Friday 17 April 2015

Easter 2015 Cruise - Day 15

Today is to be our final day on the LLangollen canal.  We have both immensely enjoyed the cruise on this canal and will certainly return in retirement to explore in a lot more detail.

We had a wander into the Mill shop before setting off this morning as we wanted to get a couple of canal maps and one of those oval metal plaques of the Montgomery canal as we seem to have started collecting them.  Not sure where I'll mount them yet,  probably in the back cabin somewhere.

We set off and fortunately the Lift bridge worked first go. Probably because two C&RT engineers were in attendance.  They were only too pleased to lift the bridge for us as it gave them a chance to test it.  A similar occurrence at the next lift bridge saw a boater's wife wait for us to go through even though there would have been plenty of time for her to lower it and get on their way before we got there.  Naturally we thanked her profusely for her kind patience.

Lady boater works the lift bridge for us.

Just short of Baddiley locks Chris spotted these young lambs and their mothers.  One lamb was happily playing with a cheeky Crow, chasing it and then being chased in return by the Crow.  Both seemed quite content with their game.   Unfortunately the Crow flew away as we approached close enough for a photo opportunity.

Playful lamb with crow just out of shot
 At the lock numerous birds were chirping and flying around.  Chris just managed to capture this bird by the bywash wall before it too flew off. After consulting the book we reckon is a Grey Wagtail 

Moving so fast Chris just caught this short by chance

All the Baddiley locks were against us so we took our time as no one was about.  At Swanley locks a few boats were coming up so we had these in our favour.   Up to now it had been very quiet with few boats on the move but this all changed as we rounded the corner for the run to Hurleston Locks.  Boat after boat after boat lined the towpath all the way down to the locks.   Not sure why so many but all seemed set to stay for the day.  Various painting and cleaning jobs were taking place.  Some were just sitting out enjoying the freedom the weekend provides.

Moored boats all the way to the top lock
 At one point I had to reverse back to allow a boat to pass because of overhanging bushes.  The wind gently blew us onto the bushes whilst we waited for the boat to pass but luckily we were stopped so no scratches.  

It was just as busy in the locks themselves.  As we descended each lock we crossed in the pound with another boat coming up.  There were far more boats ascending than going down so mid way down the pounds we getting lower.  AmyJo barely made it out of the third lock down bumping on the sill as she exited

A busy day at Hurleston
 At the junction boats were everywhere.  Four boats were waiting to come up and I had to wait for two to pass on the Shroppie before I could pull out.  Chris had to walk round and across the bridge onto the other side before I could pick her up.

Pulling in to pick Chris up.  Looks like I'm going to hit but
was mid turn as I winded round and got stern in to let Chris board.
 After the last few days it was like turning out onto a busy motorway.  We barely got underway to find three boats behind us and two heading towards us.  Now I know why they call it Frantic Friday.  Clearly everyone was out for the weekend cruise.

Now we only have two days left of this cruise the three of us (yes including AmyJo) are starting to slow down as we get closer to Tattenhall though for AmyJo this is probably because the canal here is much wider and no flow with us, so progress just appears slower.  

Seems none of us want to go back as we're enjoying ourselves cruising.  Perhaps we should have turned right instead of left at Hurleston Chris!  

One day soon my dear ... one day  :-)

Easter 2015 Cruise - Day 14

One of the drawbacks of retracing your route like we are at the moment is it is difficult not to to post about something you did on your outbound journey.  Today is no exception.

As the Whichchurch arm is quiet and peaceful we felt obliged to leave later than usual so as not to wake anyone, besides the lie in was an attractive bonus.  

Once the community started to rise we prepared to leave.  Before doing so Chris wanted to take this photo of the arm looking out from the canal bridge nearby.  AmyJo is the second boat from the camera on the right
Evidence of exploratory excavation is present at the bottom of frame
This has revealed the original stonework leading up to the bridge
 We slipped the lines and on tick over glided gently off the mooring and down the arm.  Watchful boaters kept an eye on us as we passed and waved.  Sounds really daft but I cold not shake the feeling they were pleased we were leaving.  I doubt that was the case but still the feeling remained.

Leaving our overnight mooring with the bridge behind

Boaters appear by their boats and watch as we leave.

In order to proceed from the arm towards Grindley Brook, larger boats like ours the cannot make the very tight 280 degree turn so a convenient winding hole is provided a few 100 yards up stream and then you can retrace your steps passing by the arm.  

Winding AmyJo whilst Chris prepares Lift Bridge 30 for my return.
The short run to Grindley Brook was uneventful and quiet.  We arrived and stopped for water and dispose of some rubbish.  Expecting a queue we were surprised to find the lock gate open as we approached and we went straight into the top lock. The friendly Lockie that helped us down Frankton Locks recognised us and she then helped us down the staircase chatting cheerfully to Chris as we went.

