Monday 24 December 2007

Coven Fox and Anchor

24 December 2007
Day Trip to Fox and Anchor
Santa special

What better way to start Christmas than a boat trip with the stove chugging away, mulled wine warming and a thin film of ice on the cut?

This Christmas period was spent with out best friends, the Bat people who have maintained a longstanding desite for a trip on WB.

With the day being clear and bright a snap decision was made to move the boat to the pub for a drink and back on or after dark. Their son is a profesional camerman so I will let his photos tell the story.

Monday 13 August 2007

Four Counties Ring - Gailey to Pasturefields

Four Counties Ring
Gailey to Pasturefields
13th August 2007
Staffs & Worcester and Trent and Mersey

17 Miles
13 Locks
9 Hours

A familiar stretch covering the eastern end of the Staffs and Worcester, than making a start on the Trent and Mersey. The upper Trent valley stretch is rather featureless and not a particular favourite. We moored up in a quiet wooded spot between bridges 84 and 85 with a thunderstorm threatening. The imminent arrival of the storm did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the farmers in the area who were very focused on getting on with their harvest. In fact the forecast rain spurred them on and we went to sleep with the distant sound of the combines droning away in the background - and then awoke to the patter of the predicted rain.

With Wand'ring Bark's DIY paint job nearing completion the captain took the opportunity to make a start of the front decals, armed with protractors, pencils, rulers and a compass. Guess what - the two sides aren't the same size!

Sunday 12 August 2007

Four Counties Ring - Calf Heath to Gailey

Four Counties Ring - anti clockwise
Calf Heath to Gailey
12h August 2007
Staffs and Worcester

2 Miles
2 Locks
2 Hours

With Belle away on an OU study weekend and an assignment pending I am left alone with Tilly and Jeff. Rather than kick our heels at home a boat trip seemed a good idea and we had five full days before the Andersons were scheduled borrow it. Whilst that's not enough time to get right round the Four Counties ring, it is time to do most of it and then meet them somewhere obvious, like Market Drayton.

The three of us had been together for a rather dismal time at New Wine, a big church festival in Somerset. Belle had popped in for a couple of days but that did little to lighten Jeff's mood, who was disinclined to engage with anything and had failed to find a niche for himself. The only thing that kept him going were the endless games of Boule and the promise of a few days away on the boat. We left New Wine a bit early and were home on the Friday evening, giving us the Saturday to do our washing and resupply before heading over to the boat mid afternoon. We therefore had a couple of hours to reach the mooring after the second lock of the Gailey flight - just between Brick Kiln and Boggs Locks where the M6 and the A5 pull away and you lose background drone.

This weekend was significant in that it marked the very last time we will visit New Wine as a family. We had attended the event on and off since its inception in the late 1980's and consistently since the children were about four. A ten year run was long enough and I don't envisage a return - ever.

Friday 27 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Penkridge to Calf Heath

27th July 2007
Penkridge to Calf Heath
Staffs & Worcester

5 Miles
5 Locks
3 Hours

A steady run back on a familiar stretch under a constant drizzle. Back to the marina by lunchtime leaving plenty of time to clear the boat, return home and drove down to Stratford to watch the swollen Avon swirl and foam past the theatre.
A wet but memorable trip which was particularly special as it was the first week without children for 13 years! Hopefully the first of many trips for just the two of us.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Aston Lock to Penkridge

26th July 2007
Flint Mill to Aston Lock
Trent & Mersey and Staffs & Worcester

19 Miles
21 Locks
10 Hours

Today was as bad as yesterday was good - a sort of nautical ying and yang.
It chucked it down all day, testing the Captain's wet weather all the way to it's limits and then some. After a drenching morning we decided on a long lunch in the shelter of the tree lined section of the S&W, between Gt Haywood Junction and Tixall Wide moving on again when the rain slowed to a mere downpour. The intervening days had done little to reduce the water levels of the Sow and the Penk, and the vast lakes remained, topped up by the continuing deluges.
We finally made it to Penkridge, mooring up above Filance Lock and walking back to eat a meal in the newly redecorated Boat Inn. The food and beer was good and I will use the pub again - well worth another visit.

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Flint Mill to Aston Lock

25th July 2007
Flint Mill to Aston Lock
Caldon Canal and Trent & Mersey

21 Miles
26 Locks
12 Hours

Our previous plan had been to end at Stratford and to this included a tickets to the RSC to see one of the Shakespeare histories. As we still wanted to go to the theatre we decided to put in a big day and make sure we returned to base in plenty of time.
It was therefore an early start at 8.30 am in the pouring rain, with the Captain togged out in full wet weather gear. Belle cowering in the cabin, only to emerge when the Stockton Brook locks really demanded her attention. Thankfully, the rain continued as we passed Northwood (yobs dislike rain almost as much as getting up before 11.00am) without incident. The rain finally petered out as we descended the staircase at Eturia and rejoined the Trent and Mersey.
The evening weather got better and better as time went on, so we didn't stop. We sipped out Gin and Tonic's alone on an empty canal, passing through Stone, finally stopping as darkness descended at Aston Lock. These sort of evening occur so unexpectedly and are forever remembered as what boating is all about.

