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2014: A new engine, then via Stoke to the Monty.

 

Fitting Bertie

 

On our springtime trip we had decided that we would have to buy a new engine. Dorothy (Perkins) was worn out after about 15000 hours, so we had placed the order with Beta Marine for a brand-new 43hp engine (to be named Bertie, short for Roberta). The engine mounts were to be specially made according to dimensions which I had supplied, and I was absolutely terrified in case I had made any mistakes in my measurements. Towards the end of June I had made all the modifications that I could to be ready for Bertie's arrival including new wiring, a new inverter, and a new dashboard; word came through that she was to be delivered to Braunston on 1st July, and so we set off to be there ready to meet her.

As we climbed Stoke Bruerne flight we could hear the sound of distant drumming, which was explained when we met a team of Morris Dancers by the top lock with a very loud drummer. They were thrilled that the colours of our boat matched their costumes, and posed for photos before we continued on our way.

Before Braunston we met three young people on a small cruiser which they had just bought and which they were taking from Ely in Cambridgeshire down to Oxford. We were amazed to see that they were sharing the tiny cabin with a huge dog, but were even more amazed to see that they had a large straw donkey spread-eagled across the fore-deck; apparently they had won it in a line-dancing contest at a boatyard on the Ouse where they had stopped for the night despite never having line-danced before. We were impressed with their general enthusiasm, and we thoroughly enjoyed sharing the locks with them before giving them directions to Oxford (they didn't have a map).

 

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Morris dancers pose next to the boat at Stoke Bruerne
The old pump-house at Braunston
Sharing the locks with a tiny cruiser and a straw donkey

We had expected to have to go into the dry-dock but Jonathan our engineer assured us that he would prefer to use the wharf outside his workshop, where he could use his enormous fork-lift truck to lift the engines in and out. In no time at all Dorothy had been lifted out of the boat, and the steelwork was being modified to provide a nice smooth bed for Bertie.

 

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Dorothy's last moments in the boat
Jonathan lifts Dorothy out with a fork-lift ...
... and she is swiftly taken away
The empty engine bay looks huge
Grinding away the old engine supports

With some precision fork-lift steering by Jonathan, Bertie was lowered into place. I was hugely relieved to find that my measurements had been accurate, so that the drive-shaft lined up perfectly, and then while Jonathan worked in the engine bay I worked inside the cabin to fit the new dash panel. Progress on the first day had been good but there were lots of minor snags for Jonathan to overcome on the second day. Eventually, by the end of the second afternoon all was ready and with trepidation I turned the key; instantly Bertie sprang into life, working perfectly in every way, and we opened a bottle of champagne to christen her (the cork is now glued to her foot for good luck)

 

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Jonathan picks Bertie up from her crate ...
... carries her across the towpath  to the boat ...
... and carefully lowers her into the engine bay.
Bertie sits snugly on her bed
The new dashboard shows also the massive power of the new alternator

Now we were ready for a few days of testing. Apart from one slight leak from the oil pipe on the gearbox oil cooler, everything was fine and we were eventually able to make a proper start to our delayed 2014 travels. Our journey northwards was relaxed and incident-free, much to the disappointment of the crowds of people with cameras who were attending a wedding reception at the Hawkesbury's Greyhound. It made such a nice change to be cruising slowly through the countryside again, and not constantly worrying about breaking down.

After just a few days we were at Stoke-on-Trent, visiting a couple of good friends who were moored in Festival Marina, and then calling into Keeping Up's birthplace at Longport. We were particularly interested to find out whether our cooling tank had been built with baffles inside it (to improve its performance by forcing the water to zig-zag through it) because Beta Marine had advised us that the tank might be too small if it did not have them. The boat builders told us that they didn't have any plans of our boat, and that of course everything was "bespoke" so there was no standard design for the tank on their boats; then just as we began to think that there was no way of finding out about the internal construction of the tank they suggested that perhaps we should speak to the man who had done the original welding on our boat. After 23 years he was still working there, and to our delight he remembered every single detail of her construction as she was the longest (and last) cruiser that they had ever built; even better, he specifically remembered welding 4 vertical baffles inside the tank. In fact he even remembered their exact dimensions in mm !!!!

After leaving Stoke with smiles on our faces we made short work of Harecastle Tunnel and Heartbreak Hill, and a couple of days later we were comfortably moored above "Maureen's Lock" at Middlewich. Maureen  Shaw (1934-2012) was a wonderful lady. Having been a boatwoman all her life she eventually retired to Wardle Lock cottage, and recently a plaque was erected in her memory beside the lock. We  were pleased to see that it is indeed a fine plaque which records a few of her memories, the full text can be found here. My own memory is of the way she would always come out and chat with people from the passing boats, to help them, to offer them words of advice, and to comment on their boating abilities (or lack of them). I consider it a great privilege to have met her and chatted to her on many occasions, particularly the time when she admired my bronze windlass and hurried to bring out her personal collection of windlasses to show me, and I am specially proud that on one occasion she was highly complimentary about the way I had brought Keeping Up around the tricky corner at the junction.

 

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The face on the front of this little boat made us smile
The plaque at Maureen's Lock
The cygnets loved the clover in the towpath outside our window
We waited for a day at Frankton Junction ...
... looking down the locks to the Montgomery Canal

After a wonderful evening meal at our favourite Indian restaurant, Blue Ginger, and a slight delay in the morning because the swans and their cygnets were enjoying their breakfast of clover on the towpath beside our mooring ropes, we left Middlewich behind us and headed West. We had thought about going up to Llangollen again but time was short and we didn't want to rush, apart from which we had heard that they had just opened the short section of the Montgomery Canal that we had seen and walked in 2008. We were determined to be one of its first boating visitors so we stopped at Frankton Junction and booked ourselves a passage down the locks for the next day.

Our trip down the beautiful, peaceful Montgomery canal was delightful in the hot sunshine. We passed a small horse-drawn trip-boat and carried on to the old limit of navigation at Gronwen where we winded and continued down the newly-opened section beyond the bridge (there is no winding-point on the new section, so one direction must be travelled in reverse). The new section was wonderful, with stunning views across to the Welsh mountains, and was deep enough to make reversing fairly easy so the 3/4 mile trip took us about an hour. The few people whom we met - or whose houses we passed - rushed to take pictures of us as we passed. It turned out that only a handful of  boats had travelled the section before us, and that the official opening ceremony was going to take place the next day so disappointingly the bunting was not actually there to celebrate our arrival.

 

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Debbie lifts bridge 81 before Gronwen ...
... and the swans gratefully swim through
Limit of navigation,  Gronwen Bridge 82 in 2005
Limit of navigation,  Gronwen Bridge 82 in 2008
Navigable through Gronwen Bridge 82 in 2014
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We walked past this milepost in 2008
Reversing down the open waterway
A new lift bridge 82A beyond Gronwen
Approaching Bridge 83 ...
... a tunnel under the main road ...
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... and we emerge backwards from the other side
This sloping edge is supposed to be wildlife-friendly
Moored at Pryce's Bridge 84 in front of the bunting which was ready for  the following day's opening ceremony
Limit of Navigation, Pryce's Bridge 84

Feeling very pleased with ourselves we returned to Maesbury, and moored opposite the "Navigation" Inn for a fabulous dinner. Now it was time to plan our next 10 days' trip down to Gloucester, where our grand-daughter Lauren would be us as crew for a few days ...

 

 

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