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Aussie aboard

After a breakfast at the marina cafe, Toby, Mum, Dad, Keith and I set off in full sunshine.  We decided to head towards Buckby locks,  with Keith sat in the bow enjoying the English countryside.

We stopped for cream tea aboard,  and turned around in Whilton marina just before Buckby locks.  We arrived back at the marina at about 5pm, and enjoyed a feast of local cheeses, homemade chutneys.  We had such a lovely supper, we’ve decided on a monthly cheese night.

Monday morning rush-hour

We made an early start in the hope of being able to get through the Grindley Brook set of locks before the end of the day. In the end it turned out that the Grindley locks weren’t a grind at all – the staircase of three is apparently notorious for causing delays to boaters, with someone having to wait 5 hours yesterday. Luckily for us we didn’t even have to wait for 5 minutes, perhaps largely as we turned up fairly late in the day at about 5:30pm, so we breezed through in quick order, with the lock keeper and his assistant’s help.

Unfortunately the other locks don’t have nice lock keepers to do all the hard work, so Sarah volunteered (it was that or do the steering!) and leapt across the gates to do some winding and pushing as required.

Sarah's nimble on her feet
Sarah’s nimble on her feet
Opening the locks is hard work - with a bit of waiting in between!
Opening the locks is hard work – with a bit of waiting in between!

Whilst a dab hand at the locks, Sarah’s also an accomplished helmswoman as could have been seen in the photo until she deleted it. During one stint she also did a great job sneaking up on this heron, which I managed to get a decent picture of before it flew off to find a quieter spot.


The early flurry of hire boats headed in the opposite direction dropped off after we passed Ellesmere junction and the canal became more like the Shropshire Union we know.

We eventually moored up shortly after Marbury lock – we had planned to stop at the Dusty Miller pub, but some other boaters headed the opposite direction told us it was closed today, so we stopped short.

Toby does the triple!

We awoke to beautiful sunshine and cast off a little earlier than planned. The one way working and the ‘narrows’ certainly live up to their name, I went ahead with the walkie talkies and got a little distracted taking scenic photos, luckily no one was coming the other way.


The aqueduct by boat was even more frightening than on foot, it was quite windy and I stayed well within the boat, my legs were still like jelly (it didn’t stop me taking a selfie or two!), Toby as always was an excellent helmsman.

Toby & Sarah over the aqueduct
Toby & Sarah over the aqueduct

We continued to Chirk and through the tunnel and the aqueduct where we met Peter and Romy for some film footage and action shots. We moored up and enjoyed a drink and some cake.

Chirk aqueduct with the viaduct to the right

Chirk aqueduct with the viaduct to the right

We decided to stay put and explore Chirk Castle, by luck (or good product placement), we saw some segways and decided on an impulse purchase and an off road tour round the grounds.

Great fun was had on the Segways!
Great fun was had on the Segways!
Chirk Castle
Chirk Castle

We explored the castle and the tower before walking back to the boat where we were welcomed by 6 or so geese hoping for some breadcrumbs.

Toby and the triple – It refers to the generous helpings of cake – Cornish fairings care of Romy for morning break, chocolate crunch cake care of my mum for late morning break and a scone with lashings of cream and jam care of National Trust at Chirk!

Handover Day

Today was handover day – Toby and Sarah drove up in Mum and Dad’s campervan ‘Zena’, and then swapped so Mum and Dad could continue their holidays in Zena whilst Toby and Sarah will take Oliver back home to Heyford Fields over the next few weeks.

Zena and Oliver
Zena meets Oliver

Much like the hire boat bases, today was our handover day. It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit into a campervan, and even more so a narrowboat. Mum had got everything super-prepared so everything was ready to go when we arrived, and it didn’t take long to swap all their stuff out of Oliver and into Zena, and vice versa.

Sarah ensured we won’t go hungry for the next 3 weeks; the pantry is now fit to burst with all the food in it, thanks in part to the work a few weeks ago by Barry to add some new shelving.