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Stockton Brook to Frogall

24th July 2007
Stockton Brook to Frogall (and back to Flint Mill)
Caldon Canal

21 Miles
18 Locks
10 Hours

We covered a lot of ground today, being the first boat up the Stockton Brook Flight. First we took in the Leek Arm, which was very pretty as it contoured round a steep hillside before finally diving through the Leek Tunnel (very dry). We winded at bridge number 9 but could have gone another 1/4 mile or so, as we later learned that a 45 ft winding hole exists at the very end, which would have been just enough for Wand'ring Bark's 43 ft.
We returned to the Caldon Canal and paused for a couple of pints at The Boat, next to bridge 44. Belle had the bright idea of taking in a couple of plastic beer mugs, which we used for a final "take away" round, and returned to the boat make slightly less direct progress down to the Churnet river section.
Whilst the rain had been much less in the upper Trent / Churnet valleys, the water level was sufficiently high to prevent us making a passage through the infamously low Frogall Tunnel. We therefore turned and went back to Flint Mill, using the folding bike to go into the village to collect fish and chips. Watch out - it is a long slog up to the fish and chip shop but only a five minute wizz to complete the one mile journey back down again. We had good weather for the day, the only dry day of the trip as it turned out.

Monday 23 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Stone to Stockton Brook

23rd July 2007
Stone to Stockton Brook
Trent & Mersey and Caldon Canal

14 Miles
14 Locks
7 Hours
It was a wet start but cleared as we climbed the final flight into Eturia. There was a nasty case of stone throwing near the Northwood hotspot (bridge 15) with a couple of adolescents lobbing ballast from the dismantled railway track in the woods to the left. A combination of ammo, cover and altitude made this a nasty mix, and we sustained half a dozen direct hits before we got out of range. Luckily none hit us or anything breakable, but next time we pass this way we will time it for a very early morning transit.
We had a temporary stop at lift bridge 21 and walked into Norton Green where we enjoyed a very acceptable pint at the Foaming Quart. Sadly no food was available in the village so we fell back of the supplies we had on the boat. We moved on a little further, mooring just below Stockton Brook Locks and passed a very peaceful night in the company of two other narrowboats.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Deptmore to Stone

22nd July 2007
Deptmore to Stone
Staffs & Worcester and Trent & Mersey

15 Miles
10 Locks
9 Hours

After passing Deptmore Lock we passed over a causeway which appeared to divide two parts of a huge lake.

The swollen Penk now stretched from one side of the valley to the other, covering the entire flood plain and was nearly on a level with the canal. The Sow valley was little better, with flood waters reaching the top of the aqueduct arch. A couple of feet more and the waters would have overtopped the banks. Brindley made a good job of the aqueduct - the pressure on the structure must have been immense.

We had a steady run up the unspectacular section Trent and Mersey to Stone, mooring just below bridge 96 at the top of the flight. We noticed Phyllis May moored up in the basin above the Star, all encrusted with salt and recently returned from her American exploits on the Intracoastal Waterway. We went looking for the Rising Sun, but never found it. Instead we walked back to the Star, which failed to live up to its promise with crumples and sticky menus putting us off their food.
We then wandered into the market square and ended up in Wetherspoons which, whilst lacking in atmosphere, did deliver exactly what we expected. During our meal we kept seeing ariel photos of the flooded Severn and Avon - the exact place we have been planning to visit! We made the right decision to head for the Caldon.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Caldon Canal - Calf Heath to Deptmore

21st July 2007
Calf Heath to Deptmore
Staffs and Worcester Canal

9 Miles
10 Locks
6 Hours

Index of posts in this series:
1. - Calf Heath to Deptmore - this post
2. - Deptmore to Stone
3. - Stone to Stockton Brook
4. - Stockton Brook to Frogall
5. - Frogall to Aston Lock
6. - Aston Lock to Penkridge
7. - Penkridge to Calf Heath

With both Tilly and Jeff off on a camp, Belle and I had an unprecedented six days to ourselves. The plan had been to take WB down the Severn, possibly as far at the Gloucester and Sharpness before returning up the Avon and leaving her just short of Stratford for a couple of weeks, returning her to Calf Heath later on. As we drove round Birmingham to drop off one car the terrible state of the tributary rivers became apparent. It was clear that the Severn would be impassable for some time, so we devised plan B which involved the Caldon Canal, which was about as far from a river as it was possible to get. The flooding turned out to be the worst in 30 years with Tewkesbury and Gloucester submerged.

The first day was therefore somewhat delayed and we set off at lunch time, making our way through Penkridge where we got our first glimpse of the Penk Valley. The Penk is usually no more than an overgrown stream in summer but it has amazingly transformed itself into a mile wide sheet of water flowing over a metre deep. We got as far as bridge 94 near Deptmore Lock, just short of Stafford Boat Club. The rain finally paused allowing the Captian 30 mins of fishing before the evening meal. The fish were in fine form and he pulled 10 good sized specimens out of the water in quick succession. The mooring is fairly remote but the south westerly breeze carried a fairly constant drone from a nearby main road.

Saturday 30 June 2007

Four Counties Ring

30th June 2007
Four Counties Ring - Clockwise
Whateley's wanderings

109 Miles
94 Locks
6 Days

Martin and Adam celebrated Adam's end of school with a boat trip round the Four Counties Ring. It should have been a nice trip but the summer of 2007 happened to them in the form of torrential rain - it was the week Sheffield flooded and nearly trapped the Captain in his car.