Add caption
 Being the only boat passing through we were down the flight in good time.  Thanking the lockie we carried on to Povey Lock.  Here a queue of three boats were waiting and we could see a fourth struggling to enter the lock.  We later found that this boat had a cambelt fail and a valve had punched through a cylinder and engine casing all sounding VERY costly.  Another boat was towing them all the way to Anderton.

The engine damaged boat being towed to Willey Moor Lock 
 With plenty of time on our hands we helped the other boats down the lock then locked through ourselves.  As we approached each of Willey Moor, Quoisley and Marford locks the other boats got further ahead so the queue got shorter at each lock.

Not sure what these are but there were lots of them looking quite pretty
 It must be hire boat hand over today as few boats were on the move.  In fact we saw more walkers that boats.  In some ways it felt a little like the Montgomery canal on a Monday

A few of many tow path trekkers today
By 3pm we approached the Lift bridge at Wrenbury.  Our plan was to stop upstream of the bridge and it is as well we did as we learned when the next boat came along that it would not lift.  Try as they might the crew, then us, and then the Mill hire boat people could not get it to operate.  C&RT were called and luckily were nearby.  Within the hour the bridge was operational again.  I asked the engineer what might be the problem and it seems if the road barrier bounces in and out of the locking receptacle the system gets confused and resets itself refusing to lift the bridge.  He had to re initiate the controls to get it to work again.  Apparently since they updated the controls a few weeks back this has happened four or five times in a week.  o be fair the bridge now lifts and lowers in double fast time reducing the wait by road users.

Content on our near empty mooring we settled in for a peaceful evening.   Clouds in the sky gave this sun ray scene and our first Swallows appeared on the telephone line opposite the boat.  At least we think they are Swallows or are they Swifts.  How does one tell them apart?

Evening Sunrays.

One named Peter and one named Paul
 Tomorrow we say farewell, for now, to the LLangollen and turn for home.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Easter 2015 Cruise -Day 13

Today was going to be  long haul and an early start.  

Chris was keen to get moored in the Whitchurch arm and explore the town.  I thought this would be a long shot as last time we tried the arm it was chocker with boats.  Still, I thought, we could moor online and the walk would do us good.

Blake Mere is known for its beauty but the view at 7:30am this morning as I opened the day room side doors was breath taking.  We could have been in Yellowstone national park except here the risk of bears was negligible.

Stunning view with mist across the mere

Sun already shining belies its only 5C outside

We got underway at 8 am and within a short while we were confronted with several C&RT workboats across the cut restoring the banks by a winding hole. They stopped and moved their largest workboat out of the way and waved us through.  I did feel for the crew of a nearby hire boat that had moored for the night yards away.  They did not need their alarm clocks this morning for sure!

C&RT's floating post pile driver andsupport boats.
 The run past Cole Mere was uneventful with few boats on the move yet.  All was going well until just before Lyneal Wharf.  At a tight corner I could see a hire boat going quite fast coming the other way.  I slowed before the turn anticipating what was going to happen and as predicted it did.  What I was not prepared for was both helmsman and his crew were not looking where they were going and were looking at something in their hands (a pearsons I think).  

As you would expect the boat hurtled round the corner into my path.  The crew spotted us at the last minute and slammed into reverse bouncing hard off the armco.  I had already seen what was going to happen and already had AmyJo in reverse and we both came to a stop bow to bow feet apart. 

I passed them on the wrong side and advised them in strong terms to bl&^dy well watch where they are going and slow down at tight corners in future.  The helmsman apologised and the  smile quickly disappeared of his face.

The hire boat after it bounced off the armco still going at speed

After this things calmed down and the run to Press Junction had very few boats on it.  In fact this was the only boat coming the other way we saw until the junction

I believe this section of the canal has been subject to several breaches over the years as the banks here arE heavily re-enforced as the cut is mostly on a raised embankment.   Signs warn of no mooring though I would not fancy mooring up against this.  Behind the trees lay acres of wild life sanctuary as far as the eye can see

At the junction we rounded to stay on the main line giving Whixhall marina amiss this time.  Time enough to explore on another trip

Prees Junction and the main line off to the left
 Shortly after the junction is the first of many lift bridges.  Chris disembarked with radio in hand to raise it, however, there came a slight delay as she became quite alarmed that, whilst raising the bridge a sparrow was sat right where the bridge buffers meet the stops when raised and would be crushed if she continued.  It seemed quite happy to stay there as Chris began to raise the bridge.  Chris hesitated and waited but still it remained.   Chris slowly continued ready to stop if must.  Thankfully it moved out of the way at the last minute but only by hopping onto the buffer itself much to Chris's relief.

