Monday, 15 July 2013

Woodseaves Cuttings & a pub with no beer!

We pushed on through Tyrley Locks, the last five locks before the Shroppie summit. This task was not without incident. It turns out that the pound between lock 5 and 4 has a substantial stone sill next to the tow path and pound very shallow. Once aground it took 10 minutes for both of us with rope and boat pole to free TM. Was'nt till we were doing the bottom gates for lock 4 that we noticed a sign telling boaters to set the lock for lock 5 before leaving 4 - wrong direction for us - did'nt notice any instructions on lock 5 top gate! Busy flight of locks as everyone moving early before day got too hot.

Tyrley Locks
Much of the Shoppie here is either in a deep rock cutting or on top of an embankment. The scenery is fantastic. The cuttings make for interesting boating as they tend to be rather narrow.

Tall bridge in Woodseaves Cutting

Most of the embankments are tree lined so you can only glimpse the view through gaps but occasionally the trees disappear to give a view of Clee Hill and The Wrekin.

Clee Hill

We finished the day moored at the Wharf Inn at Shebdon, however the pub had been sold and was closed. This was not a problem as the mooring was nice and we met Carol and Dave from Nb Moon River.  Carol and Dave quite upset re pub closure as they had run out of beer! Back to TM and a bottle of Gordon's was cracked open - the rest is history as they say but a very pleasant chatty evening ensued.

Before mooring we had passed the old Cadbury factory at Knighton (now owned by Premier Foods). Cadbury moved milk, cocoa and sugar by canal until 1961. The last boatman to trade to Knighton was Charlie Atkins senior, known by his nickname 'Chocolate Charlie'.

Cadbury Knighton Wharf

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Gongoozlers in the sky & Market Drayton

Friday we completed the rest of the Audlem Flight - 11 locks and 2 miles in 2 hours!  Jan and I have worked out a good routine to do the  locks together to make life easier, though Jan still ended up walking most of the 2 miles uphill with Spot having a whale of a time. Only motored another couple of miles and then found a fabulous remote spot with a magnificent view over the vale close to Adderley to moor. We followed the same pattern as previous day, starting early and were then moored by 11:30. Chairs set up and parasol on the bank and sat in the sun admiring the view, reading, and listening to music - a very restful day recuperating was had by all.

Yesterday we were awoken by a strange wooshing sound outside TM. I stuck my head out of the side hatch and was greeted by a basket full of Gongoozlers attached to the bottom of a large red balloon with Virgin written large on the side. All flyers were waving furiously. I was thankful that I had looked out the side hatch and not gone out onto the stern as all I had on was a t-shirt. I was not expecting visitors you see.
Bridge 73

Rope grooves on bridge 73

Tilly May at Adderly

Once on the move we did the five Adderley locks: it was like Clapham Junction, boats queueing both top and bottom to pass through, although it made life easier to work the paddles - good team work between boaters except a 60-footer with 7 lads at the top lock who waited on their boat while we worked through the lock and set it for them (Jan said if it was'nt for the waste of water, she'd have emptied the lock and let them do the job themselves!!).  The passage through Betton Cutting was beautiful, a wide glade of high-banked woodland overhanging the cut. Again we were moored in Market Drayton by 12:30. Before mooring we stopped at the CaRT services in Drayton to fill up with water and try to use their self service pump out. It uses a digicard system to give you access to the pump so I found the card that was given to us by the previous owner of TM almost 3 years ago and pushed it into the slot. Hey Presto, it worked! All the pump out kit looked brand new and everything worked like clockwork. Well done CaRT.

The reason for the stop over in Market Drayton was to meet up with Andrea, a very old friend of mine. She had never seen TM so after a quick tour we had a few glasses of wine before adjourning to the Talbot Inn for more drink and a bite to eat. It was a good night and great to see Andrea again.

Early morning boating

Friday, 12 July 2013

We're back and Hauling!

