Wednesday, October 24, 2012

September on the Shroppie – and the Staffs & Worcs

Nantwich is just a couple of miles south of Hurleston Junction, where we had rejoined the Shropshire Union from the Llangollen, but we stopped here for a few days to get a replacement circulating pump for Zindagi's central heating.

Audlem is a few miles further on, with its narrow locks in pleasant surroundings,

 the 'Shroppie Fly' pub, an old wharf crane and the former Audlem Mill,

 before the rest of the flight really gets climbing up out of the Cheshire plain to the Shropshire heights – an overall climb of 93 feet in 15 locks.

So, who is this member of the Mafia driving our boat??  Oh, don't worry, it's only Val wearing her sunglasses and the hat that Shireen and Thor gave her!!

Up another 31 feet in the 5 Adderley locks . . .

 . . . and 33 feet more as 5 locks at Tyrley cut up through the red sandstone.

The High Bridge in Woodseaves cutting a mile or so later, typical of the Shropshire Union.  Earlier canal engineers might have taken a detour round the hill – not Thomas Telford!

First signs of approaching autumn – the boat starts collecting leaves!

Another deep cutting, another High Bridge!  This one in Grub Street cutting with its iconic stub of a telegraph pole on the bracing arch.  It used to carry phone wires, but not any more.

Norbury Junction near Stafford doesn't look much like a junction at the moment, but this little arm is the beginning of the Newport Branch which used to connect right through to Shrewsbury.  There is talk of restoration, but when?

More of Telford's engineering.  The Stretton aqueduct over the A5 (Watling Street).  The inscription labels this as the 'Birmingham and Liverpool Canal' with Thomas Telford as the engineer and dated 1832.

Getting further south and within earshot of the M54, heron and ducks enjoy the morning sunlight.

As we approached Autherley Junction and the 'Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal' (understandably abbreviated to 'Staffs & Worcs'), we needed to decide whether to turn right and head south to visit Stourport again, or simply turn left and head north-east to Great Haywood.

We turned left!  A few miles up the Staffs & Worcs, we passed through Gailey, where the lock drops the canal down under Watling Street.  Next to the unusual Round House, where the lock keeper used to live and was able to see boats arriving from either direction and prepare the lock accordingly.

Just before Haywood Junction with the Trent and Mersey, we moored in Tixall Wide and were treated to this sunset! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Month on the Llangollen

Our first trip on the Llangollen Canal was just 10 days or so after we started our canal travels back in 2007.  The boat still felt new, we were still getting used to it, and David & Mary had joined us for the only time they could make it – Easter school holiday week!  We avoided the worst of the holiday crowds by starting a few days later than they did, and we still made it up to Llangollen and back in a week!

No such pressure of time on this occasion, but when were we going?  Only in August – school holidays again!

The Llangollen, of course, is known for its distinctive style of lift bridge.  Here is one near Wrenbury which we didn't need to operate – it is left permanently open.

The hedgerows were responding to warm sunshine, at last!  Hemp Agrimony near Wrenbury.

Val bringing Zindagi into Quoisley Lock, on the Cheshire/Shropshire border.  This canal was originally known as the Ellesmere Canal and runs through several miles of Cheshire and Shropshire countryside before it get anywhere near Wales!

Near Ellesmere, we moored right next to Blake Mere.  This was very nearly the view out of our bedroom window!

Down the short arm to Ellesmere itself, the stark emptiness of the wharf is relieved by the old crane and canal warehouse – neither in use for anything as far as we could see!

New Marton Locks, just about the only significant congestion point we have found on the canal.  This time, we only had to wait about half an hour to get into the lock – but look at the queue of boats behind us – I make it about 7 or 8!

Then, an apparently sudden transition to the Welsh Hills as we crossed Chirk Aqueduct next to the railway viaduct.  This aqueduct would probably be much more famous if it wasn't for the other one just 3½ miles away!

And here it is – the jaw-dropping view, looking straight down over the side of Zindagi's stern deck, to the River Dee, some 120 feet below the Pontcysyllte aqueduct.

See what we mean?  The nearest thing to flying in a narrowboat!  And, amazingly, we had come up no more locks since New Marton in Shropshire.  Perhaps not so much climbing into the Welsh Hills as soaring over the Welsh valleys!

We arrived in Llangollen 8 days after we joined the canal, and decided to stay 2 nights in the mooring basin.  A moderate charge for a quiet location, with electrical hook-up included.

