Sunday, 1 April 1984

Llangollen Canal 1984

Llangollen Canal 1984

Just when I thought that my accounts of boating trips in the 1980's was complete, along comes some evidence of yet another journey along the Welsh Canal.

This trip was undertaken during Easter 1984 in the company of Jon, my best friend and later my best man, plus Rod and Rita, married friends from Norwich. Whilst I have lost all my photographic records of this trip, Jon has been more organised and was able to track them down in a rusting photo album.

Rod and Rita

A young Captain Ahab

We had planned to attend Spring Harvest, an Easter time church event in Prestatyn, but our inefficiency in submitting a booking form left us out in the cold. So we decided to go to Wales anyhow, and hire a cruiser form Maestermyn Cruisers - much to Rita's delight who insisted on referring to them as Mr Men boats, a joke which was probably funnier in the Roger Hargreaves heyday. The actual boat was the Maestermyn Countess.

I am sure that flat caps were in fashion in the 1980's!

Even in 1984, the canal was familiar territory but the trip was rich in anecdote:

We stared by heading west, initially over Chirk Aqueduct where we discovered Rita's aversion to heights, and then onto Pontcysyllte where Rod and Rita took refuge in the front well deck. With nothing much to do at the back except "mind the shop", Jon and I hopped off leaving the boat to find its own way across whereupon we wandered along to the front of the boat, engaging them in idle chat. This continued for a couple of minutes before a horrified Rita realised than no one was steering, and went ape. No amount of assurances did any good, we were reprimanded severely and chivvied back to the stern to do who knows what. A cheap schoolboy prank, but as I often say ,"a cheap laugh is better than no laugh at all". I have to admit that as a principle for maintaining healthy relationships it is somewhat deficient and has caused me all sorts of grief over the years.

A less common view of the aqueduct

Next up it was the Woody Allen film "The Sleeper". Now Woody Allen is an acquired taste and The Sleeper is his only film that I have ever enjoyed, and that is probably because I watched it on the boat with Rod, Rita and Jon. If you have never seen it you should, at least once. The basic plot is that he was cryogenically frozen for about 150 years and the film traces his reactions to life when he was thawed out. By the time he re-entered the land of the living ,sex was a thing of the past, having been replaced by the Orgasmatron - a sort of small wooden cupboard - a bit like an on board loo. You can see where this is going. Even to day I get the urge to refer to the toilet cubicle as the Orgasmatron - but no one would get the joke.

You can see why Belle married me.... fresh out of the Orgasmatron!

We then retraced our steps back across the aqueducts (staying at the tiller this time) and on down the Grindley Brook flight to Hurleston junction.

Grindley Brook staircase

Somewhere along this stretch we witnessed a portion of the televised Miss World competition. Rita's enlightened views were way ahead of the times, a period when we were accustomed to regular near nudity on shows such as The Sweeny and Minder. The more Rita vented her strongly held feeling about this "cattle market" the less Jon and I could see the problem. As I recall, Rod valued his marriage more than a cheap laugh and remained firmly on the fence, leaving the Rita baiting to the two of us, who has so much less to lose.

Monkey business on the lift bridges

The Llangollen still had some of its old style lift bridges in the early 1980's, the sort with a big box of rocks at the end of the balance beam and two lovely steel bars running up each arm. Having looked at the photos I can now remember how I managed to climb to the top as a teenager! It looks like I still enjoyed the stunt in my 20's.

Minshull Lock - Middlewich Branch

The trip included a journey part way down the Middlewich Arm, passing Minshull Lock which sold delicious apple pies. I mentioned this to Jeff as we passed this Easter and his question was "did they taste good?". Well actually, yes they did. Even now, all these years later, I can still taste those excellent Bramley pies.

I also remember the weather on the Middlewich. We hit one of those freak Easter storms where hail descends in a solid sheet, so fast that the boat became a sheet of ice in about one minute flat, and then melted away again almost as fast.

This was a memorable trip but sadly I have lost track of Rod and Rita. The last I heard of Rod he had become an Anglican Vicar and a quick search of the web reveals a very familiar face, but where has the hair gone?

As for Jon, he is still my best friend even though we live 150 miles apart and we don't see each other as much we would like. I guess that best friends are for life, not just the Welsh canal.

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