Day 102 – Walking The Plank

We’ve made it to moorings just outside Bilbrook, where Sarah will be catching her train tomorrow. We’ve had lovely weather today, the Shroppie cuttings looking rather gloomy when the sun is in, but glorious when it’s shining bright.

Sarah gave Eira a walk along the towpath whilst I pootled along behind, all the way up to the water point where we topped up the tank.

Our first and only lock of the day was at Wheaton Aston. This was scheduled to be closed for the CRT to make repairs, but the outcry was such that they changed their minds, and will do the repairs in the winter when things are quieter. In the meantime, the bottom gates are incredibly leaky, as you can see from the piccie below.

Some boaters like to grow lots of plant life on their roof. I don’t know how the first one sees where they are going, but it did look nice. As for the second, well it clearly doesn’t go anywhere anyway!

We stopped off at Countrywide Cruisers for a pumpout, as they are alongside and on the right side for our pump out. We were impressed to learn that they’ve been going for 49 years, and the man doing the pumpout for 30. Not bad going!

After that, it was plain sailing up to our mooring point. The moorings here are blighted by the typical ‘Shropppie shelf’, which lurks a foot or so underwater at the edge. As a result we couldn’t get Oliver close in; Eira was going to have to walk the plank.

Despite coercion with cheese and treats, she refused to get on and I ended up carrying her back aboard. Later she did pluck up the courage to get off the boat – the promise of walkies overruling her fears!

Luckily when we got back from a trip to the shops the boat behind us had left, so we moved back to where the shelf is much smaller and we can get the bow in close enough to just step off rather than needing to leap for shore.

Day 101 – A-Maizing

The weather is holding, and we’re enjoying the warmth on our backs and somewhat short lazy days cruising. We cast off, with Toby steering while I walked ahead with Eira. We went past the old Cadbury’s wharf which opened in 1911. In it’s hey day, milk, cocoa and sugar crumb were all delivered here by narrowboat – just imagine the whiff in the air!

It doesn’t look like this stop gate has been used in a while.

We stopped at Norbury Wharf and topped up the tank to the brim with fuel (76p a litre), we then shimmied over to the other side and filled the water tank up – I wonder how much extra weight we added in that time?!

I’d forgotten about Cowley Tunnel and how impressive it looks, cut from the rock. I’m glad we were aboard, as the towpath was a wet muddy mess. We saw a lady walking along it in flip flops!

We moored up in the middle of nowhere, we were surprised as usually at least one boat moors up – so far so good!

I did some cooking, and Toby took Eira for a walk. She really enjoyed running through the maize fields and was quite hard to spot, apart from the shaking of the leaves. She’s true to the saying of dog-tired and has been asleep since.

Day 100 – Our First Century

Wow, 100 consecutive days aboard Oliver, that’s a first (but will it be the last?!) Just a short hop for us today, so after letting Eira out for a morning wee we got back in bed for our tea and coffee. I took Eira for a walk and Sarah topped up food supplies at Morrisons, we eventually cast off at 10am.

Just the 5 locks at Tyrley to tackle today. We were really lucky – with a steady stream of boats coming the other way, Sarah didn’t have to open a single entry gate, nor close an exit one, making the locks a breeze.

Eira seems to really like the locks and was quite fascinated by them, following Sarah as she opened paddles, then running back to check that I was ok, back and forth she went!

Cadbury’s used to collect milk from the wharf at the top of the flight and take it to their factory at Knighton, near to we’re now moored for the night.

This must be smallest, narrowest narrowboat we’ve ever seen on the canal!

Whenever I think of the Shroppie, it’s the deep verdant cuttings that always come to mind. Woodseaves Cutting is over 100 feet deep in places, and it all felt rather other-worldly as we passed through, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. We kept our fingers crossed that no trees would fall down!

We moored shortly before Knighton, deep in the countryside; perfect for an afternoon walk with Eira.

Day 99 – All For One And One For All

Today we were due to meet up with Sarah’s boss (and good friend) Donald, his wife Beth, and their dog Eira, who we’ll be dog-sitting for over the next two weeks. We set off from the top of the Audlem flight with plenty of time to go through the 5 locks at Adderley and on into Market Drayton for 12pm to meet up with them.

The sun was shining, and the Shroppie was full of lovely produce, from nature’s finest crab apples, to local stalls with lots of goodies to choose from.

All that greenery comes at a price though – a fallen tree was across the canal, barring all progress. Another boat had come across it earlier at about 9am, and then reversed all the way back to the nearest accessible bridge so the CRT guys could catch a lift with all their kit once they arrived, so we waited back with them in case they needed more cargo space.

The cavalry arrived with their chainsaws a couple of hours later and we followed after them into battle against the tree.

