Friends and Misdemeanours

Trev and Martyn, putting the world to rights and doing the Can-Can sitting down

Since my last post, we’ve been to Skipton twice and spent rather a lot of time there. It won’t be the last time. We’re constantly reviewing what I loosely call our cruising plans. It’s likely we’ll turn around after Leeds and retrace our steps rather than carry on down the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Huddersfield Shallow” and with all the trials of this summer, we don’t need that sort of angst. We’ve never planned on covering every inch of the network for the sake of it.

The first time we cruised through Skipton with Trev and Jen, turned around and went back to our favourite mooring in Gargrave and towpath barbecues. The night England played Italy in the Euro 2020 final, all fired up watching the TV on Life of Riley, someone noticed a train on the viaduct. It was the Flying Scotsman, thundering along with a full head of steam and pulling a string of empty carriages. It was a magnificent sight, and none of us was fast enough to grab a camera.

Bye Bye to Trev, Jen and Ralf, until next time.

The next day we had visitors, Mary and Ewan our next-door neighbours from Wareham. We took them to Skipton on the boat, it was the first of the recent really hot days and we worked them hard. It was lovely to see them and catch up.

Mary and Ewan at the helm

While we were in Skipton, apart from enjoying pork pies from two of the award-winning butchers there, we also caught up with Mike and Christine who we hadn’t seen since we met them on the River Weaver last year. We drank far too much red wine and in the evenings, with all the hatches open because of the fearsome heat (we got to 32C on the boat quite a bit), we played some very competitive games of dominoes and crib!

Martyn likes a train ride – and tunnels

I thought we deserved a further treat, so one day we set off on the very swish Staycation Express from Skipton via Settle to Carlisle. It’s such a famous run and was a lovely day out.

The obligatory shot of Beau Romer looking fabulous

Back on the route Eastwards, we passed a canalside memorial to seven Polish Airmen who were killed when their Wellington Bomber crashed on a training flight in 1943. It’s a sad story, one of them had been married for only 3 weeks and it was his bride, years later, who unveiled the memorial.

Polish Airmen memorial in a very peaceful spot

On Friday evening we were moored up in the little village of Kildwick. There’s a church on one side of the canal that strikes the quarter hours all through the day and night, and it’s cemetery over Parsons Bridge on the other side. We were having Friday night drinks with our friends from Wareham on Zoom when we noticed a hire boat weaving a very erratic path towards us. I could see exactly what was going to happen before it did. Crash! Yes, they drove right into the side of Beau Romer, before ending up in the bushes on the other side of the canal. Nothing to do about it, no point in shouting at them.

Dear Snaygill Boats, would you like your green paint back?

We stopped in Keighley to have another rendezvous with Mary, this time bearing a cucumber from her garden at home.

Cucumber and a pint? Yes please!

We came down the Bingley Five Rise with a lovely family on holiday. They had twin 16-year-old sons, and the lock keepers put them to work!

Bingley, home of locks, chimneys and thermal underwear

I was really looking forward to Saltaire, Sir Titus Salt’s model village. Oh happy memories of studying it, and similar for my housing qualifications! We had plans to visit the gallery to look at the large collection of David Hockney paintings. No-one told us the whole place is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Something for the return trip, and we did have the pleasure of meeting Mary’s friend Barbara who tracked us down.

Saltaire, extremely attractive if you like everything “just so”

Yesterday we had a scary incident. We were coming through the Dobson Locks Staircase at Apperley Bridge. In a staircase the bottom gates of one lock are also the top gates of the next, and water from one lock fills the lock below They always cause me a bit of a headache working out how to set them. We were going down and it was all fine until I was in the bottom chamber and had to reverse the boat so Martyn could open the lock gate and I could get out. The lock gate was leaking badly and water was cascading over my head like a tidal wave. It was more than the channels around our engine bay could cope with. Consequently, the engine bay was flooding, I was getting a cold shower, there was a warning buzzer sounding and I honestly, for a second or two, thought the boat was going to sink and I was going to drown.

