Saturday, 19 September 2015

Ravensmoor, Swanley marina and home

Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th September

After a mere 10 minutes of sunshine yesterday we were hoping for better weather on Wednesday, but the sun didn’t really show itself till early evening.  There was enough light for a quick picture of the field opposite the Willeymoor moorings;  last week the combining was in full swing.  Last night, the ploughing was just being completed.

1 ploughed field willeymoor

There were quite a few boats on the move this morning, but no hold-ups and we even got waved through again at Wrenbury lift bridge!  So I missed my chance to hold up the traffic.

We made a quick stop to visit the farm shop behind the Dusty Miller for some milk and bacon, but were not overly impressed with the selection of goods available.  I snapped the ‘fender lady’ at the hire base – not the first to have done so this week!

2 wrenbury hire base

We stopped above Baddiley locks for lunch then descended to moor for the night between Baddiley and Swanley locks.  Dave washed and waxed the starboard side of the boat while I struggled with a weak signal trying to get train details for his trip back to Anderton tomorrow. 

7 miles, 6 locks, 2 lift bridges.

On Thursday we woke to a beautiful September morning with the sun rising through the mist behind the trees.

1 early morning ravensmoor

We were away by 8 as the mist cleared, and were soon descending Swanley locks.  The swallows  were twittering away discussing their travel plans.

4 swallows gathering

We moored on the service wharf at Swanley as the office was opening. Dave disappeared to find out where we were to moor, and came back with his full travel details as well.  For once there was hardly any wind as we reversed into our berth!  Dave was soon away to walk to Nantwich station and I set to cleaning the boat.  I started on the roof – at Willeymoor we had avoided the hazel tree but the squirrels chose to breakfast on unripe acorns.   The patter of chewed acorn shells was less noisy than the hazelnuts, but much messier!

6 squirrels breakfast leftovers

Swanley is a lovely well-kept marina, and Meg and I enjoyed exploring it in the sunshine.  Chuffed is the second boat from the left in this photo.

7 moored at swanley

Dave had a rotten journey to Anderton.  His train from Chester to Northwich was cancelled, then the next was delayed.  At least he should get a refund, as he was delayed for well over an hour.  So although Anderton is a mere 20 miles away by road, he didn’t return with the car till nearly 4.30.  It would have been quicker to go by bike! 

2 locks, just over a mile cruising.

All being well, our next trip will be at the end of the month down to Droitwich Spa marina, where we have a berth arranged for the winter.  Then it depends on the weather!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Season of mists etc …..

Tuesday 8th September; Prees Arm to Willeymoor

Nothing mellow about this morning!  We could barely see across the canal.  No-one was on the move till 10, when a headlight appeared through the gloom and a boat went slowly by.  So Dave went on with rubbing down the well-deck and Meg and I went off to walk on the mosses – but it was too foggy and I worried about getting lost, so a lot of our walk was on the towpath.  The spiders had been hard at work – these flattish webs were all over the grass at the sides of the path.

1 cobwebs in the mist

Meg had a mad few minutes where she belted back and forth with a stick – she knows I won’t throw sticks so she just runs and runs.  She’s very fast and I had to delete several photos where I missed her completely.

2 flying meg

She would disappear into the gloom, then I’d hear her collar jingling as she hurtled back out of the mist.  She abandoned her stick after a while.

3 flying meg

Eventually the mist cleared enough for boats to be properly on the move and we set off late in the morning after this boat had passed.

4 misty through nature reserve nr prees arm

The canal was busy now – everyone must have been waiting till they could see where they were going!  Nb Saturn passed us at one point.  I think they had been to the Whitchurch Festival at the weekend. 

5 saturn passes

There is a large barn along here part of which is the Canal Side Pigeon Lofts.

7 pigeon loft

We stopped for lunch before we got to Whitchurch, and Dave did another half-hour’s hard labour.  I was still cold but he was down to shirtsleeves.

8 scraping well deck

On again past the Whitchurch arm to Grindley Brook, where we disposed of rubbish and recycling during a short wait for the locks.  Work is being done to shore up the towpath opposite the permanent moorings near Whitchurch.  Not sure if the warning sign is for boaters or walkers – but nothing was turning today.

