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Sunday 30 September 2018

Boats, Beers and Boozers 2018. No.4.

We had a booking to travel down from the canal and through the dock system in Liverpool to the heart of the city. It is a great journey and Liverpool has plenty to keep you occupied whilst you are there. We had a couple of nights out in the country before arriving at Bridge 9 on the Leeds Liverpool, which is the rendezvous for heading to the end of navigation.

This straight section of canal is Halsall Cutting where on the 5th November 1770 the first sod was turned to srart the construction of the Leeds Liverpool Canal. It was finished completely until 19th October 1816!

I love the fact that these are still here. The fact that the jetties where 'night soil' was tipped into barges, from the horse and carts that collected it, is still to be seen makes for me a better history than a Buckingham Palace as it was an everyday thing, and they are usually the first things to go. The night soil was taken by boat to the fields around Burscough where they went to  grow the vegetables that when back into Liverpool, and so the circle of 'life' was completed!!

Why don't they  make bridges like this anymore? There is always something to see as you head towards the locks down to the dock system.

The Tobacco Warehouse is a truly impressive building, and is said to be the largest brick building in the world, and really does make you think how rich the old Liverpool docks would have been. I am so glad it is still here and I really look forward to the reawakening of the structure when it is open again.

Once you are down the locks and through Trafalgar Dock and traversed 'Sid's Ditch' you get to Princes Dock with a fine view of the iconic Liver Buildings and you feel that you are nearly there.

The last lock brings you to the tourist attraction of Albert Dock, and if you could throw in a few masts and yard arms you could be back in time. Mind you that is not right as the Anglican Cathedral only opened fully in 1978.

Once we had settled on our berth in Salthouse Dock we had a shower and then off we went to explore. Helen had got us tickets to a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall so before the show we headed to the nearby Philharmonic Pub. It is about a twenty five minute walk uphill towards the Cathedral but is a veritable temple to beer. It was built 1898 to 1900 for the Cains Brewery and is a Grade II listed building and on the CAMRA List of Heritage pubs.

Two of the rooms are named after Brahms and Liszt and maybe the source of the rhyming slang for being drunk! The decor is definitely 'Gentleman's Club and has lots of little spaces round about.

The plaster work and ceilings are really worthy of note too. It is a Nicholson's pub and they had 8 beer pumps on if I remember correctly.

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I was surprised to see a beer from so close to our home, not exactly a Locale. It started brewing in 2008 in an old slaughterhouse. Sales were so good it expanded, over the road into a converted cottage in 2012. The village of Great Heck is not very far from the Aire and Calder Canal just past Eggborough.

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They brew around 16 beers regularly but the one available today was Dave, 3.8%. It is a dark bitter from chocolaty malts that has a nice and smooth finish from the addition of whole hop flowers it says. However they do it it was a very satisfying pint.

Before leaving to take our seats at the theatre over the road I had to visit the gents. Even if you don't need too you should make sure you take a look. Weatherspoon's take pride in the loos today and it is obvious that at the end of the Victoria age the trend was started! Just look at the tile work! Stunning colours, a real delight.

We were up in the Gods but a great view and the sound was fantastic also. What a brilliant return to Liverpool.

Monday 24 September 2018

Boats, Beers and Boozers 2018. No.3.

We were still killing time for our trip down into Liverpool, plus I had to pop home for a while. Juggling being close enough to Liverpool to get there on my return with being near a station, and be accessible for my daughter arriving a board meant that Burscough was chosen. The trip back was accomplished in sun and was a lovely trip.

It is hard to see now but this area was a very busy mining area and at Crooke there were mines aplenty. This stytle of bridge was easy to construct and raise when the land was affected by subsidence. Before the Leeds and Liverpool canal was constructed the River Douglas was used. It runs alongside the canal and doesn't look big enough to float anything other than a canoe these days.

The cut east of Parbold passes through some woods that made me think of the 'Lord of the Rings' with gnarled trees seemingly leaning over the water to shake hands with those on the other side.