Not the lock that nearly got me, but leaky enough

When I finally managed to get free of the torrent and moor up I was straight off for a shower – hot this time – and Martyn was mopping out the engine bay to get rid of the water the bilge pump didn’t reach. Lesson learned; we’re going to keep the pram hood up in future going down staircase locks!

Juvenile teal, I think

Round and Round We Go

Faster chaps, unless you want a shower when he shakes!

The pace of travel has slowed down a little, just as it should. We aren’t in a hurry. From Salterforth (not Salterford!) and a fine dinner at The Anchor, we made our way through Barnoldswick, Greenberfield and East Marton to the section of the canal we know as the Curly Wurlies.

Double Arched Bridge at East Marton. The bottom arch was a packhorse bridge, they added the second to carry the A59.

The Curly Wurlies mess with your head. The canal meanders backwards and forwards in a serpentine manner following the lie of the land. You literally don’t know whether you’re coming or going. One minute the Langber TV mast is ahead of you on the left, then it’s on the right. It all makes you rather dazed and confused.

We’re all going in the same direction, I think …

We stayed in the beautiful countryside at Trenet Laithe for two nights, and I managed my first decent walk since falling over and all the resulting drama. There are a lot of sheep in the fields along the Pennine Way – at least where we were. I’ve often wondered why lamb is so expensive when there seems to be so much of the stuff on the hoof? There was a great TV signal on our mooring for the England v. Ukraine football match. As it finished the most terrific storm started. Poor Ralf nearly jumped out of his skin on the towpath because of an enormous thunderclap right overhead. We later found out it had taken out all the electrics in East Marton.

I’d say hurry up Martyn, but the most important thing on a narrowboat is to be slow and steady.

Carrying on we descended the Bank Newton locks, so picturesque. I’d heard some horror stories about bricks jutting out of the wall ready to catch unwary boaters, we but didn’t see any and got down them just fine. They are a bit leaky though.

This is what you call a piddler. And it wasn’t the only shower I got that day!

On to Gargrave, where we are now. What a pretty village. Some nice new houses are being built on the banks of the canal, with a nice price tag to boot. Over £500,00 for a semi? I don’t think so!

Stepping Stones crossing the River Aire at Gargrave

Tomorrow we’re leaving the countryside for the hustle and bustle of Skipton. I’ve heard so much about it. Should be fun.

Spot the boats

Making Like Buttercup

Barrowford Top Lock

It isn’t true, as the Beatles will have us believe, that there are 4000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire. There are 4001. And the extra one is the tear in my right retina.

Don’t worry, there will be boating in this blog, and most people who read this know at least part of this story, but here’s the whole for the sake of completeness. If you don’t like talk of matters medical, skip a bit, Brother. (Not you, Jason, that’s a quote from Monty Python.)

The last time I updated the blog we were in Withnell Fold and I’d had a rather nasty fall because I’m clumsy. The next day we set off with our friends Trev and Jenny and the gorgeous Ralf. The plan was I’d drive the boat and Martyn would operate the locks. So there I am approaching the first lock of the six in Blackburn where Jenny on The Life of Reilly is waiting – and my right eye went black; like a wandering spider had crawled across it. I drove the boat in and clonked poor Jen in the process because I couldn’t see. When we got to the top, in full panic mode I called 111 and they told me to go to A&E straight away. They even offered an ambulance. I said no, I’d walk (it was only a mile) only to be told no; I wouldn’t, I’d be in a taxi.

They took a look at me at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and sent me to Burnley General (on the hospital bus!) to the emergency eye clinic. The doctor there diagnosed a posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD, probably due to being shortsighted since birth, possibly due to the fall. There was also a bleed, so I had to come back three days later, by which time they’d really be able to tell what was going on. Three days later was when they found the tear. I made the trip from Burnley to Blackburn this time and underwent laser treatment. We were cruising nowhere for a while. The worst part was being instructed to lie on my left side as much as I could for the next 2 weeks. After the novelty wears off it becomes uncomfortable, and there’s not much you can do perpendicular to the floor with a gammy eye.

