Monday, March 26, 2018

Same old, same old…

I’m running out of things to talk about as we shuffle back and forth on this now very familiar bit of the Llangollen Canal, hence the lack of the recent post. I could waffle on about a Soviet chemical weapon attack on British soil, or antisemitism in the Labour Party, but this is a boating blog, so I won’t.

We left Ellesmere last Tuesday, heading back upstream and stopping near Maesbury and at The Poachers for a few days each, before moving on again today.

Turning round at the end of the Ellesmere ArmDSCF2752
The fibreglass cruiser is in a vulnerable spot now that boat traffic, especially from the hire fleets, is increasing.
Carrying on an established tradition, this is based on a retired maintenance boat.DSCF2754
In the sixties and seventies a lot of private pleasure craft and hire boats were converted working boats, often one full-length hull being cut in two and new bow and sterns welded on to make two new boats. Add cabins and you’ve two forty-footers.

We stopped near Maesbury, with nursery fields full of expectant ewes on both sides of the canal. The local farmer was attentive, checking the flocks from his quad bike twice a day, but inevitably there were some casualties…
He did save one ewe struggling with a breach birth, but unfortunately the lamb died.

Our bird feeders were once again well received…

The robin was desperate trying to copy the acrobatic tits, so I took pity on him and scattered seed on the ground.

I was busy too, hanging upside-down in the engine hole cleaning, de-rusting and painting the triangular bilge below the shaft. It wasn’t fun, but I’d put the job off for the last six months… And it looks better now. Rust treatment, primer and two coats of top-coat should hold it for a while.
The stern gland was repacked too.

On Friday we moved to The Poachers for the weekend, only seeing four boats but meeting three of those at bridges or on awkward bends.DSCF2780


We had visitors yesterday, Val and John came over with our latest mail delivery. It’s been very handy being so close to them for all sorts of packages. Next week we’ll be staying with them for a few nights while Matt at Anglo-Welsh at Trevor slaps a couple of coats of blacking on the hull.

The weather has been pretty good, generally cold nights and fine days. But it’s due to turn again from now, becoming more unsettled. We might even have some more snow!
These ducks kept us entertained. They’re so used to being fed they trail up and down the towpath outside the pub, quaking plaintively at anyone passing by. The only time they return to the water is when a dog gets too near.
I made the mistake of putting a heap of birdseed under the bushes on Saturday afternoon. After that, as soon as I stepped off the boat, I was being mugged!

Lots of boats about today as we moved up to Chirk Marina.

Crossing Chirk Aqueduct

We were being recorded from the air as we crossed the River Ceiriog into Wales, a chap’s drone was up over the valley.
The owner asked if it was ok to save the footage, and offered us a copy. When it comes I’ll post it on here if he agrees.

At the far end we waited for two day boats to emerge from the tunnel and start the crossing of the aqueduct.DSCF2795
The boat on the left is Drifting Angel, selling ice creams and sweets.

We’d had a Tesco delivery at Monk’s Bridge, but there were a couple of things I’d forgotten to order, so we pulled in on the north side of the tunnel so I could make a quick trip up to the Spar in Chirk. Then we moved on, through the wooded cutting, and moored opposite Chirk Marina.

More signs of Spring now the clocks have gone forward…

A bank of daffodils

Wild garlic greening up the slopes of Chirk CuttingDSCF2797

I’d picked up some logs on the way back from Ellesmere, so got them sliced and diced this afternoon.

Not sure how much draught there is in the Trevor dry-dock, so I’ve deliberately kept the coal stocks low. We struggled to get into the shed at Stone for the last blacking, we finished up with four guys standing on the front to raise the stern enough to get over the plinth! We should be alright with a half tank of diesel and a nearly empty water tank by then.

Tomorrow we’ll just pop through Whitehouse Tunnel and moor on the rings on the north side for a couple of nights. There’s some work to do on the aft uxter plates now the bilge is done.

Locks 2, miles 12½ since last post.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Another dose of the white stuff at Ellesmere, and looking at alternative plans…

We moved down to Ellesmere on Friday. Thursday wasn’t as bad as predicted, we had rain in the morning but a bright sunny afternoon. But we decided to stay anyway. Friday was pretty good, a cool breeze but dry and often sunny.

Passing Frankton Junction


Bridge 68, with the number plaque fairly obviously purloined from the now-removed Bridge 89 on the Montgomery, and mounted upside down!DSCF2739
Recycling at it’s best!

We're into rolling fields of grazing land here…DSCF2740

…and the spring lambs are much in evidence.DSCF2746

We topped up with water at the maintenance yard, disposing of rubbish and recycling at the same time, then turned into the Ellesmere Arm to find somewhere to moor. Spoilt for choice, there was loads of room so we pulled in on a sunny spot to let the solar panels finish the batteries off.

Val and John came over yesterday for lunch, bringing some joint aid supplement pills for Meg. The weather had started to turn, we had frequent light snow flurries all through the afternoon, then they turned heavier, big fat flakes replacing the fine dry stuff we'd had earlier. Unsurprisingly we woke to this…
I’d hoped we’d seen the last of the snow, but it is only mid-March, after all.