Cheeky lift hogging sparrow on the buffer stop with bridge fully raise.
 By now another boat had caught us up and offered t close the bridge after they passed through. We would be bridge hopping with them all the way to Whichurch.

A great Shepherd's Caravan in a garden nearby

At the next bridge Chris raised it and we let the other boat pass through then closed it.  We followed to the next bridge.  Here the lady got off and raised the bridge.  We expected her to leave it for us to close but waved us through.  She then walked the two miles at a furious pace to the next bridge.  Apparently she tries to walk 4 miles a day at this pace.  It was tiring me out watching her, phew!

By the next bridge the lady had it raised before we got there
 This continued with the lady racing ahead preparing bridges until we reached the Whitchurch arm where we waved fair well and thanked her as we turned into the arm.  Now would we find a mooring or not?

Entrance to the arm
The entrance is tight and can only be entered coming from LLangollen.  Boats coming from Grindley Brook have to wind at a nearby winding hole then retrace their route to get in.

Just in the arm was a mooring we might have squeezed into but we felt we would block the exit so we gingerly continued in.  There were lots of boats in the arm down to the winding hole so we started our turn.  Unlike yesterday today the turn went well.

Right in the crook of the winding hole the ducks have their den

I had all but given up hope of mooring here until, as we almost completed the turn, I looked up the arm and spotted what looked like a possibility.  It would mean reversing AmyJo between boats for a 100 yards and then we might not fit between the boats.  We felt it worth a try.

AmyJo faultlessly reversed for me all the way back to the spot that could have been left just for us as we slotted in with feet to spare.  Last but one boat from the very head of the arm.  I admit I am quite chuffed at achieving the reverse without hitch nor hitting the other boats.

A chap in the boat ahead of us appeared and said.  "That seemed like a hell of a lot of effort, would it not have been easier to moor out on the cut?"  Chris informed him it was her wish to stop over in the arm and yes it was worth it.  He seemed to respect that and offered good information on how to walk into town.  He even gave guidance on the best pub in town.  More on that in a minute.

This little chap waited patiently by our cratch
hoping to be fed for over 20 minutes.
 The walk into town largely follows the course of the original canal.  Sadly it looks unlikely the arm will ever be extended due to new housing developments and, as the arm is not owned by C&RT but the Whichchurch Waterways Trust, we get the impression local boaters would prefer their little haven to remain as is.  They seem to tolerate visitors but give the distinct impression they would rather one does not disturb their community routine.

 The photo above seems to show the course of the canal through the bridge towards the viewer but one would be mistaken.  Whilst the canal does indeed run through the new modern pre-cast bridge this is not the course of the canal.  In fact it ran to the left according to a local map shown in the photo below.  The small brook shown below ran alongside the canal.

Map showing the original route of the canal ( the dotted line)

Whitchurch town centre is delightful with many shops to give interest.  It even has a small clock tower in the centre.

Town clock
 We wandered around for a while enjoying the streets.  Of course we could not visit the town without trying out the pub that had been recommended to us now could we?  Its the Old Town Vaults, a Joules brewery pub.  I can say this is a terrific pub with superb real ales.  The landlord is very welcoming and the pub is spotless.  It also boasts the only outside loos in North Shropshire that are grade II listed.  

 After that it was back to AmyJo for tea and a blog catch up.  On our return we were concerned to notice several scratches along AmyJo's cabin sides that can only have been caused by tree branches though I cannot recall any large enough to have done so.  Luckily with a bit of elbow grease and polish we managed to removed them after about an hour.

Our mooring looking towards the head of the arm

and looking towards the winding hole and entrance beyond

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Easter 2015 Cruise - Day 12

Last night the silence was absolutely deafening.  Its been so quiet we could actually hear the Sparrow's fart this morning.  I'm falling in love with the Mont. It has to rank as one of my favourite cruises so far.  Its almost like a little corner of Wales time forgot.  Boats and people are almost on existent and its soooooo relaxing.  Its a joy to puddle along at 2 mph and just watch the scenery go slowly past without keeping eyes peeled for other boats.

Lock keeper's cottage and our mooring where Armadio sits in the distance.
 Only Aston No.1 lock to do first thing then a plod past Queens head, onto autopilot, and a dead straight run to Heath Houses where the now redundant Shrewsbury-Chester railway used to run.  Here the brick and timber packet house was used for passengers of Wolverhampton Swift Packet Boat Company.  Pearsons informs us they advertised a schedule of just over 5 hours to cover 32 miles and 22 locks.  Pretty speedy or those days.  Probably faster than the M25 in rush hour today!
The former packet terminal basks in the morning sun.

