a manual starting crank-handle. This was great if the main batteries were flat, all you needed was to release the 2 decompression leavers, give it a good cranking over to get the flywheel spinning (being careful not to get your thumbs in the wrong position) and then close the decompression levers, and away it went.

Mum and Dad are coming over next weekend, so I’ll try and get as much history as I can and perhaps some pictures.

I think we were the second owners after she was decommissioned by British Waterways, by then she’d lost the Water part of her name and was just Valiant. I basically grew-up around Valiant, most weekends and holidays between the ages of around 7 through to my late teens were spent around her. My uncle also owned a hire boat company in Northwich, so I also spent a good few of my weekends in my teens, moving boats around during ‘change-over’ weekends. As a 13~14 year old showing grown-ups the ropes (sometimes literally) it was quite a thrill! It certainly helped develop my self confidence.

Once I’ve had more of a chat with Mum & Dad, I’ll drop you a line.”

———-

“Mum and Dad were here yesterday and although I had my reservations, I showed them the images of the old girl, with her new stern and superstructure.

To put it mildly they were delighted she was back in the water and looking so great. They said that they always wanted to correct the stern and replace the whole superstructure, but sadly they just could not take-on such a huge task at that stage of their lives.

Dad said the engine was a Lister HA2, not as I had suggested.

We talked for quite a few hours about our lovely old boat, and to see Mum and Dad so enthusiastic was lovely. Mum’s 79 and Dad’s 77. They’re both very active and are now heavily into old Austin cars, they have a pre-war Austin 7 and a pre-war Austin 10 that they take all over the UK and over to Europe. But hearing Dad’s boating stories brought-back so many ‘locked-away’ memories. They also said they understood your enthusiasm as they would love to know more of the personal stories of their cars.

He couldn’t remember which side of the hull had a really big dent; he thought it was the starboard side. He recalled trying to bash it out with a lump hammer. From the inside of the hull, taking a big swing of the lump-hammer, the lump-hammer just bounced-off, throwing him across the whole width of the hull. After that, he just put up with the dent.

This could be the dent…but she has so many

He also reminded me of the time we took the locks down from the Bridgewater canal onto the River Irwell in Central Manchester. As the Irwell was in fast-flow, the decision was made to lash 4 narrowboats together, side by side and to use the combined power of the engines to push against the river’s flow. It worked really well with all 4 boats being steered in unison. They even managed to turn all 4 boats by adjusting each boat’s engine, some increasing the power, and one of the outer boats being put into reverse. Teamwork was the winner that day. As you can appreciate, it drew quite a crowd as it was not a sight often seen in central Manchester.

There is also a lovely little bit of history about her. When Mum and Dad bought the boat, Dad wasn’t able to bring her back to Lymm in Cheshire as he was working, so Charlie Atkins brought her back for us. Charlie Atkins is more widely remembered as ‘Chocolate’ Charlie. I knew that Dad always stopped and chatted with Charlie whenever we went through the Preston Brook Tunnel, I just didn’t know how far back they went.”

——–

“When BW converted her, they cut rectangular ventilator holes in the side of her hull, this was to allow the engine to cool, as at the time she had a large steel rear deck above the engine. Our moorings were on a very straight and wide stretch of The Bridgewater Canal and on a windy day, with the wind in the right direction, it could whip-up some waves. After a particularly windy spell we got the phone call that everyone dreads, Valiant had sunk. The waves had slowly over-topped the air vents and flooded her. Being in the middle of the Cheshire countryside, there was no access for a crane to lift her, so my Dad went to the local Fire Station and spoke with the station commander. As a training exercise, they agreed to get a portable pump down to her. This alone was an ordeal, as the fireman had to hand transport this huge pump many hundreds of yards. Once all the open underwater orifices were sealed, the pump went to work. Lots of water was shifted from her, but she didn’t start to rise. As you know, her bottom was very flat, and she had settled into the mud, creating a sort of suction. It was only when a large amount of buoyancy was achieved that this suction was defeated. As my Dad said, she rose nose first, majestically, like a breaching whale.

