May 16

And now for something completely different..
As my regular reader(s) will know, my spouse and erstwhile first mate has abandoned ship and left me rudderless in the wild, wild wilderness of Central England. O Woe! I am forced to cruise the dangerous waters of the canal system alone and unprotected against the elements. If you doubt there are elements, just try cruising alone through Stoke-on-Trent. Fortunately, my stalwart brothers and an old friend from the BBC have stepped into the breach to help me out.

Enough of the nautical analogies. The plan this year is for me to go ahead on May 25th, prep the aging Basil Boat and set off for the Caldon canal. I will be alone for a few days until I pick up my brother Michael in Stone. The two of us will venture through Stoke, shotguns at the ready, and up the Caldon canal. I am a famous worry-wart and right now I am worried about my arthritic ankles and Basil. The boat needs five new batteries (or more) weighing 70lb each. Will I be able to lift them into place? Will I have any electricity when I first board Basil on May 27th? Will I be able to operate locks by myself? Will it rain? Stay tuned for the answers.

If I survive my boating fix, Barb will fly in and join me on July 3rd and we will move into relatively salubrious quarters in Willow Lodge on the marina. The rest of the summer should be great - a week in Woodchurch, a week in London and another in St. Ives, Cornwall. More news at the end of May or beginning of June.
June 3
I have been unable to write this journal so far because of a hectic first week preparing Basil for action. Not that there were major problems with the boat, just that it was a lot of work to fit into a short time. Add to that the effects of jet-lag and, all in all, it was a bit of a nightmare. Leaving Barb alone in Phoenix was much more of a wrench than I expected so I was feeling pretty sorry about everything this week. The only major problem was installing the new batteries. I had help from Azar, one of the staff at Nadee, our favorite restaurant. He helped me lift out the 5 old batteries and lift in the new Victron AGM110's. They weigh 32kG/70lb each, so this was no mean feat but we accomplished it fine. He would not take any payment for his work, he said "just send me many blessings". Then the trouble began. 8 of the old jumper cables were too short to fit. Azar had to leave to go to work but the staff at Midland Chandlers stepped into the breach by cutting the new cables to length. Then I trimmed the insulation and we crimped on connectors. I took the cables back to the boat and spent a couple of hours connecting everything. Finally, at 7 p.m. after 6 hours hard labor, Basil was back on his mooring with all systems go.

Last evening (June 2nd) at 8 p.m. I was able to leave the marina and head towards Stone. It was a lovely evening after a day of torrential rain and I did a short cruise to a quiet country spot where I like to moor. On the way I saw the cutest lambs only a few days old but already gamboling in the fields with their mothers. All the waterfowl chicks, too,  are much younger than we usually see, as we generally come later in summer.

Today I did a marathon solo cruise for 2 reasons: 1. To test the limit of my ability (I found it) and 2. Because the weather was fine and the forecast is not. I did 6 locks and 11.5 miles in 5.5 hours of continuous cruising. All the locks except one were against me, the wind was strong and I had no help at all as there are very few boats on the move. The normally packed visitor moorings at Alrewas were empty when I arrived at 2:30. My arthritic ankle was very swollen, my knee hurt and I was exhausted but pleased with myself.

I really missed Barb today as I cruised past several places where we had little adventures, pubs where we had good meals and sights we enjoyed together. Not to mention that she used to do more than half the work! She did all the locks, most of the shopping and a lot of cooking, all of which I had to do for myself today.

