Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Marbury

Easter 2012
Ellesmere to Marbury
April 2012

18 miles - 9 locks - 8 hours

Oh those Gall Stones - they had me up again from 4.00am - two nights in a row and I am starting to worry before I go to sleep.

Prees Junction

I usually tough these things out but today I was in no fit state to steer so Jeff assumed command whilst I went back to bed and a couple of hours sleep. There was one incident early on when we were driven hard aground and the dog walkers were subjected to the sight of me in my pajamas poling the stern off.

Apart from that I slept to the drone of the engine emerging as we approached Prees. Jeff is always amazed at my near photographic memory of canals - one look around me at Bettisfield Moss and I was able to say - Prees Junction in 15 mins. Scary!

Wixall lift bridge

Sleet set in as we approached Witchurch, but fortunately two of the lift bridges were opened for us by other boaters and we soon arrived at Grindley Brook where a familiar lock keeper waved us down. We paused beyond the railway bridge and returned to investigate two second hand bookshops beside the canal. We shouldn't have bothered, the one right by the canal is the size of a phone box and we had to enter one at a time. The other, in garden shed, had a bit more scope but little of interest. I did pick up a handful of Waterway's Worlds from the early 1980's which took me back to my boating days with my parents - all those long gone hire companies.

A snatched shot through the stop plank hole...

With Jeff unwell and Belle busy I tended the boat myself, slipping into the solo routine I often use for isolated locks when its just the two of us. Its a bit slower but so what? I'm in no hurry.

We moored just above Marbury lock on rings installed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society, a lovely sheltered spot with views over the fields and well away from the honking goose. I put in a call to BW about the Maesbury pump put machine and its desire to swallow cards without offering a service in return. The BW lock keeper, who we had met at Grindley Brook and Welsh Frankton, was great, pledging to get a replacement card to me, either on the boat or at Wrenbury.

 I am now avoiding fat - lets hope for a better night.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Ellesmere

Easter 2012
Trevor to Ellesmere
April 2012

7 hours - 15.5 miles - 2 locks

A classic bank holiday Monday - wet from start to finish.

The mooring in the Ruabon Arm is to be recommended, quiet, secluded and sheltered from the wind, but mostly away from the incessant coming and going on the mainline. A lovely canal but at times blighted by its popularity.

But I had a snag last night, I seem to have developed Gall Stones which are excruciatingly painful at times and last night was one of them. I was awake in agony for two hours, trying hard not to wake Belle and Jeff. This is bad in the house but in the confines of a boat it is unutterably miserable. 

This was a day to put on the wet weather gear and press on. There are no locks to interrupt progress so it was just me, the weather and a few other boaters with someplace to go. It was a clear run to Chirk but then I fear I upset a few people, quite unwittingly.

Traffic at Chirk Tunnel

As we approached the narrows south of Chirk I saw a day boat and a hire boat pulling in behind a row of moored boats which had made the channel a bit narrow. I assumed that they were stopping, as there was still plenty of room to pass any oncoming boats. Not so, they were novices and had decided to wait for the channel to clear. Oops - by the time I realised this (they were shouting at me!) I was parallel with them and it would be harder to go back than go on. It was a bit tight but we got through ok and made ourselves scarce! Sorry guys.

Marston locks were a bit busy and we has a three boat wait but that's not bad for a bank holiday. The worst of it is handling wet ropes with cold fingers.

With an ample supply of hot tea I pressed on to Ellesmere where I found a space in the arm near the new Tescos. This whole dairy area is finally being redeveloped although the canal warehouse is getting more and more dilapidated. 

With fuel supplies getting low we chopped up a couple of fencing posts we has retrieved from the cut. A bait damp but at least they give of more heat than Taybright.

Sorry about the paucity of photo's - it was too wet to get the camera out.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Pontcysyllte

Easter 2012
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
April 2012

I could write reams about this famous aqueduct, Telford's masterpiece soaring 120 feet above the Vale of Llangollen. Built by Telford and Jessop in 1804 and the tallest boat crossing in its day. Even now this world heritage site attracts 100's of thousands of visitors each year.