9 work near whitchurch

When we came through Grindley Brook a few years ago, the buildings were bedecked with the lockie’s large collection of flags from many countries (and counties – Devon and Cornwall were both represented).  Apparently CRT asked him this year to do more hours for the same wages – and as his winter-time employer wanted him to stay on he opted for that.  Much as he loved the lock work, he couldn’t afford to stay.

12 grindley

Time was getting on, so we stopped for the night back at Willeymoor lock.  This time we looked carefully at the tree species on the towpath – last week we hadn’t realised we were below a hazel tree and the squirrels round here have their breakfast early!

Dave set up the TV aerial and applied anti-rust to the well-deck before coming in to watch another England match.   There was a box of windfalls at Grindley Brook, so it was baked apples stuffed with raisins and brown sugar for pudding tonight.  And custard, of course.

7 and a half miles, 7 locks, 4 lift bridges of which I only had to open one.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Last of the summer/wine?

Sunday 6th and Monday 7th September; Whitehouse Tunnel – Frankton Junction – Prees Branch junction

After a pleasant interlude in the morning sun, chatting to a neighbour who will be wintering at Droitwich Spa marina, where we intend to leave Chuffed this year, three boats came by followed by the first Sunday dayboat, so we thought we’d better get going!  The chipboard factory at Chirk clearly has 7-day working;  the smell can be quite pronounced.  We have never noticed this industrial area before.

1 chipboard factory working on sunday

We had a wait at Chirk tunnel, long enough to make and drink a cuppa and still have time to twiddle our thumbs. Three hireboats and three dayboats were behind us as we entered the tunnel.  Luckily, we got to the aqueduct before the boats at the far end were ready to cross – I hate to think of the mayhem in the short stretch between tunnel and aqueduct if we’d all had to wait for them to come across!  The offside edge of the aqueduct is wide and made of stone, so ‘no pedestrian’ notices have been installed.  It would be perfectly safe to walk on if it were not so high …..

2 chirk aqueduct

We met two boats coming through the narrow winding stretch through Chirk.  That would have been interesting for the boats behind us!  We had time to snap the painted pots at Monks Bridge.

3 painted ware at monks bridge

The visitor moorings at the Poacher’s Pocket pub were almost full; I suspect some of the dayboats will have had this as their lunchtime destination.  This moorhen was lunching on a windfall apple.

4 moorhen and apple

We stopped above New Marton locks for lunch, and boats continued to pass; when we got going again several were still waiting at the second lock.  We didn’t have too long to wait, unlike the boats already in the queue, and passed the time with nattering and helping several sets of hirers on their first lock.  We’d planned to stop at Frankton Junction to wash and varnish the starboard side of the boat, but the sun had already gone from there so we moved on a couple of bridges to find a sunny spot and Dave did the other side instead while I went off down the Monty for a run.

Later, I went to crack open a bottle of red – it was my birthday after all – but we’d run out!  That wasn’t in the plan!

10 miles, 2 locks

Monday was another glorious sunny day, though cold first thing.  We made our way down to the Ellesmere service block, where I called CRT to report the failed water tap back in Llangollen, and mentioned the unrepaired Elsan; – the chap was a bit cross about that because he had asked the contractors to deal with it last Thursday and was grateful for the feedback.  A boat moored near here has two signs asking people to slow down; the other one says ‘would you pour boiling water over a baby?’  I am not sure that the speed merchants would have time to read them, even if they noticed them in the first place.

3slow down sign

We moored up the arm, conveniently  close to Tesco, and went into the town to Vermeulen’s for bread and cake.  Dave went to Mr Mod the barber, where he sadly did not come out with a lovely mullet cut!  He caught up with me in Tesco where I had been chatting to Carolyn (nb Inca) for a while ….  After replenishing the cupboards (including wine, phew) we had lunch before moving on.  The harvest in in full swing – probably wheat here;

5 getting in the harvest

but Meg wasn’t interested in that and had a zizz in the sunshine.  How she didn’t slide off the locker I don’t know but she was spark out.

6 fast asleep in the sun

We moored where we did last week, just before the Prees branch.  You have to use chains here as the piling is rather rusty and tatty, but we had the sun for the rest of the day.  Dave started working on the well deck, where there are a couple of growing rust patches, and got about half of it rubbed down while I walked Meg.  We couldn’t get an internet signal but the TV was fine.

