Go to Allan's Page Our 2017 trip Canals Home Page 2018 Part 2 Go to Deb's Page

2018: The futility of making plans

 

Lights

All lit up for Christmas

 

After our wonderful Christmas on board last year, as soon as we got back to King's Bromley we made arrangements for the boat to spend another winter there, and started planning our 2018 adventures. However as soon as we had made our plans, they all changed!

Originally we had planned to leave the marina before Easter and go down to Stratford upon Avon for the Theatre, but the 'Beast from the East' arrived and gave us such terrible weather that we postponed our travels (and I went to the theatre in Stratford by car). Finally we set off in April to go to Braunston and have the bottom of the boat blacked; originally this was going to be done by UCC but at the last minute they had decided they didn't want to do blackings any more; luckily Braunston Marina had a vacancy in the dock for the exact dates that we were going to have been in UCC's dock, so we had booked ourselves in there instead. This also solved another rather urgent problem, in that we unexpectedly needed somewhere to moor the boat for a month. We had managed to get a last-minute deal on a cruise across Europe, from Amsterdam to the Black Sea, so we suddenly needed to put our UK canal trip on hold for a month. You can read about this epic continuation of our 'Eastern European Ring' if you click (or tap, or whatever) on this picture of the Iron Gates Gorge on the River Danube:

Iron Gorge

 

We finally left Braunston to start our travels properly in late May. Our original plan had been to visit Gloucester and then, after a quick visit to Llangollen, to return to the Trent and Mersey canal via Middlewich; however once again the plan counted for nothing as a serious breach of the embankment near Middlewich had closed that route. All the same, we decided that Gloucester and Llangollen were still worth visiting - and so we went to Birmingham.

My camera had started misbehaving while we were  in Eastern Europe, and I had decided to treat myself to a new one. I bought an updated version of my previous Nikon from John Lewis there, and tested it by taking pictures of a huge Lego giraffe in the City Centre. I soon decided that the new camera was excellent apart from one problem; it was supposed to communicate with my phone to get the GPS co-ordinates of each photo and then also make an automatic backup on the phone as soon as each one was taken, but in practice it refused to do so. I could of course still use it to take photos, and later in the year Nikon replaced its internal electronics under guarantee before admitting (after this had failed to cure the problem) that they didn't know why it wouldn't work - and then almost immediately they issued a firmware release that cured it!

After leaving Birmingham we made our way down the Tardebigge flight and moored opposite the Queen's Head pub. That night there was the most incredible storm, with deafening crashes of thunder as the lightning crackled across the sky; I decided against taking any pictures of the storm with my new camera, because I did not want to get the camera (or myself!) soaked in the torrential rain. The next morning, several other boaters said their dogs had been so terrified by the storm that they had had to spend the night sitting up with them; our Jessop, of course, just slept through it all! It wasn't until weeks later that we discovered that there had also been a casualty of the storm back home; hailstones had punched holes in the roof panels of our conservatory so that they all had to be replaced (luckily the cost of this had been covered by our house insurance).

 

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Testing my new camera on the Birmingham wiildlife
A beautiful cutting near Worcester
We were the only steel boat in Gloucester Docks
The 'Edward Elgar' hotel boat emerges from Gloucester Lock

We had planned to spend a couple of days in Worcester - but once again this plan had to be ditched almost as soon as we had made it. The rainstorms had already raised the level of the River Severn almost to its safe limit of navigation, but there was a huge amount of water coming down from the Welsh mountains. Those boats that were not moored to floating pontoons were being hurried off the river to the safety of the canal where all the best moorings were already taken, and it could be many days before the river went back down to a safe level. So what did we do? Well obviously, we hurried out from the canal on to the river and set off downstream. With a very strong current behind us we made the trip down to Tewkesbury in record time, and continued to Haw Bridge where we knew there was a good pontoon mooring outside a good pub; unfortunately the pub was closed so we simply stayed there on board until the next morning when we set off for Gloucester. We had to be there in time to beat the incoming Spring Tide, because there would be chaos when it met the floodwater that was behind us and we certainly didn't want to be in the narrow tidal approach to Gloucester that is known as the Partings. We shot into the lock at Gloucester at a tremendous speed, with the lock-keeper looking slightly worried about whether or not we would make it OK the first time because there is no opportunity here for a second attempt, and then looking slightly worried as to whether we could stop in time or not. But I have steered through the current there many times before so we easily went straight into the lock; and it is a very long lock so we easily stopped before we reached the end of it.

 

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On our last visit to Gloucester the Cathedral had been hidden behind scaffolding for cleaning. Now that the cleaning was finished it looked magnificent
Historic old buildings near Gloucester Cathedral

We stayed in Gloucester Docks for a couple of wonderful days. We explored the city, joining a historical walking tour for which nobody else turned up so that we had a personally-guided 2 hour talk about the sights we were seeing; we had a fabulous Greek meal at the restaurant by the Docks and also a really good Thai dinner at a nearby restaurant (not on the same day, they were both huge meals!); and we waited until the weather was perfect before following the canal down to Sharpness with its spectacular views across the misty Severn Estuary. Our journey back to Gloucester took a day longer than planned when one of the villages along the route suffered a major power-cut; the swing-bridge across the canal was electrically operated so it could not be opened for us, and we had to wait 24 hours for the power to be restored. We walked to the pub to find them in some confusion; without electricity they could serve real ale but not keg beer or lager; they could serve spirits with bottled mixers but not their usual pressure-operated mixers from the tap; and they could only take cash because their tills and card-readers were out of action. They even had to add up the cost of a round of drinks by using pen and paper!