The structure is amazing and words fail to do it justice. I spent a couple of hours walking round it, viewing it from all angles and I have to admit that I found it difficult to get that killer shot which captures its enormity. Maybe I will settle for less words and more photos, so here is what I came up with:

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Trevor

Easter 2012 
Lllangollen to Trevor
April 2012

5 miles - 2 hours

Our day started with the intermittent growling of overrevved engines as dozens of hire boats winded in the mouth of the marina. I don't know about 50 ways to leave your lover, but we must have seen 50 ways to cock up turning your boat round that morning!

Llangollen trip boats

However, we had no plans to join the throng scurrying east. Its Easter Sunday we we are paying a visit to St Colen's the parish church of Llangollen. I rose early and sought out some croissants and hot cross buns which were demolished by the crew who were still in bed when I returned.

St Colen, Llangollen

We crossed the river and made our way through the narrow streets of Llangollen, reaching the church with about 10 mins to spare. It was refreshing to share Christs resurrection celebration with other believers and particularly good to have  bit of Welsh thrown in for good measure - I have never heard the Lord's prayer said in Welsh before.

The Lord's prayer - in welsh

Back at the marina the boats continued to turn and we sat watching, munching our bacon butties and praying for the rain clouds to pass, and pass they did. We were off and away at 2.00pm by which time there had been no sign of the mooring attendant looking for his fees. I spied him in his hut and in a moment of honesty I stopped mid channel and shouted that I had a fiver for him if he wanted to come out and get it. All this church stuff must have had a positive impact on me....

Canal side sculpture at Trevor

I had planned to take a walk up to Horseshoe Falls but time was against us so there is yet another reason to return. Not that I need an excuse to visit this lovely canal. We made much quicker time on our return journey, the flow speeding us through the narrows and on to Trevor.

Quiet moorings in the Ruabon Arm

I like aqueducts and have never posted any photos of the mighty Pontcysyllte. I have felt that this iconic structure deserves a few hours exploration and today is the day. We turned left at the Trevor Junction and moored at the far end of the old Ruabon Arm, a quiet location well away from the hustle and bustle of the junction - an unexpected find in such a busy area. 

This isolation didn't last!

And so concluded one of our shortest cruising days - a mere two hours. More about the aqueduct in my next post.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Easter 2012 - LLangollen

Easter 2012
Maesbury to Langollen
April 2012

Our protracted stop yesterday had to be compensated with a bit of a stretch today if we are to make Llangollen in time for Easter Sunday service at the parish church. Two easy days compressed into one long one.

Maesbury Marsh

The snag was the starting point, Maesbury Marsh which is three hours from Welsh Frankton which opens between 12.00 and 2.00pm. This mid day passage meant a lazy start and a beautifully solitary run along the length of the Montgomery when we didn't pass another moving boat. 

But we did pass a moored boat at Maesbury which bore the unusual location of Shropshire Canal  - but its significance didn't strike me till Charlie Boyce popped his head out to greet me. This is the Charlie Boyce who showed me round his tunnel at Old Wynd, Coalbrookdale last month. Small world!

Having tried and failed to make the pump out work at Maesbury we paused at the junction of the Weston Arm and took advantage of the only rubbish point on the canal. The canal is low on facilities  but high on solitary atmosphere. We were 30 mins early but the two boats leaving the canal were already in place and the lock keeper had us into the locks by 11.30 and out on the the Llangollen by 12.30.

Welsh Frankton top lock

Our return to the Llangollen make a return to business as usual, strings of hire boats shuttling to and fro but mercifully it was all quiet as we passed through New Marston Locks, just one boat ahead at what can be a bottleneck.

We paused at the pool between Chirk Aqueduct and Tunnel, making a quick detour to the local Spar to restock. For all its canal attractions, Chirk wasn't too impressive, all overshadowed by the Cadbury's factory which spews a choclatey aroma over the town.

Approaching Chirk

As you get into the upper reaches of the Llangollen the flow becomes very noticeable, particularly in the bridges and tunnels where westbound traffic slows to a crawl. Fortunately we led a convoy of six boats through Chirk Tunnel and from there we were out on out own. We reached Froncysyllte at the last of the evening suns rays illuminated the Newbridge Viaduct and then dashed across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in undignified haste, not really giving the structure the time or respect it is due. With light failing at 7.30 we turned into the final four mile stretch at Trevor, the channel narrowing even more and the speed dropping to  near 2mph.