10 miles today.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A lovely day for blackberrying

Saturday 5th September

After a short trip to town for supplies we returned, intending to leave the basin fairly soon.  But we got chatting, as you do; to Carolyn, on her way shopping, soon joined by the lady from nb Snowdrop and finally Gary who was exercising the dog.  So a little later than expected we left the basin in bright sunshine to start our journey towards Swanley marina, where we will be leaving Chuffed in a few days’ time. 

I walked ahead to check for oncoming boats as we went through the narrow sections leading away from the basin.  I snapped Dave approaching;

3 thin bit in llangollen

and turned round to see this interesting sign.  Is it meant as a reprimand to speeding buildings?  I suspect it is supposed to be a warning to cyclists.

2 strange warning

We stopped at the service block to top up with water.  The tap on our pontoon hadn’t been working and there was no point in shifting pontoons to try another tap as we had to stop to empty a cassette anyway.  I was surprised to see the cistern which I reported on Thursday hadn’t been repaired, but the Elsan point was open so I just ran water down from the rinsing tap.  As it’s Saturday there’ll be no-one in the CRT offices to take a report so I’ll do it on Monday.

I stayed off the boat to walk ahead through the long narrow section, which is several hundred yards long with no passing places.  Signs make it clear a crew member should walk ahead to check for oncoming boats, to avoid meeting them in the narrows.  I was coming round the bend near the far end when I saw a boat on its way; I broke into a run to warn them we were coming.  Luckily they stopped in the one short section where the channel is just wide enough to allow two boats to pass.  The wife had very poor mobility and maybe sight issues too which explains why neither of them had walked ahead.

Breathe in!

4 passing in narrows

It wasn’t long before we were approaching the Llanddyn lift bridge.  A day boat had tied up on the mooring bollards, which was fine as the bridge is left open.  What wasn’t really ok was their sudden rush to untie and get going as we were only 50 yards away.  Embarrassingly for them, the steerer was unable to start the engine and they drifted to a halt across the canal.  I hopped off and took a rope to help them back in, and Dave came over for a chaps’ chat about the ignition, which had failed.

6 dayboat in trouble

We left them arguing over whether to call Anglo-Welsh out or keep trying to start the engine.  We approached Sun Trevor bridge with extreme caution; on one trip we were behind a long queue of boats trying to pass the visitor moorings, which were full, while boats continued coming through the bridge from the Llangollen direction.  Mayhem! We were in the bridgehole when a boat appeared alongside this moored boat; we pulled in sharpish to get out of his way and had time to notice the tyres, orange buoys, tarpaulins and dangling supermarket bags the moored boat had deployed to try and protect the motorbike on the stern.

7 i wouldn't moor here with a motorbike on the back

The rest of the visitor mooring was completely empty – we certainly wouldn’t have chosen to moor so close to the bridge with a motorbike sticking out like that!

As we passed the Bryn Hywel hotel I wanted to get a shot of the high retaining wall supporting the terrace, as it is bulging alarmingly at the canal end, but a wedding had taken place so I snapped the happy couple instead.  The video operator tracked us as we passed – we may be in their wedding video yet!  The boat has a suitable celebratory name anyway.

8 wedding at bryn howel hotel

I walked ahead again as we approached the basin at Trevor, to find a 70’ Viking hire boat attempting to turn and come under the bridge.  For a first-time hirer he made a very good job of it, and as Dave had waited well back there was no problem.  The aqueduct was deserted, so we had a lovely journey across in the sunshine, watching a Saturday afternoon footy game far below.

9 match on trevor pitch

We moored on the 48-hour rings before Whitehouse Tunnel just in time for Dave to get the TV aerial up to watch the England football match. Meg and I abandoned him and went off to find some blackberries.

10 sunny mooring  bridge 26w

I got a good bowlful of blackberries on the roadside above the bridge, England won the match and we were in full sun till it disappeared below the horizon.  A lovely evening.

