Approaching the aqueducts

If there’s one thing non boaters have heard about on the canal system, it’s the Pontycysllte aqueduct. But they rarely comment on the Chirk aqueduct which we think is prettier, albeit less dramatic but still one of our favourites. The next few days saw us cruising slowly towards these feats of engineering, but we still had time to enjoy the journey.

Sometimes it’s the clouds that make the scene

After we passed the junction of the Montgomery canal we noticed the bridge numbering changed, instead of continuing with sequential numbers, the sequence began again with the addition of a W. Was it 1 Wales or 1 West we wondered, but as we had not yet reached Wales we assumed the latter.

Bridge 1W

We passed through Whittington Hire base, which is where we had hired from in 2012, although it is in new ownership now and sports a dazzling red livery.

Whittington Hire fleet

And onto Chirk, where we were met by a guard of honour

3 little maids


Before we crossed the border between England and Wales on the Chirk Aqueduct

Crossing the Chirk Aqueduct, the bow’s in Wales and the stern in England

One reason we like it is because the railway viaduct runs parallel to it, so we get some lovely views through the arches onto the River Ceiriog below

The Chirk Aqueduct is 21m high and 220m long, it was designed by the civil engineer Thomas Telford and completed in 1801. The water is carried in an iron trough although it’s the 10 stone arches that make is so attractive
No sooner had we crossed the aqueduct, we were straight into the 421m long Chirk tunnel

Disappearing into the darkness

And whilst I’m not a fan of these long dark holes under ground, I can’t begin to imagine how many locks I would have had to work, if Telford hadn’t risen to the challenge. So whilst I might have found the aqueduct and tunnel an easier option, Eric certainly didn’t. The narrow shallow channel means there is little room for water displacement around the boat. And combined with the flow of water coming from llangollen makes it really hard going to move the boat forward. The boat crawls regardless of the throttle used, quite unlike punching upstream on a deeper wider river.
We opted to moor up outside of Chirk Marina

Chirk marina

where the heavens duly opened and we sat out the rain for the next few days

Promises to be fulfiled

Meerly Meandering towards the Meers


Our journey towards Wales continued taking us through some harvest ready farmland, with vistas only “spoilt” by old oak trees blocking the view.


For several miles we weren’t sure if we were in England or Wales as the border line wiggles with seemingly little rational, but for the main we were still on English soil even if we were travelling on water from Wales….. hmmm this is getting confusing.

One bank is Welsh, the other is English, I’m not sure which is which

Back in 2012 when Eric and I were confirming our dream to live on a narrowboat, we hired a boat at the end of October on this canal.

Cheryl and Eric on the Llangollen in 2012

The idea being to test out if we were prepared for being cold and wet, as it turned out we had a whole week of warm sunshine with a golden autumnal glow. The place we enjoyed mooring was under the beech trees at Blakesmere. So we were looking forward to returning

Moored at a the Blakesmere picnic spot

We were a few weeks earlier this time so didn’t get the golden glow, and despite some sunny spells we were experiencing some heavy rain showers. So despite the lovely outlook, beechnuts and raindrops landing on the roof, plus lack on internet and tv did nothing to rekindle our romantic memories of this undeniably pretty place.

Blakesmere

After one night we moved on to take advantage of Ellesmere itself.

Ellesmere wharf

The arm that goes into the little town was originally planned to be the mainline of the ill-fated 20mile route going towards Chester on the “Ellesmere canal”. However geographical constraints and commercial rivalries meant it this mid section joining the Mersey to the Severn was abandoned. Leaving Ellesmere with a loading wharf that has been gentrified. It’s a lovely place and well worth a visit.

And that’s as far as it got


Most boaters love the convenience of a canal side supermarket and the block paving means it’s easy to trundle the Tesco trolley right up to the boat. It is, after all, a loading wharf. But Ellesmere has so such more than convenience and I stocked up from Hawkins butchers and Vermeulens deli.

Spoilt for choice

I’m sure we will do the same on our return trip but it was time to move on again.

Wending our way to Whitchurch

We always knew the Llangollen is a popular canal but despite the number of boats it’s still been a pleasant rural cruise. We enjoyed beautiful vistas over the fields, enhanced by dramatic skies with rainbows taking the stink out of the torrential downpours.

