Friday, 23 September 2016

Three Canals in Five Days

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It could only have been a matter of minutes after leaving our mooring at Market Drayton on Monday morning when a man in a red top, who had run along the towpath to get to us, hailed us with the question “Are you friends of Paul and CJ?” Well we do happen to be friends with Paul and CJ so we stopped the boat and had a great ‘friends-of-friends’ meeting with two charming guys – Tim and Chris. Thanks so much for spotting us Tim and Chris. It was a great chat (hope we didn’t delay you too much!) and we look forward to a longer meet next time.

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Soon after Market Drayton the wide Shropshire Union Canal suddenly narrows into a deep rock cutting at the base of the very picturesque Tyrley lock flight.

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After rising 33 feet up the five locks we arrived in the pretty setting at the top lock.

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Hot on the heels of the Tyrley locks is the equally narrow “Woodseaves Cutting”. The cutting is so deep that some bridges are approaching 80 feet high and there’s a 2mph speed limit on boats to stop erosion of the bank as this stretch is very prone to landslides. It’s certainly not a place to hang around!

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At Knighton we passed the old Cadbury wharf with it’s lovely Art Deco buildings. Cadburys used to blend raw chocolate here which was then returned to Bournville for further processing. The final cargo from these original buildings was carried in 1961 but Cadbury still process in the modern building behind.

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We moored for the night on Monday at Lord Talbot’s Wharf, between bridges 26 and 25. In the morning fortune was on our side as John Jackson came along with his coal boat and butty. We only had a third of a bag of coal left and with the evenings getting chillier we decided to hail him down for a couple of bags. After delivering a load opposite he swung across to us ……..

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…… and got his boat stuck in the mud on both sides of the canal! A laden working boat is very deep in the water and can easily get grounded.

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Interestingly, to save time and effort, before stopping his ‘motie’ (motor boat) he unhitched the butty (no engine) and let it sail on down the canal under it’s own momentum, intending to catch it up later, rehitch and continue his journey. Very clever – there’s always something to learn on the canals!

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On Tuesday morning we stopped at Wheaton Aston to fuel up (at 51.9p/litre it was the cheapest we’ve ever paid for fuel in five years!) And it was a good job too as we got 200 litres in! Motoring on we crossed the old Roman road of Watling Street on a superbly elegant aqueduct constructed of cast iron, brick with the most glorious stone pillars.

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Not stopping this time, we passed the lovely village of Brewood (pronounced ‘Brood’) which, from the canal, presents the quintessentially English picture. 

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At the end of the “Shroppie” is the junction to the Staffs and Worcs Canal and the stop lock. The lock protects the water supplies between the two canals and is only 6 inches deep!

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Now on the Staffs and Worcs canal we were soon into another cutting. This one goes by the old boatman’s name of “Pendeford Rockin” and, going on for 1/2 mile, it’s damned narrow in places! These things keep James on his toes which is a good thing really!

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Getting tired by now, and then being “ambushed” by an army of young canoeists (who, incidentally, all saluted as we went past!) we chose to moor up for the night in a quiet spot and settle our nerves. (only joking!)

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Off again on Wednesday morning and, as we’ve said so many time before, the canals have a surprise round most corners. This one was the very unusual, and rather lovely narrow boat “Elizabeth” which we’ve seen a few times now but it’s always a pleasure.

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The old Roman road of Watling Street crossed our path again, over the bridge at the far end of the lock, at Gailey Wharf. The most interesting thing here though is the Round House. Originally a toll clerks office it’s now a canal shop and always worth a visit (even if it’s only an ice cream!)

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Soon after Gailey we were deafened by the roar of the M6 which follows the course of the canal for far too long.

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Penkridge, and Wednesday nights mooring, came next and we knew we were getting close as we approached the delightful setting of the Cross Keys and bridge 84.

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After a quiet night in Penkridge, where the M6 moves far enough away to allow for a good night’s sleep, we were on our way again on Thursday morning with one last encounter with the motorway monster. The day was very slow with about four boats queueing at each lock (much to the surprise of everyone as the previous day was so quiet!). However, we had a lot of fun and ribald banter with each other and, at one lock (can’t remember which), we were so pleased that Pam and Terry on nb “Rooster’s Rest” spotted us ahead of them in the queue and came to say ‘hello’. We met them in Alrewas last year.

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After journeying through the perfectly manicured village of Acton Trussell we arrived at the penultimate lock of the day – Tixall Lock is shallow at 4ft 3in and has a pretty little lock cottage to enhance our enjoyment.

