Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Back on the Shroppie Main Line

We've retraced our outward cruise along the Llangollen Canal and we came back down the Hurleston Locks yesterday onto the Shropshire Union.  We are now heading south towards the delights of Wolverhampton and Birmingham with the aim of visiting the Black Country Museum and exploring some bits of the BCN that Leo has not cruised before.

So first here are some highlights of the few days coming back along the Llangollen:

Here is Ian at the tiller coming to the end of the crossing of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee.   Unlike going the other way it was not a weekend and the clouds were threatening rain so there were fewer pedestrians along the towpath.

But the sun did come out and you can see our shadow here projected down onto the grasslands next to the River Dee far below.

And then back over the Chirk Aqueduct too, this time following another boat across.

At the end of the Chirk Aqueduct we passed back into England as this sign shows.  However this was not the end of Wales as the canal pops back a few times as it carries on East.

As we cruised through Chirk we passed a number of gardens with unusual displays fronting the canal.  Several of them had a table set out with tea things and this one has the door to a 'hobbit hole' painted in green to the left of the tree.

If you want a quiet cruise then the Llangollen is not the place to go.  Here we are in a convoy of other boats (mainly hire boats) which made life difficult for those going the other way.  While the Western end of the canal was very busy, we found far fewer boats from Ellesmere onwards.

On  Thursday we enjoyed a walk round Cole Mere in the afternoon.  The Meres round here are lakes left over from the last Ice Age.  This one's claim to fame is that it is the only place in the UK where you will find the Least Water Lily - no, we'd never heard of it either, but we have now seen it.
On Friday afternoon we did a different walk around Whixall Moss which is an area of raised peat bog again left over from the Ice Age.  It pays to follow the signposts here.  As you can see, wandering off the path could land you in the bog.  The Moss has quite a history of peat cutting and of decoy bombing sites in the war.  We found the scenery and the history fascinating.

Last weekend our son, David, came to join us.  Here you can see David next to Helen and Leo at the top of the Grindley Brook locks.

On a walk up some low Cheshire hills we passed a field with this miniscule pony who came running over to say hello.

We did admire David's lurid red trainers though they do seem to clash with the rear deck paint.

Now here is a rare sight.  You can see Ian operating the lift bridge at Wrenbury.  Normally Ian does the driving through the bridges and Helen is the one with the expertise to operate them.  With David aboard, Ian decided to have some fun learning to work the bridges.

The Mallards round here are really adventurous.  Not only do they dive underwater for food (something the books say they don't do), but they also seem to like playing in the lock bywashes like here.  

Here's a close up of a large duckling in the bywash, eating the weed and holding on with its feet.  When the family had finished they surfed down the bywash and came out below the lock.  What a family of adventurers.

Here is Leo coming down the four Hurleston Locks that bring the Llangollen Canal down to meet the Shropshire Union.  Leo is waiting here for the other boat to come up the next lock so that we can pass in the short pound between.  It was windy so best not to come out of the lock until you have somewhere to go.  And you can see our geraniums in flower now.

We came back onto the Shropshire Union yesterday (Monday) and turned right for Nantwich.

The Shropshire Union running northwards from Nantwich to Chester and Ellesmere Port is a wide canal.  At Nantwich it meets Telford's 'Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal' which was a narrow canal.   The white bridge beyond Leo marks the division between the two.  Just try driving a broad beam boat through there!

At Nantwich the canal crosses the main road on a cast iron aqueduct shown here.  The aqueduct was repainted last winter and now looks very smart.

And here is the view from the canal looking down on the road below.

After spending last night on the embankment above Nantwich we carried on south this morning (Tuesday).  With the forecast of rain this afternoon (which proved to be quite correct) we wanted to cruise while it was fine.  We came up the two Hack Green Locks and we are moored now on the edge of Audlem.

We are always amused by the very idea of a 'secret bunker' with a sign directing you to it!  We have visited this before and it is an interesting but not a happy place to visit.  It was one of several bunkers intended to be seats of government in the event of nuclear war.

