Tuesday 31 May 2022

Chirk Bank

Today's Canal - Llangollen

It was quite pleasant at first, as we made ready to leave our mobile-less overnight mooring.

At the next bridge there was a sign to Winston Farm Cottages. We could only see just three buildings which seemed quite smart even if, from a distance, they looked rather like stable blocks!

Just over a mile later we arrived at Frankton Junction where the Montgomery Canal starts. It is only open for three hours each morning and passage through the first four locks has to be booked in advance. We saw a couple of boats turning down in that direction - there is a limit on 10 each day.

We continued until Maestermyn Bridge where there is a visitor mooring opposite Whittington Wharf. As this is next to the busy A495 we checked the mobiles and found a good signal. Hence we opted to pull in and catch up on yesterday's blog and a few other things needed internet connectivity.

One of the things that we did manage to do was to book, on line, a passage through Frankton Locks for Thursday morning. With iffy mobile connections all along the Llangollen we thought that it was better to do that now rather than wait until the last minute - tomorrow afternoon. The upshot is that we now have a constraint to take into account as we monitor our progress.

We had already decided that we would not attempt the section beyond Trevor and the somewhat low level of water so far has already meant that we scraped the bottom more often than we recall from previous cruises this way. The final section is even shallower. At this stage we were aiming to get to Trevor tonight and possibly moor the night there.

Whilst we were doing this, a quite heavy rain shower passed over but by the time we were ready set off again it was dry again.

After Frankton Junction the bridge numbers start again from 1 but with a W suffix. Bridge 10W once carried the same Cambrian Railway line that linked Whitchurch and Oswestry via Ellesmere that we saw at another disused bridge a couple of days ago.

There are just two locks at New Marton and when we arrived there were already two other boats waiting, with a similar number in the other direction.

At the second lock we had a similar delay although the queue above was much longer. The boat coming down just before our turn found it quite difficult to close the top gate which seemed a little the worse for wear.

We eventually came up the lock and a couple of boaters from the next boat down offered to open the top gate for us. However, they too found it impossible to get it more that just a little ajar.

Mike joined them but that made no difference. However, based on watching the gate earlier, Mike asked the two boaters to sit on the balance beam while he pushed it. There was sufficient play in the heel post that the extra weight lifted the gate over what was obstructing it. Phew! But will it last until our return or will be trapped for a long closure?

The lock cottage.

As we left the locks we discovered that as well as the couple of boats waiting between the lock and the road bridge there were at least six more queuing the other side, the first of which blocked access to the water point. We had planned to fill up but, in view of the situation, Christine checked the water level in our tank and concluded that we were full enough. Hence we avoided the anticipated possible confrontation.

The boats already here looked as if they would be in for a long wait and more came along soon after. We heard later that last summer there were queues up to 18 at very busy times. We will need to take this into consideration when planning our return timings.

Just after the locks we pulled in at the first visitor mooring for a somewhat delayed lunch. It was almost 3 o'clock when we continued our journey.

However, some really pleasant sunny spells accompanied us.

This tree trunk had a freshly cut surface at the top of the stump but we could not make out what was the intention of the decorations. There seemed to be an explanatory notice attached to the fencing but it was way too small for us to read from the boat.

Strangely, the hotel at Lion Quays has an exceptional number of mooring pontoons - this is still a winding hole marked on our maps. We assumed that the two hire boats had taken advantage of the complimentary mooring whilst they enjoying a meal in the hotel.

A little later we suddenly spotted a familiar boat 'Ellis'. This runs as a small hotel boat aiming to provide a cosy and friendly experience for small numbers at a time. They used to blog in detail about their cruises but since Covid they have been silent so it  was  good  to be able to stop and have a lengthy catch-up chat.

By now we had a conference-on-the-move and decided that we would not go beyond Chirk. As we passed Chirk Bank we could see that there were a good  few spaces, some with mooring rings. It is narrow but we would be in amongst those already here!

The next winding hole is between the Aqueduct and the Tunnel. We crossed over the aqueduct and turned in front of the tunnel entrance. Passage through the tunnel can take some time as the flow of water supply to Hurleston and the narrowness of the tunnel conspire against boats. A boat that we followed crossing the aqueduct into Wales found  the same effect!

