Sunday, 30 September 2012

Definitely NOT meat free Sunday!

It's only a couple of hours from Tipton, where we were moored last night, to Wolverhampton so we didn't bother leaving until this afternoon.  We nipped round to the Black Country Museum this morning to dump the rubbish and fill the water tank and then moored outside the Neptune Health Centre again while we went to the pub for Sunday Lunch.

The Fountain Inn is beside the canal and while we've been in for a drink before now, we've never tried their food.  The beer has always been excellent and they advertise Sunday Lunch as a choice of 6 meats with all the trimmings for £5.50 plus it's been ages since we've had a Sunday roast dinner so we decided to give it a try.

We chose the lamb shank and this enormous mountain of food arrived within 20 minutes.
(sorry about the poor quality of the photos today. I forgot my camera so had to use the one on the mobile)

The lamb was meltingly tender and there were 6 roast potatoes (I'd already eaten 3 and some of the veg before I took the photo), buttery mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and huge helpings of cabbage, carrots and peas. There was so much food I couldn't finish it all and there was no way I could have managed a pudding as well.

If you're ever in the area on a Sunday, I can definitely recommend having lunch here.  It's such value for money it's no wonder the place was packed.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

On the move again

We'd been stuck in Birmingham for longer than we'd planned as we'd been waiting for spare parts to be delivered from Germany. Whoever said the Germans were an efficient race had never met this company.  The parts should have arrived last Friday but eventually turned up on Thursday, and guess what........some of the bits were missing! Why does this ALWAYS happen to us?  The missing bits were put on a next day before 12.00 delivery and we finally left Birmingham after lunch.

We're now moored at Tipton outside the Neptune Health Centre and I'm making the most of the glorious sunny weather today to catch up with the laundry. We'll head down to Wolverhampton later this afternoon and then tackle the 21 locks tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Canal Breach Changes Our Plans

You may have heard on the news or other blogs that the Trent & Mersey Canal has breached at Dutton and the canal will be closed for quite a while until it can be fixed.  Unfortunately for us, that was the route we were taking back to Boothstown on the Bridgewater Canal.

Trent and Mersey canal near Dutton, Chester
photo courtesy of BBC News website

We're now having to reassess our travel plans and maybe even re-think where we're going to spend the winter.  We could get back to Boothstown by going up the Macclesfield Canal, along the Ashton Canal and then the Rochdale Canal into Manchester and then onto the Bridgewater Canal, but if we do this the winter stoppages will mean we're stuck there until after Christmas which was not what we'd planned. 

Whatever we decide to do, I'm just so glad we weren't anywhere near the breach when it happened. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Meat Free Monday

The weather's suddenly become decidedly Autumnal, so this week's meat free recipe is a nice warming soup.
Butternut Squash last for a couple of months if you keep them somewhere cool and dark and I always have one in the veg. rack for use in curries or this spicy soup.

Spicy Butternut Squash & Coconut Soup with Garlic Croutons - serves 4

1 butternut squash, peeled & chopped into medium sized chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger/garlic paste (or 1 clove garlic plus a small piece of ginger grated)
1 veg. stock cube
1 heaped teaspoon curry paste
1 sachet creamed coconut

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until softened but not browned and then remove from the pan to a plate. Gently fry the squash cubes in the remaining oil for about 5 mins. until just slightly browned. This gives the squash a nice nutty flavour.

Add the sautéed onion, ginger/garlic paste, stock cube and curry paste and stir well for 2 minutes over a low heat to take the rawness off the curry paste and garlic.

Pour in enough boiling water to just cover the veg. and simmer gently for 20 mins. until the squash is soft.

When the squash is soft, crumble in the coconut and stir until melted, then either mash well with a potato masher or blitz in a liquidiser until smooth. If the soup is a bit thick you can thin it down with either water or milk. Add salt and pepper to taste although it will probably be salty enough from the stock cube.

Garlic Croutons
2 slices bread
butter or spread (I use Clover)
1 clove garlic, crushed
chopped parsley

Parsley is a very useful herb but unfortunately it's quite delicate and dies off at the first frost, so at this time of year I keep a box of frozen, ready chopped parsley in the freezer.

Measure just enough butter or spread to cover the 2 slices of bread into a bowl and add the garlic and parsley.

