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Summer 2005: Stoke-on-Trent, Chester, the Monty and Llangollen

After our brief trip to Oxford we travelled slowly northwards. The "Jekyll and Hyde" guest beer at Stoke Bruerne certainly lived up to its name. Dr Jekyll in the evening, Mr Hyde the morning after.

We took plenty of time to enjoy the Ashby Canal, and had a simply wonderful meal at the Horse and Jockey in Congerstone. Decided to go back for another meal later in the year..

It's fascinating to moor at the beautiful Tixall Wide, and wonder what the great house must have been like (whose owners decreed that the canal must be  turned into an ornamental lake where it crossed their land). Judging by all that is left, the gatehouse and the stables, it must have been very grand indeed; yet apparently there are no drawings, paintings, plans, or other records of the house which was completely destroyed by fire in the 19th century.

 

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Tixall Wide (the stables block is in the background)
The gatehouse near Tixall Wide
Sunset in Stone
The temporary tunnel at Stoke-on-Trent

They're doing some major road works at Stoke-on-Trent, so they've built a temporary tunnel. It's utterly dark (the corrugated walls don't reflect any light from the spotlamp), you can't see through it because it's got a bend in the middle so you don't know if there's a boat coming the other way, but the bend also means you can't pass another boat. There's a sign to tell southbound boats that they have right-of-way, and another sign to tell northbound boats that they should give way to southbound boats; but BOTH of these signs are at the north end of the tunnel (actually above the next lock) so when you approach from the south you are left completely "in the dark".

Towards Middlewich there are many wide "flashes" where the ground has subsided after centuries of wild brine pumping. Many have a stranded boat in the middle to remind you where not to go.

 

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Stranded boat in the flash
What do you do when you see this warning?
Old loading wharf - now a picnic site
Chester staircase

We liked the old wharf complete with loading rails, that is now a picnic site. We were tempted to stop with the rails coming in through the side doors!

We couldn't resist taking a detour down the Anderton Lift to explore the River Weaver.

The basin at Chester has been tidied up since we were last there. It was sad to see the boatyard looking rather forlorn, and we had a DREADFUL meal in the expensive pub there, but the city is always a real delight. We had a great guided walking tour of the "Hidden Secrets of Chester".

Heading back to Barbridge from Cheater, almost every mooring was either permanently or temporarily reserved for several days for the same trip boat for the disabled. We had to travel for another 4 hours in the rain before we could find somewhere that they hadn't reserved.

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We always do what the notices tell us to
Spectacular scenery near Chirk
Crossing the aqueduct
Spectacular scenery near Llangollen

The trip to Llangollen was wonderful as ever. There was more flow on the canal than there had been on the River Weaver. We scored 7 cars, 7 pedestrians, and a motorbike at Wrenbury, and enjoyed a few excellent pints of the locally-brewed beer in the Coton Arms.

The new marina at Llangollen was excellent. A bit pricey at 5 per night, but electricity is included so we didn't have to run our engines (but the hire boats on either side of us kept theirs running all day so it wasn't peaceful as it should have been).

On the way back we went down the Monty, as we hadn't been able to go beyond the Queens Head before. It's beautiful, I only wish English Nature would admit that the coexistence of boats and plants is a VERY GOOD THING. Moored at Maesbury Marsh, spent a happy afternoon walking around the area, and had a great meal at the Navigation pub..

Nearly a disaster at Hurleston where the second lock draws the boat backwards as it goes quickly down. Our rudder caught on the cill so we had to be very quick about closing the bottom paddles and refilling the lock. Luckily we floated off without any damage.

 

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Pretty bridge on the Monty
This is definitely the limit of navigation
My favourite unspoiled pub, the Anchor at High Offley
Grub Street cutting

Returned via the Shroppie, getting a cheap haircut at Market Drayton and cheap diesel at Wheaton Aston. Stopped for the steam fair at the wonderful Bratch pumping engine (didn't even know it was there until we saw Fred Dibnah visit it on TV) and then down to Kidderminster for the supermarket before returning up via Stourbridge to Birmingham.

 

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All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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