Martyn cruised Beau Romer to the visitor moorings at Wheelton at the top of the Johnson’s Hillock Locks. We had friendly faces and all boater facilities there. As the Canal and River Trust kindly allowed us to sit tight on a 48-hour mooring we stayed there for 3 weeks while I healed up.

Now I’m left with a peripheral blind spot, and some really distracting floaters that I’m trying to learn to ignore, but the most important thing is I can see and I’ve been given the okay to move by the hospital. I’m just not allowed to do anything strenuous for another few weeks.

So we are on the go again and if you zoned out you can come back now.

We’re past the halfway point of the canal.

We’re not in Lancashire anymore,, but just over the border in Yorkshire. Trev and Jenny, who have been amazing throughout this whole sorry time, running me backwards and forwards and providing all sorts of help, have remarkably decided we’re doing exactly what we planned a month ago, cruising to Skipton together.

Ralf likes to be useful. Good boy!

We made it through Blackburn without incident this time. I quite enjoyed the mill towns we’ve seen so far, apart from all the debris in the water. Once upon a time the Blackburn skyline had over 200 chimneys, although thanks to Fred Dibnah and his ilk, few remain. We cruised through some beautiful countryside in Rishton and Church and on to Burnley. It takes us a lot longer by boat than it does whizzing up and down the M65, which is what we’d been getting used to. We’re extremely well acquainted with the motorway. We’ve been over it, under it many times and alongside it for miles. I keep waving at the drivers as they speed by but they don’t see us at 3mph while they’re doing 70.

Granada Television. Now that brings back memories.

We’ve now encountered another of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, (bonus points for anyone who can tell me the other six!) the Burnley Embankment, or the Straight Mile, which takes you through part of the town, past the back-to-back terraces and Turf Moor (Burnley Football Club’s home ground) at rooftop height.

Snooping as we glide along 18 metres up
Burnley Weavers Triangle

We’ve just come through the Foulridge Tunnel (the first I’ve driven through from end to end). It’s so nice we did it on the boat and not like the unfortunate Buttercup the cow in the title of this post. In 1912 poor Buttercup fell into the canal at the western end of the tunnel and swam all the way through. That’s no mean feat as it’s 1640 yards long. She had to be revived with brandy when they rescued her at the other end. Dumb bovine – what animal in its right mind would head towards a gaping black hole in the hill instead of staying in the light?

If you were a cow, would you swim into this?

Now we’re on the summit pound of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, moored up at Salterford and looking forward to a dinner in the pub tonight. From tomorrow I’m expecting to be enjoying the reputedly beautiful Yorkshire Countryside and more good times. Like Buttercup I’m just going to keep swimming and enjoying strong drink!

Hello Yorkshire. Spot the Daily Heron.

Wigan – and on, and on

Most people know George Orwell of 1984 fame wrote a book called the Road to Wigan Pier, but in 1946 he also wrote an essay in which he described his ideal pub – the Moon Under Water. In his honour, I hope, there is a Wetherspoons pub in Wigan called The Moon Under Water. Is it the ideal pub? Of course not. But we still had lunch and a couple of drinks there.

Definitely not the ideal pub

In the event we got very well acquainted with Wigan indeed. The plan was we would cruise into Wigan after another nice weekend at Parbold, and go up the 21 locks of the Wigan Flight with Sean on nb Eeyore on Tuesday. But you know what happens with plans? Things tend to happen to wreck them. We got a message just before we set off that there was a car in one of the lock pounds on the Wigan flight, which was closed to boats until it could be removed.

We entered Wigan a little nervously. We’d heard many tales of antisocial behaviour towards boats and boaters, and it wasn’t a place we were anxious to stay. I can only speak from our experience, but that proved to be completely false. We had a quiet mooring and no bother. It helped that there were two boats together. We had plenty of time to explore the town, which has a couple of nice parks and a decent shopping centre. It was perfectly pleasant. On Thursday we watched as the CRT pulled the car, stolen of course, out of the canal.