At Buscough Junction there is a little Preservation area that encompasses the canal workers cottages, the canal structures and the old dry dock that can be seen here in the photo. You can just imaging it still busy with workers and boats coming and going.

We carried on, past Ainscough's Mill and moored before the bridge on the visitor moorings. They were busy laying and improved tow path that made it a bit dusty in the dry weather. Before I dashed home for a few days we decided to go for a meal at the Hop Vine in Buscough. They are a very busy pub that serves lots of food. It was busy with all types of folk and at busy times it would be best to book. The food was good, served quickly and at a good price too.

The Hop Vine was built in 1874 at the side of the A59 through the town and next to the Burscough Bridge station. It would be a handy stop off point along the route between Preston and Liverpool and for the users of the railway. It was then called the Royal Hotel. The old stables that once housed the horses for the wagons and stage coaches that traveled the turnpike are now used by the in-house brewery.

The first brewing was 30th November 2010 with the name of Burscough Brewing Co. Ltd but changed its name to the Hop Vine Brewery in 2017. They only produce for the brewery tap and a recently purchased second pub, the Legh Arms.

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The set up was bought second hand from Oban Brewery and is a small 4 barrel unit. Juat enough for the two pubs. They seems to brew three mainstays and then many seasonal, or special beers too.

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A main beer is the Best Bitter, 3.8% that they describe as having a cedar nose with green tea tang along with spices. I don't know about you, but that does not encourage me to have one. In actually fact the malty taste could be said to have a 'woody' after taste. It was alright, but not my favourite at all. It was just £2-60 though!
This one is described by the brewery as having a smell of pine and grapefruit with a taste of tropical fruits, mangoes and limes. It sounds like a shampoo or washing up liquid. At 5.2% it has plenty of alcohol and that is really the overpowering mouthful I got. Even at that specific gravity it was still only £3-00.
My favourite of the beers tried was the Hoppy Blonds 4.2%. The tasting notes from the brewery say that the smell is of sage and pine and the  taste has hints of liquorice, grapefruit and lychees! Once again this really doesn't do it justice as a beer rather than a disinfectant! However this was a refreshing pint and went down well with a meal.

Overall the meal was very good and the beers were okay, lacking a bit of fullness of body for me but I would definitely go again so I could try to be persuaded by a seasonal beer, and maybe even develop a taste for their other offerings.

Friday 21 September 2018

Boats, Beers and Boozers 2018. No.2.

From Buscough Junction we had a little time to kill until our booked passage down into Liverpool so we headed east to Wigan. It is quite a nice trip to Wigan, a few locks and bridges dotted with a few villages to venture ashore for milk etc. and a few walks along the valley floor. I like Wigan; a good Northern town, not pretentious, nice and compact and with everything you could want at hand. On the other hand Helen has a downer on Wigan. In fact at one time it was every place on the canal beginning with 'W' at one time. I'm sure she is softening these days but the first time we arrived she still wasn't 'driving' the boat and so was doing all the locks and she wasn't battle hardened either. She was dead on her feet when we got there I think.

We seem to moor by the side of Trencherfield Mill, just through the bridge and on the left. The towpath is a bit high but easy enough to get on and off, and handy for all the shops.

We had had a long day when we arrived so it was decided that we would just go up into town to the Weatherspoon's for a bite to eat, and drink. There are plenty of pubs and places to eat in the area but Weatherspoon's provides quick and easy food that is just enough and is always at a decent standard. When they first appeared on the High Streets they had a dozen different beers, but as they expanded further I'm not sure if the staff were developed as quickly as the standard of the beer went down. Draft beer doesn't keep that long so if it isn't popular it can go over before it is finished. Wisely I think they have reduced the number of Real Ales they have on to ensure that they get drunk and the standard keeps up.
The pub is called 'The Moon Under Water'. George Orwell is famous for writing 'Road to Wigan Pier' but in 1946 he also wrote a piece about his favourite pub. It was fictional, but had everything that Orwell would want in a tavern. When Weatherspoon's Chairman Tim Martin had a few pubs only one was reviewed by a journalist who said he liked it as it reminded him of the Orwell quote. In essence, a good location, fine beer, tasty food and no music. He liked that notion and as the number of houses grew he has called several the same name.

