As today is handover day we spent many hours preparing Oliver for his next voyage. He was lovingly cleansed from top to toe and prepared in immaculate fashion.
Toby and Sarah arrived in good time to unload Zena and upload Oliver after sorting out some confusion about the entrance point as a result of a cricket match on the sports field. We then headed off for lunch at the Corn Mill a fine location that we had, of course, felt obliged to check out the previous evening.
It was rather sad to have to say goodbye to Oliver after three weeks together but we felt sure we would soon meet again for another adventure on the waterways. We felt better knowing he would be in good hands with Toby and Sarah.
After a relatively quick lunch we drove to Trevor to acquaint Toby and Sarah with the aqueduct where we took a few more photos.
The four of us then drove to our campsite at Abbey Farm (now deleted from our list of desirable campsites) from where we took a strenuous but scenic route to the Horseshoe Falls, the source of the canal.
We stopped for tea at the Chain Bridge Hotel before parting company. We headed back to our campsite while Toby and Sarah walked along the towpath back to the Llangollen Basin.
We hope they enjoy their journey as much as we did.
I had the pleasure of steering through some pleasant countryside and then the narrows while Romy walked the whole way checking for oncoming boats.
We were lucky enough to have a clear run but Romy did have to ask a few boats to wait some time after I had started the passage through the narrows. It was a little strange having a rock face close by on Oliver’s right as we made our way through this section and the vegetation growing seemingly from the rock did not make life any easier.
We moored in the Llangollen Basin stern to in a spot that was almost perfect for the transfer that we would have to make between Oliver and Zena.
I had some concerns about the indicator lights on the inverter when we hooked up the shore power but everything seems to work OK.
We checked all Oliver’s vital signs and gave him a good bill of health.
I walked back along narrows to get some photos as it had been impossible to take pictures while steering! I took a short video of “Casual Water” which became a close travelling companion for Oliver for the next couple of weeks. Romy strolled into town and we met up a little later and had a look round the local shops.
We set off at 7:15 excited at the prospect of crossing the two aqueducts and hoping to miss the crowds. As it turned out we had an easy passage over Chirk aqueduct and into tunnel with no waiting. The strong current made steering interesting and we seemed to crab along, but this is perhaps also a result of the prop wash. The current also seemed to have a significant impact on our speed.
Romy steered most of the time while I used the GoPro to take a video (to be uploaded after I have learnt the editing process!) and other cameras to take some photos.
The Chirk Aqueduct is in many ways more attractive than the longer and higher one at Pontcysylltte partly because of the adjacent railway bridge.
We reached the lifting bridge at Froncyssyllte just as another boat had passed under it and they very courteously waved us past. This meant that we arrived at Pontcysyllte at 9:25 with just one boat in front of us and these kind people behind us. The three of us waited for only one boat coming in opposite direction.
We moored at the Sun Trevor at 11:30, where we messed about for ages trying to get organised on some really badly spaced rings. This mooring is only 2 miles short of Llangollen but gave us lots of time to check things out for the grand entrance for tomorrow.
We walked back to Trevor after lunch to search out the best places to photograph the aqueduct, which involved quite a lot of walking, and then caught the 5 bus to Llangollen. We were delighted to spot Oliver en route. We checked out the marina and found a vehicle entrance through the adjacent sports ground so we could unload Zena.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Great excitement this morning when the engine hours digital read out appeared for first time since we had been on board (1999.3 hours).
We had an uneventful passage to Aqueduct Marina where we decided to pull in for pump out, diesel and water. We found this to be a first class marina with very friendly, thorough service and a campsite under construction. We met up again with the very friendly owners of Nighthawk who we first encountered at Harecastle. They had had to put in for a new prop shaft expected to take until next Tuesday.
It was VERY windy and although we got into the marina and reversed onto the pontoon without any problems getting out again provided a bit of a challenge. Overcome, of course, with our usual panache. To tell the truth it was about a fifteen point turn!
The approach to Barbridge Junction was not inspiring with wall to wall boats including numerous faded yoghurt pots.
Shortly after this we had to make a sharp right turn into the Hurleston Locks where we had to wait for one boat coming down. Right by the entrance to the first lock is a sign saying “Please raise your fenders”. Longer notice would be helpful but as a top deck sprinter Peter managed to pull them all up just in time. It was just as well as there was barley room for a cigarette paper between Oliver and the lock walls certainly not enough for a fender!
We issued ourselves with certificates of merit for having made it into the Llangollen Canal.
We found a nice quiet place to moor just before bridge 5 and Peter managed to complete the construction of 2SP having remembered to charge the drill batteries during day.
We left Oliver in Middlewich and went by the 37A bus to Northwich where we changed onto the 46 and carried on to Anderton to see the famous Anderton Boat Lift. How we love our bus passes!
It was a shame that the lift was not working but we still enjoyed the visit and had a good opportunity to look around the very comprehensive and interesting visitor centre. We were a little surprised not to see a much larger number of boats waiting for the lift as it had been out of action for around a week. The Stanley Arms provided a very good inexpensive lunch.
We arrived back at Oliver a little before 6pm having bought a few bits and pieces at an excellent hardware shop in Middlewich and a small tub of ice cream at Tesco. The lack of a good freezer forced us to consume the latter at one sitting!
Construction of the “short person steering platform”, to be called 2SP, commenced.