Probably someone-s pride and joy once.

On Saturday after the queue of boats had cleared on Friday, we tackled the Wigan flight and an extra lock at the bottom for good measure. We had lots of help from the Wigan Flight Crew, all hardy volunteers, and from Trev who got up at 6.30am just to come and help us. Thanks Trev! We got to the top in under 4 hours, where we said au revoir to Sean.

Wigan Flight – up the creek with 138 paddles since 1816!

The next day I got my reward for all those locks. We could have driven to Fredericks Ice Cream Parlour in 20 minutes from our home mooring in Rufford. Far more fun to wait until we could moor up outside on a sunny bank holiday Sunday.

I worked for it, I deserved it, and it totally met my expectations

Then it was on to Johnsons Hillock Locks. At the top we were meeting Trev and Jen to cruise to Skipton with them over the next couple of weeks. It was a good day, the sun was shining, the locks were benign, we had another boat and crew to share with – until I fell over my own feet, or a capstan depending on who tells the story – and literally faceplanted the towpath. Result one split lip, two knees like tennis balls and a badly bruised hand. There will be no photos of me on this blog or social media until I look a little less like someone who’s just done a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson. I have to thank Therese on nb Nauti Buoy who sacrificed the ice that was going into her G&T to my bruises.

So yesterday we went nowhere. Trev suggested a mooring at a lovely hamlet called Withnell Fold, and we had a day of leisure, and for me, recovery. We cleaned the boat and Martyn and I went exploring. It’s a peaceful and picturesque little place, basically a square with houses on three sides and a set of stocks completing it. The village grew up in 1834 to house the workers from a paper mill on the banks of the canal, now long closed, although reputed to have made the paper for our bank notes among other products. If it hadn’t been for my accident we never would have found it. There’s lots of information about it online.

A day off in Withnell Fold

Update on offererings to the Canal Gods:

  • Another side fender on the Wigan flight
Jenny and Ralf enjoying life on the towpath. What a treasure he is, and what a good boy at only 7 months old

Under Starter’s Orders

In 1770 work began on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, at Halsall, where I’m writing this post. We’re moored outside The Saracen’s Head, and full of the excellent meal we’ve just enjoyed there. Alongside the canal by Bridge 25 there’s a statue known as the Halsall Navvy. He stands there in commemoration, emerging from the ground, full of power and stoicism, and really makes you think about the navigation engineers who dug out the canals, cuttings, and tunnels; who constructed the locks and bridges with nothing more than picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and their own hard labour.

Sorry mate, you’re rather stuck there …

It’s time to think of beginnings and activity after months of loitering. We’ve been out of the marina for a couple of weeks now, embarking on at least 5 months of travel. We had to wait for the boat to come out of the water to have its cutlass bearing replaced (it’s part of the stern gear – we must have hit something underwater that dislodged it). That was a scary day. I didn’t stay on the boat as it was floated onto a dolly and hauled up a ramp behind a tractor. I saved the white knuckle ride and watching the stern go underwater from the stern itself for Martyn.

Martyn riding the bucking bronco

All’s good now, apart from an annoying whine we’re all scratching our heads trying to fix. We took a tentative cruise down to Tarleton but didn’t go through the sea lock on to the Ribble Link. We turned around and cruised familiar waters, to Parbold with friends from our marina, and then into Liverpool for a week.

Jim and Diana’s lovely narrowboat Bleasdale waiting for Beau Romer to join them in the lock. We’ve never gone up the Rufford Flight so efficiently!

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the cruising season. There were 4 Bickerstaffe boats and crews snuggled up in Salthouse Docks. A small rump of the Bickerstaffe Massive was in town.

One of our Bickerstaffes is missing …

We enjoyed the thrills of a ghost walk, visited the Museum of Liverpool on the day it re-opened post-lockdown, ate too much good food and drank too much good beer (outside!). We were joined by several friends while we were there, made new ones, took a cruise to the dock system’s far end and generally had a brilliant week.

