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1990, Our fourth year with Thistle

The River Trent and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

To the South

After the usual start-of-year re-application of mastic to everything, and nearly fixing most of the leaks, and putting up lots of new sheets of ply inside the cabins, Thistle is looking really very cosy indeed. Easter came, and we went. South to Rickmansworth this time. It was very windy, and as we came round the big bends in Cassio Park we saw 'Arcturus' running as a trip boat, coming towards us. It wasn't obvious whose bridge it was, and whoever stopped would have been held forever against the bank by the wind, so we waved to each other and kept coming, passing in the bridge-hole without slowing down and without touching - quite satisfying really, though it would have been disastrous if either of us had been off line at all !

At Common Moor, Cindy the dog must have decided she'd had enough, for she jumped off and for the first time ever she didn't come back to us. After an hour of searching on foot and by bike, we eventually found her sitting patiently on the platform at the railway station - presumably wanting to go home.

Back to Apsley, we moored just before the white bridge; just outside my office window. I was on holiday for a week, but it was a good opportunity to invite some work colleagues on board to see the boat (and to laugh when they had to go back to work for the afternoon). The we carried on to Berkhamstead for the night, only to wake up in the middle of the night because someone (kids?) had drained the pound.

A trip to the end of the Wendover Arm, with a successful reverse back to the stream where we winded, marked the start of our return to Milton Keynes.

To the North

It was July, and it was baking hot. There were a few water shortages in the South, with low pounds and some restrictions on the popular locks, so heading north was a pretty good plan.

First an engine service was required, so it was back to JonO at UCC again, before we set off on a voyage of discovery to the far north. By now we'd decided that we were going to get a bigger boat soon, so this would be our last chance to see the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

After an uneventful trip to Newark, we reached Cromwell lock and paid the lock-keeper 20p to make a phone call to Keadby to warn him of our intended arrival. The lock, and the tidal Trent both seemed HUGE. It was a scorchingly hot day, but we were making grand progress with the tide pushing us along to Torksey. Thistle was happily making about 6 knots through the water, and we reached Torksey in well under 3 hours, but then the tide turned and the next 5 miles took us 2 hours more, so we knew we would have to keep up the speed all the way to Keadby. We measured our speed against the distance marker posts as 11 mph, which was pretty impressive, but we were still getting a little worried about the depth as we reached Keadby.

I don't now what the Cromwell lock-keeper had done with the 20p, but he hadn't used it to make a phone call. The lock-keeper wasn't expecting us, and the lock was set against us. We had to fight the current to keep station opposite while he emptied the lock, then he waved us in. At the last moment I realised that his hand-signals did not mean he was pointing the way to swing the boat, he was instead signalling the direction to push the tiller. I tried to swing round into the lock, right under the bows of a moored ship, but that was the moment when the SR3 decided it had had enough of the hot weather and dropped an exhaust valve (which stopped the engine but not the boat). The crash as we hit the wall was spectacular, and emptied all the cupboards inside the boat. Loads of things got broken, including a set of antique crystal punch-glasses and a china barrel full of single malt whose loss I shall regret to my dying day, while most of the screws that held the cabin top to the hull pulled right out. Luckily everything except the barrel and broken glasses could be repaired, although we had turn the gas alarm off because the fumes from the whisky kept setting it off. After it had cooled down, the engine restarted but it was now and SR2 rather than an SR3, courtesy of the bent and stuck-open exhaust valve


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Moored at Trent Lock, junction of  the River Soar with the River Trent, Beeston Cut, and Erewash Canal
Cromwell Lock is HUGE
The River Trent is big and beautiful
They don't mind lifting the bridges for you in this part of the world (Sykehouse)

Next day the lock keeper was determined to get us into his lock with a big GRP cruiser. I mean really determined. So much so that he got a screwdriver out from his office and took off all the cruiser's fenders and rubbing-strips until we fitted. I think it would have been quicker to put us through one at a time but he said he didn't want to waste the water.

We spent that night with the South Yorkshire Boat Club at Great Heck. They normally have a 37-foot limit on visiting boats, but the Commodore had invited us personally when we met him at Newark so we were made very welcome. We were very glad of it too, for their off-line moorings were protected from the 6-foot wash left by the commercial traffic that sped past along the main line.

The next day was fascinating as we played cat-and-mouse with various examples of large commercial traffic (nowadays almost nonexistent) on our way to Leeds. Just after Leeds a lock-keeper advised us not to moor because of the vandalism, then he padlocked the locks and wouldn't let us go any further (to save water he said, even though it was running over the gates). Still we felt safe, as the boat moored next to us had an enormous Rotweiler on board (the vandals weren't to know that he was as soft as butter).


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Commercial Traffic on the Aire and Calder
Pusher-tug with a couple of Hargreaves barges full of coal
How will this one get under the bridge we've just come through?
That's how! The wheelhouse retracts at the last minute

It was getting really hot now. Most days we got up early and travelled for 2 or 3 hours until it became too hot mid-morning, then tied up under a tree until the evening before continuing for another couple of hours. This gave us plenty of opportunity to sample the canalside pubs at lunchtime, and excellent they were too. Sometimes we'd fall sleep after lunch and not get going again for a couple of days. That's what I call idyllic. The dogs swam in the canal to keep cool; even when we travelled, Cindy used to paddle along at the edge of the canal keeping pace with us.

At Skipton we went as far as we could up the Springs Branch and reversed out, catching a stepladder on the rudder with a builder's bucket attached. The ladder was useless, but the bucket was perfect and I've still got it (I keep the anchor chain in it).

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The famous Bingley 5-rise
Too much water at Wigan
About  to cross the Barton Swing Aqueduct

We found someone to breast up with down the Wigan flight. It seemed like a good idea, but with hindsight it was NOT a good idea to turn the engine off. The top gates all leaked rather a lot, despite the so-called water shortages, and water had shot up the exhaust pipe and filled one cylinder. The engine wouldn't turn over at all; thank goodness for the design of the SR3, we opened the decompressors and pressed the starter. Water shot out of one of the cylinders through the decompressor, and when we closed the other one the engine started immediately. Of course it was now only an SR1, but it ran OK like that all the way back to Braunston.

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The sad sight of the derelict Anderton Lift
Anderton Lift - Will it ever be restored? Seems unlikely

We listened to the report of the Queen opening the Kennet and Avon Canal (which BW immediately closed because of the water shortages) then continued southwards, passing the remains of the Anderton Lift which had been declared unsafe and dismantled. What a tragedy it will be if it cannot be repaired, but it doesn't look very hopeful.

A few days later we reached Harecastle tunnel where we had a close encounter with the local ghost, the Kidsgrove Boggart (often known as Kit Crewbucket) - I recommend you read our account before saying there's no such thing - and finally made our way home to the shallow canals of the south after one of the most fantastic 550-mile voyages of our experience so far.

So that was 1990, and we're looking seriously now for a boatbuilder who can create a modern version of our beloved Thistle So now it's on to 1991 ...


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All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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