The fire service would not take any payment as they treated it as a training exercise, but of course a donation was made to the Firemen’s Benevolence Fund. Dad said he drained and replaced the oil and diesel from the engine, then hand-cranked it, and it started straight away, of course the batteries were ruined.

Obviously, once the deck had been cut-out and the engine room was built, the side vents were no longer needed and were sealed.”

—-

I’m hoping that Tony’s mum might be able to dig out some photos of Valiant at play but I’m already hugely indebted to them all for making such a valuable, colourful and joyful contribution to the Enceladus story. Thank you, Shearwood family! If we get to the Lymm Historic Transport Festival one year, I hope you’ll come to see us in your cars!

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It’s au revoir, not adieu

Well the party is over…but what a party! That was our first HNBC boat gathering but it certainly won’t be the last, especially as there are rumblings afoot that next year we might make an assault on the mighty Rochdale and muster at Hebden Bridge (being short, I may just sneak round the back the long way round, as our up and over Pennine trip on Henry is still a way too lurid memory).

Hebden Bridge 2018 anyone?

Now I’m not a particularly ‘clubby’ person but I didn’t hesitate to join the Historic Narrow Boat Club because what’s the point of having a historic boat if you’re not going to throw yourself into it with a passion, supporting and participating, chatting with fellow boaters, learning about their boats and their stories, or just general bantering with nice people who have a common interest. And what the HNBC does really, really well – apart from phenomenal organising of events – is make you feel welcome, really genuinely a part of things, however much of a historic neophyte you are. Although I’ve been boating for a long time, Andy and I have owned Enceladus for less than two years; some people have owned their piece of history for longer than I’ve been alive but it doesn’t matter, once you’re in, you’re in and made to feel very much at home.

And the Brownhills weekend has afforded the perfect relaxed occasion to put names to faces, faces to boats, boats to names, and to strike up new friendships and empty my wallet at Sunday’s tat auction. No-one warned me I’d succumb to auction fever! I struggled back to the boat with my eclectic haul, including a Norman Mitchell-donated horn with working ‘parp’ bulb (I gave Norman a personal rendition as I left this morning). Tat, eclectic or otherwise, wasn’t the word that Andy used when he saw it…although, in his defence, he did think the horn a very fine thing and parped it a few times for good measure. I just had time for some polishing of my (now rebranded) curated treasures before joining Chertsey Sarah and her fellow team mates for the big quiz, the fiendish finale to our time at Brownhills. This involved dropping Andy and Rosie and Buzz off with Jim and Ricky dog on Chertsey, where the blokes could indulge their hermitic tendencies – and their dipsomaniac ones too, judging by the state of Andy when we returned several hours later. I should have left a note round his neck – “Please send me to bed after three pints”. I managed to roll him home and into the back cabin, delighted that he’d had such a lovely evening and had found a new chum to hang out with, rocking (as in forwards and backwards geriatrically not headbanging youthfully) to 78s and getting all excited at changing gramophone needles. There may be a few trips together in the future given our bonding over Grand Unions, greyhounds, blogs and now seemingly shellac…

Well worth the money – cost me more in polish

Now about this quiz, set by the avuncular Peter Oates (owner of Stanton, who we have casually adopted as Enceladus’s big brother). Well, he may look avuncular but don’t be fooled, he is a demon in disguise – those questions were bloody hard! It was an absolutely brilliant production though, and typical of the sterling and selfless efforts members make for the enjoyment of others. I will have to do some serious swatting up and dust down my Ray Shill Through Time books if I’m to get a podium finish next time. My defence for falling woefully short of secret weapon status is that I am a Jill of all trades, mistress of none; I have a passing acquaintance with facts across a lot of areas (Ed. I think they call that bluffing) whereas Uncle Peter’s quiz called for a real depth of expert knowledge; it was beyond anorak standard, it was at the anorak-with-a-zip-on-hood-and-plastic-lunchbox-and-thermos-and spotter’s-notebook level. At least we didn’t come last and while I can applaud the perennial winners, Mike Harrison and co, I do think they’re a bit rubbish in getting a whole eight questions wrong. Must have had an off night.