The well stocked pantry
The well stocked pantry

With the jobs out of the way it was then time for some fun – off to the Pontcysyllte aqueduct to check out the views and see what we’d be letting ourselves in for tomorrow! The obligatory group selfie had to be done – apologies to Mum but we couldn’t fit you all in along with the aqueduct!

Mum forgot to bring her high heels
Mum forgot to bring her high heels

We then made our way in Zena to Mum and Dad’s campsite, which is by the impressive ruins of the old Valle Crucis Abbey.  After a very quick stop there we walked to the Horseshoe Falls, after a slight detour due to some wonky navigational directions! The walk was well worth it though with some beautiful scenery and lovely tranquil settings.

Horseshoe Falls
Horseshoe falls, the source of the Shropshire Union canal

We then had a well earned drink in the nearby ChainBridge hotel before finally parting ways, as Toby and Sarah walked back along the canal to Oliver and Mum and Dad walked back to the campsite.

A Walk to Chirk Castle

We stayed on our mooring at Chirk Bank and walked via aqueduct and over tunnel to Chirk Castle.  This is a very interesting property with some rooms that were clearly designed to impress and achieved this in a very effective manner.  These rooms were in stark contrast to the quarters provided for the laundry maids who had laundry to clean not only from Chirk itself but also that shipped in from the family’s properties in London and Scotland.  Romy was very impressed with the undergarments of the ladies of the castle.

The gardens are extensive and beautifully kept.  In a compost bin in the kitchen garden we found a grass snake about 2 feet long!  We left it there.

It was busy at Chirk Bank, in early evening, with lots of boats passing us in both directions including eight canoes.  We found that feeding the geese was risky because as soon as we stopped they gave us the evil eye and started hissing.

I set up the GoPro mount on Oliver’s bow ready to make a video of the aqueduct crossing.

Chirk Castle
Chirk Castle
An Impressive Room
An Impressive Room
The Laundry Maids Workplace.  Their bath is the tub on the left.
The Laundry Maids Workplace. Their bath is the tub on the left.
Suits you madam!
Suits you madam!
Not always friendly
Not always friendly


Fuelling Fun

Another beautiful bright morning.  It’s worth getting up early before other boats are moving.  The canal water is smooth and reflective and the only sounds are of the wildlife, soon to be joined by Oliver’s “burble”.

We spotted a couple of slightly unusual but interesting sights.  The first was a hot air balloon peacefully floating in the still morning air and the other was a Tilley hat peacefully floating along the canal.  It was probably feeling poorly, it certainly looked quite green!

Our first lock took an hour to get through because there were 3 boats in front of us all going up and 3 others coming down.  Two of those going up had never been in a lock before and did not seem to have had much instruction.

The greatest entertainment came after we had stopped at Chirk Bank.  We decided to buy diesel  from the fuel boat when he came by our mooring and he confirmed other boats had room to pass.  Unfortunately the first to arrive lacked confidence and held back.  Several boats stopped behind him, including one under the bridge and then several more came from the opposite direction.  It turned into the biggest jam we saw during our entire adventure.

In the evening we walked into Chirk and visited the church where there was an unusual and interesting fairly modern stained glass window.  We had an early dinner at the Hand Hotel before strolling around the town.  We then spent some time enthralled by the smoke from Mondelez belching out in large chocolatey smelling clouds.  As we did not have a torch we decided to walk along the road, rather than through the tunnel.  We then went across the aqueduct and followed the towpath back home to Oliver.

Patience is a Virtue
The Fuel Boat, Chirk Aqueduct.
The Fuel Boat, Chirk Aqueduct.
Chirk Church
Chirk Church
Chocolate Smoke, Mondelez
Chocolate Smoke, Mondelez, Chirk

Oliver Has A Day Off

8th June Monday

We had a pleasant walk along the towpath and through some woods to the Visitor Centre at the Mere.  We then went for a wander around the edge of the Mere and saw some interesting sculptures that have been placed there over a number of years.  After lunch we found a different route back to Oliver.  This took us through some of the older streets and to the end of the “arm” where there is a lovely old crane alongside the winding hole next to the now almost derelict Shropshire Union Railways and Canals building.  We met up again with “Tam Shaz” and heard some more interesting stories of life on the canals from Nigel.