6 miles, 1 lift bridge (plus one left open) and the Pontcysyllte aqueduct.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

‘Scenic routes’

Friday 4th September; walking from Llangollen basin

We planned to stay in the basin another night, and after a chat with Carolyn and Gary (Nb Inca) who were moored not far away we set off with Meg to walk up to Castell Dinas Bran.  The trail starts not far from the basin and it’s steep right from the start.  We’d got a leaflet with a map from the Tourist Office in town but the way up is clear and well-signposted so we didn’t need it to get to the top.  Did I say it was steep?  It has a lot of steps and even a hand-rail in places.  But we managed it without needing to stop to take in the view!  The view from the top is great.  This is looking towards the general area of Trevor and the aqueduct.  The Dee is the silver slug shape near the centre of the picture and if you can be bothered to enlarge the photo you will see the railway viaduct (I think) too in the distance.

9 view from castell dinas bran

Here Dave is looking north towards the Eglwyseg rocks.  This is a spectacular escarpment of limestone which used to be quarried.  You can get an impression of the height of the climb by looking at the cottage far below on the left. 

1 castell dinas bran

The castle remains date from the 13th century.  The leaflet we have says the fortress was established by Prince Bran, after a dispute with his brother, on the site of an Iron Age settlement.  It has a brilliant defensive position with wide views all around, but was only used for a few years before it was abandoned in 1277 to the forces of Edward I.  It is one of the (many) places where King Arthur is said to have left the Holy Grail.  6 castell dinas bran

Most of it has fallen over the succeeding centuries or been demolished.  A small part has scaffolding round it and presumably having some preservation work done.

2 castell dinas bran  7 castell dinas bran

There was a surprising number of people up there and unfortunately some litter too though mostly plastic bottles.  There was too much to take with us though I did collect a limp helium balloon on our way down, complete with its string which could pose a danger to wildlife or the sheep which roam around here.  There may have been litter but no outright vandalism, not even graffiti on the signs – just this, which we liked.

5 beter than graffitti

Well done Shea and Darcy (and several others too) for imaginative use of bits of rock.  It was very windy on the top with little shelter so after a quick bite of lunch we were on our way down.  Unfortunately the leaflet we had was rather poorly reproduced and didn’t have a scale, so we didn’t spot the correct path in time to stop us ending up on the small road running beneath the limestone crags.  At least we solved the mystery of the unlikely number of people at the top – there was a layby there with a much shorter climb than up from the town.  Eglwyseg Rocks seem to run for miles and were visible for most of the route.

12 eglwyseg rocks

We walked for 7 miles as planned, just not on the route we expected!  On the way back (on yet another ‘scenic route’) we found this amazing tree.  I’ve only just noticed it has a ‘face’ looking to the left!

13 trunk on wrong track

In the evening we went to Fouzi’s bistro and had a proper relaxed meal (the Corn Mill was packed and had a wait of an hour).  Very nice meal in relaxed surroundings.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Blackberry cobbler and the Mikron

Thursday 3rd September; Whitehouse tunnel to Llangollen Basin

Rather a long post today, and it’s not because of crossing the aqueduct!  On our walk yesterday we only saw a few boats facing in the Llangollen direction but we didn’t want to cross the aqueduct in a long train of boats as we did last time; Dave said it was like being in a railway carriage.  So we were away by 8.30 though the boat moored ahead of us had left before 8.  The first of the autumn leaves had fallen on the roof.

1 first autumn leaf on roof

A hire boat pulled out in front of us from one of the other mooring spots, which was a bit annoying but then the lovely people opened the lift bridge at Froncysyllte and waved us through.  Then we saw our early starting neighbours approaching, having gone across the aqueduct and turned at Trevor.  Lots of hirers do this too rather than go all the way to Llangollen, probably the best choice if you are on a tight schedule and it certainly makes life easier for those who aren’t!  Anyway, the aqueduct was now clear and as the hire boat dropped right back to take photos, we were almost in splendid isolation as we crossed.  The crew clearly has a head for heights!  They had dropped so far behind that enlarging the photo has made it blurry.

5a except for aussies (dave) careful aussie lady

Dave also has a good head for heights though it doesn’t look like it here.  His knuckles are not really white though – it’s purely an effect of the cold wind on his weatherbeaten hands!

2 not really white knuckles

Here are two more obligatory photos to add to our Pontcysyllte collection;  the river Dee on the towpath side and desirable properties on the other.