Here are a few photos from today:
New Vermin
New Vermin Chicks and Obnoxious Parents
The Approach to Tatenhill Lock
Tattenhill 2
Tatenhill Lock and Lock Cottage
One of My Favorite Locks on the System

This parrot was on a boat moored opposite
It wolf-whistles everyone and then launches
into an amazing medley of old tunes.
Basil Safely Moored in the Lovely Village of
Alrewas Ater a Hard Day's Work

June 4
In spite of aching all over from yesterday's exertions and swearing the 6 locks solo was my limit - today I did 8! Paradoxically, it was a much easier day. I set off from Alrewas and the first lock, Bagnall, was in my favour. The second, Common Lock, was not but I got through pretty quick. Arriving at Fradley Junction, I was delighted to find that 3 of the 5 locks were operated by volunteer keepers. I stopped there for 1/2 an hour to use the facilities and wander round this icon of the waterways, mostly unchanged since the 1700's.
Fradley Mooring - on one side is the old British
Waterways Yard, now a tearoom and shop.
Fradley Mooring
.and on the other is the Fradley Nature Reserve

Fradley Lock
Ascending Junction Lock
(Volunteer Keeper in red life jacket)
Fradley Swan
The Swan at the Junction.

Then off into the wild green yonder. The canal here runs through a tunnel of trees (right). The woods each side were full of dappled sunshine and birdsong. At the perfectly named Rainand situated Wood End lock I called it a day and moored up for the night. Right on cue, the heavens opened and I am now snug and warm in Basil's cabin as water streams down the windows (left). Canal cruising Nivarna. I collected a huge bruise from a paddle spindle and my arthritic ankle is sore, but I'm only slightly scathed by canal standards. It's a contact sport. Coates' chicken & leek pie for dinner.

                        End Approach
You Want Green? We Have It.
Wood End Lock Bottom Gates
                End Lock
The Tiny but Perfect Wood End lock. On the left is the overflow weir. On the right, the entrance portal with the lock cottage behind.
June 5th
Gloomy gray day today, which was a pity as I cruised through some really pretty Staffordshire country. I stopped in Rugeley for shops. Great shops (Tesco, Morrisons) but what a horrible town! Must be one of the most depressing places on Earth. The few people around looked as though they'd stepped out of a Middle Ages period drama. As I was leaving, a boater cracked a 'joke'. I was passing his boat and he said "Pity about the mouldy throne." I asked "mouldy what?" "Throne" he said. I thought about this for two hours and finally it dawned. In Basil's bow deck is a camping chair under a dilapidated cratch cover. Basil the King, get it?

Anyway, on to more sublime things. I crossed James Brindley's aqueduct over the River Trent, a staggering engineering marvel of its time. Nobody had thought of crossing a river over a bridge containing a canal, at least in England, though the Romans had built aqueducts carrying irrigation long before. It is still pretty impressive today though I did my best to demolish it as Basil veered out of control while I took photos.

Then I cruised along Brindley's Bank, a wild stretch of waterway with great views over the Trent Valley towards Cannock Chase, where deer roam and idiots shoot them. No buffaloes. I fetched up for the night at Wolseley Bridge and ate a fine example of fish and chips in a nearby hostelry beside the river. No TV reception on the boat, thank heavens for Radio 4.
Rugeley Town Morrings
Rugeley Town Centre
Brindley's Famous Aqueduct
Wolseley Bridge
Wolseley Bridge over the River Trent
June 6th

Chugged merrily along the Trent Valley all morning in glorious weather. Little (but deep) locks every mile or two. Lots of traffic in the opposite direction, so I mostly had help. I think I've got solo uphill locks down pat. Nose in slowly to bump into the top gate, leave the boat in forward tickover, shin up the ladder. Close the bottom gates. Open the top gate ground paddle slowly, watching the boat for any surging backwards. When the lock is full, open top gate and close paddles while boat exits lock by itself. Jump aboard as the stern slowly passes. Stop boat outside lock and close top gate. Moored for the night at Sandon lock and went for a walk up to the pretty little village. I ate on the boat but there's a great pub there for future reference.

Cruising the Trent Valley
Shugborough Hall
Shugborough Hall, glimpsed through the trees.
Ornate iron bridge over the canal, connecting
the gardens of Shugborough.

