Progress up the locks was, as is becoming a common occurrence, slower than it should have been but not as bad as it has been in the past. It was almost perfect lock working weather – it was dry and warm but not too hot or too sunny.
You often see some odd things when you’re on the canals, either in the canal or on the bank, but part way up the locks we found a solitary lost sole… no sign of the rest of the shoe anywhere and it was rather odd just sitting there on the side of the lock.
We made pretty good time back to the moorings where we had brunch and tidied up the boat before heading home.
We were rather surprised when we got up to find that the canal was enveloped in very thick mist. We cast off and made our way very slowly down the canal and through Quoisley Lock No 11 and the A49 road bridge just below the lock
It was quite cool and water was dripping from the trees and the mist really dampened the sound so apart from the noise of our own diesel engine there wasn’t anything to be heard – even geese flying past made no sound.
But from time to time the mist would clear a bit and you’d see the blue sky above the mist so we were pretty sure it would turn into a nicer day once the sun burned the mist off.
We met a couple of boats on the move which surprised us given how quiet it had been other mornings and also given what the weather was like – but maybe they too were enjoying the experience and the views.
Luckily the mist was, on the whole, not too heavy that you couldn’t see anything so navigating wasn’t that bad, although it did make it hard, or rather harder, to work out if boats you could see in silhouette were moored or moving
From time to time the mist would clear and you could see the plants on the bank quite clearly – so I put the zoom lens on and snapped a few pictures at maximum zoom… I was quite pleased with the results.
The mist came back again just before Wrenbury and it really wasn’t fun navigating through the lift bridges.
The mist slowly lifted as we made our way down to Hurleston Top Lock No 4 and by the time we’d reached the bottom it was actually quite nice so rather than turning right and heading back to the moorings we turned left and headed off towards Bremilows Bridge No 100 . The canal is wide enough before you reach the bridge that you can turn a 52 foot boat, which we did before backing up a bit, mooring up, and heading off to The Olde Barbridge Inn for a couple of well earned pints.
It was so tempting to stay there and make tomorrow a long day but we theorised that if we did that then it would be pissing down with rain tomorrow, and so we headed back to the boat and set off again.
Nantwich Visitor Moorings (North) were still pretty full with a lot of the same boats on them as there had been when we’d come past at the start of the holiday…. the whole 48 hour mooring thing here is a total joke.
After the slow crawl through Nantwich we made good time to Audlem where we moored up just by the Wharf and went into the Shroppie Fly for an end of cruise meal. The food was good but the pub was a little quiet so we walked up to the Lord Combermere and found that most of the village seemed to be in there doing a quiz.
After a good nights sleep we got up and cast off and headed off down a, once again, deserted canal. I don’t think we saw another boat until we were past Frankton Junction but it was quite nice to be able to just chug along and watch the world go by.
The basin is a little tired and it’s sad to see that the Ellesmere Warehouse is still derelict but there is a good supermarket right by the basin and the town itself seems to be doing OK. We needed some engine oil and whilst wandering round trying to find a garage I noticed several good looking pubs and places to eat – so its probably worth an evening visit some time.
We turned outside the warehouse and headed back up the arm and had to wait whilst a breasted up pair of working boats backed up the arm, from where they had been moored, and out onto the canal.
There were quite a few boats round the junction but we navigated our way through the minor chaos and headed off downstream – but once again we had a lot of the canal to ourselves. We had to wait for a short time above Grindley Brook Top Lock No 16 so we decided to do a pump out – but the pump out machine refused to read one card and when it read the other it turned on for about 3 seconds and then turned off again, so that was a complete waste of time and money. The toilet block also had a problem in that the lights didn’t work so you basically had to use the toilet in the pitch black… not fun.
We moved down to the lock landing and were soon working our way through the staircase.
There were a few boats waiting below the staircase and a couple more working their way through the lower locks but the Grindley Brook Visitor Moorings (Below Locks) were pretty empty and the canal was quiet again as we made our way homewards.