Luckily there were lots of boaters to lend a hand. After a couple of hours all the branches were cleared away, but the main trunk was too deep underwater to reach all the way with the chainsaw. It was most of the way through though, and after a couple of attempts ramming the lead boat onto it, and a bit more pulling all together on a rope, it finally parted in two and we could pull it out and chop it up bit by bit.

Needless to say, by this time we were well past 12pm time to meet up in Market Drayton with Donald and Beth, so instead they walked up the canal with Eira to meet us for a late lunch on board. Sarah then walked back with them to the car whilst I stayed to help clear the tree.

By about 3pm there was enough space for boats to safely pass; the sunken part was marked with a rope and some bags and left for tomorrow when they can bring a workboat up to lift it out fully. I then cast off to get to Market Drayton and meet up with Sarah again.

Soon after passing the tree, I passed the boat ‘Dogtannian’. Sarah and I both loved the cartoon series as kids, and their motto of “All for one and one for all” seemed particularly fitting for today’s joint effort clearing the tree.

Someone said we needed to do more music/video embeds, so for anyone left in the dark about Dogtanian, perhaps the below will enlighten you a little!

Speaking of dogs, Eira is settling in nicely, though still seems a bit unsure of what’s going on!

I took Eira out for a walk this evening, and was delighted to find Fred and Lisa on nb Chyandour (who we’d met at Liverpool), moored up just a little further up the cut from us. We had a lovely chat and caught up on news, and when I got back to the boat and told Sarah, she went walked down to say hello to them too. The narrowboating community really is fantastic.

Day 98 – Shhhh…..It’s A Secret

The heavy rain had passed by morning, and with sunshine on our backs we cast off, the clouds were quite impressive.

We were lucky enough with more Kingfisher sightings today. I always seem to be steering and Toby always seems to be on the loo, so quick reverse and shout down to Toby, he comes running up, worrying that something’s wrong – no no, can you just try and get a good photo please!

Two locks under our belt and we moored up and visited Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. It was rebuilt in the 1980’s at a cost of £32m, and would have been a centre for Regional Government had nuclear war broken out. It was declassified in 1993, and includes a BBC and BT (or British Telecommunications back then) emergency transmission room.

We were soon back on our way and forgot that it was Saturday until we saw the fishermen. A big smile and a thank you from us, and surprisingly they all gave a cheerful response – miracles do happen!

We then reached the Audlem flight of 15 locks- we could have done with mum being on board! The heavy rain created some strong overflows at the bottom of each lock, Toby did a great job steering in the locks, although at times he looked like he was heading for the bank, such was the force and the steering angle required. I don’t jump the gates anymore, so Toby climbs on the roof and up the ladder to close the offside gate.

Our reward for reaching the top of the flight was this delightful little cubbyhole in someone’s garden. Goodies ranging from cream teas, shortbread, lemon drizzle cake and Toby’s choice – Cherry Bakewell.

Toby does like a G&T, but is suffering these last six weeks or so with a bout of migraines. We did a blind taste test with one real G&T and a Seedlip non-alchoholic variety. There’s nothing wrong with Toby’s tastebuds, he knew which was the real thing, but would consider trying the other varieties.

Day 97 – Farewell Rosemary!

Rosemary travelled home back to Barry in Oxford today; we had time for one last group selfie first. It looks a bit like I have a freakishly long arm giving everyone a hug!

Sarah and I caught the bus with Rosemary to Crewe, and then waved her off on the train before catching our own train back to Nantwich. Rosemary’s intended train was running 36 minutes late, but luckily she was just able to make the train before it, so didn’t miss her connection at Wolverhampton.

Back in Nantwich we did some food shopping in Marks and Spencers, and admired some of the town’s lovely flower displays.

The weather is rather wet today so we decided to stay put on the boat and do a few jobs; Sarah did the washing and I put the speaker back in the newly repaired box.

Rosemary messaged to say she got home safely and without any hiccups. We imagine Barry welcomed her home with a song:

The lady dancing in the video is now 69 years old – only a couple of years older than Rosemary!

Day 96 – Silence Is Golden

The boat in the picture below moored behind us last night, it was only when we went to bed we heard the grinding of the pin on the armco railing. Off Toby went in his PJs with a torch, putting an old rag around the pin, after that is was silence and we all got a good nights sleep.

A long day today, as we wanted to get to Nantwich, so mum could get the train home tomorrow, and we could sit out the forcasted rain. It was a day of slow progress with lots of locks and lift bridges. We were following a very slow boat, even with us doing the lock for them so they could get ahead, we still caught them up at the next lock.

A pumpout at Swanley Marina, Toby is holding the pumpout thingy, and mum is holding the water hose to get a good seal – not the nicest of jobs, but it doesn’t seem to put anyone off from wanting to stay!

Hurleston Locks felt so different today, compared to when we came up and had to queue for almost two hours. We were straight in with three vlockies (it pays to move on a week day!), we gave our thanks with Barra Brith cake. It was very windy, one boater coming up the flight really didn’t have a clue. He missed the first lock entrance and had to have a second go. On crossing in the pound with Toby, it was Toby who had to go the wrong side to get in to the lock, the other guy was sticking to the towpath side no matter what.