I stopped for the loo at Great Haywood
Junction (right). Description above.
Loo Stop
Savoy Hill
I was amazed to see Savoy Hill,  the BBC Club
boat that Barb and I used in the 70's, but
actually this is a new version, 2 years old and
also run by the BBC Club in London.
Flotilla of the Hun

(The dreaded Canada Geese or, as I call them,
vermin. 6 parents and 36 new poopers)
Mooring at Sandon Lock
Ancient Brickwork at Sandon Lock
Snug Little Bar at the Dog & Doublet, Sandon.
June 9th
After Sandon I completed my last solo day with a short section up to Stone. The moorings were packed because of a festival and because of a dreadful weather forecast for the next few days. I holed up there for two days before my bro Mike arrived by train on Sunday 9th to help out. We had dinner in the Star Inn, took on water and worked the 4 Stone locks before nightfall.
The Old Joules Brewery Building in Stone
Star Lock
Star Lock Scene

Star Inn
View from our table in the Star Inn.
Mick at
Mick at the Tiller
Quiet Reach of the T&M
Hanging Out
Hanging Out at the Lock
June 11th
Rainy MooringWe cruised up to Trentham Lock before the rain hit. This is reputably the last 'safe' mooring before the unruly town of Stoke-on-Trent. By then the forecast for the next day (today) was so dire that we knew we would have to sit it out. We did not like the mooring so I backed up to a winding hole, turned round and went back through Trentham Lock. We are now moored outside the Wedgewood pottery in the rain. We have (probably) abandoned the idea of going to the Caldon canal. I was very depressed yesterday. A sleepless night, the dismal weather, no television reception and our lack of progress got to me. The rain poured down all night and continues as I write at midday on the 11th.

In the afternoon, for something to do, we toured the Wedgewood pottery. It was much more interesting than I imagined. Afterwards we had clotted cream tea in the conservatory.
Tea Time
Clotted Crean Tea on Wedgwood China
Floral Arch (left) and Alfresco Table
Setting (above) in the Showroom

June 14th
The weather continued, well 'abysmal' is the only word for it. Somehow we miraculously dodged any major downpours as we cruised back down to Stone. This area has had more rain in 4 days than is normal for 6 average months of June! The Trent is in flood and closed to navigation further downstream at Nottingham and as from today, the Alrewas river section is closed, so I would not be able to get 'home' to Mercia right now.

Coveted MooringFor something to do we cruised down to Sandon yesterday and ate at the Dog & Doublet. Disappointing meal. Their aspirations for pretentiousness have failed. The food was OK but overpriced and the staff were going through the motions but looked bored. It rained all night but our luck held this morning as we sailed back to Stone and bagged one of the coveted 48-hour moorings above Star Lock (left). If you have to be marooned in terrible weather, Stone is not a bad place to be. "The Birthplace of the Trent and Mersey" is one of the finest canal towns in the UK. There are lots of gongoozlers here and Basil received many compliments on his new livery.

This is Mick's last full day and I will miss him. He is an amiable and capable traveling companion and so fit and athletic it's hard to believe he's over 60.
Hardy Navigators in the Rain

Star Lock
Descending Star Lock on the way to Sandon
Trent in
The Infant Trent in Flood at Sandon
Relaxing as the Rain Pours Down
June 21st
On Mick's last morning we cruised up 3 locks to a mooring close to the station. There I stayed for 3 days waiting for Colin to arrive. On day 2 I decided to go to Liverpool for the day by train (£14.70/$18.50 round trip).
                          Last Lock
Mick working his last lock
Henry James' Cat
Stone Station, my Departure Point for Liverpool
Crewe Station, one of the largest interchange
stations in the UK

Virgin Train at Liverpool Lime Street Station
Tall Ship
Tall Ship in Dock
The Canal and River Trust Showing-Off in
Albert Dock
Snowdrop, one of the Famed Mersey Ferries
Sir David In Liverpool I walked around Albert Dock, took a round trip on the Mersey Ferry and went to a movie. The Polar Research vessel dubbed "Boaty McBoatface" in an online poll but now politely renamed Sir David Attenborough has now been launched and it will be in service in 2019. It is being fitted out in Cammell Laird's yard (left).

