Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting Colder…..

No snow yet, though. At least where we are…. It did try last evening, sleety stuff which didn’t last long.

Just before 8 am yesterday.. red sky in the morning.SAM_0004

We had a little guest for a couple of hours on Friday night, George and Carol went into the town to meet a friend for a meal.

Where’s me Mum?SAM_0002 Canane Guest
We’ve had a good weekend, some good walks around Ellesmere.

Looking over The Mere from the castle mound.SAM_0009 The Mere

Ellesmere Basin, now tidied up and “gentrified”.
SAM_0011 Ellesmere Basin
The whole area is being developed, with the new Tesco out of shot on the right, and retirement homes to be built behind the old company warehouse.
SAM_0015 Ellesmere Basin
The company warehouse is looking a bit shabby, but it has been saved from demolition.

We all had a last shop to do before we left this morning, but Carol went a step further….

A trolley as well?SAM_0016 Carol Shopping
No, she took it back afterwards. Shame, it might have been useful toting logs along the towpath….
Winking smile

For a change we were ready to go first, and were out of the Arm and filling with water at the depot when the rest of the convoy emerged.

First came Rock’n’Roll, backwards of course………SAM_0019 RnR

……..followed by Moore2Life, in a more conventional manner.SAM_0020 M2L

We had a chat with Colin from NB Go For It while we were filling up, they’ve been down at the far end of the Montgomery Canal, doing a bit of restoration work.

All full, we set off, for a change in the van of our little convoy.

Looking back at Ellesmere Maintenance Yard.SAM_0022 Ellesmere DepotR’n’R and M2L are still filling up.

The far building, beyond the dry dock, is Beech House. During construction of the canal this was home to Thomas Telford, engineer for the navigation. Then it was used as the canal company headquarters till it was sold and converted into separate dwellings.

Beech house, looking from the Ellesmere ArmSAM_0006 Beech House and Depot
Although a bright and sunny morning, it was cold in the breeze. Still, the beautiful countryside was a distraction from any discomfort.

Near Stanks BridgeSAM_0023

Structures on the Llangollen Canal are very prone to damage from boat collisions. The canal is rightly very popular, and there are several hire bases here.
The volume of traffic, often blind bridges and lack of experience of some steerers means that some of the arches get clouted on a regular basis. BW have come up with a novel method of protecting this one…

Coachman’s Bridge with steel plate bolted to the vulnerable area under the arch and on the leading edges.SAM_0024 Damage protection
There are some pretty sharp bends as the canal winds it‘s way around Val Hill.

One of those blind bridges, Val Hill No2

Three miles after leaving Ellesmere Frankton Junction appears on the left.

Frankton JunctionSAM_0031 Frankton Junction

SAM_0032 Frankton JunctionDropping down a double staircase and then two single locks is the Montgomery Canal. At the moment it runs to Gronwyn Bridge, 6½ miles from the junction.
But restoration is ongoing and there are several isolated lengths as it heads towards Newtown. When all linked up it will be a fine 19 mile cruise. We’ll visit it on the way back, but for today we pushed on towards Llangollen.

From Frankton the bridge numbering starts again from Bridge 1, the previous sequence continuing down the Montgomery, demonstrating that the line to Newtown was indeed the main line.

The first bridge after the junction, towards Llangollen, Bridge 1W.SAM_0033 Br numbering
The “W” suffix has been recently added to differentiate it from the other Bridge 1, way back above Hurleston Locks.

Maestermyn Bridge is home to another large hire base and The Narrowboat Inn.SAM_0036 Maestermym and Narrowboat inn
Ann counted 30 hire boats laid up for the winter here!

The blue sky started to turn grey around 1 o’clock, clouds building up from the west and the temperature dropping rapidly.

Sunbeams over ShrewsburySAM_0037 Sunbeams

This boat has been a “project” since our first trip this way….SAM_0042 Still a project

We’d decided to stop above the first of the pair of New Marton Locks. I remembered it being very pleasant here last time we stopped. I was pleased to arrive; I‘d lost all feeling in my feet!
Should soon be a thing of the past, though. Look out for Project Cosy Toes, coming soon!
The rest of the convoy came into sight as I was defrosting.

The other 2/3rds.SAM_0043 Convoy arrives
All tied up we regrouped for tea and cakes on Rock’n’Roll.

We’ll stay here tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a fine day, I’ve got a load of wood to slice up and George mentioned something about a barbeque….
Surprised smile 

The BBC did a report on the re-gating of the Bingley 5 Rise staircase locks yesterday morning. It's on the website here. You forget how deep these locks need to be when you're floating on the surface....
Locks 0, miles 5½

Friday, January 27, 2012

Last leg to another Arm

Lots of anatomical references recently. Can’t wait to get to the head of the navigation!
Today we finished what we intended to do yesterday; get to Ellesmere. It’s been a far better day, still cold but the wind has been a lot quieter.