The pair were delayed on the Middlewich Branch when a landslide including a tree blocked their path. Notwithstanding this delay, they still managed the ring in six days. This pair are fast!

Saturday 23 June 2007

Mr Truth's lads week away

16th to 23rd June 2007
Black Country Ring clockwise, plus extras
Staffs & Worcs, Trent and Mersey, Coventry, Birmingham & Fazely and the BCN

132 Miles
113 Locks
7 Days

Mr Truth is a core and founding member of the "boat boys" and has a great enthusiasm for organising weeks or weekends away. Sometimes its fishing, sometimes boating and sometimes even riding bikes from one end of the country to the other.
Mr Truth organised this trip with a relay of crew members, whit himself being the only constant factor. He had good weather till he attempted to make a one day return journey from Kidderminster under a constant torrential downpour. After 12 hours of rain even his enthusiasm for boating started to fade. He, and two very energetic crew members attempted a record descent of the Titford flight, managing 23 mins top to bottom (the two of us managed 29 mins a month or so earlier). Is this a record?
Diversions included a trip to Tardebigge Top Lock and Kidderminster, having passed out of the BCN via The Delph.
On his return I heard the first murmurings of discontent about the smell in the loo. More about that in later posts.

Monday 11 June 2007

Grub Street and back

9th to 11th June 2007
Calf Heath to Grub Street
Shropshire Union

Day one - to Fox and Anchor at Coven
2 Miles
0 Locks
My mother, Matilda, was over for the weekend so a boat trip was in order. The problem was Jeff - he has a youth group trip planned to Waterworld in Stoke, so our departure was much delayed.
In the event Matilda, Tilly and I drove over the Calf Heath after lunch and I set about painting on one side of the cream coach lines. It was a sweltering day so whilst I sweated in the sun, Matilda and Tilly wandered off to find some shade.
In late afternoon I returned to Sutton to pick up Jeff and returned to Wand'ring Bark with just enough time to trundle down to the Fox and Anchor and a drink in the cool of the evening.
Day 2 - Coven to Grub Street and back to Gnosall
26 Miles
2 Locks
We made the very familiar run to Gnosall on a glorious summer day, mooring at the Navigation Inn at Gnosall, where we met up with Belle and shared a pub meal in the garden to the rear. With Tilly and Jeff whisked off back to school, and lots of light left in the sky, Matilda took little encouragement to cast off and take a trip through Norbury into Grub Street cutting. Time was short so we winded in the hole mid way down the final stretch of cutting and returned to Gnosall for the night.
Day 3 - Gnosall to Calf Heath
18 Miles
2 Locks
A routine return trip to Calf Heath, filling up with diesel at Wheaton Aston as we passed by.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

BCN North - Tipton to Autherley

Tipton to Autherley Junction Day 3
The last day and a late start at 8.30 (I have a crew that cant sleep). The trip via the Coseley tunnel passes through a post industrial wasteland made good by covering of mature trees. It is getting hard to remember what this area looked like in the 1960’s when I started travelling through it. But the trip had one last surprise in store for the arm baggers: The Wednesbury Oak Loop.
This is a two mile arm which is maintained to provide access to the BW works at Bradley and couldn’t be missed. It won’t win any beauty prizes but you should get an award if you manage to reach the winding hole at the end. The main historical interest is the abandoned works half way along. There aren’t many of these sites left and this one looks like it isn’t long for this world. Don’t go this way unless you are happy to get up close and personal with your weedhatch. This stretch gets progressively more silted, bag infested and weedy as you go. Even in May, weed covered the entire width of the canal and forced prop cleaning trips every 400 yards. Our arrival at the Bradley works resulted in a mass welcome from the staff, who emerged from their workshops to witness the rare arrival of two weed spattered but happy boaters.

After all the excitement of the remaindered canals the final run back to Wolverhampton was very straightforward and uneventful. Our ambition to beat our previous time through the Wolverhampton 21 was foiled by the number of other boats going our way. Well actually there were two but that seemed like a lot after the previous days of isolation.
The final tally:

3 days
76 locks
70 miles
14 arms
2 mattresses
10 trips down the weedhatch
2 instances of minor “inbound”
42 hours of glorious sunshine
3 happy boaters

Monday 21 May 2007

BCN North - Brownhills to Tipton

Brownhills to the Black Country Museum Day 2
Another big day so up with the larks and through an interesting mix of industry and suburbia on the Daw (pronounced Doe) End Branch Canal, through Walsall Wood to Aldridge. The canal around Walsall Wood has subsided over the years due to mining and been progressively raised on embankments resulting in a water depth of about 10 feet!
Longwood branch offered another short stub for the collection, but the following water free pound was our first big obstacle. The 40 minutes it took to fill the pound to a navigable depth gave an opportunity to cook up another blowout breakfast.
The Daw End seamlessly morphs into the Rushall Canal passing through parks, wild woodland and golf courses, tumbling down 11 little used locks. We came across another empty pound and amazingly an Australian BW lengthsman who provided an assisted passage all the way to the M6 and Rushall Junction. He told us that less than two boats pass this way in a typical week seemed genuinely saddened that we were not going down the Perry Barr flight, which are his favourite. Instead we turned right onto the Tame Valley Canal, a windswept and wild “cut and fill” waterway which was built as a bypass for the overcrowded Birmingham Mainline.
There was no pressure of traffic during our passage, just another mattress round the prop but that’s par for the course in these backwaters.