Now then, on Wednesday night, near midnight, part of the canal crossing a small aqueduct near Middlewich collapsed emptying the stretch of the Middlewich Branch between Stanthorne and Wardle Locks and stranding several boats. It looks like a big repair job… Breach1

Photos from

Luckily no-one was hurt, although a few of the people on stranded boats had a rude awakening, I‘m sure!
The first thoughts in these situations are for the boats and owners, I’m sure, but a major recovery operation rescued thousands of fish and eels from the drained section, putting them back into the unaffected Trent and Mersey Canal below Wardle Lock.

The boats between the breach and Wardle Lock, some in the above picture, could be refloated by building an earth dam and pumping water up from the T&M. But the small Springer in the top picture, above the breach, is likely to be there for some time…

There’ll be considerable pressure for a quick solution; the breach is on two major cruising rings and is a busy link between the Trent and Mersey and the Shropshire Union. It could have been worse. If it had happened at the height of the season it would be chaos for the boat hire companies.

We’ve got a booking in the middle of May to cross the Ribble Link up onto the Lancaster Canal. It seems unlikely (understatement!!) that this will be fixed by then so our direct route north is now unavailable. We could head south on the Shroppie after leaving the Llangollen, turn left onto the Staffs and Worcester at Autherley then left again onto the T&M at Great Heywood. Instead of the 11 miles and 4 locks of the direct route from Hurleston to Middlewich we should be taking, the Shroppie-Staffs and Worc-T&M route involves 98 miles and 90 locks. I think we’d need to postpone the Ribble Link crossing…

But there is a possible alternative… I’m looking into a short cruise on the Manchester Ship Canal, joining it at Ellesmere Port and leaving it at Marsh Lock, up onto the Weaver. Then we can rejoin the Trent and Mersey at the Anderton Boat Lift. Various things to consider, not least the acquisition of a Seaworthy Certificate, before we can use the MSC. They don’t exactly encourage narrowboats. If we can do it the journey time will be much the same as the original route. Watch this space…

Locks 0, miles 4½

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thirty-five years on…

15th March 1983, Settle, North Yorkshire, Mags and I tied the knot…


Maggie Thatcher was on her first term as Prime Minister, Ronald Reagan was US President and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart was enjoying it’s second week as number one in the charts. And 2027 years earlier Julius Caesar was gasping his last at the Roman Senate having been stabbed 23 times by conspiring Senators fearful of Caesar’s growing power in Rome.

There were some sceptics, what with Mags being a little older than me, but here we are, still going strong!

It was windy yesterday, and forecast to be wet today, so we’d decided to hang on and move on to Ellesmere on Friday. Being here a couple of days it was worthwhile hanging up the bird feeders, there’s not a lot around for them to eat at this time of year.
They’ve been well attended, but only by varieties of tits, strangely.

Blue Tit

Must have heard the camera shutter!

Long-Tailed Tit pair


This Great Tit was a bit wary. One peck and a quick look around…DSCF2729

I’m afraid they’ll have to look elsewhere for hand-outs tomorrow. We’ll be moving down to Ellesmere in the morning.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Two aqueducts, two tunnels, two locks to Ellesmere.

We’ve decided to head back down to Ellesmere to kill a bit of time before Easter. On the 3rd of April Seyella goes into the dry dock at Trevor for bottom blacking, so we’ve nearly 3 weeks and rather than hanging around the Chirk – Llangollen section we thought we’d go a bit further afield. The stoppage at Maestermyn House Bridge has now been lifted, so we’ve a clear route.

So we pulled out of Trevor on Sunday morning. We had intended to move on Saturday but by the time I’d been out with Meg, been up into Cefn Mawr for shopping and had a shower the weather was deteriorating so we stayed put. Oh, by the way, Meg is doing well now she’s been off the steroids for over a week and back onto the anti-inflammatory Metacam to control her arthritis pain. She’s still obviously a bit stiff, but she’s bright-eyed and wanting to play. Good news. And as the weather warms up she only get better.

I turned Seyella around in the basin, chatting to an optimistic angler as I did. I asked him if there was much to catch in the polluted, stagnant water of the arm, and he replied that he wasn’t that bothered, it was either the fishing or the decorating…

On the way out, under Bridge 29W, I got royally hooked up on the bottom. I’d moved too far to the right under the arch, and it’s very shallow on that side. Very, very shallow. We scrape the muddy bottom going through anyway, but this time it took 15 minutes of gentle forward and reverse and rocking from side to side to make headway.

Finally away and into deep-ish water as we thread our way out between the hire boats.DSCF2672

We had to hold for a couple of minutes as two boats came across the aqueduct and a day boat set off ahead of us.DSCF2674

It was a bit murky on the hills but the day at least stayed dry.DSCF2678

We topped up with water at the Fron end of the aqueduct, then carried on, stopping for the afternoon between Whitehouse Bridge and Whitehouse Tunnel.