One last thought. The proceeds from the tat auction will be donated to the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust – an excellent use of my wallet’s contents! Many of us took the opportunity to head up to Anglesey Basin over the weekend, passing Ogley Junction and thinking that maybe one day we’ll have the chance to go straight on, destination Huddlesford. The restoration would be a triumph in itself but I also think it has huge strategic importance, and consequently it’s something that CRT should back with its full weight. To ultimately connect the northern BCN via the east from the Coventry and via the west from the Staffs and Worcs could, if not necessarily transform it, then certainly provide a stonking shot in the arm. A through route, taking in a fair bit of the Wyrley and hopefully encouraging people down either the Walsall or the Rushall as well, surely there’s some major potential in that? More boats means…well, just more…more engagement, more facilities, more interest, more upkeep, more money, more good things spreading outward into communities that we’ve found over the years to be friendly and welcoming, if sometimes a little challenged in the Keep Britain Tidy department. This is the restoration I’d most like to see in my lifetime, no doubt about it. The Cotswold Canals will be remarkable, I’m sure, but the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals could be real game-changers. If I ever get to go over the M6 Toll aqueduct in Enceladus, I will parp my horn all the way and parp it loud!

Time to take our leave – thank you and goodbye

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Short and smug

Siren call of the real deal

Ever since the Braunston Historic Show last June I’ve been harbouring naughty thoughts, insidious and insistent, like Sirens calling me to my financial and marital doom. Yes, you need a full length unconverted motor, they chant, you do, you do, you dooooo! No, I bloody well do not and having witnessed firsthand the travails of my doughty chums as they manhandled their 70 ft beasts round the twisty turny bends of the shallow, silty Wyrley & Essington, I am, a la Mrs Slocombe, unanimous in that. Am I pleased or what that I am a short-arse at just 48 feet; more than pleased, I am Mrs Smug of Smugsville. Before I go any further let me refer you to the Flamingo blog and Alan’s cracking post about the Yarwoods’ convoy from Walsall to Brownhills that stuttered round on Good Friday – for a taste of what it’s all about when you’ve had no bits chopped off, this is an essential read. Having spent most of the trip directly behind either Swallow or Flamingo, I really did get a full appreciation of the skill and effort it takes to be a boatman in these circumstances, and I doff my piratical bandana to both captains for wrestling their charges into submission.

Alan on Flamingo earned his pint

We ran as tail-end Charlie for the trip, a decision driven partly by gallantry (if everyone got stuck, I could come to the rescue given that my bottom is slightly smaller than their bottoms) and partly by sheer self-interest (if there were obstacles to find or ram someone else could have the pleasure.) Actually, it was more down to simple commonsense. Nick on Beatty’s weapon of choice is the keb so sending him as pathfinder seemed logical; Flamingo went second so Cath with her sore back could get some help up the Walsall locks; Swallow had a bike so could lockwheel with abandon, so we basically decided that peeling out of the basin in mooring order from left to right was the way to go. After a bit of a bunched start, we got into a good rhythm and we popped up onto the top stretch to Brownhills junction thinking we’d gone through a time whorl and floated into Moxley tip…an agglomeration of crud, a grimy potage of cut reeds and flotsam which I suppose was an almost inevitable punctuating exclamation mark on our Walsall passage. But this is just my aesthetic sensibilities being hurt, it’s no biggie.