A lovely surprise awaits as you turn onto the Walsall Canal and arrive at Ryders Green locks. A dead straight flight 8 of well spaces and well maintained locks making a triumphal entry up to the Main Line. But I am jumping ahead. As dedicated arm baggers we couldn’t miss Swan Arm, obscure by even BCN standards – and shallow too. It’s barely navigable with reeds reducing the channel to 7 feet in places and so shallow we made less that 1 mph. If you do venture here expect shouts of warning from local factory workers assuming you have lost your way. But don’t stop, there’s an all day pub opposite the final winding hole and whilst it lacks character, its beer is cold and refreshing.

It was as we joined the Main Line at Spon Lane that we finally met another moving boat – our first in two days travelling. Our sudden appearance from the Wednesbury Old Canal took them by surprise and, when apologising for being on the wrong side of the canal, they explained that they hadn’t seen any other boats for the last 24 hours.

At this point you could make a mad dash down the new main line, reaching the Black Country Museum moorings in an hour or so. But that would result in a missed opportunity to “bag” the Titford Canal, which rises a further 38 feet from Brindley’s winding Old main Line to the highest point on the BCN. This is usually the preserve if the enthusiastic die-hards and the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society have their headquarters in the beautifully restored Pumphouse, adjacent to the top lock. By all means go to the end of the canal but no matter how enticing the pools look, don’t be tempted to go into them. Whilst they once played host to an IWA National Festival, silt from the M6 has reduced them to shallow lagoons which regularly trap unwary boaters.
One of the snags of the BCN is a lack of safe moorings. If you find yourself in this area the stub of the Union Arm remains in water and secure moorings can be found alongside the pumphouse, and another arm to add to the list.

Our final run of the day was along the tree lined Old Main Line into Tipton and the secure Black Country Museum moorings. This is, without question, my favourite place to stop on the BCN. If you have time to spare take a trip round the living museum – it’s fascinating and provides a great insight into life in the Black Country when the canals were in their heyday. There is the added bonus of a trip through the Dudley Tunnel. Height restrictions mean that this probably wont be in your own boat (which would have to be towed by a tug in any case) but the Dudley Canal Trust run guided tours into the tunnel and caves, which well worth a look.
A full range of BW facilities are available here, including toilet, shower and even a DIY pumpout.
For food you have the option of a range of take-aways nearby, but my vote goes to Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory. It’s a 10 minute walk into Tipton but is well worth the effort. My tip – try the Cow Pie!

Sunday 20 May 2007

BCN North - Autherley to Angelsey Basin

Index to this series of posts:
1. - Autherley to Angelsey Basin (Brownhills) - this post
2. - Brownhills to Tipton
3. - Tipton to Autherley

Before I start, I had better come clean - I am a fan of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, which is a bit of a mouthful so I will refer to them as the BCN.

I have to acknowledge that the tangle of canals that weave their way in and out of my adopted city are something of an acquired taste. Like Marmite, they elicit strong views – you are either passionate about them or you avoid them like the plague.

However, you only seem to hear of horror stories involving excessive weed, mud, clogged propellers and an ever-present undercurrent of physical danger from the local youth. One rarely hears about the unexpected beauty and unique sites of historical interest that can be found on the 110 miles of waterway that make up a virtually self-contained canal system.

As I live in the midst of this labyrinth of remaindered waterways, and catch fleeting glimpses of remote canals as I drive around the city every day, I felt compelled to bring my newly acquired narrowboat, Wand'ring Bark into the system and find out how all the bits join together. I mentioned my plans for a whistle-stop cruise round the North Birmingham section to fellow boaters and even the most enthusiastic sucked in his teeth and said “rather you then me mate – I wouldn’t risk it”.

Well, not being one to avoid a challenge I organised a crew (weight in numbers seemed wise) set a date (late spring when the weed is down), avoided school holidays (sound advice) and packed a toolkit with everything I could think of to clear a fouled prop and off we went.

The following is an account of our May 2007 watery odyssey around our own back yard. I don’t expect to convert everyone into a card-carrying member of the BCN fan club, but I would like to think a few readers may be inspired to venture off the Main Line and explore the area themselves.

Day one: Aldersley Junction to Anglesey Basin
The trip really started with our arrival at Aldersley Junction late on a Saturday evening.
We moored up immediately below the last of the Wolverhampton 21 and were just settling down for the night when world war three started around us. Thankfully, what appeared to be an intensive house to house gunfight actually turned out to be a firework finale for an event at the adjacent racecourse and, having enjoyed the spectacle overhead, the quiet mooring had the tranquillity of a rural site.

