Thursday, February 15, 2018

Choosing the fine days.

We moved out of Ellesmere on Tuesday, after only the one night to top up the cupboards. We need to be back towards Chirk by Friday for Meg’s health review. I’m sure the vet will be pleased with her progress, I hope we’ll be able to reduce the steroids to a minimal dose, or even stop them completely.

Although the overnight forecast was for frost, there was no ice on the Ellesmere Arm as we pulled out, back onto the main line. Unusually we didn’t have to make use of the services; we’d topped up with water and disposed of rubbish and recycling before we left the Montgomery.DSCF2501

I mentioned the bridge repairs earlier, and the fact that they tend to get a bit battered through the “Silly Season”. Coachman’s Bridge, number 62, has protection both at water level and at handrail height. A good idea.DSCF2503

This cruiser was afloat a month ago, but now it looks like another abandoned boat to be recovered at C&RT’s expense…
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Those surprised sheep again at Val Hill…
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Passing Frankton Junction
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It’s still very quiet on the canal, a boat a day is about normal. We’d already seen our quota heading in the other direction, so I was surprised to see a boat ahead, crawling slowly through Bridge 2W.DSCF2511
The reason for his lack of progress became apparent as we got nearer. It was the tug Minnow pushing a pan loaded with equipment being moved from the completed bridge repairs at Val Hill to the pending repairs at Maestermyn House Bridge. I was content to stay behind, we only had a mile more to go before we stopped, but he pulled over to let us pass.

We pulled in on the pleasant moorings just before Maestermyn. I’m glad we’d been waved past, we were tied up, TV set up and having a cup of tea by the time Minnow slowly chugged past.

We saw it several times later in the afternoon and in the wet windy weather yesterday. Upstream pushing a loaded pan, back downstream empty. We stayed put, it was just a bit too miserable for us…

I did my good deed for the day later in the afternoon. I heard a plaintive bleating on the other side of the hedge, and discovered a young sheep trapped up against the fence, it’s fleece entangled in briars and hawthorn. It had been there a day or two, judging by the condition of the ground. I managed to get it free, leaving several lumps of wool hanging on the bushes, and it toddled off across the field. Then I spent a jolly hour or so with a needle picking thorns out of my hands. I should have gone back for my gloves...

This morning dawned dry and clear, bright blue skies but a freshening breeze for our trip today.

Maestermyn House Bridge, 6W
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The towpath is already closed, the navigation will be closed on Monday for 3 weeks. The pipes on the left will carry the downstream flow when the stop planks are in place and the section dewatered.

And this why…DSCF2516

…a dirty great hole at water level.
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Approaching New Marton Locks, now heading north, and the westerly breeze was now a wind, blowing in from the towpath side. The landings for the locks, top and bottom, are exposed, so I wasn’t looking forward to having to tie up below to set the lock, then again above to close up after we’d ascended. Mags was banned from the tiller, the wind was much too cold.

As we got nearer I could see someone up at the lock, and the bottom gates wide open. Result. Even better, the lock was done for us by one of the crew working on the bywash weir!
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The top lock was also part open for us, so I thought I’d be able to nudge the gates open. But the water level was down with the work being done on the weir at the bottom lock, and we were scraping the mud at the entrance. With judicious use of the throttle and the tiller we were able to slowly wiggle our way in, though.

New Marton Top Lock
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We pulled in above the lock to fill with water, then, after struggling to get off the bank against the wind (the towpath is now on the right), we off across St Martins Moor, mostly sideways.DSCF2521

We pulled in just past Morton Bridge in bright sunshine. Meg decided she’d done enough for the day…
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It’s been a good day, even with the wind. Behind glass the sun was warm, and the solar panels finished off topping up the batteries. There’s supposed to be more good weather for the weekend, too.

Tomorrow we’ll head a short distance to The Poachers. Richard, Chamberlain Carrying Company, is heading this way on Mountbatten now there’s a brief window of opportunity, so we’ll fill the diesel tank and get some more solid fuel as he passes. And Val and John are coming in the afternoon to give Meg and I a lift up to the doggy doctor in Chirk.

Locks 2, miles 9 since Ellesmere.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Back up onto the Llangollen, and a shopping trip to Ellesmere.

On Thursday we moved the short distance to the moorings on the stub of the Weston Arm. A bit cloudy and warmer, all the previous day’s ice had melted overnight.
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Triangular bird-boxes along the canal.
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I wonder if the design is for a specific species, or it just easier to make them that way?

Up through Graham Palmer Lock, around the corner and under Bridge 70 took us to the moorings where we stayed until this morning.