 

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On our historical tour of Gloucester; the statue is the Roman Emperor Nerva who founded the city in AD97
We loved this set of rules at the micro-pub. We loved their beer too!
The sign says it's safe for us to leave Gloucester

Returning to Gloucester, we saw from their new electronic indicators that the river was back down to a level which would be safe for navigation, but it suited us better to wait for a couple more days before travelling upstream to Worcester. We still had a strong current against us, as the river was about 6ft above its normal level, but it was a lovely hot sunny day to be on the river so we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. Luckily the engine cooling system works well so it gave us no problems, but poor Jessop was finding the heat rather excessive and his joy at being allowed to jump into the river at Worcester was clear for all to see,

As we enjoyed the start of the heat-wave which was to last all summer, we travelled northwards and practised finding shady trees to moor beneath. In the steep cuttings of the Shroppie we found a great many insects, presumably Shroppie Flies enjoying the warmth but sheltering from the heat, and had to plug in our insect-repellers {which still worked really well despite their chemical tablets being many years old). Naturally we had to stop at  the Anchor near High Offley. We were delighted to find that it hasn't changed at all since our last visit (neither has Olive the Landlady, nor any of the clientele). As always we had a great evening there, with great conversation and a great many pints of Wadworths 6X beer.

 

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Debbie working the Bratch locks, in beautiful weather
Looking back down the Bratch
The hot weather has brought out some wonderful fields of poppies
We were grateful for the shade in the Shroppie cuttings
This tree sculpture near Market Drayton is always well maintained

By now the daytime sun was very hot and we even started to travel early in the mornings when it was cool - which also helped us to avoid the crowds at  the lock flights - and soon we were on the Llangollen canal. Yet another last-minute change of plan saw us spending a lovely relaxing couple of days on the Montgomery canal; it had still not re-opened as far as the point we reached in 2014, bridge 84, so we stopped at Maesbury and had a delicious meal in the Navigation Inn. The email from CRT which confirmed our booking on to the Monty, was interesting because it stated the length of our boat as 66ft 12in instead of 67 ft - I just cannot understand this at all.

Back on the main canal, when we reached Chirk Tunnel we had to wait for not only a narrowboat but also a steady succession of canoes. Some of them had lights, some did not, and I have to seriously question CRT's policy of encouraging canoes to travel everywhere including through narrow tunnels and across the aqueducts. They may defend the policy by saying that everything will be fine as long as everybody obeys all the rules, but not everybody does obey the rules (many of the canoeists aren't even aware that there are rules, such as the pair that tried to overtake us, one either side of our boat, just as our bows were entering a 7ft-wide bridge-hole). Apparently people have even been paddle-boarding across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct!

 

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The lock-keeper at Frankton watches the outflow from his lock
This lock beam on the Monty has almost completely rotted through
We enjoyed a beer and a fine meal at the Corn Mill restaurant beside the river Dee at Llangollen

At Llangollen we considered taking another trip on the steam railway, but settled instead for a long walk with Jessop alongside the feeder, followed by some shopping in the town and a superb meal in the Corn Mill. Then, returning down the canal, the weather was so cold windy and damp that although it was mid-June we even lit the fire for a few days. Little did we know that it was just a cool interlude between the heat-waves (with wind courtesy of Storm Henry). We stopped at Wrenbury for a couple of days because there is a handy railway station there and Debbie needed to go back to the house for the night; it's a request stop, so you have to remember to hail the train or it will go straight past without stopping.

 

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There are curved upper cills on the locks towards Chester
Beeston iron lock is badly bent - but two boats can still use it with care
There are delightful round brick huts beside the locks
Doing the 'Bunbury Shuffle'

We knew we couldn't go to Middlewich, but decided instead to head further north towards Chester. I was struck by the design of the locks; at 14ft wide with a curved upper cill just like those on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, unlike those on the Grand Union Canal which are 14ft wide with a straight upper cill. I wondered if this could be indicative of a canal that was designed to take wide-beam boats rather than the Grand Union whose locks were designed with pairs of narrow boats in mind. The extra width of the bridges (nearer 18ft at an estimate) would seem to support this theory, as the extra width would allow easier water-flow past a wide boat whereas on the GU where the bridges are 14ft wide the boats would normally have travelled with one narrow boat towing the other and so they would not have needed the extra width.

At Bunbury staircase locks we performed the 'Bunbury Shuffle' on both our northbound and southbound journeys. Here there are two locks together, with the top gates of the lower lock serving also as the bottom gates of the upper lock. To the disbelief of less experienced boaters, it is possible for narrowboats to travel in both directions through this pair of locks at the same time; you can have two boats travelling in one direction and one in the other, and they all shuffle past each other - with some timely sideways movements - when the levels have been equalised halfway through. In fact on our southbound journey (see the photo above) I was delighted to see how the boatyard workers turned it into a double shuffle by having the two boats behind us waiting in the tail of the lock, so that the descending boat had to do a further shuffle with them as it left the locks.