Chirk aqueduct and tunnel

Even in the gloom the Vale of Llangollen was beautiful, with good views offered through the branches of the leafless trees. There was nothing moving on the arm, just us and a handful of walkers - the hire boats had given up long ago and were clogging up all the available moorings - one had even even decided to stop in the narrows which left about 6ft 11in to pass. 

Approaching Llangollen

The Llangollen main drag was nose to tail hire boats, lots of heads turning to see who was ghosting past at gone 9.00pm. No chance of mooring here even if we wanted to, so we crept into the main basin and much to our surprise half the bays were vacant. Why use the crowded wharf when the basin is available. 

So that was it, the end of a long 12 hours on the move. Time for something to eat, a DVD and a good nights sleep.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Easter 2002 - The Full Monty

Easter 2012
Walking the Montgomery Canal
April 2012

10 miles - 2 locks - 5 hours (on foot)

Today's post continues my trip report, but the boat didn't move an inch from its mooring at Maesbury Marsh.

Restoration in progress

Part of the objective for this trip was to take a good look at the Montgomery Canal and as a restoration enthusiast, that had to extend to include the work being undertaken on the dry section at Pant. But one thing led to another and before I could help myself I had persuaded Belle and Jeff that it would be a great idea to walk the missing link between Maesbury and Arddleen - joining the two navigable sections.

As you can imagine, this walk yielded a huge amount of material which I want to post on the blog but rather than interrupt the flow I thought I wold give you a taster of the missing section and the practicality of including the walk into your visit.

Trip boat at Llanymynech

First up is the restored section, the stretch leading to the next winding hole at Crickheath Wharf which offers an insight into the anatomy of channel restoration, but this is no easy restoration. Whilst the canal bed exists, it is as dry as a bone even in the winter which is a sure sign it leaks. As far as I can tell, it leaked from the day it was built and so a new waterproof channel is needed for several miles. 

All along the line beyond Crickheath and on to Pant, a distance of about 2.5 miles, the channel has been cleared and a good towpath installed. Its a lovely rural walk with primroses lining the route at the time of our visit.

Carreghofa Locks

Pant offered a good opportunity for refreshment but take care - the village is high on a hill and it's a stiff pull up from the canal.

The canal returns to water at Pant, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep, but it has all been restored for the next five miles. Not that its navigable for anything more than canoes an account of the several dropped bridges, but these are not insurmountable obstacles which can be overcome when the main line finally reaches the area. Llanymynech offers more scope for refreshment after which it all gets really pretty. The open canal comes to the two locks at Carreghofa, restored on the 1980's and is as pretty as a picture.

Vernwy Aqueduct

After that it is out to the Vernwy Aqueduct and on through the rolling fields to the remote but noisy Maerdy Bridge where the Arddleen by pass makes one of its two crossings at water level. By now we were a bit weary and the scenery became a bit dull, but we slogged on in anticipation of a meal at the pub in Arddleen. Sadly it wasn't to be, the pub was closed so we called a taxi which returned us to Maesbury for £15. (A-Z Taxi 01691 679911 or Jeff's Taxi 01691 671163)

Jeff's salvage project

We rounded off the walk with a fantastic bacon butty and tea at Canal Central.

If you make it to Maesbury and can spare a day, add this walk into your plan. The towpath is well maintained and by walking along it you will realise why the completion of the Montgomery Canal restoration is a must. If I were king for a day I would pause some of the other restorations and get this one finished. 

I will return to this section for a series on the "missing link" another time. Who knows, by then I may have got my canoe out onto the Arddleen to Berriew section on the south and in so doing completed the whole line.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Maesbury

Easter 2012
Ellesmere to Maesbury
April 2012

10.5 miles - 8 locks - 7 hours

The storm blew itself out overnight and we were left with a short tun to Welsh Frankton Locks and the entry to the Montgomery Canal. To me any day which involves new water is exciting, and I had been looking forward to this for years.