Moving round through Goscote and Bloxwich on the Wyrley wasn’t much better, but at least we (meaning me) weren’t attacked by leviathans from the deeps…er..from the shallows. Beatty snagged a devil of a duvet while Alan added to his I-Spy Book of Bumper Bladefuls (he’s already got the duvet) with an impressive run of industrial carpeting. When I finally arrived at Brownhills and pulled off just a few plastic bags (my first of the whole trip) I felt even more like a fraud – not just short with a pert bum but lacking a mile of co-ax round the prop too! I fear I could get thrown out of the Club for such indiscretions…

On the way up to Anglesey Basin – and yes, still Birmingham

Other notes from today, Saturday. We had a little bimble up to Anglesey Basin and I’m thinking I may add that into my BCN Challenge route as I managed a decent turn of speed and it will be a pleasant little diversion for my crew, who’ll be new to the northern BCN. If you ever get the chance to go, do. Once back, I took the dogs to call on new friend Ricky on big Woolwich (hint, hint) Chertsey, and was promptly invited on board by Jim. The dogs had a quick sniff round but soon settled, Buzz appropriating Ricky’s bed and Rosie appropriating Jim’s lap. This was my first time on Chertsey and my word, what a marvellous thing it is, a glorious ‘home within a hold’ – dry, cosy, full of perfectly curated pieces drawn from all sorts of eras that yet manage to form a beautifully congruent, consonant – and now, newsflash, carpeted – whole. Embellished perfectly by three snoozing hounds…

Now about what I was saying earlier about full length unconverted motors like…ooh, I dunno, big Woolwiches? Unanimous I may have been, but it is also a woman’s prerogative to change her mind…

I do don’t do don’t do don’t need a big Woolwich

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It’s all too much

Yesterday (Tuesday as I write this) was just a day of surfeit. Too much money spent in the Ian Allan bookshop, too much dim sum consumed at lunchtime, much too close to the stage for The Who in concert at the Barclaycard Arena (I could feel the vibrations rearranging my skelington) and much too snoozy to want to get up promptly this morning. Previous experience of the passage to Walsall Basin encouraged me to leave plenty of time in hand so despite the protestations of the first mate, we were up and away by 8.30 – which is quite late when you think about it, so I don’t know why he’s groaning and moaning so much.

Proof that BCN bridge beauty is timeless

As it happened, a drained pound on the Ryder’s Green flight held us up by about an hour so depending on which way you look at it, I was right to leave extra time, or wrong to sacrifice precious snoozing time. It did however give me a chance to catch up with Barlows’ Gort and its owner, both of which were delightful – and notable for being one of the very few working boats to have had a Gardner fitted, and not the semi-diesel of the Cowburn & Cowper fleet but my favourite 2L2 no less. I have been promised a nosey at Brownhills.

Continuing on my theme of surfeit, something else there was way too much of – rubbish in and around the cut. It is such a shame because otherwise the Walsall canal would be a perfectly fine bit of urban canal – but the ubiquitous tut is painful to see, be it the deliberately dumped stuff or windblown detritus. Clear it up and spot dredge a couple of squidgy bits and you’re good to go – a stretch that has its interest, especially if you have your Waterway Routes map so you can see where all the stubs used to go; you won’t meet any other boats, probably, so you’ll be unhurried and unharried. And while it will never be gentrified or smartened up anytime soon, it’s a useful link up to the northern BCN, the natives are friendly, the winos super helpful and has a super end point in Walsall Town Basin. And most importantly, when you chug by all the arms and cuts that have long since been obliterated, you are very forcefully reminded that we do indeed need to use it or risk losing it.

Pretty fine, just needs a decent litter pick

The Walsall Canal fan club is very small, I think it’s me and two others, and they might be greyhounds. I suspect most people’s comments about it are repeated hearsay rather than (recent) experience-based, and while I cannot sit here and say it must be on your list of top five canals to do, I will happily report that we didn’t get stuck, didn’t get anything on the prop, didn’t get stoned, shot at or abducted by aliens…but we did get warned by the winos about the trolley reef under Wellington Bridge. And waved at by a four year old boy. And ‘hiya’ed’ by a group of schoolgirls. And completely ignored by a gang of teenage lads. Which was depressing as my girlish allure has obviously upped and left, leaving me facing the hideous reality of old bagdom.

