Sunday, January 29, 2017

Problems DO come in threes!

Well I hope so.  I can’t do with any more!
First was the leaky calorifier, then the conked out Webasto water heater (a problem I think I’ve resolved now), then came Thursday…

We had a great afternoon on Wednesday. John picked us up at our mooring near the Sun Trevor Inn and took us back to home, dropping off the old calorifier at the scrappy on route (£25 back, nowt to sniff at) where we had lunch with John and Val, a sort of belated Christmas dinner. Good food, great company. Thanks, guys.

Despite the fairly rubbish forecast for Thursday we decided to head into Llangollen, aiming to moor in the basin. But we only got half a mile, and that was a struggle. As soon as we set off we had the first of the narrow sections to deal with, just after Bridge 41W. IMG_3413

These two restricted sections are always slow to get through going west, with the flow down the canal exaggerated by the narrow channel. But today seemed to be worse, we were hardly making any headway. I thought maybe we got a fouled prop, so “chucked back” reversing the shaft a couple of times. It was then I realised that the engine would not rev much above tickover… Oh ‘eck.

We were committed to the first narrows, although I suppose that I could have just drifted back to the moorings we’d left, so crawled, painfully slowly, to and through Bridge 42W and the point where the channel widened again.

I found that if I spent a few seconds at tick-over I got another few seconds of revs, so we lurched along like this for a hundred yards till there was a place to tie up.

The symptoms were classic fuel starvation, we should have half a tank still but we had left the boat unattended for most of the previous day…
No, we still had plenty of the red stuff. So I disconnected the fuel line and blew through it, creating bubbles in the tank. No blockage there, then. I’ve two filters in the line, the first a combined filter and water trap, the second the standard Isuzu spin-on can filter. I changed them both, although neither was showing any problems. 
Next stop was the electric delivery pump which draws fuel from the tank and sends it to the injector pump.  There was no flow coming from the outlet pipe with the ignition on, although I could feel it pulsing. This is one of the few things I don’t carry a spare for.  We are basic-level members of RCR, the waterways equivalent of the AA or RAC, so a phone call to them had an engineer on his way. He arrived about 90 minutes later, and his diagnosis was the same; the lift-pump was at fault although he did get the engine going by priming it through the filter housing with fresh diesel. The fuel was syphoned from the tank, and guess who had to suck on the pipe? I was belching diesel fumes for 2 days… Another pump is on order and I’ll fit it myself.
The problem could have been something in the tank closing off the pick-up pipe temporarily, which was dislodged when I blew through the feed pipe, but it’s never happened before, and anyway the pump should have enough “suck”to pull fuel through the pipe and the filters when it was cleared. It always has in the past. Anyway, I’ll fit the new pump on it’s arrival although everything is fine at the moment. Otherwise I’d probably have the same trouble the next time I change filters.
That’s number 3. Hopefully the last for a while.

It was late afternoon by the time the engineer had left, so we stayed put and finished the trip to Llangollen basin on Friday morning.

Leaving our unplanned overnight mooring on Friday morning.IMG_3416 

There’s one final lift bridge before the terminus, but this one is normally left up.

Llandyn No 2 Lift Bridge

The second narrow section is longer than the first, and it’s obvious why they didn’t make it full width. It must have been a major feat to cut the channel we have…



We filled up with water at the services sandwiched between the winter moorers on the embankment overlooking the town. There’s facilities in the basin, but I wasn’t sure if they’d be turned on. In the event we could have waited till we’d moored up.

Following the channel above the town.


So here we are, in the mooring basin with water on the pontoons and even power available on some of the bollards. It’s been mixed while we’ve been here, some sunny spells, but a lot of mist and a bit of rain.

The basin this morning.

We’ll be moving off in the next couple of days, not sure when, it depends on the weather.

Locks 0, miles 2

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Over the Big ’Un.

Today we crossed over the Dee valley on the highest and longest (and most difficult to pronounce) aqueduct on the system. The canal is carried 126 feet above the river on it’s way from Llangollen on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
 But first we had about 1½ miles to go, negotiating the last lift bridge and filling up with water on the way. After another frosty start the well-established pattern of a bright start turning into a misty day was repeated, but it wasn’t really foggy, just a bit gloomy.

These Longhorn Cattle were grazing in the field near Whitehouse Bridge.IMG_3372
Originating in Craven on the Yorkshire/Lancashire boundary, the horns can rise over the head or fall and frame the face. The one in the picture couldn’t make her mind up, so opted for one of each…

Past Irish Bridge the canal runs along the edge of the valley, contained in a concrete edged channel. Every so often there are narrow sections designed to accommodate stop-planks to be used for maintenance or in the event of a breach. They also act as chicanes for boats, so you need to look out for them…

About a mile downstream of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the railway viaduct carrying the Shrewsbury to Chester line. At 147 feet high the Newbridge or Cefn Bychan Viaduct is a little higher than the aqueduct, and was finished in 1848. It can be glimpsed through the trees on the valley side of the canal.

Permanent moorings at the Froncysyllte limekilns and wharf constrict the channel somewhat, making it interesting for inexperienced crews to pass oncoming boats.