Snowy hills

Our passage was booked for 12.00 noon so no need to hurry but alas that didn't seem to apply to the boat ahead. Its crew decided to run round the gunnels and promptly fell into the cut. It was so cold I would swear that he bounced out faster than he fell in!

The snows had coated the hills around us providing a spectacular backdrop, but also fuelling a bitter wind which nipped at my fingers. We rolled up to the junction at 11.30 and met the other eight boats entering the Monty. Five were due through yesterday but the weather decimated the fleet and in the event a solitary boat passed through and the rest showed up today.

Frankton Locks

It has to be said that the Montgomery is a slow canal, even by the standards of the Llangollen which is not know for its speed of passage. Its shallow and you shouldn't expect to get anywhere fast, not that there is any point going fast as there are only about seven miles of navigable water and they need to be savored. The passage down took some time  as the lock keeper directed operations and this gave lots of opportunity to have a good chinwag with the other boaters. These included the infamous Felonious Mongoose with its electric propulsion system which its skipper was very happy to explain and demonstrate. It seems that he managed to get two days cruising out of the £5 spent on an electrical hook up in Llangollen and it was certainly surprising to see him moving his boat through the locks under remote control.

Frankton Lock house

The four locks at the junction lead to open countryside and the old junction with the Weston Arm - a route which was to be the mainline but was never completed. Then its through the diminutive 1ft drop of the Graham Palmer lock and onto the long straights which lead to Queens Head, it's sides reinforced with rock filled gabions and water resistant lining. 

Graham Palmer

The area has a limit on the number of boat passages to minimise the impact on areas of wildlife. To be honest, these areas don't seem too troubled by the craft which have been passing for the last 10 years and the barriers are all falling down.

Queens Head - Montgomery Canal

Beyond Queens Head you pass the three remote locks at Aston, a quiet remote spot if ever there was one. Then its on to the last significant village on the line at Maesbury with its BW services, farm shop and an excellent pub / bistro / restaurant in the shape of the Navigation, or Navvy as it is affectionately known.


The canal does extend beyond - on past Maesbury Marsh to Gronwyn Bridge which really is the end of navigation. The next 1/4 mile is in water but stanked off waiting for the canal to reach its next winding hole destination.

Gronwyn Wharf - current head of navigation

We moored next to Canal Central, a coffee shop who make a living from the tourists attracted to the canal and its environs. With so few boats allowed on you can expect hardly any boat movements which is in stark contrast to the constant procession of hire boats ploughing to and fro a few miles to the north.

Moorings at Maesbury Marsh

Our day ended with an excellent meal at the Navvy  a three course special for £13.50 each all served by a welcoming landlord. 

This represents one of the finest unspoilt corners of the canal system, and a mecca for restoration enthusiasts.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Ellesmere

Easter 2012
Whixall to Ellesmere
April 2012

We woke to the white stuff, but it wasn't a pretty a pretty sort of white. 

Overnight a northerly gale had sprung up and the fierce northerly wind was bring sleet with it, driving horizontally across the marina and making movement impossible.

Mooring at the end of the Prees Arm

The plan we to go and explore the other four miles of the Prees Arm and by adopting the Outward Bound maxim of "its not the wrong weather, its the wrong clothes" I donned my waterproofs, put my camera in a waterproof bag and set off leaving Belle and Jeff in the warmth of the boat.

The Prees Arm came as something of a revelation and offered lots for a canal enthusiast to see, but rather than interrupt the trip report I will return to this section for a mini series of its own later in the season. Suffice to say I was hammered by the elements for about three hours and returned at lunch time when the worst of the sleet was over.

The afternoon was still bitingly cold, with the wing gusting at 30 mph and the mornings snow still lingering on the ground. Its all a far cry from last Easter when we were sweltering in 27C and trying to hide from the sun. We plodded on, crabbing up the cut in the exposed sections till we reached the relative shelter of the meres of Ellesmere. It seems like all the hire boats has clustered around Ellesmere, waiting for better weather to arrive. We went into the town arm but there were no moorings so we moored on the mainline and Belle and Jeff walked back to Tesco's whilst I warmed up by the fire. The wind dropped a bit but the cold was savage casing condensation to cascade from the window frames.

