Farewell 2021, part five. Tis the season to be Jolly

December decisions. We do love living on a boat, but sometimes it’s management is hard work. We wanted to travel south, but events were conspiring around us so we set off north on the Staffs and Worcester. December became an exercise in time management, getting us from A to B on the right day. Thankfully non of our days were long cruises and although we were conscious of various deadlines we still found a lot to enjoy, even misty mornings have a certain beauty.

Coven Heath

Our first stay was in Penkridge with a convenient train station so I took the opportunity to visit Mum in the Lakes. Whist Eric got on with some work…..

I love being back in the Lakes

And when I got back we set off in the snow to reach Stafford,

Snowy Penkridge


Thankfully the snow didn’t last too long, and the canal didn’t freeze, although it was bitterly cold. The sun shone and we got our rainbow as we slipped and skidded our way up to the vaccination centre for our boosters

Radford Bank, Stafford


Our next stop was to reach Great Haywood Marina on the Trent and Mersey. Because that was the only marina we could find that had a week’s temporary mooring for Firecrest whilst we both returned home.

Great Haywood Marina

But en route we had a windy night on the Tixall wides.

Tixall Wides

It was lovely to be home for “First Christmas”, knowing if we had left it another week or two, there was a possibility we wouldn’t have been allowed to get together, and this was the first time Tim and Heather had been together since January 2020.

The pizza is a jigsaw, not tea for all of us


Once we were back on board Firecrest, we set about retracing our steps back onto the Staffs and Worcester, a brief stop in Stafford for the very convenient Aldi, and a peaceful plot in Penkridge, where we got our flu vaccine. Ironically our quiet mooring in Penkridge runs parallel to the M6, it would be noisy in summer with windows open but we had battoned down the hatches so not disturbed.

That’s the M6 motorway across the field

We got to be good Samaritan’s the week before Christmas when we were flagged down by another boater, they had sprung a hull leak and their overworked bilge pump had drained the batteries. They were in serious risk of sinking cause they were already paddling in water. Thankfully Eric had a spare pump and enough battery power, to stop it getting any worse whilst they waited for professional help to arrive. The boat was new to them and even though they’d had it out of the water for a survey, the problem hadn’t shown up. They hadn’t heard the boaters acronym “Bring On Another Thousand”
Our maintenance was relatively painless this time, as Eric did the generator service and oil change.

Sitting down on the job…

I consider it to be a fair exchange of labour, cause I happily cooked a big roast duck for our Christmas dinner, from Russell’s, the first class butchers… not the canal

A happy Christmas on board Firecrest

We continued cruising south to see out the year, and had and amazing day with our friends Helen and James on new years eve.

Setting James to work doing the locks

What a finale, we’re back on track, heading south and looking forward to an exciting adventure in 2022

Farewell 2021, part four, the final furlong.

We kept our colour well into November.

The time had come to study the planned winter closures list and, whilst also keeping an eye on any unwelcome restrictions that might hamper our cruising plans, decide where we wanted to be for Christmas. At the end of October we were all still optimistically planning our parties and big family gatherings. We knew we had to be off the Llangollen by 8th November but it was noticeable how much quieter the canal was becoming with fewer and fewer hire boats so we took our time wandering around some of the gorgeous villages.

The parish churchyard at Marbury


Nantwich is only a short cruise off the Llangollen. And the Shropshire Union towers over the town on an embankment, via an aqueduct, making it a popular mooring spot.

Nantwich aqueduct over the Weaver


We could only get onto the 48 hour, and I regret not spending longer here because its a fascinating town with a lot of history. Although a lot of the black and white “tudor” buildings are relative victorian youngsters, after many originals were destroyed by fire.

Just a little bit of Nantwich

We continued down the Shroppie at pace, stopping at some lovely places on our way, Audlem Mill, on the wharf is now a museum and craft shop,

I could have spent all day in Audlem mill

We gave thanks for some lovely rainbows, after some torrential rains

Rainbow at Audlem

We ploughed through some pretty hairy overflows on the locks

Overflows like this seemed to be the norm along this stretch

We wondered at the amount of boats that must have used this canal over the years, looking at the depth of wear on the metal bridge protectors

We marvelled at the feats of engineering, building bridges like this which contained the telegraph pole

But although there were some lovely moorings


We found this part of our journey frustrating, had the canal been built for speed, with long straight cuttings? I guess so, although we were mightily glad we weren’t cruising at the height of summer having to negotiate narrow stretches with on coming boats.