With our meal I fancied a pint and was taken with a nice looking milk stout. Stog, at 4.1%. It poured nice and dark with a great thick head so looked almost like a meal in itself. It is brewed by the Big Bog Brewing Co. Ltd.

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The company says it is brewed using chocolate and brown malt and the sweetness is enhanced with milk sugars. I loved it, the sweetness comes first and then a lovely bitterness follows that makes you realise that you are drinking beer and not a bed time drink! I really enjoyed it, so I had another one!

The Big Bog Breweing Co. was started in 2011 in Waunfawr, near Caernarfon. The brewer is a master of his trade and up until a year or so ago worked full time at Hydes Brewery in Salford, just brewing on his own account at weekends and evenings. By 2015 they had outgrown their premises in North Wales and decided to move to a brand new brewery, made to measure at Speke, close to John Lennon Airport, Liverpool. This was the area where their target market was to be and they have now styled the beers 'made in Speke'.

At the time the beer cost £2-29, another distinct advantage of drinking at a 'Spoons pub. If you join CAMRA you also get a fist full of vouchers to use in Weatherspoons pubs, knocking off another 50p from the price. If you use all the vouchers, the membership is just about free. Another good reason to join.

I was going to call into the Wigan Central pub in an arch under the railway under the Wigan Northwestern Station, but that will have to wait until our next visit.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Boats, Beers and Boozers 2018. No.1

Our winter mooring was at Fettlers Wharf down the Rufford Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Perhaps I should have started with the Hesketh Arms in Rufford, our local to the marina. I haven't as in my head it doesn't count as we weren't on the move.

We were a little late leaving the marina this year through various things so we finally cut the shore cable and set sail into the into the wide blue yonder on 4th April. I made it seem like a long winter because as soon as I get onboard 'Holderness' I start my different life. I like being at home, when we are at home, as I have loads of things to keep me occupied etc, but it is completely different to being on the canals and rivers. I suppose it has become sort of ingrained as I have had the two lives since starting work; half the time at sea and half at home. Well actually at one stage it was more away than at home. I think my longest trip was 8  months away with three at home. Even later I was doing three months away and six weeks at home. At the end things were much better with 6 weeks away and 6 weeks at home!

We moved south back towards Burscough Junction and moored close by. We decided to visit the Ship at the junction, which is actually the village of Lathom. The pub is well know to locals as the 'Blood Tub'. The pub started out in one small house in 1750 and then over the next hundred years was extended in to the neighbouring two houses. It was well placed when the canal was dug as it is right next to the locks and junction. A little canal community grew up with a dry dock and workers cottages to supply trade to the pub. There are plenty of moorings on the main canal and below the locks on the Rufford Arm.

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There are two theories as to why it's nickname is the 'Blood Tub'. One is that as a canal users pub in working days it was also the scene of much disagreement! There were plenty of fights, but the landlady had a strict policy of nobody was allowed in showing signs of combat. She placed a tub of water by the door to allow they to wash off any blood shed before entering. The other story is that one early landlady was a fantastic black pudding maker and one of the main ingredients was blood, mainly pigs blood. The system worked where the farmers brought a jug of blood that was deposited in a tub, and in return, after the same jug had been swilled out with water, was filled with ale!

They had 6 local beers on hand pull including one specially brewed for the pub by Moorhouse's at 4.2%. The brewery was started in 1865 in Burnley, and they built their own brewery in 1870. They nearly went bust in 1985 when a local man, drinking one of their pints heard of their troubles and decided to buy the place, and they have gone from strength to strength. They do brewery tours so maybe something to break the journey over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

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I also had a pint of Hop Chocolate by Beer Brothers Brewery. Two friends from school started messing about brewing at home and their first  batch was 'special', so in 2015 they set up a micro brewery and two years later had to move to bigger premises in Preston. It was a nice stout of 4.3% that has real liquorice and chocolate in the mix.

