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Via Llangollen to Gloucester

Part 2 - Llangollen and Gloucester

Having reached Llangollen and spent a couple of wonderful days there, we set off downstream towards the Montgomery Canal. In the narrow sections, where the signs say you should send a crew member ahead to check if the way is clear, I applied my usual logic and just carried on regardless. If I were to meet someone who had been sent ahead by an oncoming boat, then I would happily reverse back to a wider part or pull over into a passing place (which I did on this occasion); alternatively if I were to meet another boat that had not sent someone ahead, then neither of us could complain about the other's behaviour and we could decide there which of us should reverse.

Click to expand Jack Mytton (Mad Jack) was an eccentric and wealthy Shropshire landowner in the 19th century. His exploits included attempting to jump a toll gate with a horse and carriage for a bet (the horse made it over but the carriage didn't), and startling his guests by riding into the dining hall on the back of his pet brown bear! There is a restaurant named after him, where we have often wanted to stop, and this time we made a point of timing our arrival suitably. We had the most wonderfully magnificent meal there too, and ended up chatting to (and drinking with) a couple of other boaters until it was VERY late indeed.

The next morning we had only a brief run down to Frankton Junction, where we had booked passage through the locks on to the Montgomery Canal. This beautiful and peaceful canal is well worth visiting, and we can't wait for more of it to be restored. The length beyond Gronwen, which was infilled on our previous visit, has now been excavated and rewatered, but is not yet open for navigation. We walked for a short way along the new section, but Molly kept trying to swim in it which was not a good idea as the new banks have not yet stabilised so we returned to the boat before we had walked more than half way.

 

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Frankton Staircase
Gronwen Bridge in 2005: infilled beyond
Gronwen Bridge in 2008: water beyond
The newly watered section beyond Gronwen
Soon we'll be able to pass this milepost by boat

At the end you must pass through a lift bridge, then continue for a hundred yards or so to the winding point before returning. If you're lucky the person at the lift bridge will have been able to stand there keeping guard until you return, but we were not so lucky this time as Debbie had to lower it for a big 4x4 that wanted to cross; immediately after crossing they turned round and came back, explaining that they'd taken a wrong turning and had only come down the road to find somewhere to turn round, and didn't want to risk turning round on the grassy area before the bridge in case they got stuck. The ground was dry and hard, and the grassy area was being used as a car park by the fishermen. If a Micra and an Astra can park there safely, surely a 4x4 could risk turning round there instead of making someone lower and then raise the bridge?

After a couple of most enjoyable days on the Monty, we headed back down towards the Shroppie. The main canal seemed impossibly busy by comparison, and we still hadn't decided where we were going next. Sitting in the Cotton Arms pub at Wrenbury we met a couple of old friends from home, who used to run the hotel pair "Duke" and "Duchess". After a long natter we were beginning to hanker for some long-distance travelling again, and our original plan of spending a week in Birmingham started to seem less attractive.

The next morning we decided to buy some ice-cream. Between bridges 3 & 4 is a mooring with a signpost to Snugbury's ice-cream shop across the fields. Their estimate of 10 minutes walk was unsurprisingly optimistic, it took nearly twice as long as that, but soon we were faced with a bewilderingly large choice of ice-creams. Hoping that they would fit in our frozen food compartment we bought one tub of banana and caramel and one tub of ginger and honey ice-cream. Luckily they did fit, so we didn't have to eat them all at once, and luckily also the sun was no too hot so they were still frozen after our walk back to the boat. And they were delicious!

After a night at Barbridge, which gave us the opportunity to browse around the two local chandleries, we headed south again. Pausing to admire the magnificent wooden sculpture of a canal horse at Nantwich, we continued through heavy rain as far as the "Secret" nuclear bunker at Hack Green (their website is excellent!). We spent a fascinating half-day there, and can thoroughly recommend it as a family day out (children will enjoy spotting the "Spy mice" that lurk in the corners). It is frightening to consider the level of death and destruction which would have ensued if we had suffered a nuclear attack; the graphical estimates of the percentage of the population who would be killed or seriously injured were not reassuring and official advice to "try and hide under the dining table if possible" may have made the public feel safe but didn't sit comfortably alongside pictures of the post-Hiroshima devastation.

