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1989, Our third year with Thistle

Llangollen and the Curly-Wyrley

New Year

1988 had ended well, with a great New Years Eve at the Narrow Boat by Stowe Hill. 1989 didn't start quite so well; we had a good day's cruising in lovely weather, there were crowds of people at Stoke Bruerne to watch the Cindy the dog fall in, but the evening didn't quite go according to plan as we waited all evening outside the Navigation at Castlethorpe but it never opened.

Again the first few months of the year were occupied with repairs instead of cruising; in particular I rebuilt the shower and bathroom including renewing its rotten floor and bulkheads. Previously there had been no shower pump; the tray just sat on the floor of the boat and then overflowed into the bilges when it was full. This meant that there was always waste soapy water under the rear cabins, that you had to step into 6 inches of old, cold water before taking a shower, and you got a freezing cold draught around your ankles as you stood there because the tray didn't reach up to the floorboards. It seemed such luxury when all that was fixed!

A long trip this time

Setting off in April, our first destination was again Birmingham, but this time via Fazeley. A friend came with us for a couple of days and showed us the easiest way to lock-wheel: she got off the boat at the foot of Farmers Bridge flight which was set against us, and flagged down a passing jogger. Handing him a windlass she asked sweetly if he would be so kind as to open the bottom paddle of every lock by a couple of turns on his way up, then leave the windlass by the top lock. The jogger was so amazed that he did exactly what he had been asked, and we had an easy trip up to Cambrian Wharf.

After leaving the boat for a week at Birmingham, we set off along the main line. The throttle jammed wide open but we just left it there until we reached Factory locks, where we just pulled on the Stop lever and drifted to a halt. A quick readjustment soon fixed the throttle.

We were intrigued to watch them winching a 70-footer out at Matty's yard in Bilston, they were doing it the traditional way sideways up some planks.

So we reached Norbury junction, and had to leave the boat for another week. Our fortnight's holiday was going to start from there, so the next week we came up by train and caught a taxi from Stafford. One taxi for two adults, two children, two dogs, two gerbils, and two weeks' luggage! It was more like Noah's Ark. And so we set off from Norbury - and got as far as High Offley to spend the evening at the most unspoiled pub in England, The Anchor.

 

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Taking on water at Hawkesbury, opposite a nicely loaded pair
Crossing the A5 aqueduct on the Shroppie
Approaching Chirk aqueduct and tunnel
Thistle goes home to Trevor

Up the Llangollen canal, we looked wistfully at the entrance to the Monty (one day maybe it will be re-opened) and carried on in blazing sunshine until we reached Llangollen itself. It seemed as if there were no moorings left, until we spotted that you were allowed to use the horse-drawn trip-boat moorings between 6pm and 11am, and as it was now 6.15 we gratefully tied up there. This idea of time-shared moorings seems to have died out everywhere now; recently we've found moorings that were used by a disabled trip-boat one day a month but were permanently reserved for it on the grounds that they might find it difficult to move someone on if they were moored in the way on that one day.

Returning from Llangollen

On the way back down the canal we started to get really frustrated at the locks. Each lock had a boat moored above it on the lock mooring, to eat a meal or take a tea-break; then as we approached, that boat would untie and go into the lock, only to go down and tie up below the lock to continue their repast. It happened time and time again, and seemed to be a behaviour unique to that stretch of canal.

 

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The Pontcysyllte aqueduct across the Dee Valley
Heading towards the mountains
David isn't heavy enough for the lift bridges ...
... but a crane makes light work of them

We turned down the Prees Branch for supplies. As we approached the lift-bridge on that Branch David got off to open it, and arrived at the same time as a crew-member from a boat coming the other way. They both pulled on the chain and lifted the bridge, then we held back while the other boat came through. As they did so, their crew member let go intending to jump back on board leaving David holding the chain. A few seconds later the bridge was back down and David was 10 feet up in the air, still holding on tightly. It took us quite a while to stop laughing! Here he is being rescued by that same crew member. The next lift bridge went rather better; BW were working on it, and lifted it up with their crane to let us through.

We truned left at Hurlestone and made our way up to Chester and Ellesmere Port. An expert at the boat museum looked at the paintings on our rear doors, which had come from an old working boat that was scrapped, but told us they weren't by anyone famous. Still, we didn't mind, they were beautiful and we loved them anyway (and made a point of selling them on with the boat 2 years later). Returning to Chester, the next morning we discovered what we have since then always called the "Chester Syndrome". One side of the boat was baking hot in the early morning sun, while the other side still had the overnight frost on it, and the boat had twisted so much that none of the doors would move; those that were open, were wedged open and those that were shut were wedged shut. It took a couple of hours before the boat returned to her normal shape and freed the doors. We've often noticed the effect since then, but never to the same degree as on that morning.

We passed through a time-warp and stopped at the Shady Oak pub which had got stuck in the 1960s. The music, people's dress styles, and just about everything else except the prices was from that decade. Sadly a recent visit shows a lot of change there.

At the top of Tyrley locks we met the previous owner of thistle, who was working on his new Stoke-on-Trent boat called Thistle. After a few drinks together they gave us copies of all Thistle's old documentation and told us her ancient history; we told them about her recent history and greatly admired Stoke-n-Trent's handywork on their new boat.

The Curley Wyrley

Next we decided to attempt the Curley Wyrley. More properly called the Wyrley and Essington Canal, it wasn't on any of the maps you could buy. After 2 days of struggling through the weeds and the rubbish, we saw two teenage lads on the towpath. "Where are we?" we asked; this was clearly too hard a question for them. After 5 minutes of debate, and just before we were out of earshot, one of them turned back and shouted in a wonderfully strong local accent "You're in Birmingham". Later that afternoon we spotted some parasols over a fence. We stopped and prised apart a couple of fence panels, and sure enough we found a pub garden. So we squeezed through the gap and entered the pub; the deafening roar of dominoes went quiet, and we asked the landlady "Where are we". Everyone in the pub debated this for a few minutes, then the landlady said "You aren't anywhere really. Now, what would you like to drink". We spent the night there, moored so much in the middle of the canal that nobody could have passed us, but apparently we were the first boat anyone had seen for years so it didn't matter. Next day someone looked over a wall and said he'd lived in the house for 3 years and hadn't realised there was a canal at the end of his garden, he'd just heard our engine and had come to investigate.

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Bridges of Birmingham
We reach the Chasewater Reservoir
Crossing the Wolverton Aqueduct
Painting on Thistle's rear door

After Birmingham we treated the kids to another day at Drayton Manor Park, before returning triumphantly to Milton Keynes after a wonderful 460-mile trip (plus 310 locks). The rest of the year was a succession of shorter trips until the winter closed in, so it's on to 1990 ...

 

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