Along the straight and narrow

We had also fallen victim to some poor planning, albeit partly our own fault, needing to pick up fuel meant we hadn’t stopped to enjoy the nice places for longer. We were in the midst of the fuel supply crisis, and had declined paying £1:10 per litre, in favour of getting to Wheaton Aston who were still only asking 79p, saving ourselves over £100. And although autumnal leaves are beautiful in the sunshine, they are anything but once they are in the canal. Leaf soup made progress hard going.

Leaf soup


But we made it to the end of the Shroppie

Farewell 2021, part three, the Autumnal Amble

From green leaves to gold.

From green to gold

Having nudged well into September whilst we were in Chester, and having done the zoo, and Ellesmere port, it was time to get the passports out and cross the borders. Well I should say border but it’s in competition with some of the canals for its wiggliness, and we crossed it several times, half the time we didn’t know if we were drinking in a Welsh or English pub.

Willymoor Lock Tavern, Shropshire

So it was back down the Shroppie and onto the Llangollen. We ambled along, stopping to explore the little market towns of Whitchurch and Ellesmere, but relishing the lovely rural views.

England on the left, Wales on the right, or was it the other way around

But of course we were heading, along with every hire boat in the country, to aqueduct territory, with Chirk

Chirk Aqueduct


And the Pontycysllte

The stream in the sky crossing

What an experience.

Crossing the Pontycysllte Aqueduct

Of course having got to Llangollen, we also continued on foot to the Horseshoe falls where the mighty River Dee is channelled into the start of the canal, so water can be moved to quench the thirst of the people in the Midlands


I guess with the scenery being so spectacular, it’s understandable why it’s such a popular canal, but we happily made a detour onto the Monty for a bit more personal space,

Montgomery canal

Although it didn’t stop us taking advantage of the picnic tables to meet up with boating friends and enjoy a BBQ together.

Lockgate Bridge picnic ground

This has certainly been a cruise well enjoy looking back on

Farewell 2021, part two, the summer months

Summer saw us cruising purposefully along the Trent and Mersey,
We said goodbye to April under the cherrytrees at Shardlow

Shardlow

And moved swiftly through May as the leaves turned green

We took the opportunity meeting friends from Mercia, at Fradley Junction, at Burton and Rugeley, before we arrived in Stone to meet with Mike Carter, who was going to do our Boat Safety certificate inspection. Thankfully we passed.

Visiting Friends always welcome


With just one further obligation to fulfil by the end of May, we arrived in Stoke to have our second vaccination. We were lucky enough to moor right opposite the Middleport pottery, where we caught it looking it’s absolute best with our favourite photographic dark combo, storm cloud and bright sunlight

Middleport pottery

In our four years of cruising we still get excited seeing our industrial heritage along the canals. But I will save you from the 100’s of photos I took of the bluebells as we took ourselves onto the Caldon canal for a mini break at beginning of June, they really are a May favourite.

Bluebells on the Caldon canal

The Caldon canal is a true gem, often overlooked by some, probably cause it’s narrow, twisty and home to the notorious Froghall tunnel, which has the lowest possible headroom on the system. Only the brave or foolhardy attempt to traverse it. I’m not sure which camp we are in but we won our silver propeller for reaching the Froghall basin.