Friends make good times fabulous

At this time of the year the canal is teeming with new life. We’ve seen ducklings, Canada goslings (sad the cute little yellow fluffy things must grow up into noisy antisocial Canada Geese), coots and moorhens on their floating nests with almost identical chicks, and tadpoles basking in the rare sunshine. Even the jellyfish in Salthouse Docks are about a quarter of the size of the ones we saw last year. There’s a feeling of new beginnings and optimism.

Who doesn’t like a cute baby?
I’m so relieved I didn’t hit that nest while mooring

On the way back from Liverpool we made a pitstop at Aintree Racecourse, site of the Grand National. I think I must have walked every inch of the 4 miles, 856 yards of the course itself, for that’s where I got my second Covid-19 vaccination and Google Maps let me down. Every gate to every footpath it tried to make me take was locked, so I took an extremely long route from the banks of the canal to the building where the vaccinations were taking place.

So close, yet so far

To finish this post off, we are known to be more than a little accident-prone. Here’s the list of offerings we have made to the Canal Gods so far since leaving our winter mooring:

  • One mooring chain
  • One handcuff key
  • One LED nightlight
  • One Jacksonville Jaguars baseball cap
  • One side fender

Oh dear!

David Foulkes took this photo. He’s one of the CRT volunteer lock keepers (fine people who we appreciate immensely) on the Stanley Flight that takes you down into the Liverpool Docks. The building on the left is the Tobacco Building, the largest brick-built building in the world. It’s being converted into appartments. I hope they don’t disturb the Peregrine Falcons we saw who nest there.

Homeward Bound

Last time I updated this blog in (ahem) October, we’d just left the River Weaver. Time for an update, at least to the end of the cruising season. And it’s nice to reminisce about being out, about and free in these days of winter and Lockdown.

We retraced our steps, back up the Trent and Mersey Canal and on to the Bridgwater, cruised through some marvellous autumn scenery, enjoyed some lovely moorings and had another tasty dinner at the Swan with Two Nicks in Dunham Massey.

Autumn’s splendour

At Wigan Junction we waved Trev and Jenny off in the rain. They turned right to go up the Wigan Flight and we turned left for the Rufford Branch and our home mooring. We’d had a wonderful late summer and autumn, and made the most of our first cruising season, but there were rumblings about another nationwide lockdown. We knew if we weren’t back in the marina before any lockdown started, we wouldn’t be allowed back in until it was over. It was definitely time to go home.

Waving goodbye

Back on home territory just past the deep lock at Appley Bridge, we hit a bit of a snag – pennywort. It’s a floating weed which clumps together and since we’d been off the Leeds and Liverpool it had taken hold. We got a huge raft of it caught around and under the bow of the boat and we were trailing it like some sort of green wedding veil. We couldn’t go forwards, and we couldn’t reverse – we were stuck. Thanks to some very kind passers-by we managed to get a line tied to a tree on the bank and got ashore. Martyn called the CRT for help. Someone turned up and looked at it, but there wasn’t really anything they could do. So we attacked the green carpet with our shovel, knife and boathook. Two hours later, tired, aching, with piles of weed hauled out and on the bank and covered in mud we’d got enough of it away from the front of the boat we could get going. I’ve worked out the way to tackle it is just head for the narrowest bit at full tilt – ramming speed in a narrowboat – and knock the Morse Control into neutral as you get to the weed, hoping the momentum is enough to carry the boat through and it won’t clog the propellor, necessitating a trip down the weed hatch.

Stuck fast – it was worse on the other side of the boat!

That delay cost us, and we couldn’t get home the next day, so we moored exactly where we started on our first night in the face of a dreadful weather forecast. We returned to the marina in the pouring rain the next day, like a pair of drowned rats. Martyn, who didn’t have the good sense to put on a pair of waterproof trousers, was literally wet to the skin and I’m not putting up a photo of that!

