Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tying Up Some Loose Ends

We really must apologise for the LONG delay in updating the blog. You will see from the dates in this 'episode' that it is several weeks since we travelled these waterways, but we have found ourselves in areas with very poor internet access, which makes updating the blog a very tediously long-drawn-out process. Anyway, we hope to be able to get you up to date over the next few days, so there will probably be several episodes in quite short succession.

Back southwards up the Trent and Mersey Canal from Anderton, we came to Middlewich on 9th September, turned off onto the Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union – and into our first narrow lock since 22nd April! We really enjoyed the summer months, and especially our time on the Leeds and Liverpool, but we do prefer narrow locks, and it was good to be back!

This short (10 mile) arm of the Shropshire Union makes a vital link between the two canals, leading almost directly to where the Llangollen Canal branches off, but we had a 'loose end' to deal with – a trip northwards through Chester and on to Ellesmere Port, where the 'Shroppie' joins the Manchester Ship Canal. We had never been along this stretch before, so here was an ideal opportunity!

Although most of the 'Shroppie' is 'narrow gauge', the stretch from Nantwich to Chester is the old Chester Canal, so we were back on broad locks again! The Iron Lock at Beeston has the whole lock chamber made of flanged cast iron plates because of 'running sand' below it. Apparently the technology for this was developed from the use of similar plates in building the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. The remains of the 1337 Beeston Castle were within view, but unfortunately not within our walking distance, so we pressed on to Chester amidst spasmodic rain showers.

One of these combined with the late afternoon sunshine to add interest to the lovely old brick-built water tower on the outskirts of the city.
The weather was better next morning, so we decided to walk at least part of the way round the city walls. These are apparently some of the most completely preserved city walls, and it was interesting to compare with our visits to York back in May and June. Apart from anything else, the rich red sandstone of Chester's walls is very different from the cool grey stone of York.

Here are just a few examples . . . King Charles' Tower, on the northeastern corner of the walls, perched above the rock cutting that was originally a moat and was then modified to be part of the canal . . . and then the Victorian clock built above the 1769 arch of the East Gate . . . For lots more information about Chester and its walls, there is a very interesting website to explore.

And then on to Ellesmere Port . . . It is odd to think that this busy industrial town was named as the 'port' for the town of Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal.

They now seem to be in two completely different worlds!

We really went there just to see what the 'Shroppie' was like on this section, but had a pleasant surprise when we visited the Waterways Museum there – fascinating, with old boats in the water and very informative exhibits. It seems that they are busy with families on holiday but even busier with school visits in term time. Here's a sunset scene looking over one of the old canal basins and towards the Manchester Ship Canal.

We were soon heading back south from Ellesmere Port and Chester and on one stretch of canal found ourselves going past a very long line of more than 70 anglers in a contest. Of course, simple courtesy demands that boats slow right down, but for about a mile of anglers? We did, anyway, though we remembered that there was a long line of moored boats coming up – similar length, and immediately after the anglers! We always go slowly past moored boats, as we know from experience how much too much wash can shake a boat around.
And then, back onto narrow locks again on 15th September as we turned off the 'Shroppie' onto the Llangollen Canal. We went there with David and Mary back in April 2007, but that had been a quick 'there and back in a week' and now we had some other plans as well. We needed to get back to Devon for annual doctor and dentist appointments, and so had been looking for somewhere to leave the boat while we did that, as close as possible to Adam in Shrewsbury, so that we could easily get to him to borrow our car back for 10 days. There were moorings at Ellesmere and Chirk where we could leave 'Zindagi' for up to 14 days, so that looked fine, especially as public transport looked good from either.

Then we had a phone call from Peter and Rachel. We knew that they had been planning to take their camper van to Chirk the previous week, but had been rained off, and we were too far away to meet up with them. Now they had arranged to be there a week later – would we be able to meet? Easy, really; we just chugged a little further than usual for a couple of days and so met them at Chirk on 18th September. The weather was pretty good, so we reckoned that we could take them up to Llangollen and back in the day, through the tunnel at Chirk and over the aqueducts there and at Pontcysyllte – that's the really high one over the River Dee. These photos from the BBC give you a good idea of it, and the fact that, on one side of the boat, you are looking straight down 120-odd feet to the river. As we said last time, it feels like the boat is flying! We had a great day together, and treated ourselves to both a pub lunch at Sun Trevor and an Indian meal in Chirk in the evening.

In these few days, we passed the moorings at Ellesmere and Chirk, where we had hoped to leave 'Zindagi'. It was obvious that they would NOT be really suitable after all, mainly because they were in fairly secluded places, and so a little more vulnerable to unseen vandalism. We needed an alternative mooring – where? In conversation with a very helpful British Waterways man at Chirk, he suggested that we could moor safely at Queens Head, on the restored section of the Montgomery Canal. As we had hurried a little to meet Peter and Rachel, we had a couple of days in hand before we needed to leave the boat and head down to Devon. It seemed ideal, and gave us the opportunity to explore another 'loose end', so we set off back to Frankton Junction, making a phone call to British Waterways to book our passage through the locks on the 20th.
After the Llangollen Canal, busy with many hire boats, the 'Monty' seemed quiet and remote as we travelled the few miles down to Queens Head, but the moorings there were just right. Not too busy, but in the public eye enough to deter vandalism. The pub there does a good line in Sunday lunches, so we tempted Adam with the promise of food and he very kindly came and collected us and our luggage, so that we could spend the night at his house in Shrewsbury before heading off to Lapford on the 22nd.

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