Plenty of room on the Weston Arm moorings.DSCF2475

The weather was a bit mixed over the weekend, we’ve had rain and snow, wind and sunshine. Often all within a few hours! But the highlight was a visit on Saturday by Dave and Lisa who we haven’t seen for nearly 2 years. They were part of our convoy that crossed the Wash back in 2015
We had a great few hours, catching up before they had to up and leave. They tend not to cruise in the winter, so they’d come up by car, stopping for a few days at the Chain Bridge Hotel up the Dee from Llangollen.

So today, after filling the water tank and disposing of the rubbish and recycling, we moved up to the bottom of the Frankton Locks.

A beautiful start to the day today. Calm and cold after a frosty night, with just a thin smear of ice on the water.
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We got to the bottom lock at 11:00, an hour earlier than the scheduled “window” of 12 till 2. But Chris the lockie was pottering about at the staircase and told us to set off as soon as we were ready.

The two single chambers were empty with the lower gates open, so it didn’t take long to pass those.

Lock 3
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A little bit of history, here, too…
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Tom Rolt’s book, Narrow Boat, is probably the most common book on boater’s bookshelves.

Coming up the staircase pair.
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We thanked Chris, then set off, turning right at the junction and heading for Ellesmere. The canal twists and turns around the rising ground of Val Hill, and there’s two bridges here that have only recently re-opened after a 3 week closure for underwater repairs.
They’re still clearing the equipment they used.DSCF2492

Nice new brickwork
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All of the structures on this canal tend to get a bit battered, due to it’s summer popularity.

What, never seen a boat before?
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Just over an hour from Frankton Junction we arrived at Ellesmere, passing the maintenance yard and turning into the Arm to moor.

Ellesmere yard and Beech House
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One trip to Tesco’s has made a start on topping up the stores, I’ll be going up into the town tomorrow for a few more bits before we set off, heading back towards Wales.

Locks 5, miles 5

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The weather forecast said ice…

…and it wasn’t wrong!
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Our first frozen canal this winter! Not really surprising as the temperature dipped to five below last night.
We come onto the Llangollen Canal to avoid getting frozen in, but every time we make a short excursion down here on the Montgomery we seem to choose a cold snap. And this canal does freeze!

It wasn’t any thicker than 3 or 4mm, so not a show-stopper, but we did wait until around 11 o’clock to let the bright sun start to work on the temperature.

A beautiful morning
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The sanitary station next to Bridge 79 is on the site of an old wharf. There’s a restored crane here, believed to be the only remaining 15cwt crane still existing on the network.
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On open, exposed sections of the canal the ice was about 3mm, but thinned a little where there were overhanging trees. It still seemed to take a while though before the bottom of the three Aston Locks came into view.DSCF2459

When we came down yesterday I left each pair of lower gates open, just a few inches but enough to ensure that the chambers stayed empty. But a boat left the moorings behind us in the afternoon, and he had the benefit of those empty locks. Not content with having a “good road”, though, he was too idle to close the top gate after he’d left the lock. Not normally any more than a nuisance, but today it was difficult to close the gates against the ice that had formed overnight. He got called a few names…

After the locks we pulled in for lunch at the Queens Head moorings. My shoulders were aching with the heavy tiller working against the ice. But we pushed on again for another hour or so after we’d eaten, pulling in on the offside just before Perry Aqueduct.

Crunching past Rednall Basin.
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Moored near the aqueduct.
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A breach here in 1936 caused the canal to be closed and finally abandoned in 1944 by an Act of Parliament. It wasn’t until 1996 that this length, from Frankton Locks to Queens Head, was reopened.

Locks 3, miles 5½

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Snowy and slowly to the end of navigation.

The sky was grey and there was fine snow in the wind as we set off this morning at around ten. DSCF2427
To re-open the canal to navigation the bridge ahead was one that had to rebuilt as it had been lowered while the canal was derelict. It looks almost right, but the brick facade hides a concrete span. Still, needs must. It’s certainly better looking than the A5 bypass bridge just beyond!DSCF2429

There are three locks to deal with before the current terminus is reached, and the first was 10 minutes away, just time enough for a coffee.

Aston Lock 1
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No sign of the killer geese christened Bonnie and Clyde by George and Carol in 2012. Must have been long in the pot!

Beside Lock 3 there has been a wetland nature reserve for some time, but it’s now being extended uphill, alongside all three.

Feeder to the new lake below Lock 1
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Go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/news-and-views/news/montgomery-canal-restoration-dream-becomes-reality-with-launch-of-4-million-project for more information.