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Being greedy, and with a meal, I had one more pint. Well, it wasn't far to stagger back to the boat, and no drinking and driving involved! This was called Pipe Dream 4.3% from George Wright's Brewery that is in Rainford, near St. Helens. It was started in 2003 and very quickly it was realised that they would need a bigger set up. The present brewery is probably the most modern micro brewery in the country.

I think my favourite of the evening was the Hop Chocolate, but it was great to find a pub that had so many local beers to try. I would definitely go again, and the food  wasn't too bad either. Very handy for the moorings too.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Fenders; The solution?

Following my last post regarding whether we should travel around the system with fenders down, and judging by the comments left, (thanks to all of you), it would seem that the majority think that fenders are only needed when moored.

If that was true then why are over half of boats moving around the system with them down? Is it just that they are worried about being 'outed'? But that can't be true otherwise they wouldn't have them down in the first place. Or is it that there is no good argument for having them down anyway?

It strikes me that it is simply lack of effort, and possibly also lack of understanding of what the fenders are actually for, and what damage and expense they can cause when lost.

It was noticeable to me that when looking at passing hire boats those that had fixed points on their hull invariably had fenders hanging, and those that didn't , didn't. Could it be that simply not building these points into the hull would mean that people would deploy fenders when mooring and not permanently? Could it be that, lets face it, a large percentage of boaters are of an older generation, so they may find the bending down to remove the fenders when letting go is difficult so means they don't do it! Or is it that they are so low down that they are out of sight, out of mind? Could placing the fixing points half way up the side of the cabin side mean that they were more visible so prompted the crew to remove them as part of the routine? I'm sure they will be an argument made that they are not aesthetically pleasing, or that they are likely to catch on lock walls or passing foliage. I think not as they would not have to be so big as to moor the QEII. Whilst we on that; why do modern 'tugs' seem to have massive shackles attached around the hull? Don't get me started on false rivets!!

I suppose that it comes down to education; of the boaters but also the shell builders and fitters. Could Braidbar and others be persuaded not to put fixing points on their boats in the first place?

I wonder if it would be possible to quantify the cost of fender to C&RT is the form of call outs for jammed gates due to them, or loss of water due to paddles being the last resting place of a rubber or rope fender. I don't suppose it is, and without being able to put a value, or even a statistic, on it things wont change.

I would love to hear from anybody who is able to argue for them being down when underway, or from anybody who has a good method of fixing or hanging them for mooring.

The picture above was taken by a bloke standing at the viewing platform near to Eastham Lock at the start of the Manchester Ship Canal when we arrived from Liverpool. It is probably the best picture taken all year. Luckily he was also at the Lock at Ellesmere Port when we arrived a week later having had to come all the way back down the MSC due to lock closures. He was good enough to chat to Helen and obtain our email to pass on the photos he had taken. I wonder if we will ever pass that way again? Look, no fenders down. Mind you the tug is making up for us!!

Saturday 8 September 2018

Fenders; Up, or Down?

Just to return to a comment I made on a blog a couple of days ago regarding fenders. We always bring our fenders in when we are moving. To us they are basically to prevent noise, damage when moored up alongside the edge, pontoon or another boat. We have had the same fenders since we go the boat six years ago.

This was us leaving our winter moorings at Fettlers Wharf on the Rufford Arm this April. As you can see they are secured to a lug on the roof by a snap hook. The disadvantage of this is the they are in fixed location, front, middle and back of the boat (port and st'bd of course) and that where the rope goes over the hand rail it damages the paint edge. I also have some inflatable fenders that I have retrieved from the water in the past as well as some rigid tyres for the 'Shroppie Shelf' and similar.

I have often wondered why people leave their fenders down when cruising as they can not add anything to collision and damage avoidance as the likelihood of a boat actually landing on the those little strips of rubber hose are infinitely small. Even more unexplainable is why some have them actually trailing in the water as they travel?

