Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Snow on the ground and a bitter chill in the air

Well the “Beast From the East” arrived in Llangollen yesterday, though compared to other parts of the country ours is more domesticated than wild…

While others have suffered with deep snow and drifts, this neck of the woods has only had a dusting of powdery stuff, no more than an inch or two.DSCF2576 

It has been cold though. Minus four and minus five these last couple of nights. We decided to move on today, so, after a quick provisioning trip down into town, we set off through the narrows.


Fine views as we clear the trees and head down the Dee valleyDSCF2583


I wasn’t looking forward to crossing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The bitter easterly would be blowing right up the valley, or so I thought. In fact it hadn’t bothered me much at all so far, just short stretches where it funneled in but it was instant numb cheekbones when it did.

But for some reason there was little wind across the valley as we passed over, just a brisk breeze at the far end.

Looking downwind, up the valley

We got to the lift bridge at Froncysyllte and I told Mags to stay inside. It was still cold, even though we’d seen a bit of sunshine.

I tied up, walked up to the bridge with my windlass and started turning the manual pump for the hydraulics to raise the bridge deck. And nothing happened. The shaft was hard to turn, and I thought it was just thick oil from the very low temperatures. So I wound it harder and faster, working up a sweat to no avail. I tried turning it backwards and forwards again, and still the bloody thing wouldn’t lift. So after 5 minutes I gave up and called the CRT helpline.

The two people who came out had an idea what the problem was. It had happened earlier in the week with a work boat. The bridge deck gets stuck down to it’s support base as water running into the joint freezes. I’d already got a kettle full of boiling water ready, so with one pouring and the other winding it should have shifted…but it didn’t.DSCF2590

“Give it a nudge” was the suggestion. So I did. With 18 tons of narrowboat. That did it.DSCF2591

So I got away with not having to raise and lower it. Nice one. I left them scraping off the build-up of ice , so hopefully it’ll not happen again. Today, at any rate…

We tied up a half-mile further on, in sunshine which wasn’t to last. I’d just got the dish set up for tonight’s TV and the snow started.
I’m glad we didn’t have to cruise in that!

It’s another cold one tonight, half-seven now and we’re down to -4°. Add in the wind chill and it’s considerably less. That’s outside of course. In here it’s 28°. Just about warm enough for Mags. I'm in shorts...

Hi Diane, Brian. Yes, the electric points in the basin are taped up so they aren’t used, but here on the main line they’re still available for the winter moorers.

Locks 0, miles 5

Monday, February 26, 2018

Out onto moving water…

We’ve had the weekend moored in Llangollen Basin, with very little in the way of company. A couple of boats came and went, one even stopping overnight, but it’s been quiet.
I made a trip or two down into the town for supplies, there were quite a few folk, many touristy types, clogging up the main street. It was a pleasant, sunny weekend.
The stream railway was running trips up the valley, and somewhat slower but considerably quieter, one of the horse boats was taking people to Chain Bridge and back.

The Dee and Llangollen Railway Station from Dee Bridge.20180224_093206 sepia

Hercules the horse wasn’t working very hard, I reckon there was only three people aboard!

All the media is talking about the bad weather on the way. Rather dramatically called “The Beast from the East” (don’t you just love the tabloids…) this cold front moving in from Russia is supposed to bring heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. It’s already been into minus numbers overnight for the last couple of nights, but sunny days have made it quite pleasant. Starting tonight though we’re looking at -5° or lower, and barely above zero through the day. Ice will form on any still water, like the mooring basin here at Llangollen.
In fact, last night we had a taste of things to come. On Sunday morning there was a few bits of ice in sheltered corners, but this morning it had spread further, forming between the pontoons and reaching out from the far end of the basin.

Time to head out onto the flowing water of the main line.

We topped up the water tank, got rid of the rubbish and recycling, then reversed off our pontoon and out of the basin, past the wharf and through the narrows to the linear moorings above the town.
Being tied up for the weekend I’d not run the engine much, relying on the solar panels to put a few volts in the batteries. But they were well down this morning, so I decided, if there was room, we’d pull in on the moorings and plug in to power overnight to top them up. There was, so we did. In fact there’s room for four or five boats still, I think there’s only a handful of winter moorers here this year.

The forecast predicts snow for most of the day tomorrow, but a better day on Wednesday, so the one night here might stretch into two…

Hi Tom, Jan. Yes, I know that there’s power on up here, but I’m always reluctant to stay here. The basin is more open and there’s less footfall, and I feel a little uncomfortable taking advantage of the hook-up here for free, when the winter moorers are paying £270 a month for the privilege. Still, I’ll get over it… It’s only for two nights.

Locks 0, miles ½

Friday, February 23, 2018

Up to Llangollen Basin

After a couple of days at Trevor it was time to move on a bit. We’d not been idle, on Wednesday we were picked up and taken for dinner at our friends, Val and John’s, house. John needed some help in cropping an old willow tree growing in the garden too, so a couple of hours later their wood store was full and the tree was considerably smaller. A good job done.

So Thursday morning we set off, struggling over the mud bank under Bridge 29W and wending our way between the hire boats to the head of the aqueduct.

There’s very little water under Bridge 29W!DSCF2547
The bridge numbering demonstrates that this was intended to be the main line of the navigation, heading over through Ruabon and meeting the Mersey at Netherpool, now Ellesmere Port. Bridge 30 is the now-blocked one at the end of the arm, and 31W crosses the Llangollen feeder channel bringing water down from the Dee.