As our trip was ambitions we set off at six thirty, making light of the well maintained 21 locks in a very respectable 2.5 hours. We turned into the Wyrley and Essington Canal at Horseley Fields Junction and fortified ourselves with a full English breakfast in the remaining stub of the Bentley Canal at Wednesfield. The pub looked good but it was way to early…

We decided to do as much of the BCN as we could and this was to include the navigation of every possible side arm so, having passed the backs of endless dreary suburbs, and removed the first mattress from the prop, we put Wand’ring Bark’s nose into the Holly Bank Colliery Basin at New invention, bagging our second arm. The canal carries the apt nickname “Curly Wyrley”, which pre dates the Cadburys chocolate / toffee bar of the same name by about 150 years! You could say that this is an “extreme” contour canal which gives even the North Oxford a run for its money.

Finally, after the Adam and Eve pub you pass through the beautifully green Rough Wood Nature Reserve and the canal maintains a remote and semi rural feel to it as it passes under the M6 and on to Sneyd Junction. Sadly, there is nothing left of the Wyrley branch canal save an infilled lock chamber, so no arm bagging here but it does offer a good safe overnight mooring should you need it.
At Sneyd it’s a 360 degree turn back towards Walsall and this unquestionably marks the start of the trip’s “danger zone”. Lock your hatches, put on your tin hat, rev up the engine and don’t stop for anything.
The scene gets grimmer and grimmer as you plough through a squalid section of canal in Leamore and, having turned left at Birchills Junction, just north of Walsall, a poor situation gets even worse as you pass Harden and Goscote. We had the misfortune of making the passage in early afternoon on a sunny Sunday and the local youth were out in force. I always recon that when you see teenage lads careering around on unsilenced motorbikes with no helmets on trouble is sure to follow – and it did. Sorry, that was my Victor Meldrew moment.

We did all the right things, slowed for fishermen, smiled, said hello to all and sundry but we still encountered a couple of cases of “inbound” missile activity. I am not sure that there really is an answer to this problem and certainly trying to retaliate by chucking stuff back only serves to escalate the situation, and a narrowboat is poorly suited to making a quick getaway. That said, we knew it was the flash point, were prepared for it, kept our eyes open, heads down and emerged without material damage.

But then, what a contrast. From the hassles of Harden you bust out of the city into beautiful Staffordshire countryside with trees lining the route, birds singing, deep clear water under the keel, Swans on their nests and a canal teeming with fish swimming in shoals in and out of the lillypads which line the margins. Sites of old collieries and foundries line the route but they have all been swept away and replaced with green parkland. This really should be fertile ground for dead arm baggers like ourselves, but sadly most are silted up and impenetrable even for a canoe. However, the two “Big Daddies” can be conquered here on the northern fringe of the BCN. First there is the dead straight mile and a half remnant of the Cannock Extension Canal. This rural cruise is abruptly halted by the A5, but if you are lucky you will find some examples of {whoi}’s new narrowboats tied up outside his yard. To my mind these are the finest craft on the system, well worth a look even if the price tag is beyond you – dreaming is free. This may not always be the quiet backwater we now see. There are long term plans to link this arm to the remains of the Hatherton Canal at Calf Heath, but don’t hold your breath, the Lichfield Canal needs to be finished first which will join the BCN Ogley on the Anglesey Branch.
With evening approaching we passed Brownhills and much enthusiastic waving from local boaters moored in the secure interchange basin, giving us the impression that the sight of moving craft must be something of a novelty. Before reaching Anglesey Basin at the foot of Chasewater Reservior we moored alongside the Anchor Inn and were given mountainous helpings of tasty and very reasonably priced mixed grill. The tranquillity of Anglesey basin is probably not what it was before the M6 Toll was built, but it provided a very quiet and safe mooring.

Saturday 7 April 2007

One way to Llangollen - Chirk to Llangollen

8th April 2007
Chirk to LLangollen
Llangollen Canal (Welsh Canal)

9 Miles
0 Locks
6 Hours

And so the journey comes to an end, but what an end!

The Welsh Canal saves the best till last, and no matter how many times you come this way you can never fail to be impressed:

1. Chirk wharf, very pretty.

2. Chirk Aqueduct - a huge stone structure containing an iron trough. In itself it is an impressive structure stretching over the River Ceiriog, but with the larger railway viaduct running alongside the experience is sublime. All the way across you get excellent views of the Welsh countryside framed beneath the curved arches of the aqueduct's big brother. A picture of the aqueduct and viaduct next to each other must be included in every known photographic record of this canal.

3. No sooner are you off the aqueduct than you are diving into the 459 yard Chirk Tunnel, complete with towing path courtesy of Mr Telford.

4. A short gap exists between Chirk Tunnel and is shorter neighbour, the Whitehouses Tunnel, both of which donated their spoil to the construction if the huge embankment which takes the canal onto is piece de resistance - the massive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (pronounced Pont-ker-sulth-tee).
Its hard to find the right superlatives for this 1000 years long behemoth of the canal age, carrying the channel in an iron trough 127 feet above the River Dee. This isn't a place for those with vertigo, particularly steerers who stand on the stern of their craft with absolutely nothing between them and the void below.
Put simply, it is amazing. So amazing that even now, 200 years after its construction, visitors throng to see it and walk along its narrow towpath, marveling that the spindly columns can carry the weight of the water filled trough perched on top.