We got off soon after 10:00, leading Rock’n’Roll away from Hampton Bank. We’d spotted some logs looking lonely on last evening’s walk, so we had a quick stop to load up, before moving on again. Carol took some pics, so you’ll have to look here to see us struggling with them….

Leaving Hampton Bank.SAM_0001 Leaving Hampton Bank

At Lyneal Wharf is the base of the Lyneal Trust, dedicated to providing boating holidays for disabled people.

Lyneal Wharf
SAM_0003 Lyneal Wharf
There are two boats here, both with optional wheel steering.

From here the canal enters an area of shallow meres, left behind by the last ice age. The largest is Ellesmere, but there are two large expanses of water right alongside the canal.
Cole Mere appears on the left of the navigation first, the second largest of the meres.

Cole MereSAM_0006 Col Mere

Blake Mere comes next, with just the narrow strip of towpath separating it from the canal.SAM_0011 Blake Mere

Ellesmere (or just The Mere) is the largest of nine, at around 110 acres in extent. Cole Mere comes in second, at 66 acres.

Just around the corner from Blake Mere the canal dives into the confines of Ellesmere Tunnel, only 87 yards long but slow going against the flow coming down from Llangollen.

Ellesmere Tunnel, the (prettier) eastern end. SAM_0013 Ellesmere Tunnel

In contrast the western portal looks a little spartan…SAM_0014  Ellesmere Tunnel

Ten more minutes and we arrived at Ellesmere, where the short Arm goes off to the right into the town. But first we needed to get onto the service wharf just past the junction, so swung around and reversed onto the wharf. Chas and Ann were just pulling off, also in reverse to go back to the Arm, so we did a gentle Do-See-Do around each other. Not easy with two 57 foot narrowboats in the breeze that had blown up, but we managed.

Tanks filled and emptied we followed Moore2Life and Rock’n’Roll (they’d arrived while we were filling) and moored in the Arm.  First a trip up to the Post Office for mail, then the first of what’s likely to be several visits to Tesco at the end of the arm. This area used to be occupied by a dairy, but all around the wharfage is now being redeveloped.

Down the arm, passing M2L and R’n’R. We went to the end to turn around before mooring.SAM_0021 Ellesmere Arm

The Llangollen Canal, strictly speaking the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal, started life as the Ellesmere Canal, but has changed out of all recognition from the original scheme.

In 1793 an Act was passed, allowing the construction of a navigation from Netherpool (now known as Ellesmere Port) on the Mersey to Chester on the Dee, then via Ruabon and Chirk to head south-eastward to Shrewsbury on the Severn. An ambitious project to link the three main river navigations, with several arms leading to sources of mineral wealth.

Compromises and economies chopped and changed the route, the final section to Shrewsbury was never completed, although it did make it to Weston Lullingfields in Shropshire. This is the now abandoned Weston Branch running from the Montgomery Canal just south of Frankton Junction. Nor was the Chester to Ruabon link built. Instead, the proposed branch to Whitchurch and Prees was extended to link up with the (then) Chester Canal at Hurleston, and a narrow feeder to supply the locks driven along the Dee valley from Trevor Basin to above Llangollen. 

So up to Frankton Junction we’re on what was intended to be the Whitchurch and Prees branch, from there to Trevor we’re on the original Main Line, then on to Llangollen it’s the navigable feeder, built to supply the locks.
It’s probably the most modified route in the history of canal building!

Locks 0, miles 5½

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Plan? What plan?

Today we were continuing our trip on to Ellesmere. Rock’n’Roll needed diesel, so George and Carol headed off down the Branch to Whixall Marina. Ann and Charles were ready next so Moore2Life moved off, down the main line, and we followed on about 30 minutes later.

There’s another long straight just after passing the junction, stretching for a mile on a wooded embankment above the moss.

Leaving Prees Branch junction.SAM_0001 Straight west of Prees

Looking over the flat Whixall MossSAM_0002 Whixall Moss

We made a short visit to Wales today. The canal is now tending generally westward with the border to the north, but here it (the border) does a short deviation south, forming a peninsular taking in Northwood and Bettisfield.

Crossing the border. What, no passport control?SAM_0003 Border crossing
Two miles later we were back in England.

Coming out of the shelter of the woods the full force of the SW wind hit us, pushing us sideways and making steering difficult. Going through Cornhill Bridge we got pushed into the bank and it took a bit of heaving to get unstuck. After heavy overnight rain the flow on the canal had increased as well, making progress, especially through the bridge ‘oles, hard work.

We passed NB Armadillo near Bettisfield, they’d passed us yesterday before we left Whixall.

Graham and Jill, NB Armadillo.SAM_0005 NB Armadillo
We’re leapfrogging this boat, as well as NB Jandai. They passed us yesterday afternoon after we’d pulled over.

Jan and Dai passing yesterday.SAM_0024 Jandai
Jan taking a picture of me taking a picture …..

By the time we’d negotiated the high, windy embankment at Hampton Bank I’d had enough. We pulled in a little before Bridge 50, after doing just 2½ miles.