Mash together with a fork

Grill one side of the bread, turn over and spread the other side with the garlic butter.

Grill the other side until golden brown and then cut into croutons.

Serve the soup with a few croutons sprinkled over and the rest on the side.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

It's been a bit damp today to say the least, so we've had a nice lazy Sunday indoors.  Roger watched the Singapore Grand Prix and then we made a quick dash to the Prince of Wales pub where we spent the rest of the afternoon watching the Trevor Burton Band.

The music was absolutely fantastic, a mix of blues and rock which is just my cup of tea (or pint of beer).

When we got back I "googled" them and found out that Trevor Burton is a very famous guitarist who has played with the likes of Hendrix, the Animals and the Move, who we saw back in Worcester at the beer festival. No wonder they were so good!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Back to Birmingham

Yesterday, we left Cuckoo Wharf fairly early as we all wanted to be back in Birmingham by early afternoon and we had 24 locks in front of us.  Unfortunately we had an unexpected delay at Aston Bottom Lock as Alan on the boat in front of us couldn't get the bottom gate open. By the time we moored up behind him, he'd already phoned the local C&RT guys who arrived within 20 mins. Their equipment left a lot to be desired as it was in a poor state of repair, but they persevered and managed to shift what they thought was a pile of bricks from behind the gate.  We'd been delayed about an hour but soon got a good rhythm going between the 4 boats left on the cruise and we made good progress up the lock flight.  About half way up the heavens opened and it continued to pour down for the rest of the day.  It was extremely cold too, so for the first time in ages we needed full waterproofs and jumpers too.

Half way up Farmer's Bridge flight is a new lock gate.  This is the first 2012 C&RT lock plaque we're seen.  It's a shame though, that they've replaced the lock gate but re-used the lock beam which is old and in poor condition due to rot.  Wouldn't you think they'd have done a proper job while they were at it?

Farmer's Bridge flight has a better quality of graffiti. It also has it's fair share of alcoholics lurking under the bridges, but you have to give them their due; they're all very friendly and chatty even if they were swigging back the White Lightening at 11.30 in the morning.

We're now moored back in the centre of Birmingham, right outside the NIA.

To celebrate the last night of a very pleasant week's cruising in excellent company we all went out for the evening.  We started in the Prince of Wales pub and ended up in Cafe Rouge.  On the way back to the boats we were met by thousands of people pouring out of the N.I.A (National Indoor Arena) after seeing Michael McIntyre on Tour and the bridges over the canal were packed. This morning several of the beautiful floral planters which are on the bridges had been ransacked and the flowers just thrown on the floor. It's such a shame, let's hope there isn't a repeat tonight.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Curly Wyrley and more

The trip up Walsall Locks was pretty uneventful, although the dying duck weed above the top lock was like a thick grey carpet and was getting pretty smelly in the sunshine.

Tuesday night was spent at Pelsall Common.  The plan had been for us all to have a BBQ but it was just too windy, so we went to the pub instead.

On Wednesday we carried on along the Curly Wyrley (Wyrley & Essington Canal), stopping at Brownhills for some shopping and to use the BW services.
Longwood Boat Club kindly let us all moor up for the night and use their club house for a fish and chip supper. We've always been made very welcome here and have to thank them once again for their hospitality.  Not only did they let us use their facilities but they also lit the fire and put on a film show as well.

It's been a long day today.  We set off just before 9.00 and got half way down Rushall Locks where we found Maggie & Bernie on the boat in front of us being towed into the bank by another of our group. Their fan belt had snapped so Roger offered to change it for them and we were under way again in half an hour.

A couple of locks further on it was our turn for a delay.  We'd picked up another prop full of crap. This time it was barbed wire wrapped around a zipped jacket and a piece of carpet. It took about 20 mins. to clear and filled another bin bag.  You really need to be committed to do the BCN - some say you should be committed if you do the BCN but that's another argument.  Despite all the rubbish along this stretch of canal, which included a floating leather sofa and a huge bale of silage, we saw plenty of wildlife including several fishing herons and a couple of kingfishers.