Yesterday we stayed put, Richard on coal-boat Mountbatten was due in the afternoon, on his last trip up till after Easter, and we wanted a couple more bags of solid fuel and a diesel top-up.

The Admiral Class boats were built for the British Transport Commission (the forerunner of the British Waterways Board) in 1960 at Yarwood’s yard in Northwich, specifically with a shallow draught to because of the worsening condition of the waterways at that time. So Mountbatten is well suited to work on the Llangollen Canal… They’ve not got the most elegant lines but they did the job.

Today was forecast to be the best day of the week, so we decided to have a longer trip than our normal 1½-hours-to-charge-the-batteries day. Setting off at in glorious sunshine we had Whitehouse and Chirk Tunnels to pass, before crossing back into England over Chirk Aqueduct.

Whitehouse Tunnel

The south end of the tunnel, catching a bit of sunshine, is festooned with cobwebs made by opportunistic spiders hoping to catch the odd fly daft enough to drift in.

Past Chirk Marina and through the tunnel cutting, we had to pull over at Chirk Tunnel to allow a boat to come through heading north. There’s more boats about now as we approach the start of the cruising season.DSCF2692

Nobody else following so we went through, popping out into the sunshine at the other end to cross the River Ceiriog and the boarder on Chirk Aqueduct.


Leaving the rolling hills and valleys on the border then canal starts to move into the Shropshire Plain, once an inland sea and now fertile grazing land.

Crossing St Martins Moor is often a chore, with the prevailing wind blowing across the navigation. The locks at New Marton can be a nightmare if there’s a stiff wind. But today it was fine and calm, making life so much easier.DSCF2698
We topped off the water tank above the locks, then followed NB Duck’s Deluxe down. We had a stroke of luck, a CRT crew arrived to clear the bywash weirs, so we had help on the top lock.

New Marton Bottom Lock


Forty-five minutes after leaving the locks we were pulling in on the pleasant open moorings just past Maestermyn House Bridge, the one that’s been closed for repair.

…and after.

It could almost be Spring…

We’ll stay here for a day or two as the weather goes downhill once again. we’re looking out over the sheep fields, no lambs here but there were some further back…

Locks 2, miles 8½

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

An icy Trevor Basin

We’ve spent the last two days heading back to Trevor Basin to meet friends Val and John today, stopping over last night on the other side of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Meg’s new friend Pepper, AKA Mini-Meg

Passing the Froncysyllte Lime Kilns above the Dee valleyDSCF2657

Quarries in this area were a major customer for the canal, supplying raw stone or quicklime from kilns like these. Quicklime was used in lime mortar for building, and was much in demand by the growing industrial cities, and raw limestone had uses in the manufacture of iron and glass, and also as an agricultural soil improver. Quicklime is very volatile, adding water can cause rapid heat production and even explosion in confined spaces. So quicklime had to be carefully loaded and protected from the elements in transit. I imagine that there would have been a covered loading dock along here somewhere during the lime kiln’s production life. Here a tramway connected the wharf and kilns with the quarry on the other side of Pen-y-Graig hill.

We didn’t have any problem with Fron Lift Bridge, the ice which had held it fast during the cold weather has long since gone. We topped up the water tank, pulled in between the water point and the aqueduct, and I walked across to have a look at the situation in the basin. There were no visiting boats there, but the water was iced over bank to bank from the bridge and up the two arms. I had a poke and it was softening so I decided to leave it overnight before coming across the aqueduct and heading in.

So this morning, in bright sunshine, we set off, over Pontcysyllte and through the Anglo-Welsh hire boats.

Panorama as we cross over the Dee valleyDSCF2663

If the iron trough has to be emptied for maintenance it’s a simple procedure. The ends are blocked off and the plug is pulled out!

Just lift the handle!
There’s a YouTube video of the operation here…

At some point in the past it was intended to fit safety rails on the offside too, hence the holes, but I don’t know whether they were ever installed.

We threaded our way between the hire boats then came a bit unstuck under the bridge at the entrance to the basin. It’s very shallow here, just mud but you have to go dead slow or else the stern bottoms out. The problem was that this was where the ice started too, so I needed a bit of power to push through. Catch-22.
The solution was to secure the rudder roughly in the middle with the tiller-string, leave the prop turning at moderate revs, then get off and rock the boat from side to side. We slowly made progress, squeezing the mud out from underneath and breaking up the ice in front.

A bit stuck at this point, till I started rocking…DSCF2668

…and we moved slowly forward.

I didn’t even consider trying to turn around; as soon as we were on the bollards I tied up. Not that we were going anywhere…DSCF2670

Our cupboards were well depleted so I walked up to Cefn Mawr to the Tesco’s, did a huge shop, then got collected by Val and John to bring me back down. They stopped the afternoon with us before heading home.

The warm afternoon has seen the ice steadily thin and large patches of water are now clear. It’s going to be cold tonight though, so it’ll probably skin over again later. Shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll be stopping here till the weekend, I reckon.

Locks 0,  miles 2