I can more easily understand why a GRP cruiser would have many fenders as they are much more fragile than a steel boat. On the Thames I did notice that some of them did pick them up when leaving the lock though. This was our companion on the Ribble crossing to the Lancaster Canal in April.

I'm not sure how many fenders the cruisers lose in a year but I have 'won' three or four from the water that must have come from them.

We decided to count all the boats we passed and record whether they had their fenders up or down. Originally we started as we passed through Polesworth on the Coventry Canal. We decided that we would discount all boats moored on the off side as 'permanently' moored. We would count all boats on the towpath side to see if they had fenders out on their off side. We would also count all moving boats we passed. My best guess was that it would almost 50/50, up and down! Between Polesworth and Whittington we counted 97 boats for the survey, but didn't record whether they were moored or moving. I originally differentiated between private, hire and GRP boats. The number of GRP boats was very small and all had fenders down. The number of hire boats was still small, about 5 and all had their fenders up! Of the private boats there were 54% with their fenders up and obviously 46% with their fenders down!! So I wasn't too far out. The figures for those with them down includes two that clearly had had fernders down but on the day of the data collection had not as they had been already pulled off with just a small knotted bit of rope round the lugs.

You can see here on the Leeds/Liverpool that there is a mixed bag.

You can see here on the Llangollen that the hire boat on the lock landing having their lunch (that's another story!!) does not have fenders rigger on the off side.

When I looked at the figures I thought that maybe some folk may deploy their fenders on the off side when moored as some sort of protection??? So to ensure that the figures were more robust I should take a new sample of only moving boats, and this we did over two days, as the numbers were much smaller when counting only moving boats, between Whittington and Stone.

The number of boats passed under way was 57. 52 were private boats and remarkably the figures were the same 54% had their fenders down when moving and 46% had them up and clear. 5 hire boats were passed all with their fenders up, and one GRP with them down.

I had started to notice that the boats that had their fenders out all the time were those that were designed with little eyes rebated into the hull, or with a little lug welded on to the gunwhale. This meant that there was a position to permanently tie, shackle or clip in a fender. As these are low down, out of sight line maybe they get forgotten, or too far to bend down to do anything with. Admittedly some had them loose enough to be able to flick them up to ride on the top of the gunwhale.

These are some of the boats that we returned south on the Ribble Link with. You can see the first boat has his fenders suspended from eyes on the hull. The second boat has them hanging from the roof hand rail via some wooden hangers that fit over the profile of the rail. These are very prone to breaking if subjected to a sideways pull and if they don't break, and drag, they must damage the paint.

The reason that we started this project as the boat ahead of us in the bottom lock at Atherstone lost a fender when exiting the lock and I commented that I hope that it wasn't us that found it. Several time a solid tubular black fender has got caught in our propeller and been jammed so rigidly that it has stalled the engine. This cannot be good for the engine or the gear box. As they don't float they can not be avoided. Much like the folk who pile wood on their roof to such an extent that some of it falls off and floats around until inevitably it gets waterlogged and sinks. We have been unlucky to have picked up logs like these, cut to stove size rather than the size cut by the contractors working on the banks, and have had to pay hundreds of pounds to be dry docked to change propellers and have blades straightened and balanced.

It was interesting to note that this old working butty had no fenders down. I suppose in the days of working boats they weren't owned so paintwork didn't have to be paid for by the user so they didn't perhaps pay so much heed to things like that.

In the Stone area I started to see the hire boats from Aqua Narrow boats and noticed that they have little rebates in the hull to which are attached seemingly permanently hanging fenders. I therefore conclude that the vast majority of the boats with fenders down when on the move are those that have fixing boats that are out of sight or too low down fore people to see, or make the effort to remove them when not alongside.

C&RT recommend that fenders are lifted when underway, and of course there are several locks around the system where if you have them down you are much more likely to get jammed in a 'thin' lock. Todays steel boats are fitted with steel rubbing strips at bow and stern and along the full length of the boat a little above the water line, at coping stone level, that will take must abrasion when passing through locks etc. I would say that fenders are really only of any use when moored, stationary, alongside.

So; should you travel with fenders down? Yes or no?