Looking over Knowles Hill

Not all of the going was smooth, parts of the canal had been infiltrated by reeds making it difficult to navigate. I collected photographic evidence to send to CRT to complain, but the thought of a trite rebuffle citing the need to create wildlife havens, just makes me think why bother. Come on CRT, the wildlife living in canal reeds isn’t going to increase with a wider footprint, keep the channels open for boats and just let the stretch of reeds run for longer, if you must. But perhaps maintenance costs have got more to do with the problem than environmental concern.

Not our idea of a well maintained canal

Balmy days and lock side pubs all made it better. But as we’d had fish and chips for lunch at the Dusty Miller, (delicious and good value) we only quenched our thirst here at the Willey Moor.

The Willey Moor pub and lock

There’s a lockie at Grindly Brook staircase locks so we were up and through before I had time to blink, and we were lucky to get into the mooring by the Whitchurch lift bridge

A good place to stop

So we had the opportunity to take a meander into this peaceful little town. Navigation into the town comes to an abrupt end at Chemistry bridge when navigation ceased in 1939 and the canal was filled in.

The abrupt end to the Whitchurch arm, although the footpath does follow the old canal route into town

But the route was bought by the Whitchurch Waterways trust, who plan to open it up and create a small marina basin. It will be a lovely place to visit if it ever comes to fruition although they might have to do something about the wildlife

That’s a scary looking dragonfly

Whitchurch itself is worth exploring, the Roman road from Wroxeter (south of Shrewsbury) to Chester passed through here although there have been Neolithic remains found here. After the Norman conquest, a castle and stone church were built out of the local white Grinshill sandstone. So “Westune” (meaning West Farmstead) became Whitchurch. That particular church is no longer standing but the current parish church built in 1713 is particually beautiful inside and worth a visit.

Inside St Alkmunds

Whitchurch was granted it’s market town charter in Tudor times and although it is in shropshire, it became home to Beltons, a major producer of Cheshire cheese.

Whitchurch High Street

We’re going to Wales on the Llangollen canal


Turning right at Hurleston Junction, leaving the Shropshire Union main line we were warmly welcomed by a team of volunteers at the Hurleston flight.

A warm welcome from the friendly volunteers

We were helped up the 4 locks, took advantage of the facilities and then moored up for a few days to enjoy a new outlook, and found ourselves moored next to Kim and Paul, fellow Braidbar boat owners. As happened last time we saw them an afternoon cuppa turned into an evenings glass of wine, and another glorious sunset.

Sunset at bridge 3

Of course what Eric didn’t realise was that I had been studying my Google map and had seen Snugburys ice cream parlour was within walking distance of our mooring, but what I didnt realise it that it was guarded by a giant honey bee.

Snugburys bee garden

Needless to say my tub of Creme Brulee ice cream was worth the walk, even though there was so much choice, wonder what I’ll have on my return visit.

Spoilt for choice

The history of the Llangollen Canal is a bit of a mishmash and the cynic in me suspects there was a lot of politics and greed involved in its creation. Back in the late 1790’s a group of industrialists wanted to ship their Welsh mined goods out to the rest of the country, north via Ellesmere, through Chester and onto the Mersey at Ellesmere Port, and South via Shrewsbury onto the River Severn. However nothing went to plan, various routes were half built but not connected with the main line, and quite frankly I got totally confused as to who did what when. Needless to say the section between Ellesmere and Chester never got built. Hence our need to travel the long way round. Eventually rival canal and rail companies got their act together to run and maintain the route we know now, falling under the banner of the Shropshire union canal and rail company, But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that this canal formally became known as the Llangollen Canal rather than the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire union. (Please don’t quote me on these “facts”) What we do know for sure is that it is one of the most popular holiday canals with hire boaters and the current Shropshire canal society has made sure there is a lot of peaceful rural mooring, which we love.

Mooring at bridge 12

Back tracking through Cheshire

Having reached the end of the canal we were now backtracking, through the basin with Telfords warehouse and Taylor’s Boatyard and the canal link onto the River Dee in Chester.

Telford basin and Taylor’s yard, with the river Dee cut on the right.

Then back up the 3 deep staircase locks. On our we down we had earnt brownie points for working the staircase shuffle, that’s two down and one up, crossing over in the middle. Perfectly doable, but not for the faint hearted. This time we worked on our own, a bit scary in a 30foot deep lock.