Phew we made it through without getting stuck

June was a lovely month, we were healthy and happy being able to explore again. We returned to the Trent and Mersey, slipped through the Harecastle tunnel and turned right onto the Macclesfield. Last time we had been this way we were leaving Braidbar in our brand new boat in June 2017. We had been ploughing south in order to meet up with friends, (in the days before we realised you can’t rely upon a cruising plan for more than a day at a time, if that) we were determined to enjoy the Macclesfield more this time. Tim joined us for a few days and encouraged us to leave the Towpath and climb Mow Cop

On top of Mow Cop


It was lovely to see James and Donna at Braidbar. What with one thing and another, June and July became a leisurely and relaxed summer, I was welcomed back to the fabulous Wiseheart & Wild craft studio and with Tim living close enough to cycle, we filled our days with the pleasure of friendship. We meandered up and down the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canal back to Bugsworth basin

Bugsworth basin, near Whaley Bridge

Eric did some more work on the arials and solar panels

Caution, man at work

Our initial plans for the year had been to pick up our thwarted 2020 goal, to visit Chester. We had planned a convoluted route through Manchester, onto the Bridgewater, back down the T&M onto the Middlewich branch before heading north up the Shroppie….but we were thwarted yet again by a broken lock in Manchester that required a complex repair.

Bollington

August saw us returning down the Macclesfield, and turning right and going north up the T&M before we reached the Middlewich branch, “a new to us” canal. The weather wasn’t brilliant, but it was certainly dramatic.

And we finally made it to Chester by the end of August

The walls of chester

And of course the zoo was a highlight

Farewell 2021, part one

It might have been a bit stop start year, but yes there were some memorable moments to look back and smile about.
We weren’t going anywhere in January whether we liked it or not, the rain turned to snow and the water turned to ice. But the world lost its gloom and doom for a week as everything sparkled for us in Market Harborough. The canal looked magical and our spirits were lifted.

The icing on the cake at Market Harborough

We’d been lucky enough to get into one of the moorings with a water point so we snuggled down to make the most of another 3 months of official lockdown, the Co-op was within walking distance and we cruised once a month up to Debdale to pick up fuel and I soon learnt where to find the sweetest flowers.

Snowdrops in Great Bowden’s parish churchyard

February we were beginning to get bored, we’d had more snow and ice but the towpaths were muddy so walking wasn’t much fun. Despite it being a lovely place, we were ready to say goodbye to Market Harborough.

Officially we still were only permitted to cruise for essential services. We’d both been called for our 1st vaccination, but with no accessible centres or dates nearby, what better excuse did we need to plan our move.
We would march in March, as we headed north up the Grand Union canal. Fueled up with bacon butties

Essential cruising gear

and a fond farewell from our MH friends

Baa bye

off we set into the sunset at Kilby Bridge where we caught the bus into Leicester to be jabbed.

Kilby Bridge

CRT lifted our cruising restrictions in April and it felt like the some degree of normality was returning Eric finally got around to wiring in the first of our solar panels – when he wasn’t chatting to our fellow boaters.

Men at work

But we had to remember it was April and whilst we might be basking in sunshine one day,


On some mornings, we were still waking up to sharp frosts

Early morning at Barrow-upon-Soar

We continued up the river Soar, through Loughborough, briefly up onto the River Trent before turning left onto the Trent and Mersey Canal as spring merged into summer

Promises of good things to come

Catching up still on the Llangollen

I’m many weeks behind sharing our autumnal adventures, so to catch up on our journey having done the “half full monty” we continued floating downstream along the Llangollen. We enjoyed a few days in Ellesmere,

Ellesmere basin


where the yarn bombers had adorned a letterbox to commemorate armistice day

Lest we forget

We do love a bit of street art, but sometimes canal artists know how to sum up the mood of the nation just as well

Bloody Corona indeed

Though sometimes you just can’t beat nature

A moment of joy

Our plan was to be off the Llangollen before the planned winter closures started on the 8th November, but we still had time to walk around Whitchurch. It has some lovely “old” timber framed buildings Not all of them quite as old as they seem being built in the 1930’s.

All walkers need a Walker’s pie and pastry


And then onto Marbury, which does have a genuine old church which claims to be home to the oldest pulpit in Cheshire, 1456

We still haven’t quite relaxed into properly exploring the places we visit, but churches usually feel a safe space to wander around midweek,

Even the grave yard was lovely to wander through

and we are very grateful to the communities who have left their doors unlocked for the likes of us.

But we’re not out of the woods yet with more Covid bridges to cross and canal bridges to float under.

Let’s do the full Monty

Arriving at Frankton locks

But, because the Montogomary canal is still one of those restoration projects that has an unnavigable section in the middle we could only get so far. But never the less we were both keen to explore as much as possible, so we booked our passage through the Frankton lock flight (which is only operational between 9am and 1pm each day) expecting to explore the viable 6 miles during a three night stay.

