Sunday, March 18, 2018

Another dose of the white stuff at Ellesmere, and looking at alternative plans…

We moved down to Ellesmere on Friday. Thursday wasn’t as bad as predicted, we had rain in the morning but a bright sunny afternoon. But we decided to stay anyway. Friday was pretty good, a cool breeze but dry and often sunny.

Passing Frankton Junction


Bridge 68, with the number plaque fairly obviously purloined from the now-removed Bridge 89 on the Montgomery, and mounted upside down!DSCF2739
Recycling at it’s best!

We're into rolling fields of grazing land here…DSCF2740

…and the spring lambs are much in evidence.DSCF2746

We topped up with water at the maintenance yard, disposing of rubbish and recycling at the same time, then turned into the Ellesmere Arm to find somewhere to moor. Spoilt for choice, there was loads of room so we pulled in on a sunny spot to let the solar panels finish the batteries off.

Val and John came over yesterday for lunch, bringing some joint aid supplement pills for Meg. The weather had started to turn, we had frequent light snow flurries all through the afternoon, then they turned heavier, big fat flakes replacing the fine dry stuff we'd had earlier. Unsurprisingly we woke to this…
I’d hoped we’d seen the last of the snow, but it is only mid-March, after all.

Now then, on Wednesday night, near midnight, part of the canal crossing a small aqueduct near Middlewich collapsed emptying the stretch of the Middlewich Branch between Stanthorne and Wardle Locks and stranding several boats. It looks like a big repair job… Breach1

Photos from

Luckily no-one was hurt, although a few of the people on stranded boats had a rude awakening, I‘m sure!
The first thoughts in these situations are for the boats and owners, I’m sure, but a major recovery operation rescued thousands of fish and eels from the drained section, putting them back into the unaffected Trent and Mersey Canal below Wardle Lock.

The boats between the breach and Wardle Lock, some in the above picture, could be refloated by building an earth dam and pumping water up from the T&M. But the small Springer in the top picture, above the breach, is likely to be there for some time…

There’ll be considerable pressure for a quick solution; the breach is on two major cruising rings and is a busy link between the Trent and Mersey and the Shropshire Union. It could have been worse. If it had happened at the height of the season it would be chaos for the boat hire companies.

We’ve got a booking in the middle of May to cross the Ribble Link up onto the Lancaster Canal. It seems unlikely (understatement!!) that this will be fixed by then so our direct route north is now unavailable. We could head south on the Shroppie after leaving the Llangollen, turn left onto the Staffs and Worcester at Autherley then left again onto the T&M at Great Heywood. Instead of the 11 miles and 4 locks of the direct route from Hurleston to Middlewich we should be taking, the Shroppie-Staffs and Worc-T&M route involves 98 miles and 90 locks. I think we’d need to postpone the Ribble Link crossing…

But there is a possible alternative… I’m looking into a short cruise on the Manchester Ship Canal, joining it at Ellesmere Port and leaving it at Marsh Lock, up onto the Weaver. Then we can rejoin the Trent and Mersey at the Anderton Boat Lift. Various things to consider, not least the acquisition of a Seaworthy Certificate, before we can use the MSC. They don’t exactly encourage narrowboats. If we can do it the journey time will be much the same as the original route. Watch this space…

Locks 0, miles 4½

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thirty-five years on…

15th March 1983, Settle, North Yorkshire, Mags and I tied the knot…


Maggie Thatcher was on her first term as Prime Minister, Ronald Reagan was US President and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart was enjoying it’s second week as number one in the charts. And 2027 years earlier Julius Caesar was gasping his last at the Roman Senate having been stabbed 23 times by conspiring Senators fearful of Caesar’s growing power in Rome.

There were some sceptics, what with Mags being a little older than me, but here we are, still going strong!

It was windy yesterday, and forecast to be wet today, so we’d decided to hang on and move on to Ellesmere on Friday. Being here a couple of days it was worthwhile hanging up the bird feeders, there’s not a lot around for them to eat at this time of year.
They’ve been well attended, but only by varieties of tits, strangely.