Chester deep lock staircase, doing the shuffle

We crept underneath the steep walls with bridges overhead

The bridge to nowhere


We moored overnight in Chester to stock up on groceries but although it’s a beautiful and fascinating city, we were ready to move on. And of course we know there will be more to explore next time. Our goal now was to reach Hurleston junction to turn onto the llangollen canal.

This lock is going to take a long time to fill with a leak like that

It felt good to be back out in the countryside again until we came to the Golden Nook Farm moorings which stretch further than the eye can see, probably for 2 miles, and 2 miles of enforced tick over feels incredibly tedious.

Mile after mile of moored boats


But hey, it is what it is and at least the canal isn’t full of weed. And we were rewarded with another glorious sky at our mooring near Beeston

Sunrise at Beeston

We took a few days to get back to the Barbridge junction where the Middlewich branch joins the main line

Barbridge junction with the Middlewich branch

before we were passing under another Bridge 100.

Bridge 100 Shropshire union canal

We’re all going to the zoo together


When we set out on our life afloat in 2017, one of the must visit places in our minds was Chester and the zoo. And when we realised just how close we could moor our excitement grew. There is 48 hour visitor mooring at Caughall Bridge 134, just 10 minutes walk from the main entrance.

Caughall bridge, for Chester zoo

And the public bridlepath divides the zoo site into two halves so you can take an evening stroll to get a sneak preview of the milder mannered animals. The elephant house is also open to the public free of charge during opening hours, just in case you needed your appetite whetting.

Free entry into the elephant house.

But that’s enough of my phone camera photography, the following morning we were more or less first in the queue with Eric’s long lens to capture our day. The lockie at Chester staircase, suggested we head straight towards the islands where the tiger lives. We followed his advice, although the zoo guide was a bit more pessimistic….. ooooo you’ll be lucky, he’s well hidden today. Glad we listened to the lockie not the zoo-ie and even more glad there was a thick sheet of glass between us.

Now who’s for lunch



We also struck gold with the tree kangaroo, who apparently rarely comes out to play

The red tree kangeroo


The Black rhino obviously doesn’t “play” and just stood and stared at us.

Black rhino


One of the things we enjoyed about Chester zoo were the number of “houses” that are home to free flying birds

Chestnut backed thrush


The rich planting made it feel like We were trekking through exotic forest, we had to stop and say hello to this magnificent rooster who is a red jungle fowl, the Adam to all our domesticated chickens

Red jungle fowl

Some creatures were much harder to find, the cheetahs were obviously having a duvet day, but some were hiding in plain sight.

How many can you see?


But the chameleon had a hard choice, blend with the tree or background

Spot the camouflaged chameleon


Thankfully the Jaguars were spotted and weren’t roaming the car park

South American Jaguar

But the black panther-who is actually just a jaguar with a black coat, was patrolling his grounds

the black panther



We tried to pick up a penguin

Diving penguins


But I changed my mind and decided what I really wanted was a baby elephant

Indian Elephant


Sadly I’m not sure it would fit on the boat with its mum. We could have stayed at the zoo until 5pm but after 6 hours we had walked our socks off, seen far more amazing creatures than I have shared with you.


the orangutan were hilarious and very cute, they certainly knew when it was time to chill out

The laid back orangutans

and the lions were basking amongst their savannah. And we were also ready for to sit down. Yes we both have mixed feelings about keeping animals in captivity, and who are we to recognise if an animal is happy or not,

An Asian Lioness


but as far as Chester zoo goes, we had a great day, and in my simple mind I think most of the animals were enjoying life as well.

Ps we think there are 3 leaf insects in the photo

Ellesmere Port

Having got to Chester, we just had to complete the journey to the end of the line at Ellesmere Port. Back in the 1790s, engineers had a similar idea when they wanted to create a waterway which would connect the Mersey and the Severn. However disagreements, rising costs and falling traffic needs meant that the full route was never completed, and instead of being the Ellesmere canal, this section earnt the nickname of the most unsuccessful canal. Nowadays however it is a interesting change from the rest of the Shroppie. Much much quieter than the run into Chester, floating weed replacing hire boats as the main obstacle

Weedy waters

It would have caused havoc if the weed had got wrapped around the prop so we were going extra slowly, so the locals didn’t really need it keep such a close eye on us, cause we weren’t going to trigger this speed camera

Smile you’re on camera


But apart from the weed it was ok to cruise along, and we found some lovely mooring places

No weed here

At Ellesmere Port , where the Shroppie, Manchester Ship canal , Mersey all come together the Canal and River trust have utilised the old wharf buildings to create a fantastic museum

The incline plane down to the Manchester Ship canal

It showcases canal history, how times have changed. When families worked the canals instead of mooching about like we do, they lived in a fraction of the space we have, with one tiny cabin for the whole family to cook, eat and sleep in, and moving from first to last light every day.