I'd heard some awful things about Perry Barr Locks, but they were easy to do and quite picturesque in places.  This is Lock 6. The bottom gates won't stay closed which means that, even thought the top gates leak quite a lot, the lock is almost almost empty.  As there's not much boat traffic along here, the greenery has really taken over and the lock sides are lined with plants you'd normally find on the grass verges.

22 locks after we'd set off this morning, we arrived at Spaghetti Junction where the motorways merge and cross each other. It was rush hour and the traffic noise and fumes were awful, but it was great to be going underneath them all and for once we were definitely travelling faster than them.

We're now moored at Cuckoo Wharf and will carry on back to Birmingham tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


The canals around Birmingham are renowned for being full of rubbish that gets wrapped around propellers, but we must surely win the award for the shortest distance travelled before getting a fouled prop.

Yesterday we were joining another cruise around the BCN and needed to set off at 9.30. For once we were ready early and cast off at 9.25 but no sooner had Roger put the boat in gear than the engine stopped dead. We'd been moored by a bridge and some "nice person" had been stripping wire from cables and dumped all the debris in the canal, so as soon as our prop turned it caught in the tangled mass.  It took an hour with a VERY sharp knife to cut it all off and the huge pile of plastic cable casing, wire, baling twine and the ubiquitous hi-vis vest filled 3 large bin bags.

We eventually got under way but then got stuck in a traffic jam  in Netherton Tunnel.  The lead boat was steered by a woman who "wasn't very confident" and went through on tick-over. It took forever and when we finally emerged into the sunshine at the other end all the other boats in front of us were moaning and chomping at the bit to get a move on.  I know everyone has to learn to drive through tunnels sometime, me included, but I wouldn't have thought that the morning after a boat festival when everyone is anxious to get away was a good time to do it.

The plan for today was to cruise the Walsall Canal and then moor in Walsall Town Wharf for the night.  We've enjoyed almost all of the BCN so far, but the Walsall Canal is grotty to say the least. It's very shallow for long stretches and is full of rubbish. Although we didn't collect any more rubbish on the prop, we saw loads of it in the canal including a sofa and a mattress. There were quite a few drunks/druggies wandering down the tow-path too so I doubt we'll be making a return visit.  The moorings at Town Wharf are good but there are no boaters facilities and the bar beside the basin was very noisy until very late.

Six of us had an evening out in town, starting in Weatherspoons and ending in an Indian restaurant where we had a superb meal.  It wasn't your usual curry house. There were no Baltis or Kormas or Madras curries on the menu. Everything was freshly cooked with over 2/3 of the menu being a healthy option, and every meal we ordered was delicious.

From the left: Roger, Bernie, Alan, Jane, Maggie & Me 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Meat Free Monday

One of the best things about Meat Free Monday is that it gives me the chance to use up bits out of the fridge that otherwise might get thrown away.  This week it was a solitary leek and a couple of pieces of cheese that were too small to use for anything else.

Cheesey Bean Burgers - serves 2
400g butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 leek, chopped (or 1 small onion)
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
100g grated cheese (I used a mix of Lancashire and Cheddar)
1 beaten egg
some fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying

Gently fry the chopped leek or onion and garlic in a little olive oil until softened but not brown.

Tip the beans into a bowl and mash to a rough paste with a fork or potato masher.  They need to retain a bit of texture so don't mash too much.

Add the cheese and cooked leeks and mix well.  Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper if necessary.  Some cheeses are salty enough so you don't always need extra.

Shape the mixture into 4 burgers and chill in the fridge for 10 mins. while you make the breadcrumbs. The easiest way is in a food processor but you can also grate the bread.  Mix in the dried herbs.

Put the beaten egg into one bowl and the breadcrumbs into another.  Dip the burger first into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat all over.

Fry in a little olive oil for about 5 mins. on each side until golden brown all over and serve with a nice dressed salad.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Black Country Boating Festival

I have to say that this has been one of the best festivals we've been to so far.  There's been so much to see and do and the entertainment has been superb too.  Last night we partied outside the beer tent with friends and listened to the group Rainbow Road who appeared in two incarnations.

The first half of the evening they were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and played an assortment of popular music.

In the second half they appeared as the Blues Brothers and played Blues until closing time.  A wonderful time was had by all.