We worked through Willey Moor Lock No 12 and moored up on the moorings below the lock, ate on board and then walked back up to the pub and spent the evening enjoying more good beers – the line up on the pumps had changed significantly since our previous visit a few days earlier
Although there was a lot of industry around the canal it is long gone and in many places there isn’t any obvious signs of it ever having been there, but at Fron there are the impressive remains of The Old Limekilns right by the side of the canal.
The wharf in front of them has been turned into quite smart private moorings where we saw this rather interesting use for a picnic table
As you approach Fron Footbridge No 28A it’s worth looking up and across the valley as you’ll get a very impressive view of the aqueduct.
When you reach Coedfryn Winding Hole you get your first navigational view of the aqueduct. We were quite lucky in that there were no boats actually on the aqueduct so we could go straight on. Nick really doesn’t like crossing the aqueduct so he chose to stay off the boat from the lift bridge and took the road that runs down and crosses the valley just up stream of the aqueduct.
We were a few feet onto the aqueduct when a boat appeared at the other end… they started to come forward but then realised and backed up.
Mintball is a pretty snug fit in the tunnels and the aqueducts and with quite a flow on the canal heading upstream isn’t the fastest of things and it took quite a while for us to make our way across the valley.
There were some people with a drone when we came off the aqueduct, apparently they’d decided not to send it up because of the weather conditions which I could sort of understand as there was a bit of rain in the air and the odd gust of wind and with all the trees round I suspect it would have been all rather too easy to lose a done.
Once you take the sharp turn at Ruabon Branch Junction the canal changes totally : it becomes much narrower and significantly shallower, especially at the edges and it can be a bit of a tight squeeze at times – especially when you meet a partially laden old working boat coming downstream on the flow…
Progress along this stretch is very slow going upstream and at Llangollen Narrows Section (300m) you pretty much come to a stop. This is the first section where you really do need someone on the bank walking ahead to check for oncoming boats and to work out who should be stopping and who should be proceeding. I do understand that when they rebuilt this section they needed to keep the original profile of the canal but you would have hoped that maybe they could have made the canal channel a little wider, or deeper, or something.
The next section of narrows ( Llangollen Narrows Section (500m) ) are slightly better in that the canal is a bit deeper but, like the previous section, navigation is made more difficult by the fact that the narrows has a bend in it so you can’t actually see if there is any traffic coming down. We had to wait for about 5 minutes for a small cavalcade of boats to come down before we could head up stream.
There is one more set of narrows right before you get to Llangollen Wharf – these are the shortest of the three but again they’re not straight and progress through them is excruciatingly slow heading upstream.
Turning at Llangollen is so much easier since they put Llangollen Basin in, but take care when turning and make sure you go a good way in so that your back end doesn’t get dragged by the current flowing down from Llantisilio – Horseshoe Falls – also be aware that there seems to be a lip or something below the waterline on the concrete edged towpath.
Having turned we headed downstream at a noticeably faster speed than we’d made coming up. We’d used a couple of walkie talkies on the way up and we’d left them on as we headed down the canal, and we started picking up a conversation between what we thought, at the start, were two boats, but it became obvious as the conversation continued that it was between two sets of people on one boat…. the big give away being when they started talking about a cup of tea and how many sugars they wanted in it.
The chatter reached its peak as we got towards Llanddyn No 2 Lift Bridge No 44 when we heard one on them say something like “Someone has left the bridge open” followed by a loud squawk from the front of their boat that “There’s a boat approaching”…. at which time we were in full view of both the group on the front deck and the one on the back deck.
We made very good time back to the aqueduct and we flew across it in a fraction of the time it took to come through it coming upstream and there were no boats waiting as we came off the aqueduct and round the corner. The dog was still sitting on the table and looked extremely comfortable.
Now its a pretty much universal law when it comes to canalboating that you will always meet a boat coming the other way at the most inconvenient moment so we just knew as we approached Irish Bridge No 27 that when the boat in front of us went into full reverse and went diagonally across the canal, there was a boat coming the other way…. and there was… actually there were about 3 and then the boat in front tried to go through and had to back out again because there were even more boats coming through.