5. You would thank that that is the end but no, just beyond the end of the aqueduct the canal takes a sharp turn left and onto the Llangollen Arm. This was originally constructed as a feeder from the River Dee higher up the valley, but was later widened to navigable dimensions - just.
The last four miles wind up the Dee valley, clinging mid way up the northern slope. The section runs over unstable ground and the gravity defying waterway has regularly succumbed, sliding bodily into the valley below. These massive breaches have been repaired and repaired again, most recently in massive concrete trough sections which reduce the channel to single track operation and necessitate a crew member running ahead and ensure a clear passage is possible on blind corners.

7. Finally, the canal terminates high above the town centre, which has the hustle and bustle of a seaside resort, complete with chip shops and ye olde English (or maybe Welsh) tea rooms. Mooring used to be restricted to the wharf area but the recent addition of a public mooring marina has eased this problem, and is well worth the £5 per night charged by BW. Llangollen is famed not only for its beautiful canal and river, but also for its annual Eisteddfod music festival, which occupies a permanent site immediately below the mooring basin.

That was the end of the trip. Eight fantastic spring days on one of the nations prettiest canals. This must have been my 6th journey to Llangollen but it still enchants me and fills me with enthusiasm to stage a return.

Messrs Whately (Snr and Junior) were spied in the town centre and kit was swapped leaving us with a 2 hour journey back to the Midlands and the lads with a 6 day return journey in WB, retracing our nautical footsteps minus the excursion to Chester.

Friday 6 April 2007

One Way to Llangollen - Prees to Chirk

6th April 2007
Arm to Chirk
Llangollen Canal (Welsh Canal)

18 Miles
2 Locks
9 Hours

Did I say idyllic? The thing I forget about the peaceful countryside is just how noisy it can be! I think I have been a townie for so long that I have forgotten my agricultural roots.

The Prees mooring is beautiful but those moo's I raved about yesterday turned out to be uttered from the mouths of milking cows and milking cows, by definition, need to be milked. At 4.30 am actually! So what with the cows mooing, the dogs barking, the cockerels crowing, the tractors roaring and the farmers shouting - it was all something of a cacophony first thing. Never mind, it was a lovely mooring and an early start never killed anyone.

Once back on the main line the canal continues its remote wanderings, initially on a long embankment over the Fenn's and then slinking westwards through Bettisfield and Hampton Bank before reaching Ellesmere's "little lake district". These seven lakes (or meres) have no inflow or outflow, having been formed by the retreating ice caps of the last ice age 10,000 year ago. Easter is a good time to pass through as the leaves have yet to emerge on the trees and obscure the delightful views. Predictably, the area is a popular mooring spot for boaters and is well catered for with formal moorings.

There is a short tunnel (87 yards) just before Ellesmere plus a marina with all the usual services. There then follows the Ellesmere Town Arm which should be a good mooring spot. However, the area is undergoing a slow regeneration scheme and, apart from the decaying Shropshire Union warehouse, the area is mainly a demolition site where a creamery once stood. The end result is rather barren so after picking up supplies in the pretty town centre, we winded and made our way back to Beech House, which stands as a sentinel guarding the arm entrance.

Its back to the wild open spaces of Flintshire (its not called that any more but I like the name) and on westwards to Frankton Junction. I had harboured plans for a trip along the restored 7 miles of the Montgomery Canal to Maebury Marsh, but it became a toss up between Chester and the Montgomery. In the end the family appeal of Chester won over, and the Monty has been left as a good destination for a future ten day trip.

Frankton's locks were therefore left untroubled and we moved on to Maestermyn Cruisers base, topping up with diesel, replacing a gas cylinder, pumping out the loo and filling up with fresh water. On our arrival I realised that I had hired a narrowboat from this centre in the early 1980's accompanied by Jon (to be my best man) and Rod and Rita (to become the vicar of Ipswich). That's another trip to record and whilst I know I took some photos, I have no idea what I did with them. Another trip into the loft!

As the afternoon wore on we arrived at the lower of the two locks at New Marton. A ground paddle had broken slowing one lock down to a snails pace, and causing a huge boat jam - about 12 boats long which took about an hour and a half to clear. As with Grindley Brook, one has to adopt a laid back approach to such delays and while away the time chatting to the boaters before and behind us. As it says repeatedly in the Good Book "it came to pass" - and so it did, with the light failing and the warmth of a spring day being replaced with a chilly cold which penetrated even my fleecy trousers and thick coat. We continued on to Bridge 16, near the Lion Quays pub and settled for a less picturesque, but ultimately much quieter mooring.

Thursday 5 April 2007

One way trip Llangollen - Wrenbury to Prees Arm

5th April 2007
Wrenbury to Prees Arm
Llangollen Canal (Welsh Canal)

14 Miles
10 Locks
7 Hours

A frost start in a wintry mist, but with clear skies above there was the prospect of a lovely day.

We were late off (10.00) and all the boats moored near us had already moved on. The mist looked like lifting so a late start seemed in order and the sun started to make an appearance as we reached Marbury Lock , about 40 mins later. Quoisley, Willey Moor (Jeff liked that one) and Povey's locks followed in quick succession leading to the foot of Grindley Brook. The first three individual locks were fine but as we emerged from the last our delayed departure was seen to be a mistake. The pound to the foot of the staircase three was lined with boats waiting to rise. This bottleneck has loads of scope for water rage, but fortunately the flight is manned by a BW lock keeper who applied a strict three up, three down policy. Sadly, we were boat number four so we had to wait for about an hour but hey, the sun was shining, belle discovered an internet cafe in the tea room half way up and the kids were pacified with ice creams. As for me, I like staircases and it is almost as much fun to watch them being worked as it is to go through them myself.