Back to Overwater this morning, after a week back home for the annual “Music in the Park” in Castle Donington and to do a few jobs. Jan was pleased to see the horses, and to see how well Monty (The Old Fella) looks.
Set off about lunch time in the heat of the day, but our intention was to only do four locks and moor near the Bridge Inn in Audelum. Found a nice spot in the shade of a big oak tree and tried out my new Bose Bluetooth speaker. Pairs to the iPod in seconds and produces a sound that rivals my hifi at home.
Walked down to the Bridge Inn for a pint and a bit to eat. It's a standard Marsons pub. The beer was good and the food fine for the price. Sat in the garden under a tree talking boats as everyone in the pub seemed to be from a boat.
Early start this morning as we have a few locks to do before the sun is to high in the sky. The 
Audlem Flight

Audlem Flight

Audelum flight consists of 15 locks rising 93 feet in one and a half miles. We did 4 yesterday and the remaining 9 today. Once at the top we found a nice spot in the middle of nowhere and moored for the day. I managed to buy some scones, jam and Cheshire Clotted Cream from the cottage at the top lock. High tea in the sun!

Jan Chilling

Back into boat mode, salad and new potatoes for tea!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cotton Inn and a trip home

We have been a bit lacks with the blog so I thought we better do an update. We stopped the night at Wrenbury again on our way back up the Llangolen. This time we ate at the Cotton Inn. The pub does not look fantastic from the outside but do not let that fool you. The meal we had was the best food we have eaten  on this years cruise. Jan had slow roast Welsh shoulder of lamb and I ate slow cooked Welsh Black beef. Both were full of flavour. Whilst moored at Wrenbury we met Sandra and Bill on their new boat Marlady. Had a pint with them on the Cotton Inn, we hope they have many years enjoyment from NB Marlady, I sure we will bump into them again.

Spot asleep at Blake Mere

Last night we moored at the bottom of Hurleston Locks, back on the Shroppie. we are now moored at Overwater marina near Audelum for a week while we pop home to catch up on a few things and go to Music in the Park in Donington.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Ellesmere and the bench bandits

Yesterday we meandered back to Ellesmere to revisit Tesco for a restock and to spend the £20 voucher we were given last week. Although I have no issue with hire boats per se, the perfusion of them on the Llangollen can cause problems. Our departure was delayed by a jam of hire boats which had managed to get stuck, fowl the prop, get sideways across the canal all at the same time in the same spot. I have managed to go the whole trip without a cross word to anyone and this record was maintained, all smiles and help.

View of Blake Mere from the window of Tilly May

After Tesco we approached Blake Mere where we moored on the way down. The nice spot by the gap in the trees overlooking the Mere and next to a large picnic bench was unoccupied, so we decided to moor for the night.  Two other boats were moored but way down the cut and a distance from each other. However, not long after our arrival a hire boat moored next to us. The tell tale signs were there from the start, with almost 250 yards of bank to moor up to the boat tied up to the same ring as us with only 3 feet between  us and them. By now we were sat on the picnic bench having a drink. We chatted with the chap and discovered that we both intended to barbecue later. After a long chat Jan went for a shower and I took Spot for a walk. By the time we returned the entire party from the hire boat had decamped, they had filled every square inch of the picnic table with food plates and drink, along with a couple more chairs to ensure there was no room for us.  We were in no rush to eat so we did a few bits and read for a while before I went out and lit our barbecue.  I hoped that as they had mostly eaten their food and we had just started cooking that someone would at least clear part of the table and say "here you go chap have your meal here". No such luck.  By the time they had eaten, our food was about cooked but they then went back on board and left the whole table still crammed with their remains. I maintained my cross word record, we ate on TM and sat out late into the evening after the dick family had returned to their boat. By 8am this morning the dick family had departed so we had a nice peaceful morning cup of tea overlooking the Mere sat at the picnic bench in the sunshine, no sound but the breeze in the trees, the call of a buzzard and the odd few ducks and geese having their early morning chat.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Look mum we're flying!!

Yesterday we crossed the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct ( pronounced pont-ker-sulth-tee) twice. It's like flying in a boat. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is over 1000 feet long and 127 feet tall at its deepest point, and consists of an iron trough supported by 18 stone piers. The aqueduct was completed in 1805, it is ranked as one of Thomas Telford's outstanding achievements.
I have seen photos of it, but it is not until you cross it in a boat that you get the full sense of scale and grandeur. As you can see, on one side is a footpath with a railing but on the other side an open 127 foot drop!