Blue Tit

Must have heard the camera shutter!

Long-Tailed Tit pair


This Great Tit was a bit wary. One peck and a quick look around…DSCF2729

I’m afraid they’ll have to look elsewhere for hand-outs tomorrow. We’ll be moving down to Ellesmere in the morning.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Two aqueducts, two tunnels, two locks to Ellesmere.

We’ve decided to head back down to Ellesmere to kill a bit of time before Easter. On the 3rd of April Seyella goes into the dry dock at Trevor for bottom blacking, so we’ve nearly 3 weeks and rather than hanging around the Chirk – Llangollen section we thought we’d go a bit further afield. The stoppage at Maestermyn House Bridge has now been lifted, so we’ve a clear route.

So we pulled out of Trevor on Sunday morning. We had intended to move on Saturday but by the time I’d been out with Meg, been up into Cefn Mawr for shopping and had a shower the weather was deteriorating so we stayed put. Oh, by the way, Meg is doing well now she’s been off the steroids for over a week and back onto the anti-inflammatory Metacam to control her arthritis pain. She’s still obviously a bit stiff, but she’s bright-eyed and wanting to play. Good news. And as the weather warms up she only get better.

I turned Seyella around in the basin, chatting to an optimistic angler as I did. I asked him if there was much to catch in the polluted, stagnant water of the arm, and he replied that he wasn’t that bothered, it was either the fishing or the decorating…

On the way out, under Bridge 29W, I got royally hooked up on the bottom. I’d moved too far to the right under the arch, and it’s very shallow on that side. Very, very shallow. We scrape the muddy bottom going through anyway, but this time it took 15 minutes of gentle forward and reverse and rocking from side to side to make headway.

Finally away and into deep-ish water as we thread our way out between the hire boats.DSCF2672

We had to hold for a couple of minutes as two boats came across the aqueduct and a day boat set off ahead of us.DSCF2674

It was a bit murky on the hills but the day at least stayed dry.DSCF2678

We topped up with water at the Fron end of the aqueduct, then carried on, stopping for the afternoon between Whitehouse Bridge and Whitehouse Tunnel.

Yesterday we stayed put, Richard on coal-boat Mountbatten was due in the afternoon, on his last trip up till after Easter, and we wanted a couple more bags of solid fuel and a diesel top-up.

The Admiral Class boats were built for the British Transport Commission (the forerunner of the British Waterways Board) in 1960 at Yarwood’s yard in Northwich, specifically with a shallow draught to because of the worsening condition of the waterways at that time. So Mountbatten is well suited to work on the Llangollen Canal… They’ve not got the most elegant lines but they did the job.

Today was forecast to be the best day of the week, so we decided to have a longer trip than our normal 1½-hours-to-charge-the-batteries day. Setting off at in glorious sunshine we had Whitehouse and Chirk Tunnels to pass, before crossing back into England over Chirk Aqueduct.

Whitehouse Tunnel

The south end of the tunnel, catching a bit of sunshine, is festooned with cobwebs made by opportunistic spiders hoping to catch the odd fly daft enough to drift in.

Past Chirk Marina and through the tunnel cutting, we had to pull over at Chirk Tunnel to allow a boat to come through heading north. There’s more boats about now as we approach the start of the cruising season.DSCF2692

Nobody else following so we went through, popping out into the sunshine at the other end to cross the River Ceiriog and the boarder on Chirk Aqueduct.


Leaving the rolling hills and valleys on the border then canal starts to move into the Shropshire Plain, once an inland sea and now fertile grazing land.

Crossing St Martins Moor is often a chore, with the prevailing wind blowing across the navigation. The locks at New Marton can be a nightmare if there’s a stiff wind. But today it was fine and calm, making life so much easier.DSCF2698
We topped off the water tank above the locks, then followed NB Duck’s Deluxe down. We had a stroke of luck, a CRT crew arrived to clear the bywash weirs, so we had help on the top lock.

New Marton Bottom Lock


Forty-five minutes after leaving the locks we were pulling in on the pleasant open moorings just past Maestermyn House Bridge, the one that’s been closed for repair.