3 dee through narrow railings  4 road bridge and desirable properties

There was only a trip boat making ready on the Trevor side, so we were soon round the junction and on our way to Llangollen.  The rain set in almost at once; not heavy but persistent, just occasionally letting up a bit.  By now a large number of boats was coming towards us; it had been the right decision to leave early.  Dave got off to take some photos as we went through the first set of narrows.  Check out the little gnome bundled up against the rain and cold trying her best not to hit the sides (largely achieved).

7 dee valley dave  8 navigating the narrows

There had been several dodgy moments at bridges but no real problems and as we pulled in at the services the rain eased off too.  We got rid of the rubbish and I emptied a cassette, only to discover the chain for flushing the hopper coyly curled up in a corner.  I did climb up and try to use the arm thing to operate the flush but it wasn’t there, so we called in to CRT once we’d moored.  The basin was half empty and we picked a lovely quiet mooring by the grass.  We went down to the town for some supplies, coming back via the towpath, where there is an unusual memorial seat.  The carving reads ‘Why stand when you can sit?’ with the name of the person in whose name it was placed there.

9 an unusual memorial seat why stand when you can sit

As we crossed the bridge to return to the basin the horse-boat clopped towards us; well the horse clopped, the boat just trickled.  The operators of this service always look bored out of their minds, plodding the same route day after day, though the horse just looks patient as horses do.

10 horseboat

Over the bridge we met an American lady wondering if the blackberries were ok to eat as they didn’t have much flavour – we thought it was probably the recent lack of sunshine and suggested she cooked them with apples and sugar.  I went off for a run up to Horseshoe Falls, spotting on the way that the chain bridge had been restored (it was in a sorry state when we saw it from the steam train window a few years ago).  I sneaked into the hotel entrance area to take this snap on my phone.

11 chain bridge over dee

The bridge is supported by these cables running above the hotel roof to a massive block of concrete on the cliff high above the canal. I got a crick in my neck taking this – it’s a lot higher up than it looks.

12 securing chains on cliff

Just as I returned from my run there was a knock on the side and a courteous American gentleman invited us to join them on the hire boat next door for a taste of his wife’s blackberry cobbler.  After a speedy shower we joined them – four delightful people from Washington State.  What they call cobbler though is known as a clafoutis over here; the fruit is cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter with added sugar.  Whatever it’s called it was utterly delicious.  They were lovely people and we would cheerfully have spent longer with them, but were on our way to the Town Hall to see if there had been any returned tickets for the Mikron Theatre performance that night as we’ve never managed to catch them in the past.  We didn’t even need to go inside to enquire – the ladies behind us had two tickets to return.  Transaction completed, we shot off down to Fouzi’s by the bridge to grab a quick bite and came back to discover that all the reserved seats had been released and we were in the front row. 

The show was excellent.  We saw ‘Raising Agents’, about a beleaguered branch of the Women’s Institute, and most of the audience (though not me) were members of that august institution.  The four cast members – the two men were playing women – were brilliant, all playing an instrument and singing too.  We were in fits of laughter, though there were serious bits as well.  At the interval Dave chatted to one of the very few other men in the audience while I got a glass of wine and some cake – supplied, of course, by the local WI so we knew it would be good.  The elderly lady I was sitting next to explained some of the finer points of Welsh pronunciation – each seat had a piece of paper on it with the words to ‘Hen wlad fy Nhadau’ (Land of my Fathers).  At the end of the performance she zoomed across to the little electric piano at the foot of the stage and the audience leapt to its feet for a rousing rendition of ‘Jerusalem’, followed by ‘Land of our Fathers’.  Our Welsh was sadly not up to that one.

I took some photos on my phone as the cast members took their bow but they didn’t really come out.  This is the best I could manage – their van outside.

14 mikron van

We dropped in to the Bridge End Hotel for a pint on our way home to the boat.  It was so late when we got back we had to creep in quietly as most of the other boaters had already turned in for the night.