From our over-night stop at Chirk, the canal wound through some interesting twists and turns towards the Chirk aqueduct.  The canal certainly was a 'cut' where the banks over-shadowed the water making the going very narrow in some places; however, a very interesting passage.  The aqueduct seemed to be a practice run for the big one to come but, though smaller, it still had spectacular views across the valley.

Lots of traffic today on the cut, many of which were hire boats and we were held up before crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - one way traffic only.  As the photos below show, the views from the aqueduct were breathtaking.  It was certainly an experience not to miss.

Photo above is to just to prove that Jan stayed above for the crossing, contrary to her fear of heights when she was adamant she was going to lie belly-down below in the cabin!

Chirk Tunnel - 459 yards and very straight.  Amazing feats of engineering to build these tunnels.

Due to the number of craft on the water, we decided not to go down the canal arm to Llangollen: this is a very narrow stretch and would entail Jan walking most of the tow path in front to check for passing places.  Also, as we had already learnt on our way through the tunnels and over the aqueducts, many of the boaters were either day hirers or very inexperienced.

Passed NB Ramsden with Robin and Alex on board - first met them at Hurleston Locks and seen a couple of times since then.  This is a great way to make and renew friendships.

Finally moored for the night at Hindford Bridge, just down from the Jack Mytton Inn, first decent pint for a few days.

Now we heading back towards the Shroppie it is noticeable that we are now going with the flow from the river Dee. Progress in much faster so we can run at low revs and still cover the ground.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Chirk Tunnel and Aqueduct

After the bright sunshine of yesterday, today started dull, the weather forecast promised heavy rain in the afternoon which was promptly delivered. We decided to pull pins early to avoid the rain and made steady progress covering 6 miles and two locks before the heavens opened. The highlight of the day without a doubt was Chirk aqueduct. Hardly warranting a mention in the guidebooks, this aqueduct,  in its own right would be a wonder anywhere else on the canal system if it wasn't for the fact that it is virtually next door to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Traversing the Chirk aqueduct was an experience in itself but was also a taster for Jan as she is petrified of heights and was not looking forward to going over the "big one".  As the view from Chirk bridge was so fantastic, I think the fear will be overcome - she may not be lying belly down in the bowels of TM for the Pontcysyllte aqueduct after all!  Had a bit of bother with Spot when we entered the tunnel following the aqueduct: normal slowing down of engine signifies her being able to get off the boat which she promptly did.  Then, realising a tunnel was in front and all boats lights switched on, she refused to get back on aboard.  Dragged ignominiously by the scruff and taken below, she sat like a quivering leaf until normality resumed and she could come back into open air.

The Rail Bridge next to Chirk Aqueduct

The Rail Bridge next to Chirk Aqueduct

View from Chirk Aqueduct
We have now moored up between the two tunnels waiting out the rain and plan to cross the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in the morning.

We have been out on TM for almost 3 weeks now. During that time we have gradually changed our priorities. Things that, 3 weeks ago seemed important don't seem so important now. We spend most of the day with a smile on our faces. Sometimes we go to a pub and have a chat with the locals, sometimes we stop in the middle of nowhere. We always have time to chat to other canal folk. Everyone has a story to tell. Most of the time we are asleep by 9pm and up by 6am. Spot has turned feral and comes and goes as she pleases. In 3 weeks we haven't had a cross word with each other, or anybody else for that matter. We stand on the stern of TM and watch the world drift by. At this moment Wales is 1000 shades of green. The fields are lush and the cattle fat with grass. The canal-side towns and villages have great character, most have not been spoiled by ill thought out developments. Some still have village shops and butchers where you can buy local produce. Even Stoke on Trent was a pleasure to cruise through.

As I write this the rain has abated and blue sky can be seen through the side hatch. It looks like tomorrow will be a fine day. Life is Good!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Perry Valley and the Border Marches

Spot desperate to get out this morning: only because she had seen a duck with 4 well-grown ducklings waddling down the tow path - wow! smells!!  A lazy start yet again, we set off about 10am to Ellesmere - having been told Tesco was "next door" to the cut and there was a good butcher in the village - both points founded.