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Aston Lock 3, with a derelict lock-keepers hut on the offside.DSCF2441

It’s a slow half-hour to Maesbury Marsh Bridge from here. The canal, always shallow, is particularly so along here, and at this time of year is clogged with last autumn’s fallen leaves.

A factory chimney on the north side of the canal belongs to the now-disused Bone Manure Works. There used to be a taller one too. The works started out as a lead-smelting foundry, changing it’s use in the 1860s. Horse and cow hooves were boiled up for glue, and the bones were ground up for fertiliser. The smell must have been wonderful...
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There’s a sanitary station just the other side of the bridge, no rubbish disposal though, unfortunately.
Crofts Mill Lift Bridge is the last one on the currently navigable section. From there it’s just a couple of hundred yards to the winding point at Gronwyn Wharf.

Turning back at Gronwyn Wharf
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Gronwyn Bridge, the current limit for powered boats. DSCF2446
The snow has arrived in earnest now.

The canal is in water for another ¾ mile to Bridge 84, and work continues beyond there. But there’s no winding hole until the restoration reaches Crickheath. I walked up the restored section way back in 2013. Post here…

We returned back through the lift bridge and moored before Spiggots Bridge. My feet were getting cold, but my head was nice and warm!
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Thanks for the hat, Johnny!

Heading back tomorrow.

Locks 3, miles 3

Valiant Remora Stove Fan

Heat–powered stove-top fans have been around for a while, sitting atop solid fuel boat stoves all over the network. Employing a principal rediscovered by a gentleman called Thomas Seebeck back in 1821 they require no power to run, instead the difference in temperature between the hot base and the cooler radiating fins generates a small voltage, which drives a motor fitted with fan blades. Especially useful in narrowboats with stoves at the front of the saloon, the fan moves a small but significant amount of warm air down the boat.

But there is a major drawback in their use in boats that cruise. Inevitably, due either to the helmsman’s inattention, inconsiderate wind or inconvenient cross-currents, the boat is going to come in contact with parts of the stationary scenery. If the bump is heavy enough, the fan falls off, causing bent fan blades and possibly a bent frame as well.

A company called Valiant has recognised this problem, and have come up with a design that attaches to the stove’s flue pipe. This is the Remora Magnetic Flue Pipe Fan. We were asked to try one out and write a review.
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It came well packed, with formed polystyrene packing protecting the contents. A pity that it wasn’t packed in compressed cardboard instead though, that would have enhanced the company’s eco-friendly image. The four-blade fan comes packed separately, but an Allen key and spare grub screw are provided to fit it.
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What makes this stove fan different from others on the market is the magnetic “wings” that attach to the flue pipe above the stove top.DSCF2385

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I was frankly a bit dubious about the effectiveness of this mounting method, but was surprised at how well the magnets hold the unit onto the flue. Time will tell if they remain as tenacious.
They should do, they're made from Samarium Cobalt, one of the strongest magnets available, and the one best suited to high temperature applications.







Within a minute of it being fitted it was off, the fan revolving quickly enough to produce a significant airflow close to the unit. And it was silent, always a good thing.
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I experimented with different mounting heights, but found around 300mm above the stove top to be about the best. The flue pipe is hot enough at this level to run the motor, and it also leaves the stove top clear for the kettle and a pan of stew to simmer away.

One thing different from a stove-top fan is the response to varying states of the fire in the stove. With it drawing the fan runs quickly, slowing down as the fire dies down and the flue cools. In fact with the stove banked down overnight it stopped completely. But with the fire riddled and fresh fuel added it soon got going again.
A free-standing fan has a larger base area to absorb the heat, and the top plate of the stove is a lot thicker than the flue pipe, so holds heat for longer. So the fan reaction to a cooling fire is a lot slower. Having said that the four-blade fan on the Remora shifts an awful lot of warm air down the boat, a lot more than our old two-blade Eco-Fan.

The unit looks well put together and is covered by a 24 month warranty. The manufacturer also offers a maintenance and repair service to refurbish worn out parts. Hopefully several years down the line…

It’s not the cheapest of it’s kind on the market, stove-top fans are available for less than £30 now. But the Remora does what it’s supposed to do with no fuss, and it’s not going to finish up on the deck if we have a knock or two while locking.

There’s just one fly in the ointment. The recent upgrades to the Boat Safety Scheme recommend that boat stove flue pipes be insulated for safety and to improve efficiency. And the Remora relies on a hot flue pipe to work. It is only a recommendation, however, and I suspect the vast majority of flue pipes on boats are, like ours, uninsulated.

I  must point out that we have no connection to Valiant, only that I was asked to try out and review the Remora. I hope I’ve done so fairly and impartially.