We’re all tucked up for the night, four of Yarwoods’ finest in a row, as we were subsequently joined by Flamingo and Beatty, both manoeuvred and moored up by Alan and Nick respectively with some considerable aplomb. Onwards tomorrow, destination Brownhills, and a meeting up with lesser, non Norty types…

Beatty, Flamingo, Swallow, Enceladus making the Town Basin a Northwich stronghold. No Woolwiches admitted

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You have reached your (first) destination

First time we’ve ever managed to moor here – some obliging fellow was just moving off so we didn’t hesitate

So how did yesterday rate on my 1-10 Happy-ometer? I think a stonking big 11. A gentle pootle up to Brum central, a just vacated mooring on the Oozells Loop that I snuck into without demur, a bit of shopping, some overdue abluting, a simply wonderful meal at Lasan, and out like a light as soon as we crawled into the bed ‘ole. Simple pleasures, but the best ones.

Some extra notes. Wast Hill was remarkably clear for once; previous passages have always been through a ghoulish miasma, setting my imagination running and seeing Kit Crewbucket loom out of every brick. We didn’t meet any boats either, so no  mid-bore games of chicken. Shame.

Follow the trade – canal carrying lives

We also had a quick ‘stop and collect’ to do on behalf of the first mate. One of his customers lives a minute from the cut at Bourneville so arrangements were made for him to hand his busted synthesizer over for Andy to fix – long live canal carrying. It’s a heavy beast too, quite useful as compensatory ballast for the cack tank in fact.

Unfortunately this rendezvous meant that we were unable to avail ourselves of an enterprising canal-side facility, the Barge-Thru Cafe; it also meant I had to politely refuse a gentleman boater’s kind invitation for a coffee, a cappuccino no less. This was offered while Andy was below, but I think he was more enamoured of the boat than its captain; a strong gambit though, you can’t fault a man for trying.

My sort of cafe

While watering at Holliday Wharf, a lovely couple who had just come into the city to give notice of their marriage got some snaps of themselves and the boat, and they were very interested in the whole subject, citing Great Canal Journeys and confirming once again Tim and Pru’s PR value. They thought initially I was a trip boat and asked how much…now there’s a thought.

So nice not to have to park the car

Once we’d moored, I took a wander with the hounds, spotting FMC Bream and Barlows’ Gort opposite one another on the main line (both looking very fine, I might add). I hear from Sarah on Chertsey that a further historic flotilla is coalescing from the east along the bottom road and I know that the Finchers on Flamingo are coming up the North Stratford. The clans are gathering!

Bream and Gort pit-stopping in Brum before presumably heading for Brownhills

Final note a propos of nothing but encouraging all the same for the Challenge in May….not one thing on the prop yet. FLW.

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On we go

(With apologies to Dinah Washington) What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours…but the difference wasn’t you…or Andy..or Rosie and Buzz, which leaves me I guess. Definitely a brighter demeanour after a good night’s sleep and return of perspective that told me (as it does every time) that my mooring worries of the previous evening were just a tad over the top. Lo, tonight we had a repeat performance and I didn’t even blow my stack at Andy’s remark (always uttered on these occasions and remarkably unhelpful) that maybe I’d like to get a boat that would actually fit somewhere. Is it my fault that the water seems to have gone missing, as it’s not just me saying it, we’re all mithering about it?!