More greenery now than our trip down two days ago.
 After coming through Graham Palmer Lock we made the Weston arm by 11am.  Whilst we had time in hand we thought we would top up the water as Chris had put on two wash loads in the washing machine and to dispose of the rubbish.  As we approached, clearing bridge 70, we were greeted by a cheery wave from Della and Gary on nb Muleless who moored in the arm over night.  

It was suddenly quite breezy here at the head of the junction and as we started to wind I could not get AmyJo to complete the turn and we almost ended up broadside across the arm.  Quick thinking and muscle from Gary saved the day by hauling on our centre line to get her round.  It took both of us hauling on the line to get AmyJo in but with Chris helming her astern and Gary and I heaving on the centre line AmyJo finally came to rest along the quay opposite Muleless and right next to the water tap.  Huge thanks to Gary for helping out.  Thats a pint I owe him when we meet up next.

After chatting for a while we could see signs of movement at the top lock so at 11:55 we got underway again. The bottom two locks were set ready for us and with the aid of the lockie we moved up to the pound where after a short wait we swapped places with a boat coming down and entered the staircase.  We then learned we were the only boat coming up whilst 5 were going down.  So busy is the Mont 5 boats is a lot in one day!

Looking back from the lock we could see Muleless in the distance

Lokie helps us through the bottom locks

Entering the lower chamber
 After clearing the locks we made a right turn at Frankton junction and headed towards Ellesmere.  On the way one house owner had a novel way to make a living allowing boats to moor at the bottom of his garden but for only 2 hours max mind!

Meter mooring

The junction looking toward LLangollen
 We had an uneventful run into Ellesmere passing only 2 boats along the way.  After the Mont the canal seemed alive and moored boats were everywhere.

Approaching Ellesmere junction and the services
 Chris wanted to shop in Tescos so we turned into the arm not expecting to be able to moor but luck was on our side as immediately after the bridge the first mooring (and only one) lay waiting for us.

Entrance to the Ellesmere arm seen approaching from LLangollen
 We tied up and did the shop. A sign on the shopping trolley states it will stop once crossing the red line at the shop boundary.  We crossed it, the trolley carried on without halting.  In fact we managed to push it all the way along the arm back to AmyJo.  Once unloaded it was decided Chris would take the trolley back.  I would bring AmyJo down the arm and wind picking Chris up at the same time.  

What I had not factored in was Tescos and the old warehouse form an inconvenient wind tunnel and the winding hole and with a good breeze already blowing my second winding of the day also failed.  This time it was a simple matter of bow hauling AmyJo round onto the warehouse moorings as Chris re-appeared.  Not my day for winding today!

We passed down the arm and got on our way again as we had a rendezvous to keep.  At the bridge opposite the marina we met two hire boats coming the other way as we were half way through the 'ole.  Luckily they were cautious and simply pulled in to let us pass.

Last of the two hire boats pass by and the marina entrance to the left
 Before we knew it Ellesmere tunnel appeared.  We could see a tunnel light in it and just as we were getting closer the boat emerged from the tunnel leaving our way clear to enter.

Ellesmere tunnel portal

Walk way inside the tunnel is quite wide for a tunnel
 Once out of the tunnel we started to look for a mooring and to our delight, and surprise, we found the perfect spot long side Blake Mere lake with stunning views.  All we had to do now was sit back with a drink,  admire the views and wait.

Blake Mere and our mooring

while ahead..... comings and goings of a busy canal

Fantastic scenery around here
 Finally the reason we had stopped came round the corner.  We had called Jon and Hannah on coal boat Mountbatten and asked them to stop and refuel us which they obliged.

Mountbatten''s instantly recognisable bow hoves into view
 They pulled in along side AmyJo and  topped us up with diesel and two bags of coal.  Now some people worry about taking fuel from these boats because of the risk of getting the diesel bug but one should not be worried about taking on from Mountbatten.  Jon has fitted her out with a brand new fuel tank and as they have only been trading for a few week their fuel is fine.  Trade has been brisk for them so they are filling with fresh diesel every other day.

I will say Jon and Hannah give a very friendly and efficient service and it was a pleasure doing business with them.   We chatted  with them for some time about their venture and its clear they are very committed to their customers and business so intend to be around for some time to come.  We wish them continued success.  Having them trading on the cut has put a stop to the marinas monopolising the diesel supplies on the LLangollen.  The good news is since they have started trading the high priced marinas are now starting to drop their prices too so everyone gains as a result.

Hannah helps tie up alongside

Mountbatten can also supply coal and gas at very competitive rates 

Hannah and John aboard Mountbatten
So thats it for today.  A bottle of Thirsty Ferret awaits in the fridge with my name on it so until tomorrow.... Cheers.