It was similarly chaotic when we got to Whitehouses Tunnel (North end) with people on the towpath basically trying to stop boats going into the tunnel because they wanted to come through. We made steady, but sometimes stumbling progress to Chirk Tunnel Visitor Moorings where we pulled in as we were swapping some of our crew round.
We’d found out that the trains were not running but buses were running instead so after leaving Simon to get a bus home we wandered into town
and had a couple of quite nice pints in The Hand Hotel which was very busy serving food and running a large wedding reception, but they still had friendly staff on hand to serve drinks in the little bar in reception.
Then we wandered back to the Station where we waited for David to arrive on another bus.
There were quite a few boats moored up at the Poachers Pocket Visitor Moorings – it seemed to be another day when people were stopping early. It was pretty quiet down to New Marton Bottom Lock No 1 where there seemed to be quite a queue of boats, but oddly enough no-one really seemed to be eager to work their boats through the lock and we basically did it by ourselves as crews from the queuing boats just stood round on the towpath.
We chugged on and moored up for the night and went and ate in the pub and sat near their log burner drinking beer until they threw us out at closing time.
Once you’ve reached Whitchurch you’ve pretty much done all the locks on the canal but you’ve hardly started on the lift bridges – so your crew don’t get much time to lie in after you’ve cast off from the moorings.
From Whitchurch up the canal features some of its most impressive engineering and also runs through some very attractive countryside although it can be quite bleak crossing Whixhall Moss, especially when its blowing a gale and raining. We stopped for a late breakfast on the Colemere Visitor Moorings and the sun actually came out and it was all rather pleasant.
The sun was still out as we went past Blake Mere and there were a few boats on the move.
Getting through Ellesmere Branch Junction was a bit of fun as there were several boats moving round who didn’t seem to know where they actually wanted to go – but there were no collisions and no raised voices so it all went quite well and we made our leisurely way to The Jack Mytton Inn where we stopped for a couple of pints which was quite pleasant although the pub was a little on the cold side. After leaving the pub we hit New Marton Bottom Lock No 1 where there was a queue of traffic for some reason, although as you approached the lock it was hard to work out who was queuing for the lock and who was moored up. Oddly enough once we got through the lock there didn’t seem to be much traffic moving but when we arrived at the moorings for The Poachers Pocket PH it became obvious that most of the boats had stopped there for the night.
It was total chaos at Monk Bridge No 21 with boats coming down the canal and people trying to moor and people deciding to move moorings for no apparent reason and I think it was more by good luck than anything that no boats hit each other.
We had to wait for a boat to come through Chirk Aqueduct and then we had to wait in Chirk Pool for a couple of boats to come through the tunnel.
This wasn’t made easier due to a boat moored on the bollards which are there for boats waiting to get through the tunnel so we had to float around in the pool for about 5 minutes before entering the tunnel and making extremely slow progress through it,
It was starting to get dark when we got through Whitehouses Tunnel and we found a boat moored for the night on the waiting moorings… they were so close to the tunnel mouth that at one point I thought they were actually in the tunnel.
We stopped for the night at the end of the visitor moorings and after eating we walked up the towpath to the Aqueduct Inn for a few beers. The pub had several good beers and what looked like a good range of food.
The odd thing about the visitor moorings in Nantwich is that they always seem to be full but there never seems to be any sign of life on the boats. It takes a remarkable length of time to get past all the moorings over the Aqueduct and past Nantwich Basin Entrance before you can open up the throttle a bit and appreciate the wide and deep part of the canal on your way to Hurleston Junction .
Our plan for the day was basically to get through … that was it… how we did it and where we’d stop for the night was all up in the air.
Turning in to the Llangollen Canal coming North from Nantwich is not the easiest, or safest, of manoeuvres due to the bridge right before the junction and the fact that people coming out of the locks often steam full speed ahead without checking if the way is clear.
There were some water problems going up Hurleston Locks with one pound being extremely low but we scraped over the cill out of the lock and managed to get to the next lock with only a few bounces off the bottom.
Even with the low water levels we made good time and it wasn’t long before we were moving into the top lock.
Although there may have been water problems on the flight there was plenty of water flowing down the canal and into the reservoir which was pretty much full.