The chicane formed by the Anglo Welsh hire boats.DSCF2548

Under Bridge 31W. Note the similarity in design to 29W.DSCF2549  

We made steady progress against the flow, scraping the bottom occasionally if we drifted off the main channel. We are just about on the limit of the recommended draught for this section.

Heading for the hills…

Through the first single-width section just past Sun Trevor.DSCF2553

This final upper section of the waterway was not originally planned to carry traffic, it was intended to be a feeder for the Ellesmere Canal. Hence the limited dimensions. It was plagued by breaches, the worst occurring in 1945 which resulted in washing out a section of the Ruabon to Barmouth railway line. The first train of the day, a mail and goods train, crashed into the breach, killing one and injuring two others. Most of the train was destroyed by fire.

In the 1950s an enterprising manager at the British Transport Commission, at that time responsible for the navigable waterways, made arrangements with the Mid and South-East Cheshire Water Board for a supply of domestic water to be taken from Hurleston Reservoir. The reservoir was built around 1808 to supply the Chester Canal. The payback was that the water company would maintain the feeder from Horseshoe Falls to Trevor. The reservoir was extended in 1959 to accommodate the increased demand, and the channel here was repaired and strengthened using the concrete edges in evidence today.

We pulled in at a regular spot, just shy of Llandyn Lift Bridge, with a fine view down the Dee valley.DSCF2555

We had a hard frost overnight, a taste of things to come I think, but the clear skies gave us a bright sunny day for the last hour or so into the mooring basin at Llangollen. It’s only 1¼ miles, but it’s slow going.

Setting off this morning

We had to give way to a day boat from Llangollen Wharf at the start of the narrows leading to the linear moorings…

...but that was the only one we saw today.

More narrows above the town

Llangollen Wharf.

We weren’t surprised to see the mooring basin almost empty, just one other boat tucked into the far corner.DSCF2565
With no free power here now it’s a less attractive proposition…
The white structure on the left is the Eisteddfod Pavilion.

We’ll stay here over the weekend, but will need to be back out on the main line on Monday to avoid being frozen in when the Arctic weather arrives.

Locks 0, miles 4½

Monday, February 19, 2018

Back over the border and on to Trevor.

On Friday morning we moved the short distance to the moorings outside The Poachers at Gledrid. Here we met Richard on Mountbatten, taking advantage of a window between the finish of one set of stoppages and the start of the next, at Maestermyn. With him arriving by boat instead of by van, we could fill the fuel tank and take several bags of solid fuel as well as a replacement gas cylinder.

Part way through the delivery I had to leave, though. Val and John had arrived a little earlier to take Meg and I up to the Chirk vet, and time was pressing so Mags dealt with paying for the fuel and seeing Richard off.
The vet was pleased with Meg’s steady improvement, and agreed that we should halve the steroid dosage to 5mg every other day. If there’s no problems we’ll stop them completely in a fortnight. That’s the problem with long term steroid use, you have to slowly reduce the dosage over time or the dog can have an adverse reaction. So far so good… If she does start to suffer with arthritis again we’ll be able to use the Metacam anti- inflammatory that she’s been on for the last three years or so, but only when the steroids have cleared through her system.

So on Saturday we moved on, to moor near Chirk Marina.

A beautiful morning as we turn onto Chirk BankDSCF2524

More daffs out now near Monks Bridge

Crossing over the River Ceiriog into Wales – again!DSCF2527

As I swung round to enter Chirk Tunnel at the end of the aqueduct I could see the silhouettes of several canoes against the light from the west portal. Not being able to tell whether they were coming or going I waited in the basin for a few minutes until it was clear they were moving away, then followed them through.
They pulled in to let us pass in the cutting…DSCF2530


Chirk Marina

We spent Saturday and Sunday evenings just along here, then set off again this morning. A bit damp and drizzly, but not too bad.

Whitehouse Tunnel.

I made a mistake by putting some fuel on the fire, forgetting how close the tunnel was. Luckily the draught was blowing the same way as us, taking the smoke forward… Made a couple walking on the towpath cough a bit, though.

We’d just got Fron Lift Bridge up when another boat came around the corner from the direction of Trevor, so I didn’t have to drop it again after Mags had gone through.DSCF2540

We topped up the water tank then crossed over the Dee on Pontcysylte Aqueduct.

Looking up the valley from near the lift bridge. It really is pretty impressive...DSCF2538

Looking upstream, the cloud is on the tops and it looks gloomy.DSCF2542

But it’s brighter to the east.

We wiggled our way through the chicane formed by the moored up Anglo-Welsh hire boats on the Trevor Arm, then turned at the bottom and moored up.

Mags photo-bombing a picture looking back up the armDSCF2545 (2) 
A couple of nights here, I guess.

Hi Alf. Owl nesting boxes, eh. It seems they put them up in pairs. One for the wife and kids and one for Dad to get away for a bit…

Hi Jennifer. I couldn’t just leave Shaun there, could I. You’ll be due across some time soon, won’t you? Might get to meet up. Hope so.

Locks 0, miles 5¾

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…

Those surprised sheep again at Val Hill…

Passing Frankton Junction

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

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.

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!

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


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…
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.