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The extraordinary Elizabethan gatehouse of Tixall Hall overlooks the wide expanse of canal known as Tixall Wide and it wasn’t long then before we arrived at Great Haywood and our last lock of the day. After that it was a few hundred yards to find a lovely mooring overlooking the Shugborough Hall estate.

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Friday’s journey took us from Great Haywood (stopping briefly at Rugely for groceries -as every boater does of course!) and ended in dear old Fradley in the early afternoon. We winded at the junction with the Coventry and backed down through the lock to arrive at our favourite mooring spot as we want to be facing the right way to go down the Coventry canal when we leave on Sunday. We were amazed at how deserted these Fradley moorings were on a Friday.

Well, it’s not often we travel three different canals in such a short time but each one has offered it’s own delights and surprises. How very lucky!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Three Aqueducts and a Last Blast

We left the the Llangollen basin on Tuesday morning at the ungodly hour of 6am! The reason being that there were so many hire boats around that we really did need to beat the rush. Having a dozen or so unskilled hirers ahead of us was not to be encouraged!

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When we arrived at Trevor after a clear run, and an hour and half later, the Pontyscillyte aqueduct was ours and ours alone!

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Of course, Doug had to steer across – at nearly 130 feet in the air it’s not for the faint hearted (or James!).

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A clear, calm trough of water all the way across.

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However, the next aqueduct at Chirk is gentler on the senses and James was quite able to take “Chance” across this one.

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We couldn’t help but notice that CART seem to have contracted a new form of grass cutting! It didn’t take us long to get down, and off, the Llangollen canal – stopping only at Prees Junction for one night (the day of the great thunder storms!) ……….

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………. and one night at Wrenbury to meet up with fellow boaters Sharon and Richard on nb “Oakapple”.

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We had a lovely afternoon and evening with them – ending with a nice meal in the Cotton Arms. Really good to meet you both at last!

We left the Llangollen canal on Thursday and, returning to the Shropshire Union canal (the “Shroppy”), we moored up again in Nantwich. It had been a while since we’d cruised the Llangollen – the canal banks and towpath are still well kept with a lot of good quality moorings but the section after Ellesmere is plagued by far too many hire boats. While it was a sort of frustrating entertainment watching the antics of the hire boats, the fun soon wore off. Sadly, and worryingly, the hire companies are woefully lacking in their efforts to impart even the most rudimentary training for their customers. The canal is also generally pretty shallow – “Chance” draws 30 inches and we were scraping the bottom and hitting rock and stones far too often. Three feet of clear water isn’t a lot to ask for.

Anyway, we caught the train from Nantwich to Manchester on Friday morning. Partly to meet up with friends who we hadn’t been able to see during our last two visits and partly to enjoy our favourite city (outside London) one last time before going south.

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We stayed at the Britannia Hotel which we’d used many years ago. While many old hotels need some TLC the 5th floor room we had was very smart indeed.

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The staircase in the Britannia is a magnificent cast and wrought iron engineering masterpiece. The view from floor 5 is very special with the reception chandelier hanging from the 5th floor ceiling like an enormous plumb-bob.

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Returning to Nantwich on Saturday afternoon we headed off again, crossing the town’s own rather splendid aqueduct.

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We passed by the popular sojourn point of Coolé Pilaté which, unless someone has cleverly doctored the CART sign, seems it’s now pronounced as written!

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Further on towards Audlem we found a lovely sunny spot with no one around. Not only did we have time to top up our tans during the very hot and sunny afternoon but James also got on with some much needed maintenance and winter preparations.

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The evening cooled off quite quickly but the sunset was marvellous and the evening drew to a wonderful close.

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Our mooring spot needed no new-fangled satellite positioning systems – on our mooring outside the window was all we needed to know (well, to within 1/2 mile or so anyway!)

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On Sunday we set off along a rather deserted canal. Even when we got to the pretty canal side setting of Audlem at 11:30 there wasn’t a sole around! There were, however, three boats scaling the 11 locks out of Audlem and it was here that we met fellow boaters and blog readers on nb “Serena” coming down the flight. Unusually James was working the locks so he was able to enjoy the ‘chin-wagging’ this time! 

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Well, hot on the heels of the Audlem 15 lock flight came the Adderley flight of five and after that  we were soon in Market Drayton. Safely secured on the marvellous moorings opposite Victoria Wharf James set about some more preparations for winter. Doug went off shopping for groceries and came back staggering like a pack mule! Thinking that there were very few mooring possibilities in the next 5 miles we decided Market Drayton was the spot to stay for the night.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Big Push to Llangollen

We left our mooring at Wrenbury on Saturday morning and, after a couple of swing bridges we were soon at our first lock.