I’m glad we have so much space on Fircrest

It brings a new meaning to WFH(working from home)

No room for a dishwasher


And they were no less proud of their homes. A tradition barge would have been beautifully decorated with ornate paintwork of roses and castles, crochet trim and polished brass.

What a beautiful boat


The horses would also have had crocheted fly protectors and painted tack. But I don’t think they would have had a whole granny square coat like this one.

Meet Rainbow, the granny square horse

Of course not all narrowboats were how we imagine them with our rose tinted glasses. The first commercial canal was the Bridgewater canal , servicing the coal mines at Worsley. These were known as Stavationers, because the internal ribbing looked like a starving persons ribs.

A Stavationer coal boat


And the wide beam boats often did shorter journeys so didn’t all have living quarters. The site at Ellesmere Port was not only a wharf for goods ferried across the Mersey, but it was the site of the local gas works, where coal was burnt to produce Town gas. One of the buildings is dedicated to some magnificent old engines and we were lucky to get a guide who talked us through the machinery.

Theres a machine for everything

The entry ticket to the museum is valid for a whole year, which is a good thing because there is so much to see and too much to absorb in a single visit. But the day we visited felt like November not September and we got our wires crossed about what we both wanted to do, so didn’t stop overnight as we could and should have done. And of course once we had left and moored up the weather improved.

No more rain

I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this museum for all boaters. Just don’t cycle to it along the Towpath.

Training in Chester

We made good use of our stay in Chester, so much to see and do, all within easy walking distance. The Cathedral was playing host to a model railway display which proved a big draw, not so much the layout of the track but how the circuitry behind the scenes enabled the movement of the trains around it. The track was built by the music producer Pete Waterman, and he was on hand to chat very knowledgably about the set up.

Now that’s some model railway

Whilst Eric was chatting to Pete and the engineers I wandered around the beautiful building and came across a scale model of the Cathedral being built out of Lego

The Lego cathedral

For a fundraising pound I could purchase a brick and add it to the structure. My dad would have been proud of me, for he was a builder and back in the 70’s our family spent a couple of years abroad whilst he built a church. He’ll be looking down from heaven laughing cause I’ve now helped build a cathedral.

Chester Cathedral

I’m not sure the 12th century stone masons would appreciate my efforts as much as I appreciate theirs. I took full advantage of being moored 5 minutes walk from such a magnificent building, and the choristers were just back from their summer break. Like many people, we haven’t been able to worship inside a church for so long, that it was a very emotional moment when the bells rang out on the Sunday morning and we were able to attend the service. Ironically the last time we were in a church was in February 2020 when we went to Liverpool cathedral. The Cathedral isn’t the only place in Chester to offer spiritual sanctuary. The StoryHouse is a theatre, library and creative communal. Well worth a visit if you’d had your fill of old buildings.

The storyhouse


Chester is the end of the line on Mersey rail system so I hopped across the water and met up with my Aunty, we had lunch in the John Lewis restaurant where I could just about look onto the waterfront where we spent 8 months last year.

Looking over the Liverpool link canal and the Mersey


On the way to the station I came across a full size gable end mural celebrating Chester’s Brook street heritage. In the 1980s regeneration replaced demolition for these simple streets that belonged to the working classes, and ten years ago this mural was commissioned to celebrate this vibrant community. Its worth leaving the grandeur of the city centre to stand and stare, and if you’re lucky to chat to someone who knows the stories.

Brook street mural by Steve Drossle


Chester train station has good connections so I also took advantage of being able to get up to the Lake District to see Mum, it was the Westmoreland County show week and the weather was good so we had a lovely few days together.