Blake Mere at 6am

Easy passage up through B58 and turn right through B59 to Ellesmere centre.  Saw some 'official' Tesco people at moorings who disappeared when we arrived. Into the winding point past the Shropshire Union Warehouse - a fantastic imposing relic of the old canal ways with an old crane across the cut.  Made a cock-up of turning point: threw TM into concrete bank, hey-ho no damage to either! Went to local butcher (up to town centre, turn right, down on left) who are renowned for their pies (got steak n kidney for tomorrow and free-range chicken for BBQ tonight).

Just mooring up at Ellesmere, we were collared by 2 very nice lady Tesco employees.  The store was taking part in some sort of "dine with me" scheme and there singer had let them down. I said we couldn't sing but all they asked was if we could take them down to the junction and back; for this we would get a £20 voucher for Tesco goods.  What a novelty (the journey, not the voucher!).  No probs, having done our shopping, we awaited the Tesco crew.  Really nice people,  none of which had been on board a narrow boat before (Jan said if I'd known we were to have company, I'd have cleaned the boat - think not!! Take us as you find us!)

The Tesco Team at Ellesmere

After our little cruise we moved west through Frankton Junction, where the Montgomery joins the Llangollen. From here the canal meanders along the Perry valley, the scenery is fantastic! After about an hour we came across a spot which faced south looking across beautiful countryside towards the Berwyn and Breidden Hills. We moored, got out the chairs and lit the Webber. Spatchcocked chicken salad and new potatoes for tea.
Perry Valley ant the Boarder Marches

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Great Dismal Swamp and Blake Mere

A late start this morning (again!!).  Spent a long time swapping experiences plus local knowledge of home life with our new chum Keith (Ian still in bed?) on the bank over cups of coffee and tea. By the time we set off at 11.00 the sun was almost in its zenith and very hot.

Managed to get some milk and a few supplies from the village shop at Grindley Brook and set off to hopefully moor "in the countryside".  Not bothered to go into Whitchurch as have been advised Ellesmere a closer destination to the cut for Tesco and a good local butcher.

Down past Whitchurch branch at  B31 was, what we thought, very peaceful; however the best was yet to come!

Pump out and fuel top-up at Viking Afloat, B32 and we were on our way.

Met the first lift bridge at B33 Hassell's Bridge on our own: no problem, took our time.  Next 2 lift bridges, B34 and B42 we came into sight while other boats were coming up - no work from Jan required there; however, Morris's bridge 45 had 2 boats about to come through just as Jan had opened it up - as one boater said "pay back time!".

The length of the Llangollen from Grindley Bridge to Platt Lane B43, the canal meanders through an extremely pretty length of surrounding woods, sometimes the canal banks were quite overgrown and consequently narrowed the passage; the birdsong echoes through the trees and you feel as if you are in the 'Great Dismal Swamp' (Terry Darlington - "Narrow Dog to Indian River").

Whixall Moss

From thereon the canal straightens and you float above Whixall Moss on the escarpment over a vast panorama of raised bog, pasture land and reeded areas - a specified SSSI area - where you can see for miles on both sides.  One of the most impressive views we have come cross so far.  Often seen were buzzards, one of which landed very low in a nearby oak tree; I hadn't got my camera to hand so it flew off disgusted to have missed its photo-call!

Replenished with water at B48 Bettisfield Bridge so now complete to moor 'wherever'.

From B48 the cut meanders again with wooded areas and pasture land surrounding.  After B53 Cole Mere appeared on left (sorry, port side!): a huge expanse of water with yachts and lodge to be seen on distant shore. Meandering again, we finally moored not far after B56 on the near edge of Blake Mere.  Spot has enjoyed an exciting walk along the shoreline, lots of interesting scents to follow.

Blake Mere

Fishing on Blake Mere

Monday 24th June Wrenbury to Grindley Brook

The weather forecast for Sunday was not good so we decided to stop an extra night at Wrenbury and have sunday lunch at the Dusty Miller.

