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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2022 Christmas Newsletter

The pictures below can be clicked or tapped to open in a 'Popup' and there is enough detail below the pictures to go from one to the next by clicking or tapping near the right edge for a slide-show type summary.

This year has seen a gradual return to normality as Covid again receded somewhat into the background although not totally from our thoughts and actions. So many wasted opportunities, so many lost friends. We started to travel more as the year proceeded and have even had our first cruises and are booking flights to New Zealand for 2023. So we have found plenty to write about. We obviously did not get to New Zealand which remained largely shut down until May and looking back, the start of the year was largely on hold. I had to go back through emails and pictures to find what we did in the first three months. Coffee mornings continued so there was still some contact with neighbours. We made several batches of of wine and Pauline spent time on her latest OU course on financial management, more useful than some and another Distinction (fortunately I noticed the auto-correct had changed it to Destruction or I would have been in trouble).

We gather a number of our friends have been following the "Canal Boat Diaries" on the BBC which has covered much of our travels this year so we have decided to concentrate on our life afloat this year. Our life is slightly more luxurious than shown in 'the Diaries' and we certainly rarely suffer the stops to clear propellers Robbie Cummins seems to have, yes we have had some epic catches round Birmingham in the old days but sometimes we go a year without opening the weed hatch. We have a lot more food storage and a fridge with large freezer compartment so it is not a permanent search for food. Last year we left with enough food to survive for well over a month if Covid had got worse. Coal and Diesel often come from barges and their are lots of boatyards with both. We have no gas but our wood burning Squirrel Stove was used extensively at the beginning of the season for cooking as well as heating.

Pete spent much time early in the year enhancing the solar system for Corinna culminating in the addition of large Lithium batteries - the end result has transform our life afloat - no more running the engine in evenings to keep the fridge alive, we can stay put for days on end using only solar power and even have the luxury of an induction hob for cooking. The outcome has been we have spent less time on the move and more time visiting places en route than before. We hope you will enjoy our 'canal diary' but first there are other activities to cover.

Our first relaxation of restrictions came with a trip to the Oxford and Cambridge club for Pete's birthday, we still remember dragging a suitcase from Paddington to Pall Mall and back to avoid tubes but it was well worth it to get out again. The other big event was a new car. We had been procrastinating for years as Goldie, our twenty year old Rover 45 was still passing MOTs without even a new wiper blade (the trick is to keep the packing pristine and put it back in the boot before every MOT). We were precipitated when we realised how many parts for European cars come from Ukraine and instantly bought a new MG3 - there is absolutely and utterly no truth that Pauline selected it because the Lavender colour matches her phone. We still have Goldie as they offered less than the value of the petrol in the tank in part exchange, and instead we got a discount as Lavender was in the showroom.

With some trepidation, we joined the Easter Walking holiday, which started during college days, and met up with many of our friends for the first time since 2019. The group held a once weekly zoom during the lockdown period and some of us still get together on Fridays but it is not the same. We were back at Garth Barns in Llanidloes where they had been holding our booking since 2020. We all had a great time and, as far as we know, the whole group of ~30 of all ages remained well. We did a number of walks, mostly local, as the area has many good ones including to the Lead Mines. Otherwise there was plenty of the usual eating, drinking and catching up. We all take it in turn to cater for one evening. Not surprisingly we are all booked for another year at Garth Barns, and looking forwards to it enormously.