Having availed ourselves of the rubbish and water facilities above the top lock we moved on past Whitchurch and its diminutive arm. There then followed a remote stretch along the Shropshire / Clwyd border interrupted only by a few lift bridges, now made of steel which replaced the creaking wooden structures I remember from my youth. Finally, as if all this remoteness has to be taken to another level, the canal enters the Fenns, which are now a nature reserve. This is a huge area of peat bog which used to be commercially harvested, causing the land to sink and the canal company to employ a permanent gang of labourers to repeatedly raise the banks.

If you read my accounts of travelling the BCN you will realise that I love side arms, the little bits most people miss out, which are are often gems. The Prees Arm is, by my standards, a huge side arm running on for a whole mile (it used to be four miles) and services Wixall Marina. This marina is on the site of an old quarry and is said to be incredibly deep.

The arm itself is very narrow and shallow after the first of two lift bridges, reducing forward travel to maybe two miles per hour and the reeds on either side reducing the channel to about 10 ft in places. We turned in the marina entrance and went back along the canal for a couple of hundred yards, mooring in a gap in the reeds, leaving just enough space for another boat to creep through (only one did during our stay). This mooring spot goes down as one of the most idyllic I have ever known. It was a clear sky sunset giving a warm end to a spring evening, warm enough to discard coats and fish in fleeces. The undisturbed waters teemed with fish and we settled down amidst the fields and farms, with the cows moo's competing with the evening birdsong.

If you end up in this area when it is time to moor, don't stop as the entrance to the Prees Arm, like most boaters do. Press on for half an hour and moor at the far end. Satisfaction is guaranteed.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

One Way to Llangollen - Egg Bridge to Wrenbury

4th April 2007
Egg Bridge to Wrenbury
Shropshire Union Canal (Chester Canal) and Llangollen Canal (Welsh Canal)

14 Miles
15 Locks
8 Hours

Another fine and sunny day as we passed through the flat and rather featureless area south of Egg Bridge. As you approach Hargrave you pass long lines of moored, mostly older and shorter than those found in the south. The whole stretch down to Chester has an "out of the way" feel to it and attracts a different kind of boater, ones more interested in tinkering with humble craft than owning an expensive recreation of a traditional working boat. In truth I have more interest in this eclectic huddle of craft that the formulaic 55ft trads which are the staples of most marinas.

We made steady progress till we reached the Bunbury staircase where a collection of workboats blocked all the conventional lock mooring bays. After some confusion about who was mooring and who was waiting, three boats approached the bottom staircase with the initial plan that a plastic craft would ascend with a steel narrowboat. It then turned out that they were afraid to share a lock which such a heavy craft so they started up alone. Next we entered the bottom chamber with the other narrowboat whose skipper freaked when he saw a boat entering the recently vacated top lock. I assured him that it would all work out via the infamous Bunbury shuffle but even as we exited he still seemed bemused that we had managed passed another boat in the flight! It's the four boat shuffle that can get really interesting.

From Bunbury its a short trip to Barbridge Junction and the entrance to Middlewich Branch, quickly followed by Hurleston Junction and the initial 4 lock flight onto the Llangollen Canal. I like Hurleston, it is spacious but remote and it heralds the prospect of a trip up this lovely waterway, a destination never fails to excite me. I think I have travelled this route at least six times but still I look forward to our return.
With evening upon us we pressed on through the Swanley and Baddiley Locks arriving at Wrenbury in the last glimmer of twilight. We passed under the electrically operated lift bridge and the ABC hire base, mooring up on the left and setting a good fire in the grate as we pad a visit to the Dusty Miller and enjoyed an excellent evening meal.

Tuesday 3 April 2007

One Way to Llangollen - Egg Bridge to Chester

3rd April 2007
Egg Bridge to Chester, and back to Egg Bridge again!
Shropshire Union Canal (Chester Canal)