As you can see the weather wasn’t the best, but we’ve boated in a lot, lot worse, but I guess everyone else was pretty much a fair weather boater and we pretty much had the canal all to ourselves right up to Willey Moor Lock No 12 which we passed through before stopping for lunch and walking back to the pub for a pint or two.
The pub had a good range of beers on, and with the moorings above and below the lock it’s a good place to stop. We didn’t eat lunch there but the food looked and smelled good. Over a couple of pints we decided that Whitchurch seemed a sensible place to stop for the night – if Grindley Brook was busy then we’d get there late-ish and if it was quiet then we’d have a little more time to explore the town and the pubs.
So we dragged ourselves out of the pub after a round of rounds and continued our journey.
Although there had been a flurry of activity round the lock at the pub when we arrived it was very quiet when we left and we spent a rather pleasant afternoon on a pretty much deserted canal until we got to Grindley Railway Bridge No 27 where we met someone coming through the bridge at full speed with no care in the world.
There were a few boats moving around and we had to wait for about 15 minutes to get into the staircase… but that’s nothing …
We stopped above the locks at Grindley Brook Water Points to fill up with water and use the sanitary station… well we did have a few pints of beer to get rid of !
Once through the locks the canal was quiet again and we made it to Whitchurch with plenty of time. We moored in the stub of the Whitchurch branch canal. You need to go to Whitchurch Winding Hole, turn and come back and head into the arm bow first. But then you need to wind in the Whitchurch Branch Winding hole before pulling onto the moorings. I guess you could do that turn the next morning but it seems to make sense to do it as the last thing before stopping.
To get into town you start by walking down the line of the old canal arm which has been filled in.
The town, like many, is feeling a little tired but there are some good pubs. The Old Town Hall Vaults is owned by Joules and is well worth a visit.
So if you are heading up or down the canal you should take the time and detour and visit the town. Many of the pubs do food so you should find something suitable and within your price range.
We had a fairly late start as we drove up from home in the morning, so we only actually left the moorings just after 10:30am, and as usual the canal was pretty quiet, but the weather could have had something to do with that as it was far from ideal – basically a mix of sunshine and heavy showers : when the sun was out it was quite pleasant but when it rained it was heavy and cold.
The rain made the grass round the locks quite slippery and of course all the balance beams were soaking wet, but we make pretty good progress considering there were only three of us.
After lunch we made good time down the rest of the flight and it was pretty quiet all the way out to Hack Green Top Lock No 28 . The total quietness continued right on to Nantwich where we moored up on the Marsh Lane Visitor Moorings for the night and went into Nantwich for a walk around and a few beers.
We made an earlyish start, but still not that early and, once again, no boats were on the move… in fact we saw no moving boats until we got to Goldstone Wharf where we met a boat that had just cast off and was heading south.
When we got to Tyrley Top Lock No 3 there was a boat going into the lock, but they had a Volunteer Lockie with them who got them to wind up a top paddle when they were leaving the lock so we made pretty good progress down the locks as most of them were just about ready when we got there.
We got back to the moorings, moored up, put the power on and tidied up the boat before heading home.
We had another moderately lazy start but still managed to get moving before any of the other boats. Anglers were starting to collect near Coven Heath Pipe Bridge – obviously the sewage works outfall attracts the fish but does that compensate for the smell?
We made it all the way to Autherley Junction before we met another boat.. they were in the lock and we waited for them to come through the bridge which they did by going in a perfectly straight line and trying to turn using just their bow thrusters…. which was a pretty spectacular fail… I suspect they they could have turned faster if they’d used their boat pole but obviously that would have been to much like hard work. Eventually they did manage to get round and I swung Mintball round under the bridge and straight into the lock. Business was obviously good at the boatyard as their moorings were totally and utterly empty, but the moorings at Wolverhampton Boat Club were still quite full – so I’m not sure when people from there actually go out on their boats.
We had another “encounter” near Three Mile Post – a hire boat was coming towards us and started to pull over to the side to go past us and as they started to do that a boat pulled out from the visitor moorings. The hire boat panicked a little and went aground and the boat that had pulled out, finally realising we were there accelerated across the canal and nearly went into the back of the hire boat.
