It was cool and damp when we got up and cast off. There were major towpath works going on just before Tilstone Lock No 32 which made it a little awkward to get off to work the lock
The locks down to Chester are not the fastest in the world, and when they only have one top ground paddle working they’re even slower. Luckily we weren’t really in a hurry because we got stuck behind the boats that had been in front of us at Bunbury.
The wind started picking up which made passing moored boats less than fun and the mile plus of linear moorings at Golden Nook Farm Moorings was even more unpleasant than it normally as as we basically crabbed sideways down the canal for the whole length, accompanied by the sound of countless baby wind turbines on the edge of exploding.
Luckily the canal is quite deep so you can actually make good progress when not crawling past moored boats.
We turned at Quarry Bridge Winding Hole and considered mooring up at Cheshire Cat PH but there were too many badly moored boats to make it possible so we made our way back to Beeston where we pulled in on the visitor moorings above the stone lock for the night.
We got up to a non rainy day and set off with no real planned destination for the evening. We had decided to basically head down towards Chester, but not actually go all the way into the City as the last few locks are really quite unpleasant in a single boat.
The lower section of the Llangollen Canal is, despite it not having the views that the upper stretches has, a very pretty canal and it meanders across the countryside giving you not amazing views, but quite pleasing ones. There were a couple of boats in front of us and progress wasn’t as quick as it could have been but it was a nice day and we weren’t in a hurry.
We pulled in at Swanley Bridge Marina to get a pump out and some gas but they had no gas and had no idea when they would be getting any as there seemed to be a nationwide shortage, but pointed out that there was a fuel boat moored up by Ravensmoor Wharf Winding Hole and they could well have some, so once we’d done the pump out – which took slightly longer than expected because they were using the flushing hose for their pressure washer – we cast off, moved through the bridge and pulled along side Mountbatten. They had gas, and fuel so we took advantage of the fact and gave a small independent trader some business.
Moored almost opposite was Spey –
Which made the canal a little narrow – but luckily we didn’t really hold anyone up
There was a little bit of a traffic at Hurleston but nothing like it had been on the way up and we made pretty good time through it.
It had really turned into a very nice day by now and so we stopped at The Olde Barbridge Inn and, having navigated their one way system found a nice table in the garden and enjoyed a couple of pints before heading back to the boat
Bunbury Locks Nos 30 and 31 are often busy but this time it was complete chaos. There were boats waiting to go down, boats waiting to go up, people hanging round, but nothing seemed to be happening. We must have sat there for over 15 minutes with no sign of activity.
It turned out that there were two boats waiting to come up with two boats going down who didn’t seem to know what they were doing. So once the two boats were in the bottom lock of the staircase people tried to get the other boat that was waiting to go down to go into the lock and then when the locks were level they could do a shuffle past each other. The boats coming up had done this manoeuvrer several times before but the boat going down didn’t believe that it was possible. But after quite a bit of discussion he was persuaded and it all worked like clockwork.
We got through the locks, past the boat yard and moored up in a nice quiet spot for the night.
It basically rained on and off over night, sometimes loud enough to wake us up, and as daylight increased I lay in the bunk listening to the rain and hoped that it would die down
It had backed off a little by the time we cast off but that didn’t last long and we battled through the rain before giving up and stopping for about a hour, without having made it to Frankton Junction, in a vain hope that things might improve and we could dry out a little.
We set off after the break with less rain but more of a breeze which really didn’t make for pleasant boating at all.
From time to time the rain would stop and hopes would rise that maybe it was done for the day but it just kept coming back.
We stopped for the night and Nick walked down to the Willeymoor Lock Tavern to see if they had table – which they did. So we spent the evening in the pub enjoying their simple home cooked food and their beer – which was good but a restricted range due to Covid. Given the time of the year and the situation there were quite a few people in the pub and it was good to actually be sociable with other people.
It was a good thing that whilst we were out on the boat England and Wales had the same restrictions when it came to Covid19 control. The Llangollen crosses the border three time between Whitchurch and Llangollen – twice in the section by Whixhall Moss, and once by Chirk.
We got up to a slightly misty and chilly but sunny morning, with the sun adding a nice warming glow to things
The early mornings at this time of year can be amazing, they can be foggy, they can be frosty, they can be sunny or a mix of any of these but so many people sleep through it. I think some of our best early mornings have been on the September holidays.
The sun quickly burned off all traces of mist any by the time we reached the end of the long straight at Heath House Bridge No 74 the sky was clear blue and it looked like the weather was set fair for the rest of the day.
We made our way back to Weston Arm Junction and turned into the arm so we could empty the porta-potti at Weston Arm Services (C&RT). Well that was the idea – we did also wonder about filling up the water tank but the waterpoint moorings were full with moored up boats who weren’t watering and obviously hadn’t been watering.