Colin duly joined me and he and I were finally able to leave the confines of Stone and all the bad weather behind us. The sun sporadically appeared and the rain lessened to an occasional shower as we went down to Weston-on-Trent, a new overnight stop for me. We dined in the Saracen's Head instead of the Woolpack, the fine looking pub on the village green, because the Saracen's was highly recommended by the locals. They were correct - we had a fine meal of grilled ling and new potatoes.
Hollyhocks and Bee
Colin Arriving at Stone
Weston-on-Trent Mooring

The Classic Woolpack on the Green
(Pity about the Food)
After Weston we cruised a short way down to one of the most iconic places on the canal and one of my favourites, Haywood Junction. It stands in beautiful rural surroundings and is a hub of boating activity. I could sit here on Basil's stern all day and watch the boats, and I did. First night we turned right and moored at Tixall Wide where the canal becomes a lake and tonight we are back moored right by the junction. The weather continues fine with a few fluffy clouds.
Tixall Wide
Moored at Tixall Wide
Tixall Wide Dusk
Essex Bridge, a Packhorse Bridge
Essex Bridge

The Confluence of the Trent and Sow,
above Essex Bridge

Haywood Lock >>

June 24th
Colin and I meandered very slowly down the beautiful Trent Valley, ruminating on the bucolic scenery, politics, and our early years in the BBC. This week the BBC is rife with news of the Conservative Party Leadership contest. Makes a change from Trump but equally depressing and boring. It's high time Britain was freed from the grip of Old Etonian leaders. How Eton ever came to be regarded as a fine school is quite beyond me. Students leave with massive delusions of superiority, privilege and the inalienable right to govern the country but with few actual skills. I got a much better education in a state school. The quest for knowledge and understanding that I learned there has never left me.
Bridge 70
At Wolseley Bridge
Young Boater with Nurser Working Boat
Bridge 69
Just Another Brindley Bridge (#69)
Valley View
Trent Valley View, Cannock Chase in Distance
Boat Cat
Skittish Boat Cat
Strangely Rigid Family
Aqueduct Mooring
Moored by Brindley Aqueduct over the Trent

Bank Turn
Brindley Turn
I said goodbye to Colin in Rugeley, which was a much nicer town in his eyes than the one I trashed earlier. It did seem nicer, I must say. More people and quite pleasant. But I turned round nonetheless and went back and moored by the famous aqueduct built by James Brindley, the architect of many canals in the 1700s. Tomorrow I will go back into Rugeley to pick up my bro Nigel.

July 1st

Nigel and I had a very pleasant few days together, meandering along the remainder of the Trent and Mersey canal through Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent and Willington to Basil's home base at Mercia Marina. For once, the weather cooperated and the scenery sprang into lush life under the sun. The day after we arrived at the Marina the temperature reached 30C (86F). Indoors, it touched 90 - far hotter than we ever experience in Arizona!

Crown Inn
Nigel and I Eating in the Crown Inn, Alrewas
Contemplating Alrewas Lock

Lone Boat
Alone at Alrewas. Unheard of in my previous
experience! Where are all the boats?
Lock Operator
Smooth Operator. Nigel at Alrewas Lock.
Two days earlier this River Section was in
flood and closed to navigation, but by the time
we got there the gauge (left) was well into the
green safety zone.
The Alrewas River Section is beloved by walkers, anglers and boaters alike.
Nigel at
                          the Helm
Pleased to Avoid Plummeting Over the Weir
Tattenhill Lock
Descending Tattenhill Lock
Tattenhill Lock Bridge
Blue Skies over Branston Water Park
Moored Outside the Dragon in Willington
Uncle Nigel and Niece Lucy at Mercia
Coot Chicks
Coot Mother Feeding 2 of 4 Chicks

Bee Garden in the Marina
Eating at the Marina Boardwalk Restaurant
Cod goujons and chili spiced tofu to start.
Chicken Pinchitto and Vegetarian Meze.
Lemon Tart.
Now I am alone again but getting ready for Barb's arrival on July 3rd. We shall embark on adventures off the water - London, Kent and Cornwall, so stay tuned...
Continue to Page 2