It was then time to pack Corinna ready for the start of our three month canal license on the 1st of May. We actually left a few days latter due to the unexpected funeral of another close friend. We went North though the Oxford canal and Coventry canal, with a diversion down the Ashby Canal, 22 lock free miles each way, before joining the Trent and Mersey Canal. The upgrades to Corinna's power system mean we have spent less time on the move and more time in visiting National trust properties, the National Arboretum and many local museums and sights in general as we travel. We stayed a couple of days at the end of the Ashby Canal and walked to Measham and Moira where we found a Canal Festival, a highlight of which were some low passes by a Lancaster, and they were low as you can see from the picture. The whole area is interesting with big lakes formed by mining subsidence. We stopped to visit Shugborough house and the nearby Wedgwood visitor centre with its excellent museum

We stopped at Kidsgrove to talk to Tony and Carol who have looked after Corinna for many years at Red Bull Basin where she was built by David Piper for us 36 years ago. We had planned to carry on up the Macclesfield canal to Bugsworth basin but came into a different set of restriction - lack of water due to the dry summer. Water restrictions are increasingly common at the end of the season but not that early and they only got worse as we proceeded. We were again fortunate in our timing as the Flint mill at Stoke on Trent had Princess in 'Steam' with another canal festival over the weekend. Rather than take further trips through the Harecastle tunnel where one is underground in a narrow one way tunnel for ~40 minutes we chose to backtrack by train for the day. It is a privilege to see old works restored and still running under steam, Before leaving the Kidsgrove area walked to Little Moreton Hall, an interesting National Trust property extended upwards and outwards until barely stable - it is only a couple of miles walk from the Macclesfield Canal

So we proceeded to the 'Wichs' a little ahead of schedule. Cheshire has a long history of salt mining going back to the Romans and earlier and the Wichs, historic salt town were are next targets, Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Droitwich. Most are already favoured stops but Droitwich would be a first. So we traveled down heartbreak hill, a long series of close spaced locks taking us to Middlewich. We stopped for a day for shopping etc and then onto a favourite mooring looking down towards the River Weaver over the flashes before going on to Nantwich, another favourite stop and spent time in their excellent museum covering salt mining from the Roman days as well as other local activities such as glove making and, of course, Cheshire Cheese. We joined the tidal Severn after a pleasant stop in the basin at Stourport before an early start through the locks connecting the basin to the River Severn, there are two parallel sets, wide and narrow.

It was only took a couple of hours and three large locks manned by lock keepers before we turned of onto the wide locked first section of the Droitwich canal, one of the few sections of the canal network we have not traveled. The Droitwich canal has only recently been reopened after being severed by the motorway. It is now rerouted via a culvert built to divert a small stream. It is so low they have had to restrict the flow when the next lock is emptied to prevent boats rising and scraping the roof. Many careful measurements showed we should just have just clear provided conditions remained dry. Unfortunately there had been some quite heavy rain so we waited a couple of days before facing the culvert. The roof was cleared and the tiller pin, our high point, replaced with a cable tie. In the event we have several inches to spare.

Next event was Tardebigge locks, the longest flight in the UK with 30 looks so close you cannot stop. We cleared them early in the morning despite empty pounds needing water borrowed from higher up - a delicate balancing act we just completed in time before the Canal and River Trust turned up trying to try to stop us moving. Time for a shower at the spotless Boater facilities at Tardebigge New Wharf before Tardebigge Tunnel. It was then up towards the edge of Birmingham before turning South East down the North Stratford Canal and down to Kingswood junction where we would have the choice of continuing on towards Stratford or joining the Grand Union. At this point we discovered water in the bilge under the engine from a leak in the water pump area. RCR, the boating equivalent of the AA, sorted it out, it is very good value as most replaceable items are covered so it is just a nominal excess of £25 for anything up to a complete gearbox. They even had one in stock despite it being a 35 year old engine. They were with us for an initial assessment in less than an hour.

We were already planning to stay for a day and found a mooring where RCR could reach us with their van and we went to two of the nearby National Trust Properties, Packwood Houses and Baddesley Clinton. We did not get to see inside Packwood house as they were short of volunteers that day but the grounds were impressive. The interior was the highlight at Baddesley Clinton. The problem was not completely fixed and we were still bleeding water after we had descended the lovely Hatton flight of 22 broad locks and final repairs were completed during a stay with the boat club in the Saltisford arm, a delightful place. We had intended to stop as Pauline had a scheduled trip home and Pete spent time time round Warwick so it was perfect timing. We had walk along the canal to Leamington Spa which has a delightful town centre. RCR had the new pump fitted long before we had planned to leave.