At first sight the services building, which is right at the end of the short navigable stretch, looks derelict, but behind the slightly ramshackle door there is a nice, clean, services block.
We reversed back down the arm – with some rather foul stares from the people moored over the water points and headed off to Frankton Bottom Lock No 3 to start our ascent off the canal.
There seemed to be no CRT volunteer lockies on the bottom lock and it was rather chaotic – we went into the empty lock and started to fill it and a boat coming down drifted over onto the offside and got stuck because the pound was low. We worked ourselves through Frankton Middle Lock No 2 and ran some extra water through into the pound below. At the staircase I talked to the Lockie and told him what was going on and he said he’d run some more water down. Looking back I could see that the boat was still stuck aground and now there were two boats in the pound.
We got to Frankton Junction and turned left and headed off up the canal towards Llangollen.
Nick hopped off near Lion Quays and went to the garage on the A5 to grab some basic supplies and came back with all that he went for plus two rather tasty Cornish Pasties. So it’s good to know that it’s there but it’s not the easiest place to get to because it’s on the side of the A5 that has no towpath access.
As we crossed Chirk Aqueduct it started to rain, luckily not heavily as Mintball really doesn’t get on with any of the aqueducts or tunnels on the canal – well not when you’re going upstream!
We had to wait for a couple of boats to come out of Chirk tunnel before we could go into it and start making slow progress. This progress wasn’t helped by some idiot on a boat at the northern end who seemed to have an LED headlight that fired a very tight bright beam of light through the tunnel. Can’t see how it would help you steer your way through a tunnel and I’d hate to be coming towards him in a wide bore tunnel.
I’ve always felt that the section of canal round Froncysyllte Aqueduct would be much better if they cleared some of the trees off the side of the hill so you could get a better view across and along the valley to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
However even if they had we wouldn’t have been able to admire the view due to the canoe wobbling it’s rather erratic way along the canal. There were three men in it, all extremely the worse for drink, and although they seemed to be having a good time everyone on the other canal boats coming the other day, and the people walking their dogs on the towpath, seemed extremely concerned for their welfare.
Eventually, after nearly capsizing multiple times, they pulled into the side and one of the guys leapt off and ran off into the woods – either to relieve himself or to be sick. As we passed the canoe you could smell the booze and the bottom of the canoe had about 6 inches of water sloshing around in the bottom of it, along with multiple empty cans of lager.
We crept past them slowly, giving them as wide a berth as possible and headed to Coedfryn Winding Hole where we turned, having decided that it really wasn’t worth going any further given how bad the weather now was.
The canoeists, and the canoe, were nowhere to be seen on the way back, so I guess they’d dragged themselves out somewhere.
The grim weather continued right until we moored for the night just beyond the moorings below New Marton locks.
We got up to a slightly misty and damp morning which made the Moss look even more desolate and eery than it normally does.
But the sun soon burned through the mist and the cloud and it was quite pleasant by the time we made it to Blakemere Visitor Moorings
A couple of boats had cast off in front of us and we were at the tail end of a little convoy as we approached the tunnel.
As we exited Ellesmere Tunnel (western entrance) we met an ice-cream boat ( I don’t think they were going to do much business) who seemed to be intent on going into the tunnel with just a small hand held torch for a light (They did actually have a front headlight but it was obscured by what looked like a storage cupboard).
The section from Ellesmere on is quite pretty as the canal winds its way through the open countryside but at times it does feel like you’re not really making any progress and I was anxiously checking the time as I really didn’t want us to miss our booking.
We got to Frankton Junction and there were three boats moored up – two were going down and one was just moored up and doing some painting.
We seemed to sit round for ages – which is odd because the locks themselves seemed quite quick.
We left the bottom lock and the canal ahead looked almost abandoned – it was full of reeds and seemed to be extremely shallow as we made almost no headway at any revs, even at tickover and I was seriously concerned about how far we’d actually get. But as we approached Weston Arm Junction the canal suddenly widened and got deeper.
Graham Palmer Lock No 4 was added when they restored the canal to counter changes in ground levels since the canal shut and so is only a few inches deep. Sheltered in the trees to one side is the memorial to Graham Palmer the founder of the Waterways Recovery Group.
The canal along this section could have good views but in many places trees and shrubs hide most of it, but the sun was shining so it was quite pleasant.
There is a long straight between Perry Aqueduct and Keeper’s Bridge No 73 and although you are level with the ground the trees and bushes almost make it feel like you are in a cutting. There isn’t really much left of Keepers Bridge – just a narrowing of the canal, and the vague remains of a track on the towpath side of the canal.