We know how to have a good time

The train journey back to firecrest was amusing, I felt very underdressed in my comfortable shoes and snug fleece, I thought there must be a business conference going on, but then I realised the women were all in heels and hats. Of course it was race day. It wasn’t the trains going round a circular track but the horses. Part of me would love to go, but if I started drinking champagne at 11am, I’d be asleep before the first race.

Chester race course from the wall
Inspiration from the storyhouse

King Charle’s Chester

We took a few more days to cruise up into Chester, stopping under the Egg bridge at Waverly and outside the Cheshire Cat, but eventually found ourselves the perfect mooring in King Charles’s garden.

King Charles’s tower

The early morning golden sunshine lit up his tower on the Roman wall filling us with a sense of adventure as we explored the city. It is suggested that during the first English Civil war (1642-1646) this is where Charles I stood and watched his soldiers being defeated at the Battle of Rowton Heath. Personally I think he was enjoying looking at the narrowboats moored below, until Eric pointed out that he might have been plotting the route but the canal wasn’t actually built until the 1770’s.

Looking down into “our” garden

Chester has a fascinating history, far too complex for me to do justice to. However it’s proximity to the River Dee made it ideal for the Romans to establish it as a major fortress between England and Wales. They named it Deva Vitrix , and built the original wall. The Anglo-Saxons maintained, repaired and strengthened the wall to help defend against the marauding Danes. And it continued to protect its residents until the disastrous 16 month siege in 1645 when the Royalists fell to the parliamentarians. Chester then realised it was more profitable to welcome visitors, both traders and tourists, and the wall became a 2 mile circular pedestrian thoroughfare.

Eric the gladiator

Until the 1800’s Chester had thrived as an inland port, and although hard to imagine now, taking some quite big ships on the River Dee.

The River Dee

Sadly or fortuitously -I would say the latter, the combination of the River Dee silting up and Liverpool being able to take the bigger ships on the Mersey, the port faded away. But the local entrepreneurs realised that a canal could help maintain trade links both onto the Dee and the Mersey.

Is it a most or a canal?

Beside the canal, one of the highlights of the city, is the stunning architecture. Many of the original Tudor buildings remain, but the spectacular city centre is predominantly Victorian. We shouldn’t complain because we fall into this catergory but they are a significant draw for the tourists making it a strangely busy place to be. Both Eric and I were content just to wander around looking up and all the intricate wooden carvings, and the unique balcony walkways,

Waltons jewellers and the Chester cross

and at the same time looking down to the Roman ruins

What remains of the Roman bath houses

Luckily for us the mooring below the wall is 14 day so we had plenty of time to explore.

The Eastgate clock tower

Climbing the castles

Although we have descended a few locks, with the exception of one or two comical rocky outcrops this part of the Cheshire plain is fairly flat. But if you’re going to build a defensive castle where better to put it than the local view point. And where there’s a hill, we’re not the only ones take advantage to climb it.
Beeston castle dominates the skyline along this section of the canal and its an easy walk from the Shady Oak moorings. So after an enjoyable afternoon with our new friends, when we woke the next morning to a day promising to be a lot cooler we decided to stay put and explore on foot.

A promising morning

Beeston castle is now owned by English Heritage and today it was over run with marauding children attired in printed chain mail tabards, brandishing wooden swords. But back in the day, in the 1220s, Ranulf de Blondeville, the 6th Earl of Chester, returned from the real crusades to built this castle. It was never a royal residence but Henry III used it to keep Welsh prisoner of war, when the English and Welsh weren’t quite so amicable.
In 1394, it was rumoured that rumoured that Richard II hid his royal wealth in the grounds of Beeston castle, but did so rather too well for it still hasn’t been found. We kept our eyes open, but we couldn’t find it either.

Beeston castle


Whilst we were searching for the treasure, we realised we were also within walking distance of Peckforton castle on the neighbouring big rock. So we continued exploring and enjoying the views. I’m fairly sure we could see Mow Cop, that we climbed several weeks ago from the Macclesfield canal, and we definitely could see Liverpool’s cathedrals and the Welsh hills. The cloud cover made photographs pointless.

Peckforton castle

Peckforton castle looks medieval but was actually built in Victorian times, by the eccentric Tollemarsh family. Nowadays it is a fancy hotel and wedding venue. We weren’t invited to stay but never the less it was a good walk.

The straight path home

And the following morning we woke to blue skies and another perfect cruising day.

A perfect day to cruise