10 Miles
16 Locks
6 Hours
A day of effort and toil, only to moor up again in the exact same spot the next night!
Egg Bridge is only a hop skip and jump to Christleton Lock, which marks the final descent into Chester. As with so many towns, the entrance to the ancient town of Chester by canal is an underwhelming experience. The waterway slinks down through post industrial wastelands and gas works, with high factory walls obscuring the view.
Whilst the southern approaches are dull, the final encounter with the town is impressive by any standard. As you finally emerge from bridge 123E you are faced with the walled fortifications rising up from a sheer cliff, through which the canal channel has been cut like a slot. Fern covered rocks and walls hem you in and bridges soar above, drawing you on and on to the top of the Northgate staircase. If you don't fancy the staircase there is a good public mooring bridges 123D and E, but if you do progress there is no winding hole - so you are committed.
The Northgate staircase of three appears to have side sluices capable of absorbing a full lock of water let down from above, without emptying the lower chambers first. Sadly, this is a false assumption and the accumulated debris impedes the flow of water and resulting in an overtopping of water which flowed down the cobbled towpath. This sudden cascade was quickly remedied by the partial closure of the gate paddle, but not before I attracted some baleful glares from pedestrians who had been obliged to take some lively steps to avoid wet feet! I will know next time!
We turned at Taylors Boatyard, which is located in the lagoon which also serves as an entry to the little used Dee Branch with its three locks to the river. We stopped at the public moorings opposite Telfords Warehouse and wandered up onto the Walls and then into the town for a look see.
Chester is a fabulous town which we have visited before. We therefore didn't hang around and instead sought out a Millets for two warmer sleeping bags for Tilly and Jeff, a pizza for lunch and finally a visit to the nearby supermarket for supplies.
With nothing else to do, and no films on at the cinema that we wanted to watch, we decided to set off back in mid afternoon. We passed a working boat in the Northgate flight which was making its annual pilgrimage to the Easter boat gathering at Ellesmere Port. With a shuffle past completed in the middle chamber we pushed on into the late afternoon, finally returning to Egg Bridge as the sun was setting.
Like I said, a whole days effort to go absolutely nowhere! An excellent days boating which left the 8 miles to Ellesmere Port unexplored, and also a potential descent to the River Dee. I can feel a one week return trip coming on sometime in the future to fill in these gaps.

Monday 2 April 2007

One way to Llangollen - Audlem to Egg Bridge

2nd April 2007
Audlem to Egg Bridge
Shropshire Union Canal

22 Miles
12 Locks
9 Hours

Belle had noticed that the old mill at Audlem contained a canal craft shop and insisted on a delayed departure to review its wares. Sadly, the Mill was closed for renovations and out delayed start was in vain.
Whilst there was very little boat traffic on the Shroppie, things hotted up around the Hurleston / Barbridge section. Lots of boats were moving between the Middlewich Arm and The Welsh Canal.
After Nantwich the canal widens out to broad guage, marking the transition to the old Chester Canal. Its not just the locks and bridgeholes that get bigger, the whole waterway takes on a more substantial feel, being deeper and wider facilitating faster progress. As the canal follows the river Gowy down the valley it meanders to and fro , with river like qualities and very pretty to boot. A highlight for me was the section through Beeston Locks with Beeston Castle glowering down at us from its hilltop location. When we have more time we will stop here and explore.
We ended the day at Egg Bridge, not an ideal mooring as it was a bit shallow and called for the use of a gangplank. Having said that, it was quiet and secure.

Sunday 1 April 2007

One way to Llangollen - Gnosall to Audlem

1st April 2007
Gnosall Heath to Audlem
Shropshire Union Canal

20 Miles
21 Locks
10 Hours

We made steady progress in good weather, passing through Norbury Junction where we topped up with Diesel and pumped out (£14). It goes against the grain not to fill at Wheaton Aston, but they were closed yesterday.
The plan was to reach Market Drayton and stop, but the weather was splendid, so we pressed on to the top of the Audlem flight and reviewed the situation. It had turned into a perfect spring evening and the Audlem locks were beckoning to us - so we started down. This is a very quick flight of locks and before we knew it we had reached the pound after lock 11, just above the old mill. This is a lovely quiet mooring with the sound of Audlem parish clock just audible in the background.

Saturday 31 March 2007

One way to Llangollen - Calf Heath to Gnosall Heath

31st Match 2007
Calf Heath to Gnosall Heath
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

18 Miles
2 Locks
7 Hours

Index of posts in this series:
1. - Calf Heath to Gnosall - this post
2. - Gnosall to Audlem
3. - Audlem to Egg Bridge
4. - Egg Bridge to Chester
5. - Egg Bridge to Wrenbury
6. - Wrenbury to Prees Arm
7. - Prees to Chirk
8. - Chirk to Llangolen

This was the first long trip in Wand'ring Bark and we decided to do a one way journey to Llangollen, taking in Chester along the way, 108 miles and 59 Locks. The Whateley boys were lined up to do the return leg.

A fine spring day on a familiar route. The trip got off to a good start with an overnight mooring next to the Navigation Inn. Whilst we had a drink in the pub during the evening, we elected for fish and chips to eat, checking out the shop marked on the map.
One downside of Pearsons Guides is their lack of precision when you get away from the cut. It turned out to be a good mile to the chip shop, at the far end of the village. Whilst the fish and chips were good, they cooled during the return walk. Next time I will use the bike!

Monday 12 March 2007

Brewood and back

10th and 11th March 2007
Calf Heath to Brewood
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

18 Miles
2 Locks
2 Days

Another weekend on our own!

With the children again with friends we decided to go a little further for this, the first trip of the 2007 season.

We cruised out to Brewood under a clear blue sky with the aim of mooring at the Brewood Visitor Moorings. Unfortunately, all the moorings were taken by long term boaters, who had clearly been there for the winter. We therefore turned at Countrywide Cruisers and and moored just north of bridge 14. We had planned a trip to the Bridge Inn but the towpath was terribly muddy so we gave up, cracking open a couple of cans of Boddingtons and settling down to an evening of DVD's.

It blew a gale overnight, but we were OK, protected by the cutting. The weather then settled in and we made a our way back in driving wind, rain and snow - yuk!