A more rounded view of the world this morning

Besides, tonight’s tarradiddle gave us another example of why boaty folk are so often the best…even though I was reversing Enc down the side of their very smart trad in an attempt to get back to a place where I could do a bit of spot dredging against some armco, out the owners popped, all smiles, lamenting the state of the cut and wanting to help. So in order, I think we had Mrs on the back rope, Mr on the front with Andy, me dredging and then Rosie decided she had had enough of staying inside with all the horrible noises and did a standing jump out of our small Northwich proportioned hold. Pretty good going for nine years old! Anyway, she ran to the nearest human for fuss, which happened to be Mrs, who promptly fell in love, while Mr was asking Andy if we wanted to borrow his plank. As we’d got tied in the interim in no worse a state than last night, we thought we’d be okay, so we bade them a good evening with hearty thanks on the side as they repaired to the pub.

The last thing I expected to see as I trudged around the corner

So my good spirits remained intact, result. The reason for said good spirits? Twofold I think. First, the rest of the North Stratford wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting. It’s been a few years since we last came through and a lot of decades since my seminal dead dog passage, and today the cut seems a lot cleaner with just a few hot grot spots. It’s also benefitted greatly, to my eyes, from some redevelopment and new housing which has lifted the tone of the environs; and also, the existing houses now seem to present a far friendlier face, appreciating the water, connecting rather than contemning. It still does go on a bit longer than I’d like – its passage is a tad too shrouded and closed in for my liking – but better, definitely better.

Have BW key, will travel

Secondly, I’m happy because we have the thing we did need – a new BW key – and no longer have the thing we didn’t – oil leaks. Paul came over at lunchtime to relieve Mafeking on both fronts, for which we are truly grateful; plus we’ve also arranged for a bit of investigatory poking about after the Braunston show to tackle the mucky exhaust issue.

Because we have a concert to go to on Wednesday we didn’t want to head into the city today and spend two days and three nights tied up in Brum central. So we turned left at King’s Norton and beetled down to Hopwood for the night. We usually like to give it a bit of welly through tunnels, as you do, but the HR2 is so thunkingly loud and painfully percussive that my brain started to hurt, so we took it steadily through Wast Hill with a few bursts of extra speed now and again. The Napton Narrowboats boat behind was doing a good job of playing catch but a very loud clang as bow struck wall ended his pursuit, and even though he resumed his charge once outside, he was foiled by my unexpected (to me, I didn’t have a map!) winding pirouette, which proceeded the aforementioned tarradiddle.

I can’t wait to find out what tomorrow is like!

PS. I realise now that while I thought I was being very clever in turning this evening when I suddenly espied the opportunity, the joke is on me rather. If we’d carried on just a smidge further, we’d have found the formal VMs with rings (I shall never go mapless again) and while levels are such that we might still have struggled to lie straight alongside, I reckon my consequent tarradiddle might have been downgraded to a tarradoddle.

Another little spirit lifter

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Should have stuck to the GU

What can I say about yesterday? It started so brightly but ended as a bit of an angst fest…for ridiculous reasons really as it’s not exactly as if we’re on the high seas here, no mild peril involved. It’s just that since acquiring Henry a few years ago, another boat whose proportions underwater are quite generous, and who only has access from the stern to boot, I have developed high anxiety about getting moored up. It is strange and I do worry about why I get worried, and I do try and counsel myself against it, but still the anxiety lingers. But let me come back to the evening after having talked about the morning.

And off we go again!

Lapworth was a delight, an easy ascent in glorious sunshine and thanks to the phalanx of towpath walkers I was able to politely pressgang a few into closing top gates for me. Yes, I had to ask, when so often people are all too willing to set to and lend a hand. And it struck me as we progressed upwards that I’d rarely witnessed so little engagement from the public – there was no obvious interest in the canal, the locks, the boat, us, and that is so unusual for a popular lock flight. As we were the only boat around you would have thought we’d have been a magnet for questions, I even had my happy face on…maybe that was the problem!