The plan was to eat out at a pub in Ellesmere but the weather was so bad we decided to stay put and eat in, watching DVD's and continuing the card tournament. Belle provided inner warmth with her Sloe Gin and Sloe Vodka which were fabulous. Now she is on the lookout for Primroses, Dandelions and Wild Garlic - a foragers lot is never done.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Easter 2012 - Whixall

Easter 2012
Marbury to Whixall
April 2012

12 miles - 8 locks - 5 hours

The forcast wasn't encouraging - wet turning to very wet with a temperature of 7c feeling like 3c - Brr.

Wand'ring Bark on the Prees Arm

Our mooring above Marbury Lock was somewhat blighted by a goose with a territorial streak about him. He strode up and down a patch of dredgings and honked his superiority every 15 mins or so. OK in the evening but a bit tiresome at night.

It was a slow slog through the isolated locks with the rain getting heavier and heavier. Its days like this I start to wonder about my choice of holiday. We were fortunate with Grindley Brook having a wait of just 10 mins before we were into the staircase. I was told that the evening before there were 15 boats waiting to ascent at 5.00pm and they were still coming through at 8.00pm with a residual queue there again at 8.30am this morning.

We lunched as we filled with water above Grindley Brook and I was puzzled when the tank never overflowed. I eventually looked for a reason and discovered a passer by had turned the tap off when he spotted it overflowing. Very thoughtful. It was then a short run on to the Witchurch Arm, a short section of canal we had never visited. Its a quiet little backwater with a good winding hole at the far end beside the moorings.

The shame of the Witchurch Arm is that it fails to reach the town itself. Its a 15 minute walk to the town centre following the line of the old canal which terminated in what is now the town park. There is talk of a restoration project but so far progress has stalled at the winding hole.

Whitchurch Junction

 The route could follow the stream which flows down the valley, and I have to say that the town of Witchhurch is well worth visiting with its broad range of shops, pubs and amenities. We restocked at Tesco's and then had a bit of a slog back to the boat. In the end our two hour walk into Witchurch was under a watery sun which represented the best of the day.

End of the Witchurch Arm

Our destination was Whixall Marina at the far end of the Prees Arm but before that there were numerous lift bridges to negotiate as we crossed the remote Whixall Moss. Along the way we passed Peter Scott on Copperkins 2 - another candidate for the C&RT Council.

We moored at the extreme end of the Prees Arm, opposite the BWML marina which is one of our favourite spots. Many use the junction as an overnight mooring  and its a shame that so few venture up the mile or so of narrow and twisting channel, under two lift bridges. This remote spot is well worth visiting - but there is much more to the Prees Arm.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A walk on the Wild Side

A business is born
May 2012

As many of you will have noticed, Belle's foraging has become rather focused on jam making, which is probably a blessed relief for those of us that experienced the Chickweek pakoras and fried Dandelion  leaves! 

What was left of the product - people keep buying it!

I have to admit that her jams, jellies and chutneys are very good, every one enhanced with something a little out of the ordinary, often picked from the hedgerows and towpaths. But I am not alone in appreciating this walk on the Wild Side. She has started supplying a local Deli In Boldmere (Sutton Coldfield) and we popped in to see her produce on the shelves. I was busy taking some photos when a customer approached the counter and bought a jar of Wild Side jam.

The "Hedgerow's Finest"

One thing leads to another and with the canal festival season approaching fast, she is in full production. The problem with this time of year is a lack of basic fruit to forage so a trip was made to the Birmingham wholesale market in Digbeth, the place all the local shops and restaurants go to source their bulk purchases. What a place, it's mayhem with cars, vans, lorries and handcarts millling round in seeming chaos, and it isn't much better in the fruit and veg market. Boxes are everywhere and fork lift trucks pirouette round you with piles of produce tottering over your head. I don't think that the Health and Safety have found this place yet - certainly a walk on a very different wild side!

So, the jam business has started and been endorsed by the jam buying public. For those of you who live further afield a postal service is available, a facebook page exists and the website is being built.

Exciting times - a business which is bound to come to a sticky end!