Hail Fellows, Well Met

So. Narrow locks.

From the helmsman’s perspective, they look horrendous. Narrow – obviously – so tricky to enter and exit. And they are fierce! No matter how gently you, as the lock keeper, raise the paddles, the water comes gushing in towards the back of the chamber. It bounces off the rear gates and the undercurrent then pushes the boat forward – hard. To make sure the boat doesn’t bang into the lock gates at the other end the helmsman has to keep it in reverse gear, all the time, and rely on the lockie not to be too gung-ho about the process. It looks terrifying, especially as the first ones we’ve been through have all been really deep. I haven’t been brave enough to take the tiller yet, but I will.

Turbulent water in our first narrow lock

It’s a lot easier if you’re the one with the windlass. They’re like toy locks compared to the big double ones we’re used to. The bottom gates are so light you can practically move them one-handed, and there’s only one top gate – bliss!

Leaving Middlewich yesterday, we turned right onto the Wardle Canal. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the shortest canal in the country at 154 feet. It’s there only so the Trent and Mersey could control the junction. Canal operating in the 19th Century was a jealous and lucrative business. After that short stub and its lock we were on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union. And we hadn’t gone very far when we spotted a very familiar boat belonging to Mark and Debbie. Their YouTube Vlog, Well Deck Diaries, is one we’ve watched since they started and here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf37tVqAqZtXWRgxQCG1Ahw

We stopped, star-struck, and went to say hello. Next time I will take beer, and photographs.

The West Coast Main Line crosses the Middlewich Branch. Sadly there are no traaaains, but if you look closely you might spot a couple of socially-distanced herons

Our impressions of the Middlewich Branch are that it’s very pretty, very rural, very windy and with bridge holes so narrow they made our eyes water. We couldn’t help but instinctively breathe in as we slid through them, both shouting instructions at whoever happened to have the tiller whether they were needed or not.

A tight squeeze
And another. They’re ALL like this, apart from the ones that also throw in a bend for good measure

We found a lovely wild mooring last night and slept like logs.

Misty morning mooring. Autumn is on the way

This morning we went on a goose hunt. We knew we’d be passing Venetian Marina, and that’s where David Bramley, who we know from #boatsthattweet on Twitter, lives on NB Snowgoose. Dave collects YouTube vloggers’ mugs and sightings of Bickerstaffe boats. We’d have hated to disappoint him. He’s also well known for helping boaters through Cholmondeston Lock. This time I was really happy to return the favour.

Snowgoose in Cholmondeston Lock

After meeting Dave we left the Middlewich Branch and enjoyed a short cruise on the Shropshire Union Canal. It’s different again, wide and welcoming. We’re learning every canal has its own particular flavour. All too soon we turned right onto the Llangollen Canal. It has the reputation of being crowded and the domain of hire boats with incompetent crews playing dodgem cars. So far we haven’t met a hire boat whose crew don’t seem to know exactly what they’re doing. I wonder what challenges the Llangollen Canal has in store for us?

10 Replies to “Hail Fellows, Well Met”

  1. Hi Mandela,
    Love reading your blogs.
    We met our friends on Sunday who live on a small houseboat had lunch at the pub #2manysyns 😂
    They are on the Grand Union canal in Rickmansworth , Hertfordshire. We walked the tow path about 400metres from tha main road had a cuppa on the boat & listened to the many stores they have had whilst living their dream .
    Have fun & I look forward to hearing more blogs from you soon.
    Steve Merrill. x

    1. Hi Steve, lovely to hear from you. So you have some idea what our life is like then! We’ve spent some time on the a Grand Union when we were still holiday boating, but never been as far south as Rickmansworth. One day. What’s your friends’ boat called?

  2. Narrow locks, narrow bridges (some with bends) and narrow stretches of canal only wide enough for one boat – that’s what Llangollen canal has in store! Lol. Oh, and two viaducts, including Pontcysyllte. We had a bank holiday during our Llangollen trip so we encountered a few incompetent boaters. A lot of the canal is very beautiful though. Don’t miss opportunities to fill up with water though because there don’t seem to be a lot of water points.

    1. Thanks for the tips Gill. I’m looking forward to the canal itself but more than a little nervous about our fellow boaters. We will proceed with extreme caution!

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