It was however becoming a race against time against water supply restrictions but we were on very familiar ground and we were only a couple of days from the home run down the South Oxford Canal. We had a few hold ups due to lack of water but were running a day or two ahead of the more serious restrictions and arrived back on the Thames a week earlier than our initial plans and were very glad we had not extended to Stratford - we always enjoy Stratford but the canal and Stratford are always busy and we could easily have ben trapped for weeks.

As most of you know, we sponsor the Mikron theatre companies shows in Goring and unbelievably it was their 50th Anniversary of Touring by Narrowboat and we were honoured to invited to their 50th Anniversary Bash in the Marsden Mechanic's where they are based.

Our first and long awaited post Covid cruise was a Mediterranean Cruise on the Queen Victoria, this time in the Princess Grill to celebrate Pauline's 70th Birthday. This 19 day cruise covered many favourite ports and several new ones namely: Cartagena, a transit of the Messina Strait between Sicily and Italy, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Hvar in Croatia was a maiden visit, Trieste, Cagliari in Sardinia and finally Malaga which replaced Gibraltar which closed for the Queens funeral. I planned to add a few pictures but was unable to choose but there are hundreds on the web site!

On our return we held a small party for Pauline's Birthday joint with our 48th Wedding Anniversary. It was great to meet up with friends again, Zoom is no substitute. We tried to have lots of areas so people could spread out but in the event everybody gathered closely to catch up, but we tried.

We had a visit to Lichfield to visit the Cathedral which does require some background: The medieval Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad is in Lichfield, Pauline’s home area. Chad was born in Northumberland in 634AD. He travelled widely proclaiming the gospel, becoming Bishop of York and then Bishop of Mercia. Lichfield was part of Mercia and when Chad died on 2 March 672 he was buried at St Mary’s Lichfield, then his “relics were translated to a shrine” when the Cathedral was built. This Altar Shrine was destroyed on the instructions of King Henry VIII and the relics were dispersed. In 1837 they were discovered and were enshrined in 1841 above the altar of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham. On Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 November 2022 a new Altar Shrine of St Chad was consecrated and reinstated at Lichfield and a relic of St Chad was translated from Birmingham to Lichfield. A part of St Chad had returned home, strengthening the spiritual bond between the two cathedrals, and enabling pilgrims to venerate and worship the relic.

There is good background at : https://www.stchadscathedral.org.uk/cathedral/relics-of-st-chad/ and https://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/news/news/post/582-the-reinstatement-of-the-shrine-of-st-chad
We watched the LiveStreams of the two ecumenical celebrations at
https://youtu.be/3JPRetKoayY and https://youtu.be/44e7VC0AE3g then visited the Cathedral shortly afterwards.

We chanced the odd trip to London the last being a Cunard Evening which was largely a surprise as it turned out to a chance to see some the 4,300 new pieces of contemporary art commissioned for the Queen Anne and meet the artists and the designers, a pleasant alternate to the drink and hours of presentations we had expected, and the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne flowed freely for many hours - an evening to treasure.

We had a Final cruise on the Cunard Queen Victoria just before Christmas - all the decorations were up, the Gingerbread houses complete and most of the usual Christmas activities such as Carols on the double down stairs in the Lobby took place. Covid had finally been thrown overboard. Although it was only 12 days we had a number of overnight stops as it barely penetrated into the Mediterranean so the ports were close. A major activity in most ports was to search out the many Beléns - Extravagent Nativity Scenes which I have written about at length before, they are such a feature of Spain and often occupy large areas - we have never seen anything to equal them in the UK and we never tire of visiting them. The whole cruise has been written up but I will add a few pictures here to set the Christmas spirit alight.

Christmas itself was quiet and as I finish another years newsletter we are now looking forwards and readying ourselves for our visit to New Zealand, strikes permitting.

Wishing everyone a Happy and Safe New Year.

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Revised: 3rd January, 2023