I sent a text to Chas and Ann ahead of us and George and Carol behind us, explaining where we were. Chas texted back, they’d given it best at Cole Mere, a couple of miles further on, and shortly afterwards Rock’n’Roll arrived and pulled in behind us. Not just me being a wimp, then! We’ll all congregate at Ellesmere tomorrow.

Moored near Hampton Bank before the Rockers arrived.SAM_0007 Hampton Bank
It’s been a bright day, but cold in the wind. Pretty much the same tomorrow, according to the forecast.

On a completely un-boaty theme, I run the Great North Run every year for charity. It’s always to raise funds for a cancer charity, often Cancer Research UK although this last year it was Macmillan Cancer Support. Anyway, Macmillan has the chance to become a charity partner of Poundland for 2012, the organisation to be supported selected by public vote. It’s worth potentially £300,000 to the successful organisation. All you have to do is follow this link and click to select the charity of your choice. No registration, no commitment. Just one click. Of course, I’d prefer it if you’d choose Macmillan, but there are lots of good causes in contention including Cancer Research. Just choose one, eh. Or both, or several. Deadline Monday 30th.

Locks 0, miles 2½

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From an Arm to a Branch

With a slight improvement in the weather today we decided to push on a little further. We got away about 10:30, under the main road bridge and past Whitchurch Marina.

Leaving WhitchurchSAM_0002 Leaving Whitchurch
Passing Whitchurch MarinaSAM_0004 Whitchurch marina
Like Wrenbury this is a hire base under the umbrella of the ABC Leisure Group, only this one has a Viking Afloat fleet. There are a lot of hire boats here, like Wrenbury they probably choose not to hire out of season, concentrating on maintenance and repair instead.

With only room for one-way traffic, it was unfortunate that this chap chose this time to come the other way!

Not a good place to meet…..SAM_0005 What a place to meet...
Luckily Carol and Ann were walking ahead and told them we were on the way so they pulled over and held the boat to the bank while the convoy passed.

There are 2 lift bridges shortly after leaving Whitchurch; Hassel No1 and Hassel No2. I imagine they are quite a hassle too, during the season. The girls had decided to walk down to open them so we could cruise straight through.

Ladies-In-Waiting I – Ann at Bridge 33SAM_0006 Ann and Br33

The convoy comes through….SAM_0007 Convoy

Ladies-In-Waiting II – Carol at Bridge 34SAM_0009 Carol on Br 34

I pressed on wanting to get to Tilstone Lift Bridge in time to get it raised ready for the troops, but Carol had other ideas. Yomping along the towpath she overtook us and was waiting with the bridge up as we arrived.

A glimpse of the sun near Dudleston BridgeSAM_0010 Near Duddleston

Looking back through Old Man’s BridgeSAM_0012 Old Mans Br

After Tilstone the scenery changes as the canal emerges onto the flat Whixall Moss. There was a shop here near Platt Lane, The Shop in the Garden, but it looks like it may be no more, with an estate agents sign on the canal side.

This guy must have been shifting to miss the bend……    Surprised smileSAM_0016 Must have been shifting...

Onto Whixall Moss, used to be The Shop in the Garden.SAM_0018 Shop in the Garden.. Closed

The Moss is a raised area of peat bog and is classified as an SSSI, important for it’s populations of rare flora and fauna. The canal changes character across here too. Gone are the meanders as the course follows the folds of the land. There aren’t any here so long straights are the order of the day for the next 2½ miles.

I got my first go at a lift bridge when we arrived at Morris’s, Bridge 45. It took 85 turns of the windlass to raise the blessed thing!

Through Morris Lift Bridge.SAM_0020 Through Morris Lift Br

We moored a little further on, just before the Prees Branch heads off to the south-east.

After lunch of home-made soup and hot rolls we all (bar Mags) set off to have a look down the Branch.

Looking down Prees Branch from the main lineSAM_0039 Prees Branch

The branch actually never reached Prees, it ran out of steam after getting to Quina Brook. So instead of being around 5¾ miles long, it was shortened to around 3½. Now though there is only a bit less than a mile still navigable, running to Whixall Marina. After this the channel is still in water but is un-navigable.

Allman’s Lift Bridge, one of two on the BranchSAM_0026 Br 1 Prees Branch

End of the navigable section at Whixall MarinaSAM_0034 End of navigation Prees Branch

We followed the towpath to Bridge 4, Waterloo Bridge, where the canal has been filled for easier access for farm vehicles.

Back towards the junction from Bridge 4…..SAM_0027 Br 4

….and the channel continues for another few hundred yards.SAM_0028 from Br 4

Walking back we passed a flock of sheep clearing the remains of a harvested turnip field.

Turnip munchingSheep field

Taking a drink from a trough were a group of dark brown sheep, but I got the camera settings a bit wrong…..
Zombie sheep! SAM_0031

Whew, that’s better!SAM_0033

Locks 0, miles 5