One last night out on the cut

Our big cruise to Llangollen and back, according to my records, and making allowance for any arithmetical mistakes, was 303 miles 4.75 furlongs, and 102 locks. It took 164.7 engine hours to complete it.

Our totals for the year are 390 miles, 1.25 furlongs, and 144 locks. Not bad, considering we launched our boat 3 months later than planned due to Covid-19.

I’ll write about what we’ve been up to since we got back next time.

What a Tangled Web We Weave

So much for my intention to update this blog twice week. Twice a month seems to be more like it.

This morning’s towpath view – a factory processing soda ash

At the end of the last post we were effectively stuck at Audlem, on the wrong side of a faulty lock at Hack Green, and facing a long slog home around the Four Counties Ring. I’m typing this on a gloomy Sunday morning in Anderton on the Trent and Mersey Canal, overlooking the River Weaver (or more properly, the Weaver Navigation). In the end, we didn’t have to do make the long trek, including Heartbreak Hill and the Harecastle tunnel. The day after I posted we heard on the towpath telegraph the lock was opened for a short window with CRT assisted passage, so we got through on a miserable wet day and returned to Nantwich. I’m still a bit cheesed off we didn’t get a direct notification, especially as we’d been in contact with the Trust and were signed up for updates. The kindness of a fellow boater saved us.

Jenny waiting for Dutton Lock under a magnificent sycamore

We’ve been travelling with Trev and Jenny as a pair of boats for over a month now, and have enjoyed many, many towpath drinks and competitive games evenings. Martyn taught Jen how to play crib! And we celebrated Martyn’s birthday (12 again) in the Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge. On the Middlewich Branch we met up with fellow Bickerstaffe owners Pat and Eileen from Our Narrowboat Quest for a brief towpath chat. We last saw them at Christmas, so that was really nice. And Dave helped us through Cholmondeston Lock again. I might even have made him late for work …

Just what was I supposed to do with these letters?

I think we were in some ways slightly disappointed to have escaped from the broken lock with no drama. With a complete inability to learn what happens if we complicate things, we hatched up another idea. We were going to spend a week on the River Weaver before leaving for home. As this had never been part of anyone’s plan, Trev had to buy an anchor in Middlewich. It’s inadvisable to boat on a river without an anchor to deploy in an emergency. Rivers are deep and have hazards canals don’t, such as weirs and currents.

Our trip down the Anderton Boat lift on a gloriously sunny Sunday

The River Weaver is 50 feet below the Trent and Mersey Canal, and to get to it by boat you have to use the Anderton Boat Lift. This is a remarkable piece of engineering built-in 1875. It is a steel structure with 2 giant buckets filled with water, or caissons (weighing 252 tonnes each!). The system works on hydraulic rams, and when one caisson goes up, the other goes down. Along with the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the boat lift is one of the wonders of our canal and river system and not one we expected to experience this year.

Beau Romer exiting the Anderton Boat Lift onto the River Weaver, and looking very tiny

The River Weaver is beautiful, especially this time of the year, and remarkably quiet. We had countryside moorings mostly to ourselves and enjoyed the peace and quiet, the misty mornings and the scenery. The stretch between Saltersford Locks and the services near the M56 motorway at Sutton Swing Bridge is one of the prettiest we’ve cruised so far. And all the locks are operated by lock keepers. Just as well, because they’re enormous.

A quick meet and greet with an old friend at Hunts Lock, hello Lindsay
Feeling very insignificant in Saltersford Lock

We didn’t need the anchors, but Martyn did slip on a wet pontoon, and nearly took an impromptu dip. Thankfully all he got was a boot full of water!

The beautiful River Weaver and traiiiiin!

Now we’re heading back to our marina. A bit sad to be doing so. Autumn boating is lovely.

We found some of the ventilation shafts for Barnton Tunnel

Do the Strand

Ice cream before I go? Don’t mind if I do. Rum and raisin of course.