Fron footbridge and lift bridge

After dealing with the lift bridge there’s a right bend, the canal now heading directly towards the valley crossing. We filled with water at the end of the permanent moorings along here, then headed off again, to the main event.

The aqueduct comes into view, good, there’s no-one coming the other way.IMG_3383
The channel is only wide enough for one narrowboat.

Launching into space, or at least that’s what it feels like…IMG_3384

It’s possible to make good progress over this one. The towpath is cantilevered out over the channel, allowing the 18 tons of water we displace to run back behind us as we move forward.

Looking west

That’s the Dee down there.

At the northern end, looking back.
Some stats for you…
The iron trough is 136 yards long, 12 feet wide (including the bit under the towpath) and 5¼ feet deep. It sits on 18 hollow masonry pillars, the spans being 53 feet wide. It took 10 years to build, opening in 1805. Users of the towpath are protected by the iron railing seen above, and provision, in the form of holes, was made in the flange on the offside, although never used. Standing on the counter of a crossing narrowboat there’s nothing to prevent you stepping off into 126 feet of fresh air…

Leaving the aqueduct Trevor Basin is straight on, at the end of the arm almost filled with hire boats, now laid-up during the off-season.IMG_3396
The route to Llangollen is under that bridge on the left.

Heading west again after the awkward turn the canal is once again concrete-edged, uninspiring but the scenery gets better and better.
At the end of the first tree-lined section the channel becomes very shallow for a few hundred yards, and there’s a new sign recommending single file traffic here. But generally it’s got fair depth, if a bit narrow in places.


Looking out over the Dee valley.

Castel Dinas Bran. Llangollen is the other side of that hill.IMG_3410

We pulled in at Bridge 41W, opposite the Sun Trevor Hotel. The towpath is that fine, grey gravel which gets everywhere in wet weather, but there’s good satellite TV reception here. Terrestrial reception is almost non-existent along here.

Just read that Les Biggs has passed away today, after a long battle with cancer. The world is a worse place with then passing of this lovely man. Our thoughts are with Jaq.

Locks 0, miles 4

Monday, January 23, 2017

We’re finally in Wales!

After a very frosty night at the bottom of the New Marton Locks it was bright and crisp first thing Saturday. IMG_3327


It wasn’t to last, though. By the time we’d got organised and started up the first of the two locks the fog was back.

New Marton Bottom Lock

I took great care on the locksides!

Picturesque setting of New Marton Top Lock
That’s it now, no more locks till we retrace our steps.

The canal skirts St. Martins Moor, an area of flat, boggy ground.IMG_3338
The north side of the canal, in contrast, is rich grazing as the land rises towards the village of St. Martins.

I think this was the only boat we saw on the move on Saturday…IMG_3340

Almost artistic tree pruning
I regret not getting it’s reflection in the water…

We pulled in at the Poacher’s Pocket pub, next the Gledrid Bridge, 19W.IMG_3344
I was glad to get inside. It didn’t seem to warm up at all.

You may have noticed that the bridges since Frankton Junction are numbered from 1 again, but now have a “W” suffix. This is due to the way the navigation was constructed, with several changes in the planned route. Bridge 69 is on the other side of the junction, Bridge 70 being the first crossing of the Montgomery Canal. There’s an explanation of this seeming anomaly on an earlier post.

I spent the weekend double-checking the plumbing, sorting out the contents of the cupboards and shelves that occupy the space above the calorifier, and then re-installing said cupboards and shelves.

So today we set off again, intending to cross the border.

Leaving Gledrid Bridge, the Poachers Pocket on the left and moorings just through the bridge.IMG_3345

Along Chirk Bank, looking over the rooftops and the Ceiriog Valley IMG_3346

After following the top of the bank for a half-mile or so, the canal turns right to cross the valley on Chirk Aqueduct.IMG_3350

The railway viaduct alongside was built in 1846, 45 years after the aqueduct.

Crossing the border as we pass over the River Ceiriog
Should be Afon Ceiriog, now, I guess…

The aqueduct was hard work to cross, the flow heading “downhill” impeding progress. But at least there’s something to look at as you crawl across the span…
Chirk Tunnel comes next, with the same problem and no view at all!IMG_3358

The low sun lights up the first 50 yards of the bore. 
Painfully slow progress against the flow through here, I’m glad I’m not a boat-horse.

The tunnel emerges in a cutting, there’s often a blow-down or two along here to use as fuel, but we didn’t stop today. Plenty of coal still on the roof.IMG_3362

Chirk Marina is passed on the left side, before we’re plunged into the gloom of Whitehouse Tunnel, this one mercifully only ⅓ the length of Chirk.IMG_3366


There are good moorings between the north end of the tunnel and the next bridge, so we pulled in here.
That’ll do for today. Another couple of little jobs to do. There’s always something, isn’t there!

Since last post – Locks 2, miles 6½

Friday, January 20, 2017

All change, we’ve now got a dry rear end!