A right hand turn and we said our goodbyes to the Llangollen canal. Nantwich was surprisingly busy, we were lucky to get a mooring – although somewhat unlucky as a boat pulled out from the services just in front of us, and took the better spot.

Dinner consisted of pizza chicken and a dessert of blackberry and apple crumble with lashings of custard. Five left over portions which will keep Toby going for breakfast for the rest of the week!

Day 95 – Make Do And Mend

We started the day well prepared for the rain that was forecast.

It was already raining when we set off, though just a light drizzle at first.

The rain soon came down cats and dogs though, so Sarah and I took turns steering. Whilst I was hiding from the rain, I got a couple of small jobs done – fixing the speaker box corner that had come apart, and a Macgyver-style fix for Sarah’s glasses with a very tiny bit of cotton thread, with stopper knots on either end until we can get to an optician.

We went through a couple of lift-bridges, and then as it was coming up to lunch time and the rain by this point was torrential, we moored up for lunch and waited until 2pm for the rain to ease off.

Renourished and with the skies slowly brightening, we tackled the last lift-bridge and got up to Grindley Brook staircase. Sarah requested I point out that the canal turns sharply to the left just before the bridge, in case anyone thinks she’s lost the plot and is steering the wrong way!

We were the 5th boat in line at the staircase, but Sarah must have made a good impression with the lock keeper Amy when we came up, as she let all 5 of us down in a row. Naturally we gave thanks in the usual way – Amy went for the last chocolate brownie, and the vlockie had some Bara Brith which we’d got from the butchers in Chirk.

We moored up after the last of the Grindley Brook locks. There were still some blackberries there so Sarah and Rosemary went picking whilst I made some bread and mopped out the rain from the bilges.

Rosemary is treating us to dinner tonight at the Horse and Jockey; it looks like we’ll be spoilt for choice judging by the menu.

Day 94 – A New Tiller Girl

We woke to blue skies and warm air, so it wasn’t too much effort (even for Toby) to get up and cast off.  Mum and Toby opened the gates and paddles, and I steered us in to the locks – I was happy to as 1) nobody was around and 2) it gets Toby off my case for a few days.

With the canal to ourselves, and a nice long straight stretch, it was the perfect opportunity for mum to practice her helming skills, with expert tuition provided by Toby.

We saw a metal detector in action, sadly we weren’t around long enough to spot any finds, maybe there’s the odd windlass or two buried in the field!

We had a time slot of 12-2pm for the Frankton Lock flight, we were boat number four in the queue of six boats. We made good timing with three lock keepers, paying our dues with brownies which were much appreciated, so much so, we got four stars on the board!

Lunch on board, we enjoyed some fresh bread, cheese and pate.  We then had to get used to the all the boats on the move again, it was so peaceful on The Montgomery canal, and our own private waterway.  Next stop was The Ellesmere Arm, and a visit to the local Tesco, we made us of the extra pair of hands with mum being with us and stocked up on supplies.

We carried on to Blake Mere and moored up, what a cracking view out of the side hatch. 

Day 93 – Sleepy Montgomery

Another morning with sunshine and blue skies, though a little cooler today than it has been. The sky looked lovely reflected in the water at the Chirk aqueduct.

Sarah was on the helm for the locks this morning, and a cracking job of it she did too. They were Rosemary’s first locks of the trip, but after a few reminders I think she’s nearly got the hang of it.

We turned right at Frankton to turn onto the Montgomery Canal. This is new territory for us. We’d booked passage for the Frankton locks online yesterday, and the lock keepers are there from 12pm-2pm. If you’re name is not on the list, you’re not coming in.

We gave the lockies some brownies to keep then going, and then said farewell to them (until tomorrow anyway).

We stopped for lunch just after the locks, on the Weston branch. At the bottom of the building at the end, there’s a lovely little herb flowerbed. I picked some sage to go with our pork and apple for dinner tonight – perfect timing for it!

Sarah continued helming through the locks at Aston, giving me a rare chance to do some more locks.

At the end of the restored and navigable section we had to go under a lift bridge, turn left for a couple of hundred metres, wind the boat in the winding hole and then back under the bridge. Sarah bravely went ahead alone on Oliver to turn around, whilst Rosemary and I waited at the bridge. Typically a car turned up so we had to drop it back down, and then wind it up again for Sarah to come back through a few minutes later.

We moored soon after, and then explored the canal on foot up to the current navigable end. The work they are doing to restore the next section is really impressive to see, and interesting to see how it’s all constructed and put together.

The Himalayan Balsam is very pretty in bloom, and rapidly taking over some sections as it is so invasive.

Tomorrow we get to do it all again in the opposite direction.