6 miles, 1 lift bridge, Pontcysyllte aqueduct and a lot of rain!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Lots of rain and brains not engaged

Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd September; Frankton Junction to New Marton locks, through Chirk and on to Whitehouse Tunnel

After another wet night we set off at about 10 as the rain started to clear.  The canal was busy with boats in both direction, and sod’s law was in full operation.  We seemed to be meeting boats at all the dodgy bridges, and the edges are beginning to get shallower.  At one bridge we ran aground as we pulled back to wait – we got free quickly but the boat behind us ended up well and truly stuck.  There was one boat ahead of us at the locks, but New Marton locks don’t take long, and with boats coming down there was little work to do so we were soon up.  Here go some Viking newbies.  We’ve all got our hoods up here!

1 new marton locks

One of the boats coming down said there had been a constant stream of hire boats going towards Llangollen, so we didn’t want to go much further, as Tuesday to Thursday is known to be the busy time on the Chirk to Llangollen section.  So as the weather was closing in again we moored on the long stretch above the locks.  We had lunch watching the rain and the boats going by.

2 rain above new marton locks

It was a very showery afternoon, with some thunder too.  Dave did some more varnishing and I made some gingerbread. 

3 and a half miles, 2 locks.

After another wet night, Wednesday morning was still very showery so we stayed put.  Dave finished the current lot of varnishing and then stripped out and replaced the sealant in the galley where it was coming away from the work-top.  It was hard to get the perfect shot though, he wouldn’t pose!

2 sealing behind worktop

When the rain eased off a bit I got the brolly and gave Meg a game of ball, though between us we lost the ball.  She spent ages looking for it but to no avail.

3 lost ball oh dear

There were a lot of boats going by, in spite of the weather. Where we moored is on a long straight, and we couldn’t believe the number of boats passing much too quickly.  But at least we were on Armco piling and not relying on pins.

1 mooring above new marton

In the afternoon the weather improved somewhat so off we went, passing Inca who were moored half a mile further on.  We could see this intriguing plume of white smoke in the distance.  What could it be?

4 mysterious white smoke

(It turned out to be the chipboard factory at Chirk.)  At Rhoswiel by Lion Quays we could see that the garage on the bridge had re-opened since we were last here, so we stopped briefly so Dave could get the paper.  He didn’t think much of the shop though.  There were boats coming towards us most of the time, but we made it across Chirk aqueduct behind this hire boat and through the tunnel without having to wait.

9 chirk aqueduct in the rain

It was still raining on and off.  We hope the weather will be better in Wales!

10 hope weathers better in wales

At Chirk marina we watched as a hire boat was brought out by a company employee, who reversed it back, jumped off and sent them on their way.  The steerer did a good job through Whitehouse tunnel; the flow on the canal pushes your boat to one side of the tunnel and with the flow against you anyway it is challenging for anyone.  When he pulled in immediately afterwards to let us pass he said it was his first time on a narrowboat – I hope he’d had more instruction than the apparently minimal amount it had looked like ……  We moored at the visitor moorings after Whitehouse tunnel, then set off for the walk to the northern end of the aqueduct as described in Nicholsons.  The first stretch is along the pavement of a busy main road to Newbridge, where we turned into the Ty Mawr country park.  Where our brains seemed to have slipped out of gear – we stood looking at this massive construction trying to make sense of the map as the aqueduct didn’t seem to be in the right place -

11 railyway viaduct from country park

till the penny finally dropped that we’d just walked under the railway viaduct and it wasn’t the aqueduct at all!  D’oh!  On our way down to the Dee through the country park we spent some time chatting to an elderly farm worker who insisted on telling us about all the dangerous bulls he’d worked with over his life.  Then we reached the river and sight of the aqueduct.  You can see how much more delicate the aqueduct looks, and with its iron trough it’s nothing like the solid bulk of the viaduct.

14 beside the dee dave

15 aqueduct from dee dave

We took the path through the woods and drew closer to the aqueduct, then suddenly there were the steps and up we went.

18 so close now dave

  19 up we go

Once at the top we had a straight walk back over the aqueduct and along the towpath.  It really was a long way up those steps -

20 we were down there

We kept Meg on the lead.  She’s slender enough to fit through those railings and we didn’t want to take any risks.  Back on the boat we discovered an excellent internet signal – the first we’d had for ages – so at last we could check emails and get a blog posted!

5 and a half miles, 2 tunnels, 1 aqueduct (Chirk)