Goodbye Llangollen Canal. We were sorry to leave you. You’ve been amazing. You’ve given us some knocks, frustration and you’ve taught us a lot. But most of the time you’ve been picturesque, charming and beautiful. We hope we’ll be back.

Hurlestone Junction and a lovely volunteer lock keeper. Off we go.

Do you remember when you were little, playing outside with your friends and Mum called you in for tea? Remember how sometimes you’d stay out for just one more game of Block, or Tag, even though you knew it was naughty? That’s us at the moment. We decided not to turn left towards home at the end of the Llangollen, we went right down the Shropshire Union for just one more adventure before the long winter

How now, brown cows
And an ovine intruder

We ended up in Audlem. The journey down was a bit of a trial. One of the locks at Hack Green wouldn’t fill. It took four boat crews on the balance beam and the gentlest of nudges from Beau Romer to get it open, then we had to repeat the process for the boat behind us. It was worth it though. We had a couple of nice evenings in the Shroppie Fly and it was an excellent place to wait out yesterday’s foul weather, the aftermath of Storm Alex.

This is the offending lock with all the gates and paddles closed

This morning we set off in the sunshine, looking forward to a nice cruise up to the pretty town of Nantwich, a meeting with another Bickerstaffe boat, and with the bow pointed towards home.

We got half a mile.

The offending lock at Hack Green that was so difficult is, well – locked. We’re back on our mooring in Audlem. The problem is the cill liners have failed. As I write this, we have no idea how long it’s going to take to fix. I’ll call the Canal and River Trust tomorrow morning for an update. Then we’ll have to make our plan. Do we wait it out here, where we have all facilities, a shop and even pubs, or do we go home the long and more difficult way, completing the Four Counties Ring? We have to be back on the Rufford Branch on or before 2 November, or we won’t be able to get home until Christmas. If the lock isn’t going to be back in service quickly we don’t have long to decide what we’re going to do.

I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

Thank you Audlem, but we’d like to go now.


I’m doing better than Martyn when it comes to dropping things in the water. I confess to a handcuff key. So far he’s tossed overboard:

  • One handcuff key (OK, probably doesn’t count because he fished it out)
  • One slipper in Llangollen Basin
  • One glove at the top of the Frankton Locks
  • A microfibre cloth at the same location
  • Plus a Fitbit!
  • And the chimney. We got it back with the boat hook, but I guess that’s put paid to his habit of laying it on the roof while we’re cruising!
Martyn and Beau Romer coming out of the Chirk Tunnel with me happily on the towpath

It’s hard to believe I haven’t updated this for a week. We’re now nearly back at the beginning of the Llangollen Canal. None of the landmarks that gave us grief on the way up seemed as bad on the return journey, although I walked through the Chirk Tunnel on the pretence of telling Martyn it was clear to proceed! The narrows? No problem. All those impossibly tight bridges on bends? We sailed through them with aplomb. I even bossed the lift bridge at Wrenbury and it’s antecedent tight turn feeling very smug.

Someone’s fixer upper?

We moored up one evening at the top of the Frankton Locks, and walked down the next morning to have a look at the Montgomery Canal.

Maisie enjoying a run along the banks of the Montgomery Canal

The lock keeper at the Grindley Brook Locks advised us not to venture down because of the combination of overhanging vegetation and shiny new paintwork, but we’ll have a go next time.

You can even watch cricket from your boat moored on the Ellesmere Arm

En route we spent a very pleasant couple of days in Ellesmere (not to be confused with Ellesmere Port). Ellesmere is the type of town I could happily live in, small, rural and where residents appear to know each other. Jenny introduced me to Ismay’s, a shop that sells comfortable ladies clothes I can happily wear on the back of the boat, or out and about when I don’t want to look like a feral boater. There’s a nice coffee shop-cum-delicatessen called Moolah staffed by a couple of boaters, an excellent butcher, and a Tesco that doesn’t mind you pushing your bottle-laden trolley back to the boat (as long as you return it afterwards).