The canal from Trevor to Llangollen was originally designed only as a feeder, but was made navigable this far.  Only the shallow-bottomed tourist trip boat can go any further . . .

 . . . but we walked up to Horseshoe Falls, where the feeder comes off the River Dee, not only keeping the canal supplied but also feeding Hurleston reservoir at the junction with the Shropshire Union.

Here is the Chain Bridge Hotel at Berwyn, perched on the banks of the Dee with the canal feeder hidden behind it and the old suspension ('chain') bridge still standing (but not in use!)

We walked over the road bridge and up the other side of the valley to little Berwyn station, to catch the Llangollen Railway back.

Our train was pulled by a historic diesel, but we met a steam engine coming the other way,

 back to Llangollen station.

Castell Dinas BrĂ¢n towers over Llangollen and is the remains of a medieval fort, as well as the site of an ancient Iron Age hill fort.  A good morning climb for Dave, rewarded with stunning views!  The canal basin is just to the right of the large white Eisteddfod marquee, but not really visible from up here!

As we made our way back, here is a different view of the Pontcysllte aqueduct, from the bridge over the Dee below.  Yes, that IS someone walking over on the footpath!

Just a few miles from the aqueduct, we turned off at Frankton Junction to spend a few days on the Montgomery Canal.  Progress on restoration seems to be slow, but recently lottery funding has been going elsewhere, apparently!

Apart from simply enjoying another visit to the 'Monty', we had other motives for coming here!  The Navigation Inn (a former canal warehouse in Maesbury Marsh) was the venue we had chosen for a family meal to celebrate our 40 years of marriage,

 closely followed by an afternoon's canoeing for the whole family . . .

 . . . and not forgetting a cuppa and ice cream afterwards!  Thanks to Adam for hosting us all.  Another reason for choosing Maesbury Marsh – Shrewsbury is not very far away!

Shireen and Thor joined us for a few days afloat – over the Pontcysllte aqueduct again!

We left the Llangollen Canal on the 8th of September, exactly a month after we joined it.  A most enjoyable month – now to head further south!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Summer Dawdlings

Just before we left the Bridgewater Canal, we took a small diversion.  Back in Stockton Heath, when we filled up with diesel at Thorn Marine, we asked them what they thought of the Runcorn 'Arm' (once the main line of the canal down to the Mersey).  'Worth a visit' was their response, so we turned right at Preston Brook and chugged nearly 6 miles along to what is now the terminus.  A much more pleasant trip than we had expected!

Then, back on the Bridgewater 'main line' and into Preston Brook tunnel – emerging to the Trent & Mersey Canal –

 where the canal rides along the side of gentle hills down to the River Weaver.

Since we were here, there has been an enormous breach of the canal banks, and the Canal & River Trust have launched an appeal for the estimated repair cost of £1.5 million.

And so to Middlewich, where there is one final 'big lock' (next to the pub of the same name) before 

 three narrow ones took us up and round the town, where we turned off the Trent and Mersey onto the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.

Musk Mallow growing beside the canal.

When we joined the 'main line' of the Shropshire Union Canal at Barbridge, we turned right and northwards, towards Chester.  Last time we came here was in 2008, so we thought it was time for a return visit!

Zindagi moored in the rolling countryside near Beeston.

Adam came and joined us and gave us a lift to visit Beeston Castle together.  The weather was patchy, but we had some sunshine . . .

 also enjoyed by a Small Copper butterfly . . .

 and highlighting this stonecrop.

Here is Beeston Castle again, seen from near the canal - quite some fortifications!

And so on to Chester - more towers and defences!  This time, we did manage to walk all round the city walls.  Well done, those bionic knees!

Lots of historic buildings here.  This one has its own message - click on the photo to look closely!

As we moved on northwards to Ellesmere Port, a Comma butterfly basking in the morning sun,

 and the old buildings of the Boat Museum.

Cinnabar moth ('football jersey') caterpillars on ragwort near the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal,

 and inches-thick layers of 'Fairy Moss' on our way back along the Shropshire Union.  This is yet another foreign invading species (Azolla caroliniana) - this time an escape from aquariums and garden ponds.

So, what next on our travels this year?  The beginning of August - school holidays - surely better to avoid a 'touristy' canal?  So where did we go?  The Llangollen Canal!  Well, you already knew we are crazy!!