Now this is where we are moored tonight as I type this.  Just looks like an ordinary towpath doesn't it?

This is the view from beside the boat, looking down on the River Weaver which actually flows under the canal and under our boat.  If this aqueduct leaks we shall be the first to know.

We've cruised the Shropshire Union Canal twice before but this is the first time we have travelled North to South.  So we are heading now towards the Midlands.  Hope the weather improves.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Spectacular End of the Llangollen Canal

We arrived in Llangollen on Sunday and enjoyed a couple of days there.  The final day on the Llangollen Canal is probably the most spectacular cruise possible on Britain's canals.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  At the last posting we were at the end of the Montgomery Canal or at least at the end of the bit you can navigate from the Llangollen Canal.  Last Friday we set off back towards the Llangollen Canal.

This is Maesbury Parish Church near the end of the Monty.  It was built in 1906 out of corrugated iron in an early 'flat pack' that came on the back of a lorry.  It was a lovely little church and is still used today.
This is one of the lock paddle gears that Canal and River Trust experimented with.  Because of the two metal rods welded on you cannot lift the ratchet out of the way altogether so you cannot drop the paddle rapidly whether intentionally (sensible in an emergency) or unintentially (a recipe for broken teeth as the windlass flies off).  CRT has now been persuaded not to introduce any more of these.

Now this is a curious way to moor!  The picture shows Leo at the entrance to the long disused Rednall Basin.  The white railings are on an old swing bridge that took the towpath over the entrance to the Basin.  We wanted to have a look at the Basin but it is so overgrown with nettles that we gave up the idea.

We spent Friday evening on the Weston Branch where we had moored on the way out and on Saturday we came up the Frankton Locks and back onto the Llangollen Canal.

I'm not sure if you can read this plaque which is to be found below the second lock at Frankton (going up).  Cressy was the boat of Tom Rolt, whose book 'Narrowboat' began the efforts to restore the canals.   Cressy was converted for leisure use in a dry dock here.
 As well as the four Frankton Locks we also came up the two New Marton Locks which are the last two locks on the Llangollen.  Here Leo is coming up in New Marton Top Lock.  The lock cottage is in a remote spot a mile from the nearest road, but it has its own mooring.  Wonder when it will be for sale?

On Saturday evening we were relaxing on the boat when we had a visitor from one of the neighbouring houses at Rhoswiel where we moored.  She was a very friendly cat, but left us when she had taken a good look round Leo from stern to bow.

The last 10 miles into Llangollen are really spectacular with two high aqueducts and two tunnels, as well as a section from Trevor to Llangollen which is not only shallow but also has three sections which are too narrow to pass a boat going the other way and you have a strong current against you.

Chirk Aqueduct comes first. This has the railway viaduct alongside.

Here is the view looking back over Chirk Aqueduct.  This is built of stone and it is a big drop down from the aqueduct to the River Ceiriog below.  By this point we were finally in Wales.

There is a small basin on the far side of the Aqueduct and then you are into the Chirk Tunnel.  This is about a third of a mile long and has a towpath running through it.  However it is very much single file for boats.  This is probably the busiest part of the canal system and so it can be necessary to walk through to hold up boats coming the other way.

After a second tunnel you begin to catch glimpses through the trees of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Telford's masterpiece.  An iron trough is carried on stone piers 126 feet above the River Dee.  

Here Leo is just starting to cross the Pontcysyllte.  You can tell it is a weekend by all the pedestrians on the towpath side.  That has a railing but on the other side only four inches separates you from the drop of 120 plus feet into the valley or the river.  It is not a place for vertigo sufferers.

This gives a good idea of how little separates the boat and its crew from a long fall.  Never mind wearing a lifejacket, here you need a parachute!

Here is Leo 'flying' over the Dee Valley.