Beautiful Blake Mere

According to my guide book there are seven meres close by. Although we wondered after Pennington Flash whether they were the remnants of an industrial past, they are shallow lakes formed at the end of the last Ice Age. Shropshire’s own Lake District as it were, and very pretty.

Another glimpse of Blakemere through the trees

We made good time through the long stretches of the canal with Wales on one side and England on the other, and then the locks that start with a bang at Grindley Brook with the staircase and become more friendly and better spaced apart afterwards.

Sometimes I drive and he does the work. I’m not sure about his fashion choices though!
Autumn’s on the way
Yes, Autumn is definitely coming. Do you see the spider’s tightrope between Beau Romer and the opposite bank? Just how do they do that?

Today it’s raining, so it’s the perfect day to hunker down in front of the fire and take stock before we leave the Llangollen Canal tomorrow.

Will this be the final towpath drink of the year?

Terror at 127 feet

We made it. We crossed the Pontcysllte Aqueduct without incident. It is absolutely awesome, and definitely one of the wonders of the canal system. It’s also blooming scary, as you look over the edge, 127 foot down at the highest point, and there is no safety rail. The boat is in a trough, so there’s no way you can fall out of it, but facts never stop the mind playing tricks.

Martyn crossing the Pontywhatsit. That poor girl was so terrified she insisted on keeping our boat between her and the drop at all times.

The views over the River Dee and the Welsh Countryside are awesome. If you ever have the chance to make this trip, grab it with both hands.

The bird’s eye view over the edge

The Llangollen is the canal that keeps giving and keeps challenging. The Chirk Tunnel was far worse than the Pontcysllte Aqueduct. It’s only 420m long but it meets my private definition of hell. I’ve never been in a tunnel before and felt it was never going to end – until Chirk. I don’t think I’ve ever nearly cried in a tunnel either but Chirk very nearly broke me. The problem was we couldn’t get the boat off the side. The Llangollen flow had us pinned, and also because of the flow, it was such slow going. We pushed forward, inch by painful inch. I’m still traumatised by the memory.

Crossing the Chirk Aqueduct, looking calm and unruffled. This was before the tunnel!

In comparison the Narrows were a doddle. They are three stretches of canal where the cutting has been blasted out of solid rock, and the Llangollen, hardly a wide canal at the best of times, reduces to the width of a singe boat. If you’re travelling with other boats, or you have crew it’s a simple matter to send someone on ahead to check the way is clear, but if you’re a solo boater … well, I don’t even want to consider how difficult it must be to reverse.

Frolicking foals

And then we got to Llangollen, an absolute jewel of a town nestled in the Dee Valley. Apparently it’s called after Collen ap Gwynnawg ap Clydawg ap Cowdra ap Caradog Freichfras ap Llyr Merim ap Yrth ap Cunedda Wledig. Try saying that after you’ve had a couple. Whatever the origins, Llangollen is charming, pretty, interesting, and well worth the trip. We moored up in Llangollen Basin for the permitted 48 hours.

Quite the feat of engineering
Breathe in

In the unseasonably warm autumn sunshine, Martyn and I walked right up to the source of the canal at the Horseshoe Falls, beyond the limits of powered navigation. So we can now say we’ve navigated the entire length of the canal. We’re happy with our achievement.

Horseshoe Falls
Llantisilio Church is just above the falls. This is Thomas Jones of Llantisilio Hall’s tomb. He died in 1744 with no will, so his grave was robbed – twice – by people looking for one. The second time the Church Warden caught the perpetrators in the act and summoned the police!

When you cruise the canals you take the beautiful scenery and the fun of boating for granted. But one of the highlights of this trip has been meeting Jenny and Trevor. We first came across them at Grindley Brook locks, and have been travelling together almost since then. Two nicer people you couldn’t meet. They’ve done this trip before, and know all the perils and pitfalls, as well as the best places to moor. We’re enjoying their company immensely and while the weather holds the evening ritual of a couple of drinks on the towpath is a little treat we look forward to.

Trev making a good point