 

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A wonderful wooden horse sculpture at Nantwich
The world's worst-kept "secret" ?
The Early Warning Systems control centre
In the event of a nuclear attack ...
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... you'll probably be killed instantly by the blast...
... or die a horrible death from radiation sickness in hospital.
The main communications centre in the bunker
Standby system  for use after the main comms have been disabled by the effects of a nuclear strike

The next morning the weather was much better, but oh dear had everybody's brains been washed away by the rain? Our journeys up the 3 flights of locks were the slowest ever as the boats ahead of us kept getting into total shambles, and we were relieved to tie up at Goldstone Wharf for an enormous meal in the pub. We saw two boats with wonderfully-chosen names. First there was a boat called "Enterprise". (chosen because the owner's name is Kirk), and then a boat called "Abraham" from Lincoln owned by a Mr Booth - absolutely brilliant!

Now it was midsummer's day and, guess what, it was so cold and wet that we had the stove alight! It was also so windy that trees were falling everywhere, and we were careful not to moor near any tall trees. Instead we spent an afternoon and evening in the pub at Coven with a group of friends from the Canalworld Forum. By now we'd decided where we wanted to go next: Gloucester. So the next day we headed south again. We stopped in Kidderminster to stock up in Tesco's; while Debbie shopped I had a most enjoyable chat with Paul of 'Waterway Routes' who tours the system with a video camera strapped to the top of cratch, making DVD's of the popular rings. We then moved on to have a leisurely lunch at Pratt's wharf, where the remains of the old lock down to the river Stour look to be in excellent condition, before carrying on down to Stourport and the River Severn.

 

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Coming down the Bratch
Someone has made Smiley Faces on many posts and trees between Stourton and Kidderminster
The beautiful setting of Hyde Lock near Kidderminster
Cookley tunnel goes right underneath these houses
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The cave beside Debdale lock
The beautiful setting of Caldwell lock near Kidderminster
Debbie stands in the old lock down to the River Stour at Pratts Wharf
Towpath bridge over the head of the lock at Pratts Wharf

Soon we were at Stourport and heading out on the River Severn in glorious sunshine. Unlike last year, the level of the river was way down below the green sector of the indicator board and there was very little flow indeed. We didn't get far, as they were doing some emergency repairs to the bottom gates of Lincombe Lock, and we had to wait for over an hour. We were worried that we wouldn't have enough time to reach our intended destination at the Camp House Inn, but the lock-keepers put us through 3 locks in no time at all and we made it fairly easily. We enjoyed sitting in the garden that evening amongst the various resident creatures; the peacocks kept swooping down from the roof of the pub to try and snatch food from the tables, causing mayhem with their long tails in the process, but Molly was not too happy when she was attacked by a turkey!

The Severn was delightful. It was wonderful to see how nature has recovered after the devastating floods of last year: there are cygnets and baby coots everywhere, the apparently-dead bankside greenery has all re-grown, and most of the man-made structures have been repaired although there were still many reminders to be seen from those awful times. It was still very windy, and we watched with interest as one of the enormous trip boats failed to allow enough for the wind and ended up with its back end becoming entangled in the branches of the trees that it was passing.

 

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The sign says 'Keep Right';
One of these two boats still has a problem ...
... as does one of these!
Haw Bridge Inn, high above the river. Last year the floodwaters were half-way up the windows!
Also recovered from 5 feet of floodwater, the Camp House Inn where we had stopped last year

It was still very windy when we arrived at Gloucester. One nice surprise was that the lock has been fitted with steel riser cables so that there is no need for long ropes to reach the top and back, although of course as we did not know that, we had our long ropes at  the ready! Another nice surprise was that the farthest jetty was free, so that mooring stern-on was easy despite the wind (this makes it easier to get on and off with the dogs). On this jetty it is also very easy to get a satellite TV signal, but with the winds blowing so hard the waves in the dock meant that we noisily rocked around as if we were out at sea!

We had a thoroughly enjoyable day in Gloucester, including a leisurely tour of the Cathedral including a rare chance to visit its whispering gallery behind the magnificent stained-glass window and ending up with an evening ghost-walk through the some of the old alleyways and historic buildings of the city.

