from around your propeller then it's the place for you! No seriously now, the BCN isn't to be discounted. It's full of gems not seen on other systems so if you find yourself in the area, cruise some of the many arms off the main line such as the Iknield Loop, the Hockley Loop and the Wednesbury Arm to name just a fraction of what's available.

My sensibilities were kept in check by a chance meeting with Pete.

I started to frequent the 'White Swan' pub near to the marina and during on of those visits I got into coversation with an old boy who, as it turned out, lived on his boat at Hockley Port.

Pete was an ex RN submarine commander. His knowledge of things 'boats' was incredible. Now here's the bloke who has been there, seen it and done it! It was inevitable that we became close friends and I wasn't about to let this font of knowledge pass me by. We spent probably too much time in the 'Swan' and definitely too much alcohol was consumed but the man was so very helpful and he remains one of my closest friends on the 'cut'.

I remember agonising to him about locking through by myself for the first time. His response was "Go ahead and fuck it up. You won't be the first and for sure not the last but you'll learn by your mistakes and be the wiser for it."

He was dead right and now, just twelve months down the line, I'm confident about my abilities and aware of my short-comings and know how to compensate one with the other.

Peter of n.b.Taunton, Hockley Port Birmingham, - I owe you so much!

This brings me neatly to my first big voyage!

misserable Shroppie 001

The Audlum Run.

I had lent my generator set to a fellow boater and friend after his battery management system failed and whilst I could have driven up to Nantwich by car I decided that here was the perfect oportunity to do some serious cruising. Ali offered to join me for the first 48 hours and so at 1.45pm on November 6th 2010 we left Sherbourne and headed north on the Birmingham Main Line. By 5.30pm we had cleared the three locks at Tipton Green and were moored up outside the 'Barge and Barrel' pub where we had a quick beer before returning to the boat for supper.

The following day we were up early. After breakfast Ali went out to get the newspapers while I attacked the weed hatch removing several plastic bags and a length of nylon rope.

We set off for Wolverhampton and caught up with two frieght boats, a rare sight these days, past Malcolm's yard to the Wolverhampton 21, so called as it's a flight of 21 locks taking the BCN down to the Staffs and Worcester Canal. With two of us on board this was a doddle and we'd cleared them by 2.30. A short hop up the S+W and left into Adderley Stop Lock which is the southern most point of the Shropshire Union Canal.

We motored on and were moored up outside the 'Barge' pub at Brewood by 4.30.

The following morning it was time for an emotional farewell as Ali had to get back due to work commitments.

Spooky Woodeaves cutting on the

Shropshire Union Canal.

Now I was on my own and rather than being petrified at the prospect, I was rather excited however the wind had picked up and that is the only weather I won't go out in on my own so I stayed put until the following morning.

By now the wind had eased and I headed off. Wind was not my problem only the after effects of it. Leaves. The canal was like leaf soup and they would get sucked up into the weed hatch fouling the propeller making headway very hard work. I stopped four times in two miles to clear them and those two miles took me four hours. I moored up at Wheaton Aston outside the 'Hartley Arms' pub at 2.00pm totally exhausted. I had however achieved a first. I had locked through by myself and despite being tired I trotted off to the pub for a well deserved beer.

I fell into conversation with some other boaters and I mentioned the leaf problem. They explained that if I belted the engine hard astern this would blow the leaves back out making manual declogging unnecessary. It works as well!

Back on board I went to lay the fire but as Ali had predicted, the fire bricks had collapsed! Thank the Lord for central heating!

The following day I cruised on. A very pretty run through Gnosall village, the awesome if rather spooky Woodeaves cutting and the spectacular Shelmore embankment arriving at Norbury Juction at 4.30. The weather for the next few days was for high winds and rain and as I've said,  I don't do wind.  Not a problem, as Norbury has a nice pub and a very fine chandlers where I managed to buy a set of fire bricks for the stove so it was a 24 hour stop-over.

The rest of the run was uneventful. More locking through  increasing my confidence each time and it was with a great feeling of satisfaction when I moored up outside the 'Shroppie Fly' pub at Audlum, my destination.

Shroppie Fly 001

'ISIS' moored up outside the iconic 'Shroppie Fly' pub.

It was a few days before Roger could meet up and hand over my generator set but as the wind was up I wasn't too bothered and anyway I was outside a good pub and also it gave me the opportunity to make some running repairs such as.....

I'd run out of gas mid-way through cooking a roast dinner and whilst I had a spare gas bottle, turning the boat upside down didn't reveal a gas key so my roast had to be finished off in the micrwave, something I wouldn't recommend. But canal folk are good people and the following morning the owner of the Mill shop on the wharf managed to find an adjustable spanner I could use. In return I bought a brass plaque of the Audlum lock flight from him. I also bought a third of a load of logs from a local supplier which I loaded onto the roof of the boat. A good investment as it turned out as they lasted me all winter.

Anyway it was time to return to Sherbourne so on Friday 19th November I decended the final three locks of the Audlum flight, turned and headed home. Aside from the fact it was bitterly cold and the necessity of cruising in thick fog through Market Drayton, all went well until I got to Norbury Junction.

I had noticed some play in the tiller but now I'd convinced myself that it was getting rather more noticable and decided to get dry-docked and get the problem sorted.