And this is the view down to the River below.  At the middle of the section above the River is a plug which can be pulled to empty the Aqueduct for maintenance.  Fortunately the plug is padlocked to stop someone doing this for fun.  The iron trough has sections morticed together like woodwork, sealed with Welsh flannel and lead mixed with boiling sugar.  It was built in 1805 and still does not leak.

You cannot take your boat over here without featuring in lots of tourist photos.

After bumping on the bottom a few times and having to back up in the narrows, we arrived in Llangollen on Sunday afternoon.  The picture is of the River Dee from the lovely bridge at Llangollen.  The steam railway is to the right and the canal basin is high above the river.

This is the Canal Basin with Llantysilio Mountain behind.

We made the most of our maximum 48 hours mooring in the basin which was pretty near full both days.  There is a lot to see around Llangollen and you are very much in the hills on the edge of the North Wales mountains so walking here is excellent.
This is Plas Newydd, an amazing house full of reclaimed oak carvings from churches and older furniture.  The house was occupied from 1780 for 49 years by the Two Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby.  No-one knows quite what were their domestic arrangements but it is pretty clear that they were very fond of each other.

Here are the two ladies on a monument in the parish church, St Collen.  We learned that 'Llan' means church or parish and this is followed by the name of the saint, so Llan + Collen = Llangollen and Llan + Tysilio = Llantysilio (nearby).

This is the view at Plas Newydd from Lady Eleanor's bower down to the valley below the house.

Though you have to pay to go in the house, the gardens and grounds, including this lovely valley, are free for all to enjoy.  With the sun coming through the trees it was quite magical.

A bit out of order I admit, but this is the view you get cruising towards Llangollen.  The hill in the background is Castell Dinas Bran which was an iron age hill fort and on which a castle was built in the 13th century.  The hill is a powerful fortification in its own right and is just over 1,000 feet above sea level.  So of course we had to climb up.

Here is the view from the top through part of the ruins of the castle.  The ruins are a lot more extensive than appears from below.

As well as giving views down to Llangollen at its foot, Dinas Bran gives distant views towards Snowdonia.

On Tuesday we visited Valle Crucis Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey built in the early 13th century and then we walked up the delightfully named Velvet Hill and followed a lovely ridge down to Horseshoe Falls.

Although the Abbey is largely a ruin we were surprised to find that the Monk's dormitory and Abbot's lodging was more intact with two stories and a proper roof.

The Abbey had a fish pond which helped to feed the monks as they did not eat meat.  You can see Velvet Hill behind the Abbey in this photo.

Near the Abbey is Eliseg's Pillar.  This was erected in the 9th century and used to be a cross six metres high.  After the Puritans got to it in the 17th century only the shaft remains and this was re-erected in 1789.

Here is the view from Velvet Hill with Castell Dinas Bran the mound you can see to the left, the River Dee below this and the town of Llangollen to the right nestling in the valley.  The canal between Horseshoe Falls and Llangollen is just to the left of the river.

Telford made the horseshoe shaped weir which is designed to feed water from the River Dee into the Llangollen Canal and still does so today.  One main purpose of this part of the canal was to supply water to the Shropshire Union Canal system and it also supplies drinking water for parts of Cheshire.
The couple of miles of canal between Horseshoe Falls and Llangollen is not for ordinary boats having no provision to turn and being too shallow.  However a horse drawn boat travels this section and here is Geordie pulling a boat full of visitors.  We later met Hercules pulling another boat.

We had to leave Llangollen on Tuesday evening as our two days mooring was expiring but we did not go far choosing to moor with views of the Dee Valley before reaching Trevor where the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct takes boats back over the Dee.  Today we've come part way back and, after mooring above the New Marton Locks until evening we came down the locks late today and we've moored below.  One boat here waited two hours to come down because there are so many boats here.  Our strategy of occupying ourselves above until evening meant we had no queue and enjoyed our evening cruise.  And we listened to the Archers before we came down!

In the next few days we will be retracing our outward journey along the Llangollen Canal and back to the Shropshire Union.