St Margaret's Church from the footpath

Wrenbury is a charming village with a village green and St Margaret's Church a red sandstone 16th century church. A footpath passes through the churchyard and across the fields to the first Llangollen lift bridge.

Lift Bridge
Walking to Wrenbury from the canal you pass a new housing development on the left. I admit you could hardly call it affordable housing, but it is evidence that given the right incentives developers can build houses that look comfortable and echo the feel of the ancient properties in such a rural community.

The Dusty Miller pub sits at the point where the river Weaver crosses the Llangollen Canal. It dates back to the opening of the canal, but the site was used as a mill dating back to the 16th century. Sunday lunch was very nice if a tad expensive, but maybe we are spoiled by the standard of the carvery at the White Swan (Mucky Duck) at Fradley Junction.

It turned out that the extra day layover was a good idea as Sunday contained very strong winds and was a rainy washout. However we awoke on Monday to blue sky and sunshine with lessened hurricane winds.  Having had our first experience of lift locks on this stretch, it was fascinating to watch those experienced and hilarious to see 2 chaps of advanced ages with no experience (they had obviously had assistance in previous lift locks as they sat in the centre of the cut pumping their horn hopefully awaiting a CaRT volunteer), however another boat coming through the lock helped them and gave them a quick lesson.

Monday saw us travel the six miles from Wrenbury to Grindley Brook. The ten locks included a three lock staircase at Grindley Brook. Although the staircase is manned by a CaRT volunteer, he had gone to lunch when we arrived so we were helped through by Keith and Ian, two single handed boaters we had met at Quoisley Lock. We met them at each lock as they leapfrogged each other up the locks, the first one setting the lock for the second boat so they could motor straight in. We sat and had a beer with them once moored at Grindley Brook. It turned out that Keith was from Beeston, not far from where Jan was born. It was obvious that both Keith and Ian had spent some time traveling the waterways, Keith told us he had been living on his boat for 13 years.

Evening meal at the Horse and Jockey - local ham, free-range eggs and hand-made chips (yum said Jan). Nice open-plan pub inside and dog-friendly too.

The Llangollen Canal gets its water from the river Dee at Horseshoe Falls. The flow of water feeds Hurleston Reservoir at its junction with the Shroppie, giving the canal a noticeable flow from west to east. This flow equates to an extra 200rpm on the engine to maintain our normal cruising speed; this was very noticeable from the battle against the wind on the previous stretch.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Felucca and the Dusty Miller

The day started wet so we delayed our move onto the Llangollen Canal until the weather improved although there were a number of boats moved off Burbridge early to get underway before the weather got too bad. Although the sun came out later it was a day dominated by high winds making it difficult to steer TM. Strapped to the tiller, Spume in my face, driving TM into a Westerly Gale. We were held up for half an hour at Hurleston Locks as a boat manned by New Zealanders had lost control in the wind and managed to get wedged across the top pound (felt very sorry for them) - big queue build up with boats in below pounds being blown about. At the top of the Hurleston locks we bumped into fellow bloggers Emily and Tom on NB Felucca. We last saw them in April when we shared Aston Lock.

Emily and Tom on NB Felucca

The Llangollen is a very beautiful canal

Our final destination for the day was Wrenbury, but not before we encountered our first lift bridge. Jan forgot to put the barrier over the road - could have been a disaster! but I noticed and ran to put it down. Learnt for the next one.

Had a great meal at the Dusty Miller (Hake and mussels, Lamb Tagine) (dogs welcome)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Barbridge in the sun

Yesterday we travelled the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Canal to Barbridge. The sun shone all day and the views from the canal over the Weaver valley were fantastic. We are moored opposite the Olde Barbridge Inn, where we had a very nice lunch yesterday. Jans 18 hour cooked belly pork was to die for.

After a day in the sun, a few pints and a nice lunch the inevitable happened, we both fell asleep on the boat, only waking at 7pm. So we did the only thing we could, we had a shower and went back to the pub.

Took this with the little cannon camera, we were so close the Buzzard didn't seem to be bothered about boats