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Marbury lock has a pretty and well kept cottage next to it and heralds the start of a quartet of locks with the consequent (and rather quaint) names of Quoisley, Willey Moor and Povey.

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A bit further on and we tackled the six locks at Grindley Brook. The last three being a staircase set next to the busy little café where the “gongoozlers” can sit and watch us over their elevenses.

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Along the way we come across a boat with a name we know well -  this is for you Vicky B!

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We tackled the horseshoe bend and lift bridge at Whitchurch soon after Grindley Brook and then, before long, found ourselves in the middle-of-nowhere. It would have been sacrilege not to take up the offer of a delightful mooring in this picturesque area around Fenn’s Wood.

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Sunday morning didn’t start off with the intention of a big push forward but it turned out like that in more ways than one.  After the rather boring mile long straights before and after Prees Junction (although they do border the lovely Nature Reserve known as Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses) we passed from Shropshire into Wales and were soon enjoying the lovely Meres either side of the canal approaching Ellesmere. The heavy, tree-lined section of the canal at this point gives only tantalising bright glimpses of the waters on each side.

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After the Ellesmere junction our comparative solitude changed rapidly with the most hire boats we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Two hours of hilarious chaos was our enjoyment – we’d happily have bought tickets for the entertainment value!

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The hours passed and so to did Frankton Junction where the Montgomery Canal branches off. We continued on and eventually, after a tedious hold up at New Marton locks (where the aforesaid hire boaters had their very first encounter with a lock! – and where Doug volunteered his enthusiastic and efficient labour to get ten hire boats and their bemused crews through in an hour), we got to the superb Chirk Aqueduct. Paralleled by the railway viaduct as well, it’s a good practice run for the next  aqueduct ……….

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………. the 1000 foot long, 127 foot high Pontcysyllte! Pronounced ‘Pont-ker-sulth-tee’ it’s famous for putting the fear of God into many narrow boaters – including James!

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It consists of an iron trough supported by eighteen stone piers. Completed in 1805 it’s, arguably, Thomas Telford’s most outstanding achievement.

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The tiny, four inch thick trough wall is the only thing that stops us from plummeting down ………

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……… and into the River Dee below!

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That’s why James walks across and Doug has to steer!

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Immediately after the aqueduct the canal branches sharp left at Trevor and we were then onto the last leg of our journey to reach the end of the line at Llangollen. The reason for the enormous ‘push’ to get the miles under our belt this Sunday was because of the chance of a first meeting with some fellow boaters and blog readers who were already at Llangollen and about to leave on Monday! The scenery gets very “Welsh” on this last section with glorious views mountains, valleys, hills and trees.

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The ‘push’ took on a different meaning as we tackled two sections of one-way working. The canal is so narrow that only one boat at a time can use it. Along with the difficulties of the narrow channel is the fact that a proportion of the River Dee has been diverted is flowing against us! It seemed that someone had decided to divert a bigger percentage of the river than we’d experienced on our last journey up to the pretty Welsh town and it seemed to take forever as “Chance” struggled against the flow.

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Once in and safely moored up in the Llangollen basin we entertained the folks we’d ‘pushed’ to see after our ten hours of cruising – from nb “Cleddau! and nb “Tentatrice” we met Ken and Sue and Chris and Jennie. They were the perfect guests of course as they brought two bottles of Champers to celebrate our long awaited meeting. Ken, Chris, Jennie, Doug and Sue. The long day’s travel was very much worth it as we had a lovely, laughter filled evening together. Very nice to meet you all and safe cruising! 

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On Monday we had a walk up towards the far end of the canal, where the river is diverted to form the canal, and on the way got a lovely view of the basin with “Chance” in the far corner.

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The aim of our walk, apart from gaining some well overdue exercise, was to visit the Chain Bridge hotel at Berwyn and the adjacent, and recently restored, Chain Bridge.

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Made perfect again in 2015 it’s said to be one of the oldest chain bridges in the Western World and it had been languishing unused and deteriorating since the 1980’s.

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It’s been beautifully restored and, true to most chain bridges, it’s rather bouncy when you walk across! Guess who was the first to jump up and down?

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Getting the bus back from Berwyn to Llangollen saved our legs on the two miles distance (what happened to the exercise?!) and we had time to enjoy the town with the swift flowing River Dee running through it.

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We were in time to witness some very skilful kayaking on the white water rapids next to the town bridge (all three successfully tackled this spot) before enjoying a late lunch in one of the many pubs available.

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As always, Llangollen puts on a wonderful floral display around the town for the benefit of its summer visitors.

Returning to “Chance” mid afternoon and we had time to get some housework done and for James to make progress on some winter preparation and maintenance before hunkering down for the evening.