However, our return crossing was about three times faster. We pulled in to one of the empty spaces but found that the rings were not in the right places for both ends of the boat. We had to redo the pins after a passing boat pulled them out! There are now three pins, an extra spring and a centre line to a ring giving, we hope, sufficient stability . . . (Check back tomorrow for an update)

9.3 Miles - 2 Locks

Monday 30 May 2022


Today's Canal - Llangollen

We set off at our usual time of 9:30 on a day that promised mostly grey and some wet spells. (In that regard it did not disappoint!)

However, Mike soon realised that the problem with his CanalMap program had not gone away and so he felt the necessity to see if he could fix it and he persuade Christine to take over steering for a while.

As a result there are very few photos between our overnight mooring and Ellesmere Junction! The problem was that the GPS navigation feature was not recognising when we passed each known way point.

This long been of help to us to know where we are if we lose track on the paper maps. However, although a new feature (to recognise entry into tunnels) had been tested in the lab (aka Mike's home office) it was failing 0n the boat and Mike needed to look at the data in real time.

Along the way we passed through Ellesmere Tunnel which, although fairly short, has a bend in the canal just before the entrance which meant that Christine could not see if there was boat already coming our way. Alas, on this occasion, just at the last minute, spotted one on its way towards us and had to back off.

At the junction we could see that the imposing former Canal Company house is undergoing extensive renovation. Let's hope that this will mean that the view is retained for a long while yet.

We turned down the short arm towards the town and were relieved to see several empty slots and we quickly grabbed one.

The reason we came here was so that we could top up our food supplies - there are few other opportunities en route ahead. However, as we had a cup o coffee some very heavy rain arrived and it was shortly before midday before we could venture out.

We walked to the town centre - this is not a large place but with a range of small shops. We managed to pick up some unusual loves of bread including one called Welsh Bread together with a couple of delicious looking Eccles cakes. We also bought a small freshly made pork pie from the butcher and a larger one from the delicatessen next door (where we had earlier bought bread) Time then to return to the boat, hurrying to avoid the rain.

The butcher's pork pie formed part of our lunch and was especially good. Some places make them with too thick pastry which is not cooked through (big disappointment) whilst others fill a lot of the inside with jelly. This one was just right!

Mike continued to sort out his program and was rather relieved when he found what suspected to be the problem but only when we get going again will he really know.

The rain returned over lunch so it was quite late before we could go to the nearby Tesco for the rest of our shopping. Fortunately we were able to carry it all back to the boat in a trolley - along with most of the other moored boaters!

It was almost half past three before we could untie and go to the end of the arm in order to turn around and hence back to the main line.

Alas the former Shropshire Union Canal Company warehouse is even more decrepit than when we have seen it before - it seems that no-one has yet found a new use for it.

Just after the junction we paused to use the full range of facilities at the once busy maintenance yard. Unlike several others this one has not (yet!) been sold off for up-market housing.

Although still grey the rest of the afternoon was dry as we followed slowly behind a number of hire boats freshly out from the nearby marina.

We continued for about an hour before finding a place on one of the visitor moorings - it took some effort to be reasonably firmly tied up. Although this is one of the designated visitor moorings, complete with rings (courtesy of the Shropshire Union Canal Society) some parts are very shallow. Again, no mobile signal so this blog will have been uploaded later by the time you get to read it. (It took us to Whittington Wharf next morning, close to a main road, before we could pick much up)

6.0 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday 29 May 2022

Hampton Bank

Today's Canal - Llangollen

We awoke to a wet and grey morning. It had obviously been rather chilly overnight as everything outside was cold to touch. At least we had kept rather snug inside!

As we had no mobile signals where we were moored we opted to move on a short distance to one of the visitor moorings with access to Whixall Moss

Indeed as soon as we arrived we found that we could 'hear' very well indeed. As there are no churches within walking distance for some while, we thought that we would listen in to one of the streamed services. Later we uploaded yesterday's blog.

By late morning the rain was gradually easing off and we took a gamble and set off on the walk we wanted to do around Whixall Moss, a nature reserve especially focussed on peat and mosses. We have done this before and wanted to remind ourselves.

The fluffy white cotton like seeds make quite an impact.

Not sure why this small patch is such a vivid colour unlike the rest of the footpaths and tracks.

This year's bracken growth is beginning to show with the fronds gradually uncurling as if from a long sleep.

Towards the end of the track back towards the canal towpath, we spotted the remains of Albert Allmark's Peat Mill, rather fewer than we recalled. Albert was one of many who dug out the peat to sell to local farmers. He worked here from 1945 to 1995 - unlike most commercial cutters who used machinery to recover the blocks of peat, he and his son dug by hand. He devised this machine to break it down into fine material and sold in half hundredweight bags. (If some populist politicians  have their way perhaps we will all be reverting to this measure and allowing once more the destruction of such sensitive environments)

We returned to the canal towpath at Morris Lift Bridge. Wild flowers are still in abundance  beside the water.