From Green Wicket Corner to Rednal Basin the canal runs in another long straight – which sort of makes sense : if you’re building a canal across a moss then why bother putting bends in unless they’re absolutely necessary.
Rednal Basin is a bit of a let down really – the entrance has a fixed low level bridge and there is nowhere to moor up and go explore the nature reserve that has been established as part of the canal restoration.
Then a few years later they built a bypass and put the A5 on the higher level Queen’s Head Bridge No 76A leaving the original bridge to basically just take a small amount of local traffic.
The first of the three Aston locks marks the start of another long straight. Alongside Aston Top Lock No 5 there is a nature reserve which was built when they restored the locks to move plants and wild life out of the canal channel. I think this canal is the only place where this has happened and it must have added a significant cost to the overall restoration.
Considering that the number of boats allowed on the canal each day is limited the locks were in very good condition and easy to work and with only the two of us we made very good time through them.
The The Navigation Inn (Maesbury) marks the centre of the only real settlement you’ll find on this part of the canal – it’s about twice the size of Queen’s Head, but it seemed to closed as we passed so we didn’t stop. There is a CRT services block by Maesbury Marsh Bridge No 79 and a rather fine crane on the wharf.
Gronwyn Wharf marks the end of the current navigation although there is a good length of canal in water beyond this point there isn’t another winding hole.
We then made our way slowly back up the canal before stopping and going to the pub for the evening. The Queen’s Head isn’t a bad pub at all – the food was good as was the beer. It was quiet but given the Covid epidemic that wasn’t unexpected and we were just about the last people to leave.
It was a little cool over night but we woke to clearish, sunny skies and headed off up the canal. We’d done some calculations based on the opening times at Frankton Locks and we had two options – push on a lot today and get there before noon on Monday or not push on and get there for opening time on Tuesday. As the second option seemed to be pretty much a waste of a day we decided that, barring hold ups at Grindley Brook, we’d go for a Monday morning passage. It would mean stopping out in the middle of nowhere overnight but with Covid and the fact that we had a lot of beer on the boat it wasn’t really that much of an issue.
Spey was moored up just before Ravensmoor Wharf Winding Hole and looked all locked up and secure so I guess they weren’t planning on moving any more over the weekend. Burland Pipe Bridge no longer seems to exist – to the extent that there isn’t even any sign of it at all. We got up the two Swanley locks with no problems but there was a bit of a tail back round Baddiley Lock No 7 due to faulty top paddle – which although it was a bit of a pain actually helped space the boats going upstream out a little. One of the boats coming down had managed to do something unpleasant to their rudder on Grindley Brook and were limping their way down to Swanley Bridge Marina
We exited Baddiley Lock No 9 with just one boat visible ahead of us and they were moving at a pace so we could move at a good speed without catching them up. When we got to Wrenbury Church Lift Bridge No 19 we found that they were stopping at Wrenbury for lunch (which they made in plenty of time) and so we went through Wrenbury Lift Bridge No 20 by ourselves. The boatyard was just about empty and we found out that every yard on the canal had almost all of their boats out on the canal.
We got to Willeymoor Lock No 12 and thought about stopping for a drink, but now we knew how many boats were out on the canal we decided to push on. Whilst we were waiting for the lock Nick popped in and got a takeout for later in the day.
Grindley Brook is notorious for delays but when we arrived at the bottom lock we didn’t have to wait for very long at all. It was when we got into Grindley Brook Lock No 15 that the problems began. There were boats above the top lock waiting for the staircase and a boat sitting in the top lock and two boats waiting in the pound. We slipped in at the back of the queue and started the wait.
More boats came up behind us and things started getting a bit crowded.
One of the boats coming down was a hireboat and they apologised that they were slow because their throttle wasn’t working. There were various conversations about what the problem could be and I offered to have a look. A quick look under the deck revealed the problem – the nut holding the throttle cable bolt in place had dropped off and the cable had bounced out. I had a quick check in the bilge which was very clean – it was a very new boat – but couldn’t see the nut. I showed them what the problem was and showed them how to reseat the cable and off they went. So that was my good deed for the day.
They were letting 4 boats up and 4 boats down the staircase which meant we didn’t make the first group going up so we had to sit in the pound below the staircase and wait. It didn’t help that one more boat came up through the top lock than really should have done which made it awkward for the boats coming down the staircase but we muddled through it.
The lockies on Grindley Brook Staircase Locks Nos 17 to 19 know their stuff and know how to work the locks as quickly as possible but we almost didn’t make it into the middle of the three locks as there wasn’t much water between us and the cill. But we made it without getting stuck and were soon out of the staircase and on our way.