The next morning found us back on the river as soon as the lock was opened at 8am, making our way upstream against a gentle current. Soon after passing under the M50 bridge (I'm getting a good collection of pictures of the underneath of motorways) we passed the wharf where the gravel barge "Chub" was being efficiently loaded, one of the few remaining commercial enterprises on our waterways, and then we reached the useful old wharf at Severn Stoke. It's derelict but still quite sound and long enough for a full-length narrowboat to stop. It would be perfectly adequate for an overnight stop, but it's particularly useful as somewhere to pause and let the dogs 'stretch their legs'.

We had wondered about stopping at Upton-on-Severn, but they were having a jazz festival and the boats were breasted up 6 deep on the moorings so we carried on upriver. Nearing Worcester I'd spotted that a large and rather fancy cruiser had pulled out from its mooring about quarter of a mile ahead of us and was heading rapidly up towards the lock. Using the VHF radio I immediately called the lock-keeper to announce our imminent arrival, and the cruiser was held in the empty lock to wait for us; he was not pleased at this and was even less pleased because our bows had to be within a few feet of his shiny GRP stern (but the bottom gate cleared us by less than an inch as it was closing so we had no choice!). It was a beautiful day, so we carried on almost to Stourport and stopped at  the excellent moorings provided by the Lenchford Inn. What an evening we had there; the highlight was that the birthday party in the upstairs room had booked an Elvis impersonator for the evening. He was a really good singer; there is something blissfully surreal about sitting on the bows of your boat with a drink in your hand, watching the sun set over the river and listening to Elvis Presley through the open pub windows.

 

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Keeping Up dominates the Gloucester Docks!
Possibly the most beautiful of all riverside houses
 
Efficient loading mechanism for Chub
Busy mooring at Upton-on-Severn
This is as far as we can go (half a mile above Stourport)

The next morning we decided to make the most of the river, by going upstream as far as we could beyond Stourport. It's only half a mile or so, but it's a beautiful stretch of river and we found the moorers up there to be very friendly. Under-estimating the current slightly after some overnight rain, we landed a little heavily on the pontoons at Stourport (the bottle of shampoo fell off the edge of the bath, which by my definition makes it a heavy landing) and then crossed the basins to enter the canal which now seemed so narrow after the wide-open stretches of the Severn.

In Stourport we saw an unusual boat, driven by a bowthruster in each corner instead of a simple propeller. It's a novel idea which enables the boat to move in literally any direction at any time, but I hate the noise of a bowthruster and cannot imagine have multiple thrusters working continuously. It's a brave attempt to trial a new concept, but in my view conventional narrowboats work perfectly well on the canals and I see no reason for such a radical departure.

Click to EnlargeAt Kidderminster we shopped at Sainsbury's instead of Tesco's for once (we wanted to get beyond Kidderminster early and as it was Sunday the supermarkets weren't open until 10). While Debbie shopped I moved the anchor and chain back to their storage space under the back deck (I think I'm getting too old to do that exercise on my own) then we gently pottered along to Wolverley in time for a large gathering of Forum members before setting off for Birmingham the next day. At the top of Stourton locks we met the 'Black Countryman' trip boat, with a full complement of passengers and a crewman returning with 49 portions of fish-and-chips. It was hard work climbing the Stourbridge and Delph flights, following a hireboat all the way, and we were glad to stop at Merry Hill for a meal in the Brewers Wharf pub.

When we reached the centre of Birmingham, we decided not to stop but instead we carried on down the northern Stratford. As usual (for the third time in 3 years) we were greeted with a volley of stones thrown by invisible hooligans from the bridge at the top of one of the deep cuttings; no serious damage was done but once again the paintwork was chipped off down to the bare metal, and of course anyone who was hit by one of these missiles could be seriously injured. Why do we have to put up with this? The day got worse as we reached Lapworth Locks in torrential rain, and worse still as we learned that the Tom of the Wood pub where we had intended to eat that night, had closed.

The following day was better. We descended Hatton in good weather, breasted up and working well with another boat, before having a superb lunch at the Cape and making the best of the weather by carrying on almost to Long Itchington. A superb weekend followed, in company with some good friends from the forum, before we were joined by a friend from home who came with us all the rest of the way to Milton Keynes; she said she wouldn't be much help, but in fact she worked hard as a most useful crew member and we had a thoroughly good trip all the rest of the way home.

 

 

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Go to Allan's Page Part 1. to Llangollen Canals Home Page 2008 Boston and the Chesterfield Canal Go to Deb's Page

 

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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