Tomorrow we're joining 5 other boats for another cruise around the BCN. We know all the other boaters so it should be a good week, I'll let you know how we get on. This evening it's time to chill out in front of the TV and just recharge our batteries after a hectic weekend. One thing I can say about living on the boat is that we're never bored, it's just one long holiday really. Long may it continue!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Black Country Boating Festival

We've had another beautiful sunny day and the fine weather brought the public out in their droves.  The festival has been extremely busy and is very popular with the local residents.

This beautifully restored organ was powered by this replica steam traction engine which took 25 years to build.

One of my favourite stalls was the Midland Bird of Prey Rescue society.  They had several owls on display and at first I thought this Tawny Owl was stuffed as it stood so still and didn't blink for a long time. It made me jump when it turned it's head to stare right at me.

As beautiful as the Tawny Owl was, this little chap was my favourite. His name is Charlie and he's a 4 month old White Faced Scops Owl and is a native of the southern half of Africa. He was only about 6 ins tall and was so cute.

The Black Country Boat Festival differs from other boat festivals we've been to as it has quite a large fairground as well as the usual boaty attractions.  It was doing a roaring trade and had all the usual thrilling attractions such as the Waltzers and the Dodgems etc.

but this was more my style. I could just picture myself in that little fire engine.

The Black Country Classic Car Club were exhibiting around 20 vehicles.  This Jaguar was my favourite. The restoration must have cost an absolute fortune as it was in immaculate condition.

Tonight we're going back to sample more of the excellent ales on offer in the beer tent.  It never ceases to amaze me just how good the local ales are at these festivals.  Last night we tried a couple of beers brewed at the Old Swan pub which is about a 10 minute walk from our moorings.  Roger said the Bumblehole Ale was superb and my Black Swan mild was pretty good too.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Black Country Boating Festival

Last night we stayed on the visitor moorings at the Black Country Museum.  Just after it dark huge spot lights came on just over the fence from where we were moored. A film crew were just setting up and a short while later we went out to stand on the bridge and watch what was going on.  I don't know what they were filming but they had fog and rain machines working and carried on until well after I went to bed at 11.00.  By the time I got up this morning practically all traces of them had gone, ready for the museum to open for the day.  They obviously hadn't finished filming though as a lot of equipment had been stashed behind one of the sheds out of public view.  The rain machine was quite spectacular, I just wish my camera was better so I could have shown you.

We're now moored in Oldbury ready for the Black Country Boating Festival which is on this weekend. It's not the quietest of moorings being right beside a busy road bridge and when we arrived I spent 5 minutes along with the lady off the boat in front clearing up piles and piles of dog poo from the towpath beside our boats. We haven't been to this festival before so we're looking forward to a good weekend, let's hope the weather stays good.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Meat Free Monday

We don't often eat pies or pasties as shop bought ones are very high in fat and I like to watch what we eat, but there are a lot of Greggs bakers in Birmingham and every time we passed one we got the urge for a pasty, so as it was Meat Free Monday I decided to make vegetable pasties for dinner.

Veggie Pasties - makes 4
1 packet ready rolled puff pastry
3 tablespoons green lentils
1 medium potato, cut into 1cm cubes (you can use a left over boiled potato)
1 medium sized carrot, grated
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons green peas, defrosted if frozen
2 teaspoons ginger/garlic paste (from Asian section of supermarket) or use 1 clove garlic and some grated fresh ginger
salt & pepper

First cook the lentils according to the packet instructions, or alternatively you can use tinned green lentils.

Cook the potato and onion in just enough water to cover them for 5 mins. then drain well.
Mix lentils, potatoes, onions, carrots, peas and ginger/garlic paste, Add salt and pepper to taste.

Unwrap the pastry and roll out to make it just a little thinner, then cut into 4.
Put some of the mixture onto each piece of pastry, brush the edges with water, fold over and crimp with the back of a fork to seal well. You can make a pattern in the pastry by lightly scoring it with a knife, but you also need to make a hole in the centre to let the steam out so the pastry stays crisp.

Place on a sheet of baking paper on a baking sheet, putting the edges to the centre then if any of the pasties leak the filling stays in the centre rather than going over the edge of the tray and making a mess of your oven.

Bake for 30mins. Gas 6-7  till the pastry is golden brown, puffed up and crispy.

These are also good cold for lunch next day.