More new territory

After an uphill morning the afternoon went steadily downhill. I don’t think I have ever really clicked with the North Stratford, probably a legacy from one of my trips with dad when we came through on a miserable day and the cut looked like a midden, all dead dogs and discarded divans, the locals obviously content to crap on their own doorstep. There are not many things that elicit massively strong feelings in my generally equanimitous disposition but flytipping and litter get me off the scale. So we were already in negative territory, and we plunged further when we realized the level was off by about six inches and things all got porridgey. And of course it started my mooring alarm bells ringing, which quickly turned to a loud clanging when we tried to do a doggie pit stop. No chance and so began a three mile crawl with repeated attempts to get in to the side, my anxiety levels creeping steadily up, not helped at all by the fact that the HR2 decided to have an absolute smoke-a-thon in the heat, adding to its oil dripping woes. I really should have taken a leaf out of the dogs’ book as they weren’t bothered in the slightest and just kept snoozing. Eventually we got moored up…well, tied reasonably close at the front and a bit of a Grand Canyon going on at the back, but there was enough room for all the returning day-trippers to go past. And I know it’s a stupid thing to get het up about, really silly…maybe if we didn’t have big dogs to heave off I’d be less concerned but…

It was enormous and we ate it all and we don’t care

I decided to restore my equilibrium by cooking up one of my legendary spag bols (a talent I appear to have acquired from dad through DNA osmosis as I never learnt at his knee, just knew instinctively how to do it, though without the decorating the ceiling with spaghetti facet). It was bloody good, washed down with a couple of episodes of Designated Survivor and key lime pie, and we finally went off to bed just before midnight – a remarkable fact in itself as usually when we’re out on the boats, we’re yawning by nine and asleep by one minute past.

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Oil take the high road

So we are finally underway on what feels like our first journey of real purpose on Enceladus. Up to now, it’s been all little out and back bimbles which, while always very pleasant, lack the intent and interest of an A to B. We’re en route to the HNBC’s historic boat gathering at Brownhills on the Wyrley and Essington, going via Brum central to catch a concert. The first mate and I have been joined by canine crew Rosie and Buzz, who are already feeling the pace and it’s only day three.

How far do we have to walk?

Thus far, it’s been a super couple of days, helped in no small part by the stunning weather. We dropped down Stockton on our own and then picked up a couple of Kate Boats hirers to accompany us down through the rest, including a delightful family from Frankfurt who never stopped smiling and who had obviously fallen completely head over heels in love with the canals. That they will be back I have no doubt. Indeed, judging from both the emptiness of the UCC, Calcutt and Kate bases, the hiring season is obviously off to a cracking start, buoyed no doubt by all the recent telly PR. This is another very good thing…how many of us started by hiring? How vital is it for our collective future to have a successful – and influential – hire boat industry? And yet some people can be very funny about hirers. Now I’m not a sanctimonious cow, I’ve been known to have a tut and a tsk when a hirer does a silly, but I am quick to chide myself. I still cock up even now so most of the time I try to help, to smile and encourage and get a quick discourse in on why the Llangollen isn’t the only game in town.

Someone had the cheek to say I had the easy job – the important job, I think

Yesterday was a game of two halves, a decent ascent up Hatton with the assistance of the lovely Lesley off Yarwood. She undertook the chief baby minding role and in her company Andy was quite transformed from the begrudging lockwheeler into a happy little camper – she can come again. Indeed, it sounds as if during their little lock beam tete a tetes he had lined her up for any flight with more than 10 locks. After a quick pit stop for bacon rolls Lesley headed off on her trusty Brampton while we headed on to the Tom o the Wood moorings. It reminded me yet again of how beautiful, but how unheralded, this stretch of the GU is. Okay, the weather was a bonus especially as the blossom is just coming into bloom, but it is scintillating. Maybe people are just too focused on the big descent/ascents coming up to savour the in-between stretch but savour it I did yesterday. Along with more cake.