We fairly flew along until New Mills Lift Bridge No 31 where we had to wait whilst two boats manoeuvred in and out of the Whitchurch arm. There was an amazing smell of cooking coming from a boat moored on the Whitchurch Offside Visitor Moorings and I told them that when they stuck their heads out to see what was going on.
All the Viking Afloat boats at Whitchurch Marina were out but there seemed to be quite a few people busy in the yard tidying things up. We played leap frog with another boat through the two Hassell’s swing bridges and Tilstock Park Lift Bridge No 42. They were a little on the slow side but we ended up in front after the last lift bridge as we headed down the long run to Morris Lift Bridge No 45 and by the time we got their they were a little spot in the distance so we didn’t hold the bridge for them. We headed through Whixall Moss Junction and moored up just past the Moss visitor moorings for the night.
We travelled up on Friday night and had a pleasant evening on the moorings drinking some bottled beer. We’d left the fridge on from last weekend so we could just load it all up. We put the cool blocks in the bottom to act as thermal ballast. It was an early night – I think we were both in bed before 11pm!
We woke to a cool but clear morning, in fact a lot of the days were like that over the course of the week, and slipped away from the moorings. Apart from a couple of people walking dogs on the towpath there was no-one around at all and we made good time to Adderley Top Lock No 8 and started down the flight. The locks seem to be an odd mix of full, partially full, and empty but with no obvious pattern.
As we approached Audlem Top Lock Visitor Moorings a boat cast off and started down the locks and we basically joined the back end of a small queue of boats heading down. There were a lot of boats coming up too so we basically had to wait a bit at each lock – so even though there were only 2 of us we actually couldn’t have made it down the locks any faster. We pulled in on Audlem Vistor Moorings (above wharf) and we headed off to the Pub and the Co-Op. Nick went to the shop and I went to the pub and found that it only opened at noon, so I sat round waiting for Nick and then we sat round for a few more minutes until the pub opened and our order was taken promptly by a member of staff who brought our drinks to our table.
This was the first pint of hand pulled beer I’d had since the lockdown
and it tasted pretty damned good. It was a little warm but the second one was perfect. We sat there in the sun, relaxing, and it was so tempting to have a third and basically stop for the day but we really thought we should push on a little more. So it was back to the boat and down past the wharf
We knew we wanted to eat out on the last night so Nick popped in as we waited for the lock and booked a table for the following Saturday.
When the lock was about 3/4 empty a boat cast off from the waterpoint below the lock (they’d been moored on the waterpoint at the wharf when we’d been sitting outside the pub) and proceeded to make its way slowly down the canal with its engine noise drowned out by the yapping of the dog on the back deck. They apologised to Nick for the barking dog but not for pulling out in front of us.
We got to the bottom lock and made our way past the moored up boats and then met a boat coming the other way who wanted us to speed up to try to pull them off “the ledge” as “it’s pretty big here”, but of course by the time he told me that we were almost past him anyway. I think if he’d dropped his speed a little bit he might have drifted out with no real problems.
The boat in front of us was only going as far as Overwater Marina and they seemed to be making good speed – which of course you can along this section of canal. There wasn’t much traffic moving and we made good time to Nantwich where, for once, the moorings weren’t totally full… there were however two boats moored on the no mooring section opposite Nantwich Sanitary Station, one was a boat with some young women on it and one was a “working boat” who really should have known better.
We arrived at Hurleston Junction Visitor Moorings (south) to find relative chaos – boats coming down, boats wanting to go up and queuing from both sides of the junction. I held the boat and Nick leapt off taking one of the Cobra Walkie Talkies with him – he wandered round and talked to everyone and established that we were the fifth boat in the queue to go up. One of the boats going up was an old wooden Thos Clayton oil boat called “Spey” – this was the first time up the canal because until Hurleston Bottom Lock No 1 was rebuilt they’d never been able to fit up the flight – they fitted through there but they were a little worried about lock four but said if they didn’t fit they’d pull to the side and let everyone else go through. However they did fit and after about an hour we started up the flight. One of the boats in front of us had an early evening table reserved at The Dusty Miller which there was no way they were going to be able to make, even if they hadn’t been delayed. Although there were other boats going up the progress was swift and before we knew it we were out of the top lock. We decided we’d move a bit away from the locks and moor up for the night – so we stopped just before the bridge, where we had some beautiful views over the countryside and tucked into a chicken casserole that had been sitting in the slow cooker all afternoon.
2020 has not been a good year for boating and with so much of lockdown still in place the traditional September holiday couldn’t take place. But we were determined to get out on the boat for a bit so this trip was just the two of us…. Originally we were going to do all of the Llangollen but it was rammed full of hireboats and wasn’t actually enjoyable so we changed our plans mid trip and instead of doing the top bit of the Llangollen we did the Shroppie down towards Chester