Just as we have done a few times before, we stopped at Christleton which is just before the long series of locks into the City; there is an excellent pub (the Old Trooper) there, although it has to be said that they were in a certain amount of chaos following a change of ownership: for example the menus on the tables were completely different from the menus on the new tills, which made ordering our meal an interesting challenge. There is also a convenient bus service into Chester although on this occasion we didn't make use of it but instead turned around and headed south again the next morning. Soon the cool weather had left us again, and once more it was so hot during the day that we deliberately planned our passage through the lock flights to be very early in the day and then sought a shady mooring during the afternoon.

 

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I loved these memorial plaques on a bench beside one of the locks
I think this moorhen was finding our foredeck a little too hot for its feet
These baby moorhens can only be a few hours old
Judging by the sumptuous nest over its rudder, this boat can't have moved for some time

Another excellent evening at the Anchor in High Offley followed soon afterwards, and then we were back on our way down the Shroppie to Autherley Junction (which is near Wolverhampton) and then up to Great Haywood on the Trent and Mersey. We were determined to go to visit our friends at Macclesfield again, and as we couldn't get there via Middlewich we would take the longer way around and get there via Stoke-on-Trent instead. At least this way avoided the need to climb Heartbreak Hill again. Traditionally known as the Cheshire Locks these 26 locks acquired this nickname in the 1970's because they are all just too close together to make it worthwhile for the crew to ride between them, but too far apart for it to be an easy walk, and all at different distances so that you can never get a good rhythm going. Actually we've never really found Heartbreak Hill to be difficult; the secret is not to hurry, so that the lack of a good rhythm does not matter, then the crew can walk when the locks are close together and ride when they are slightly further apart. But as I said, we did not go that way, we went the long way around down the Shroppie, then up the Staffs & Worcester and the Trent & Mersey.

The temperature just kept on climbing; it seemed as if every day was reported as being 'the hottest day of the year so far', and even Jessop couldn't find the energy to chase a ball (although he did enjoy swimming at every opportunity). The black sides of the boat were not helping; my IR thermometer reported the steelwork as being at 65C, which was far to hot to touch. Despite the heat it was quite windy, and the dry ground was making many trees unstable so that they blew down; indeed we had to wait for a while near Great Haywood after one such tree had fallen across the canal and blocked it completely. Many of the canals were running out of water, with restrictions and closures being announced daily so that we had to re-plan our journey several times. In particular, the Bosley Locks were to be closed so that their leaky gates could be attended to; this meant we would have to return from Macclesfield immediately after meeting our friends there instead of proceeding to Marple and Whaley Bridge as we had intended.

 

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We expected a long delay when we found this tree down across the canal ...
... but in fact within just a few hours a passage had been cleared for us
Waiting at the south entrance of Harecastle tunnel ,,,
... for the southbound boats to emerge

It seemed very quiet as we reached Harecastle tunnel, but the tunnel keeper told us that 22 boats had gone through ahead of us that morning. All the same we passed through  the tunnel quickly on our own, and then turned on to the Macclesfield Canal to stop on one of our favourite moorings in beautiful countryside with fine views of Mow Cop; here we treated ourselves to a delicious meal with some very fine wine to celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary.

Bosley locks took a very long time, almost 3 hours. The lock keeper had decided to impose a strict one-up one-down policy to save water. Unfortunately there were no boats wanting to come down, so nobody was being allowed up; the delays and the leaky locks meant that when a boat did want to come down the locks had all emptied (as had a couple of the pounds) so that they had to be refilled, which wasted more water than was being saved by not allowing the upward-bound boats through them.

 

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Mow Cop, an 18th century Folly, can be seen from many miles away
The hot weather produced some wonderful sunsets
Near Armitage tunnel, Ebenezer Scrooge has been given a smart new blue coat
.The Plum Pudding at Armitage was level with the canal before coal-mining caused major subsidence
.I loved this sign in the car-park of the Dog and Hedgehog

After a most enjoyable evening with our friends in Macclesfield we hurried back to the chaos of Bosley Locks which this time take us over 4 hours - just before their closure - and then we could carry on southwards to retrace our steps back through Harecastle Tunnel and onwards along the Trent & Mersey. Passing the King's Bromley Marina where we had spent the winter - and had arranged to spend next winter as well - we now made our way down the Coventry Canal and then turned into the Ashby Canal. The Ashby is a slow, lazy canal with no locks - ideal in a heatwave - and we very much enjoyed a leisurely cruise along it. It was many many years ago that we last visited the delightfully-named Dog and Hedgehog pub at Dadlington, so we made sure to stop there to see if it was still as good as we remembered it (it was).

Finally we arrived at Hillmorton where the boat has been booked in to Willow Ridge Boat-fitters to have some minor work done; but once again things would not proceed according to plan ....

 

Sunset

 

 

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