Baby minding

The only other thing of note is a running battle with the Lister, which wants to chuck its oil out while we’d much prefer that it kept it in. The finger of suspicion is on one of the copper washes on the oil filter but no amount of nipping up is helping and it’s simply ruining my engine room housekeeping! It has rather caught us on the hop as Andy prefers to stick to his areas of expertise and not fiddle as an enthusiastic amateur (he’s seen the damage that can do in his day job) so we may seek some professional assistance in the week. Failing that, I’ll be doing the rounds of owners at Brownhills!

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Perfect

Yesterday served as the perfect reminder – as if I needed one – of why we do this boating lark. We’d come up to Enceladus the night before so were able to make an early start, and after trotting the dogs out for morning necessities, we set to. Winter took six hours to erase, the fettling mixed in with plenty of banter, coffee and metal polish down the T-shirt.

Quick water stop turned into a long water stop, as they do

But as the clock ticked just past three, we were finally done; lobbing a small Eiger of dirty cloths into the nearest cupboard, remembering to actually put the tiller on, having a senior moment about which way to hang the chimney chain and we were off.

Thank you Ryan for your smiley efficient service earlier.

 Three hours of glorious cruising into the setting sun, with the countryside just starting to hint of its sukebind promise to come, everyone in splendid spirits and plenty of boats actually on the move, which is a very good thing…not quite sure why they felt the need to drive up the bank when they saw me though, a girl could get a complex.

One for the album, perfect day

Finally tied up, without even a murmur of a domestic, and then I toddled off with the dogs for an hour while Andy tightened some nuts and took the top off a beer. Perfect, I tell you, just perfect.

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The Valiant Years – Part 1

Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Enceladus has had multiple names and iterations across her eight decades or so. When entering the BW hire fleet at the beginning of the 60s, she was Water Valiant. When entering her private ownership years, she became simply Valiant. I knew very little about this phase of her life apart from a reference that she once ran as a trip boat on the Staffs and Worcs and was moored around the Bratch, but I think this refers more to the decade that preceded her move onto the bank at Stretton in the early 2000s. As regards the 70s and 80s, it was all a bit of a blank..until a chap called Tony Shearwood got in touch.

Not Tony’s pic, probably from 90s, but still looking very tidy

You may already have clocked his comment but if not, I’m going to share it here (all this is being done with Tony’s happy consent, by the way). I am not going to edit any of Tony’s words here, or what’s to come – yes, there’s more but you’ll have to wait – because I want you to experience what I did, the very real affection, enduring love and unalloyed, undimmed enthusiasm that just shines forth from what he has to say. This is what boating and boat ownership is all about. Over to you, Tony
“Hi, we owned ‘Valiant’ as she was then known throughout the 70s and well into the 80s. She was our family boat based in the North West of England in Lymm. We loved the old girl and spent very many holidays on the Bridgewater, Trent and Mersey, Leeds – Liverpool, The Peak Forest, The Shropshire Union, Macclesfield, Staffs Worcester etc. Her beating heart was the ever reliable Lister 2 cylinder diesel. When we bought Valiant, she had the flat-cut stern, which was typical of the British Waterways tug conversion, the flat stern continued below the water line, which made reversing almost impossible. We had the underwater tapering done which did improve the handling but she always needed the whole stern re-shaping. Incidentally, when we bought her she still had a central cockpit with steering wheel, again this was typical of the British Waterways approach to converting working boats into rental pleasure boats. Over the years she had ‘relaxed’ and gained a little girth, making some locks very scary, several times she was pinned by the lock walls as the water rose, you always has to be on guard. In her British Waterways hire fleet days, she featured on Blue Peter navigating the Anderton Boat Lift in Northwich. We also used the lift to venture onto the River Weaver, that region being her spiritual home. That said, she was a lovely old girl and I’m happy she’s found a new lease of life. We’ll never forget our old girl.”

The Valiant Years part 2 coming soon, featuring ‘Chocolate Charlie’…

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