…and after.

It could almost be Spring…

We’ll stay here for a day or two as the weather goes downhill once again. we’re looking out over the sheep fields, no lambs here but there were some further back…

Locks 2, miles 8½

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

An icy Trevor Basin

We’ve spent the last two days heading back to Trevor Basin to meet friends Val and John today, stopping over last night on the other side of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Meg’s new friend Pepper, AKA Mini-Meg

Passing the Froncysyllte Lime Kilns above the Dee valleyDSCF2657

Quarries in this area were a major customer for the canal, supplying raw stone or quicklime from kilns like these. Quicklime was used in lime mortar for building, and was much in demand by the growing industrial cities, and raw limestone had uses in the manufacture of iron and glass, and also as an agricultural soil improver. Quicklime is very volatile, adding water can cause rapid heat production and even explosion in confined spaces. So quicklime had to be carefully loaded and protected from the elements in transit. I imagine that there would have been a covered loading dock along here somewhere during the lime kiln’s production life. Here a tramway connected the wharf and kilns with the quarry on the other side of Pen-y-Graig hill.

We didn’t have any problem with Fron Lift Bridge, the ice which had held it fast during the cold weather has long since gone. We topped up the water tank, pulled in between the water point and the aqueduct, and I walked across to have a look at the situation in the basin. There were no visiting boats there, but the water was iced over bank to bank from the bridge and up the two arms. I had a poke and it was softening so I decided to leave it overnight before coming across the aqueduct and heading in.

So this morning, in bright sunshine, we set off, over Pontcysyllte and through the Anglo-Welsh hire boats.

Panorama as we cross over the Dee valleyDSCF2663

If the iron trough has to be emptied for maintenance it’s a simple procedure. The ends are blocked off and the plug is pulled out!

Just lift the handle!
There’s a YouTube video of the operation here…

At some point in the past it was intended to fit safety rails on the offside too, hence the holes, but I don’t know whether they were ever installed.

We threaded our way between the hire boats then came a bit unstuck under the bridge at the entrance to the basin. It’s very shallow here, just mud but you have to go dead slow or else the stern bottoms out. The problem was that this was where the ice started too, so I needed a bit of power to push through. Catch-22.
The solution was to secure the rudder roughly in the middle with the tiller-string, leave the prop turning at moderate revs, then get off and rock the boat from side to side. We slowly made progress, squeezing the mud out from underneath and breaking up the ice in front.

A bit stuck at this point, till I started rocking…DSCF2668

…and we moved slowly forward.

I didn’t even consider trying to turn around; as soon as we were on the bollards I tied up. Not that we were going anywhere…DSCF2670

Our cupboards were well depleted so I walked up to Cefn Mawr to the Tesco’s, did a huge shop, then got collected by Val and John to bring me back down. They stopped the afternoon with us before heading home.

The warm afternoon has seen the ice steadily thin and large patches of water are now clear. It’s going to be cold tonight though, so it’ll probably skin over again later. Shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll be stopping here till the weekend, I reckon.

Locks 0,  miles 2

Monday, March 05, 2018

How fast could we go?

With the death last weekend of Sir Roger Bannister, I got thinking about how fast could an unenhanced human run. Sir Roger, as I’m sure you know, was the first to break the 4 minute mile barrier, on 6th May 1954 in Oxford he ran the distance in 3:59:24.
Since then the record has been broken many times, even within the first 2 months, but the rate at which faster times are recorded has been slowing down. The current verified fastest mile is 3:43:13, set by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj. In the first decade following Bannister’s epic run the record was broken 5 times, from 1964 to 1974 3 times, from ‘74 to ‘84 7 times. incidentally 5 of those were from the British athletes Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. In 1985 Steve Cram ran 3:46:32, taking a second out of Coe’s final record, but since then it’s only been bettered twice, once in 1993 and then the current record in 1999.
It could be argued that the mile is an archaic distance, superseded by the 1500m. So nobody tries the mile any more, hence the lack of improvement. But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body for athletics, still recognises the distance. And the 1500m (the "metric mile") record of 3:26:00, set by the same guy who holds the mile record, hasn’t been bested since he set it in 1998.
So it seems that we’ve just about reached the maximum middle distance speed for the Mark I human. Still, an average speed of 16mph ain’t so dusty, is it…

In contrast, the marathon record has been broken seven times since 2000. Still not beaten the magical 2:00:00, though. In the last 18 years the time has come down by 2½ minutes, standing since 2014 at 2:02:57. Three minutes light of that tantalising time. Maybe in the next 20 years?