The new hot water cylinder, in marine terms, calorifier, arrived on Thursday morning at Val and John’s following a cock-up by TNT on Wednesday afternoon. But the fact that it only took 3 days to make and deliver was exceptionally good service from Copper Cylinders Supplies.

Old and new…

…and cosy in it’s new home.

All the fittings were correct and in the same places, apart from the PRV connection which was at the top rather than the bottom so required a bit of minor re-plumbing.

No leaks when I filled up with water, nor on the engine and water heater indirect circuits. But the Webasto was reluctant to fire up, eventually getting there but gurgling and bubbling as the air pockets worked their way out to the header tank. Unfortunately after the initial run to check the joints, it wouldn’t start up again, no matter what I tried. They can be very temperamental, these diesel heaters. Still, that’s a fairly minor issue, and the major one has been resolved.

We’d travelled up from Ellesmere to Frankton Junction on Wednesday, out of the arm and then across to the services to top up the water tank.

Would you credit it, no boats around, then one appears as we try to join the main line!IMG_3297

The service wharf is part of the old maintenance yard which is contemporary with the canal. Beech House, to the left, was occupied by Thomas Telford during the construction of the canal, and then became the Ellesmere Canal Company offices.IMG_3298

The long building alongside the water taps covers the dry dock, which is still in use.

The canal is winding as it hangs onto the contour heading to Frankton, and there’s a particularly sharp bend around Val Hill, with two blind bridges crossing over.

Val Hill…

…and Bridge 65 IMG_3306

It’s pretty shallow along here, we often run aground under Bridge 61 where there’s an underwater shelf on the towpath side, and the approach to Bridge 67 always involves a scrape under the skeg.

Arriving at the junction we were surprised to see no other boats moored above the locks, handy though as it meant we could get as close to the small parking area as possible.

I stripped out the old cylinder, cut the lagging off in preparation to weighing it in, then had to wait till Val and John brought the replacement over the following morning. We’re getting used to having no hot water… the kettle is permanently ticking over on top of the stove.

Anyway, as I said, it installed OK, and the engine will heat the water. It’s just first thing that it’ll be cool without the Webasto working. So I had a cunning plan…

I was up early this morning, having arranged for a delivery from the local coal merchant. Not early enough though, he turned up at 08:15, while Meg and I were across the canal! We ran back, and by twenty-five past had another 10 bags of Exel smokeless on the roof.
It was a misty morning which finally cleared at lunchtime to give us a fine sunny afternoon. It’s getting colder, though.

With everything done and dusted we were free to leave, so got away at around half-eleven.

The top of Frankton Locks this morning.

Looking back at the junction as we rejoin the main line. IMG_3317

We may drop down the locks on our way back, and spend some time on the Montgomery Canal. But it depends on the weather. The last two times we went on the Monty we got frozen in, while the main line was still ice-free. It’s quite remote, no shops or services, so not a good canal to get stuck on.

Another awkward turn takes the canal under Maestermyn BridgeIMG_3319
The Narrowboat pub and Maestermyn Cruisers hire base are just the other side of the bridge.

Twenty past twelve and it’s brightening up!

Bridge 10W is a dismantled railway bridge which once carried the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, a section of Cambrian Railways. IMG_3323
Opened in 1864 it connected the routes to the Welsh coast to the main Crewe to Shrewsbury line.
In 1897,  east of Ellesmere at Welshampton, a major accident occurred which resulted in the death of 12 people. A summer excursion from Barmouth on the coast, returning to Lancashire and consisting of 15 coaches hauled by 2 locomotives left the rails near Welshampton Station. An enquiry established that the speed of the train was too high for the condition of the line, but the Cambrian Railways always maintained that a brake-coach, borrowed from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, caused the derailment.
The line was considered superfluous by the Beeching Reports of the mid-1960s. Passenger transport ceased in January 1965, freight carriage 6 years later.

I was planning on going up the two New Marton Locks and mooring above, but a sunny stretch of bank beckoned on the straight below the locks.IMG_3325
Stopping here gave me a chance to try out my cunning plan…
Early last year I swapped our aging Eberspacher heater with a reconditioned Webasto unit, after the Eber became unreliable. I’d ordered a new glow plug for the older unit which took several weeks to arrive due to it coming from Germany via Finland! It’s a long story…
Anyway, in the interim I decided to invest in the Webasto, which has been fine up till now. It had to come off for servicing and/or repair, and I’d still got the old Eberspacher, now with a brand new and well-travelled glow plug ready to be fitted. I should maybe explain that the glow plug is the initial igniter for the burner, which is self maintaining once it gets going. But a failing glow-plug makes starting poor and smoky.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I fitted the new glow-plug, re-installed the original unit, wired it up and pressed the start button, not really expecting much but hoping for the best. Amazingly it worked, after a few hiccups and burps and a cloud of smoke it ran quite happily for an hour till I knocked it off to tidy up the install. Result! It’ll stay on (and working, hopefully) till I get the Webasto sorted.

We’ll be moving up to Chirk Bank tomorrow, I reckon. It’s cold and frosty tonight, but should be fine and sunny tomorrow.

Locks 0, miles 6½ (since last post)