Let's hope that the outsize flowers on the brambles indicates a bumper crop of blackberries later in the year.

At three places along this stretch we could see leaks from the canal into the surrounding ground. Although the flow was distance it was not great so hopefully someone is keeping an eye on them to avoid a sudden collapse and the consequent lengthy closure whilst the gaps are fixed.

Back at the boat it was time for lunch and by the time we had finished the weather had turned very much brighter and warmer.

From the canal we had a different view of the Moss.

Morris Bridge is the record so far for the number of turns to raise it - 83. Two other boats arrived shortly after us so we had a bit of a wait whilst we left them through before lower the bridge deck once more. As the mechanism is on the off side, the person working it is trapped there until it can be lowered! The lift bridges along this canal are unusually close to the water level - even though here the land is much lower than the canal. If more like those elsewhere then there would be an impossible humped approach.

At Whixall Junction the short Prees Branch goes off, to the right in this view. Only about half of the original remains - we may visit on our return journey.

A little later we passed this new feature - the Mammoth Tower - "You are about to step into one of the rarest habitats on earth". We may find time on the return to take a closer look.

We continued for a while and took a chance on a good, open, visitor mooring, a little bit further from Ellesmere than we might have done but the other possibility is, we think we recall, rather overlooked by trees. We did at least get enough of a signal to upload this blog but we will have to see about streaming.

7.9 Miles - 0 Locks

Saturday 28 May 2022


Today's Canal- Llangollen

The morning started rather grey with hardly any blue sky peeping through. Before leaving we had one or two maintenance jobs to look at - mostly successful, including freeing up one of the side doors whose hinges were almost too stiff to open.

Here, as we set off from our overnight mooring, everything looks much darker than for the past few days.

It is not long before we arrive at the first of today's locks - Quoisley.

Yesterday we mentioned the positioning of the lock ladders and here is a picture to show what we meant.

Willymoor Lock Tavern came next - a remote country pub that looks as if it expects to be busy in summer. Today it would not open for another hour after we passed by.

There is a sturdy footbridge from the customer car park to the pub.

Alas, there is no access to the bridge from the off side of the lock so boaters still have to walk the long way around when opening and closing the gates.

As we cruised towards Grindley Brook the sky in the distance on our left looked as if a local shower was in progress. 

Fortunately we also looked right and saw that the weather coming towards us would be much brighter.

Grindley Brook flight comprises three single locks followed by a three lock staircase. We were able to go straight up the first three but then we met the expected delay.

There were two boats already waiting so at least we would be able to join them in the next 'up' convoy. (The rule is Three Up and Three Down)

The sign indicating no lock keepers today looked as if it was out on display more than it is not. We hear that this is one fight where it proves difficult to recruit volunteers.

Eventually it came our turn to empty the bottom lock and bring the boat in. For some reason it seems that the upper locks are not quite large (deep) enough so that it is necessary to run water down to allow many boats to get over the intermediate cills.

Above the lock we stopped at the elsan and rubbish point, followed by a short mover to the water points. As there seemed not to be too much demand, we, rather naughtily, stayed put after the tank was full in order to finish our lunch! Mike also had a phone call to make to another boater about his benefits.

Much later than usual we set off once more - look: by now there was a compete change in the weather and the afternoon was delightfully sunny - not very warm but just right for cruising.

At the junction with the arm into Whitchurch was met several delays with boats not really keen on taking turns in narrow stretches. The final straw was a hotel pair that held us up for some minutes.

The ABC hire base just after the junction was still busy sending new hirers our on t heir journeys although most had already left. We would encounter most of them sooner or later!

The bridge landing bollards are being replaced at this lift bridge. The sign amused has the instruction to wait here was in such small type that it would be far too late to stop here if you needed to read it!

This bridge was much harder work that others, taking 70 turns of the hydraulic drive compared with typically 30 elsewhere.

The next stretch was much more enclosed by trees - much of the canal looks out onto open farmland.

The fine weather lasted until it was time to look for a mooring.

One more bridge before the visitor mooring we were aiming at and this time our luck was in with a boat already coming though and they waited for us before lowering it again. Thanks!

8.8 Miles - 9 Locks