Bannister went on to become a leading neurosurgeon, and was knighted in 1975. He died on Saturday, aged 88.

This morning we headed back up stream, the weather has turned again and the snow has thinned and most of the ice has gone. We even had some brief spells of sunshine!

Crossing back over the border into Wales.DSCF2642

Murky on the hills

Those spectacular icicles in Chirk Tunnel have now gone.DSCF2649

Still unbroken ice on Chirk Marina’s basin though.DSCF2650

We went through Whitehouse Tunnel as well, then pulled up between the tunnel and Whitehouse Bridge.

Looks like being a good day tomorrow. We’ll be heading to Pontcysyllte, if there’s room and it’s not too icy in Trevor Basin we’ll cross the aqueduct and moor there for a few days.

Locks 0, miles 3

Friday, March 02, 2018

It must be warmer in England…

The last two days have seen us move back over the border, stopping last night near Whitehouse Tunnel, then arriving this afternoon to moor on the Poacher’s moorings, only to find them full! We managed to squeeze on the end, though.

The continuing cold weather has finally had an effect on the canal. Slushy, soft ice started forming on the canal on Wednesday night, carried in slicks on the flow downhill. Slightly thicker bits clung to the vegetation on the bank.

After we tied up we were kept entertained by this chap on the hunt for food…DSCF2608
One of our transatlantic cousins of course. The local population of indigenous Red Squirrels has long since been pushed out.

As dusk fell and the temperature dropped, more and thicker rafts of ice went floating past, a sign of things to come…DSCF2610

It snowed on and off throughout the night, leaving us with about 3” on the towpath.DSCF2611

Whitehouse Tunnel just ahead of our mooringDSCF2612

As we entered the tunnel we were treated to a glittering display of icicles hanging from the ceiling, caused by water dripping through the brickwork.DSCF2614

I don’t remember seeing this phenomenon before, usually tunnels stay warm enough to prevent ice forming. The freezing wind must have been blowing through the bore.

Out the other end the ice was getting thicker, stretching across the channel, and varying from about 4mm to 10mm thick in the more exposed patches.

I don’t think anyone’s going to be coming out of Chirk Marina for a few days…DSCF2620

The tree-lined cutting leading to Chirk Tunnel was mostly ice-free, the overhanging branches keeping the frost off, and then we reached Chirk Tunnel. I thought the icicles in Whitehouse Tunnel were pretty good, but was unprepared for the astounding showing here…DSCF2625

Some were longer, the roof of the boat broke them off and I had to duck under the remainder.
It was only at the north end of the tunnel, the south end is drier.

Back out into daylight there was a bit of thin ice to crunch through to get to the aqueduct, but it wasn’t anything like as thick or widespread as to the north.

White Wales

Crossing back into England

The track-bed drains under the viaduct arches had frozen as well, but they weren’t a patch on the icicles in the tunnel…


We cruised the ice-free water above Chirk Bank, then turned to go under Gledrid Bridge to see a row of boats here outside The Poachers.DSCF2636
We snuck on the end, though. It’s been quiet on here all winter, sometimes we’ve been the only ones here.

It’s been warmer today, above zero from dawn to dusk. An improvement on yesterday, and the way things are shaping up for next week according to the forecast.

I riddled out and relaid the stove this morning as normal, it keeps ticking over so was still hot. Then I noticed something odd. The throat plate in the upper part of the firebox was looking a bit out of sorts. I knew it was getting past it’s life so had already sourced a replacement…

That’s what it should look like…

…I think we’ve had our money’s worth!
The fire draws better now as well!

Locks 0, miles 3¾