We continued on through Brewood where the moorings were moderately busy and then we ground to a halt at Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 . We’d expected a small queue, we’d expected people who didn’t know how to work a lock.. we hadn’t expected a boat in the queue to tie up on the lock landing and take a break, and for the boat behind them to just sit there….. which is what happened. Once people had been prodded and pointed comments made (by other boaters) the queue moved moderately quickly.
We had though about stopping for lunch or a drink at The Hartley Arms PH but there were no moorings to be had anywhere around so we chugged on.
There was a fishing match round Rye Hill Cutting Bridge No 23 – 35 sullen and dour fishermen sitting in a line, most of them left it to the last minute to move their rods and then muttered about it, several of them swung their rods back before the boat was completely past them and I was waiting for one of them to lose the end of their rod.
As we cruised along past the moorings between Bullock’s Bridge No 43 and Shebdon Bridge No 44 I saw a Kingfisher on the moored boats on the offside. It was using boats as fishing perches and kept flying ahead of us.
It was no surprise when we got to the Visitor Mooring at Shebdon Wharf to find the same boats moored there that had been there on the Friday when we’d come through.
We had a bit of a lie in as we weren’t in any real rush, and made our way down towards Autherley Junction. There weren’t very many boats on the move at all and we made pretty good time to Wheaton Aston Services where we pulled in to to top up the water tank. We didn’t need to wait long to get through Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 and the section beyond the lock was extremely quiet and so we were able to make good progress.
As we approached Three Mile Post there was a boat coming towards us – it sat solidly in the middle and refused to move out of the way, I moved over just enough to miss them (the offside has some bad silting and I didn’t want to get stuck) and said “Hello” as we passed them… they ignored me completely. I really do not understand people like that at all.
We stopped for an earlyish lunch just after Bathurst Bridge No 2 where we saw a turtle in the canal. It seemed to be enjoying sunning itself on the branch and given its size I suspect it had survived the previous winter.
As we finished lunch a couple of boats came past heading towards the junction so we gave them a few minutes to get through the lock before casting off. As we approached the junction I could see one boat in the lock, the space between the lock and the hireboat base empty and one boat on the water point. As we passed the water point the boat on it pulled out, cutting across us and forcing me to go into reverse. They made their way down to the lock and proceeded to work through it very slowly. I pulled over and once they’d got the top gate closed I opened the paddles; the man from the boat said in a sarcastic tone “It would have been much faster if you’d helped”… well it would have been much faster for me if you hadn’t been such a dick and pulled out when you did.
By the time we got to The Fox and Anchor PH there was another boat between us and Mr Numpty. Mr Numpty decided to pull in right before the pub moorings (and made rather a mess of it) and so we followed the other boat, who seemed to have a rather random speed pattern, down to Hatherton Junction
As you approach the junction there are some big signs advertising the Calf Heath Marina Complex but there doesn’t seem to be any way to get into it from the towpath as the gates on the offside of the Junction bridge seem to be padlocked shut…which all seems a little odd. But apparently they do sell real ale so maybe sometime we should pull over and go and investigate – I suspect the only way to get there is to moor at Long Molls Bridge No 76 and walk back along Straight Mile
We got to Calf Heath Bridge No 77 where we found the boat in front of us attempting to turn round. The winding hole here is right against the bridge and although its a very deep winding hole it isn’t very wide and you have to basically swing the back of the boat round into the bridge hole to turn round. The crew of the boat turned out to be first time hirers and they had major problems turning round. A boat turned up behind us and seemed annoyed that I wouldn’t let him pass – he couldn’t see the boat trying to turn. It took about 10 minutes for them to turn, and the people fishing opposite the winding hole seemed to be quite tolerant and understanding. I spun Mintball into the winding hole and managed to turn without either ramming the rudder into the bridge pilings or scraping the cabin side against the bridge arch : both things the other boat had done.
We followed the boat back through the junction and to the pub where we stopped right on the end of the visitor moorings, whereas the hireboat moored much closer to the pub.