Peter and Romy. Seated on a Sculpture, The Mere, Ellesmere.
The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Building,  Ellesmere
Nigel on Tam Sharaz
Nigel on Tam Shaz
The CART's interestingly positioned visitor moorings, Ellesmere.
The CART’s interestingly positioned visitor moorings, Ellesmere.

Early Risers

7th June 2015

By getting up at a time that can only be called “twirly” we set off at 7am in an attempt to beat the queues at Grindley Brook Locks.  This worked very well and we only had a wait of around 15 minutes before we were rising up to the top of the staircase.  The lock keeper told us that it was “really, really, really busy” there most of the time but at 10 am most of the hired boat crews had barely got out of their beds! * We had a little chat about the previous locks that we had found with top gates open and paddles still up.  He claimed that the worst offenders were the Dutch because flat lands don’t need lots of locks and where they do exist they are mostly manned!

As we approached bridge 44 we found that this was a particularly favourite spot for anglers.  There must have been about 15 of them.  One forgot to pull his rod in but raised it high enough for us to pass under like a mini lifting bridge.

At an innocuous looking corner at Bettisfield we had to move across close to the towpath bank as boats were moored on the left and another boat was coming our way.  Much to our consternation we immediately found that we were aground, had lost steerage and our bow was heading for one of the moored boats.  Fortunately the owner was aboard and she and Romy fended off at the front while Peter poled off the stern and we went on our way unscathed.  The kind lady told us “oh yes it’s terribly shallow on that corner but it’s worse further up”.  We carried on determined to keep as far from the edge as possible at all times.

At Ellesmere the visitor moorings were all very busy and many people were out on boats for their first time.  We were flagged down by a lady who told us that one such boat had become stuck in the reeds and was being towed out.  We moored temporarily until that had been sorted out and then we continued on for a few hundred yards and found plenty of space for Oliver where we planned to stay for two nights.

* This was not borne out by our experience going in to Llangollen Basin!

Grindley Brook Staircase Going Up
Grindley Brook Staircase Going Up

Lack of Lock Luck

6th June 2015

We only managed six locks today but not one of them was set in our favour and we had to wait at most of them for other boats going up.  Quite a few visitors from overseas on a narrow boat for the first time.  We particularly liked the one who strolled up said good morning and then walked away saying “Well I’ll leave you to it!”  We politely explained a little of the etiquette at the next lock.  A close second was our last lock of the day (23) where someone had left the top gate open, both paddles open and the ratchets up.

The locks on this section can be particularly tricky because there are some quite strong cross currents encountered when entering the locks on the way up as a result of side streams which apparently come all the way from Horseshoe Falls.  The wind was also very strong today, probably around force 5.  These two factors coupled together made life a challenge.  I misjudged the first one but managed the others a lot better.  The wind and current had a noticeable affect when going through narrow sections at bridges where we seemed to slow down quite markedly.

We should have had two hydraulic and one electric lifting bridges today but the second hydraulic one (21) is apparently now permanently open.  One boat had a big struggle at the first bridge ending up at an alarming angle across the canal when he tried to reverse having arrived too early. We realised that although it is quite easy to raise the bridge using the hydraulic assistance it takes a long time.  That was a helpful lesson as we were moored up watching at the time and when it was our turn we were well prepared.  Walking to the Dusty Miller pub for lunch enabled us to study the mechanism and technique for dealing with the electric road bridge where Romy had great fun stopping the traffic.

We moored for the night after bridge 24, but before the designated visitor moorings, and had a walk into Marbury to see another of the sandstone churches and some of the villages old buildings.

Manually operated lifting bridge awaiting operator attention.
Electrically operated road bridge, Wenbury.
Electrically operated road bridge, Wenbury.
A pleasant rural mooring near Marbury.
A pleasant rural mooring near Marbury.
Marbury sandstone church.
Marbury sandstone church.