Something to look forward to

But we were in for another treat, this little used rural backwater proved to be a haven of peace and tranquility after the superhighway of the Llangollen. The friendly volockies suggested we stopped at the Weston junction for lunch, but we ended up staying 2 full days.

Reversing into our mooring at Weston junction


The Weston Arm was abandoned and filled in, but the first 100m or so now holds a services station and just room for a few boats to moor, but the junction itself has been created into meeting point for boaters, and walkers alike, with picnic tables and a small car park. Needless to say we made the most of some sunshine to relax.

A few days in the sunshine

In its heyday (the early 1800’s) the Monty was actually the main line built with the purpose of transporting lime to be used as agricultural fertilizer. Unlike many other canal companies the land owning shareholders made their money from increased agricultural output and profit as opposed to commercial traffic tolls. It was 35 miles long, intertwining between the English and Welsh border, from Frankton to Newtown.

A pity only 6 miles is navigable for narrowboats now

Nowadays the navigable section in only 6 miles to Gronwyn bridge 82, although the last mooring opportunity is at Spiggots Bridge 80. We moored overnight so we walked the last mile to the end.

Bridge 82, as far as we can go

We the last winding hole is just before the bridge, through a lift bridge, so I just waited for Firecrest to return before lowering it

Looking towards Gronwyn wharf and lift bridge

As we meandered slowly back along the twisty narrow canal we realised one of the reasons for having to book passage is to limit the number of boats because of the tricky route and limited mooring.

It’s a bit shallow and narrow in places


Our friends Kim and Paul have been cruising a similar route to us and we agreed to meet up at the Weston mooring to take advantage of the picnic table and the sunny weather and enjoyed a barbeque together.

In the end we extended our stay on the Monty to 6 nights and having reached Gronwyn we can add it to our list to claim a Golden Propeller badge. We’d recommend it to anyone travelling without time restrictions, if just for some peaceful time out.

Going with the flow

What a difference the flow of water makes to how fast we can travel, or rather how much less power it takes to travel back from Llangollen. We thought it best if I walked ahead again to act as the mobile traffic light. But it was a peaceful day and we didn’t meet many oncoming boats

Heading back to Trevor


We toyed with spending another night at Trevor but it was such a lovely day we cruised on, over the Pontycysllte aqueduct, this time I took the opportunity to have a better look over the edge

That’s a long way down


But soon thought better of that idea and leapt off…. onto the Towpath for another angle.

Crossing the aqueduct


We continued speeding (relatively) along through the Chirk tunnel. It took us roughly 20 minutes pushing upstream and about 7 minutes downstream and that was just thanks to the power of the flow carrying us.

Exiting Chirk tunnel


And over the aqueduct back into England.

Making the most of Llangollen

The powers that be place a £6 per night charge to moor in Llangollen but only permit a 2 night stay. We don’t object, it includes electricity, which for us is very cost effective. We’d happily pay for electric if only CRT would install accessible points along the cut. But that’s another issue, we were here in Llangollen and wanted to make the most of it.

Our mooring at Llangollen wharf

We wandered along the wharf to the shop that manages mooring fees, and found they also sell ice cream…. banana and chocolate chip….

And it tasted as good as it looks

We were off to a good start. This is where the horse drawn trip boat operates from.

Harley the horse and the James Brindley trip boat

Not only is it a treat to see the boat being pulled by a horse, the vessel itself is a object of beauty. Llangollen wharf has been a tourist attraction for well over 100 years and I’m not sure if the two trip boats are the restored originals or reproductions. They plod gently along what’s little more than a stream

Kings bridge 49W


With a photo opportunity at the chain bridge over the river and in true Dr Dolittle style, the horses and tiller are simply unbuckled and reattached for the return journey.

The chain bridge at Berwyn


However as there’s no winding hole beyond Llangollen basin, for us to turn firecrest around we chose to walk the remainder of the canal to its source.

The start of the Llangollen Canal


This is where we see the true reason for the Llangollen Canal. Not only did it transport goods such as coal and iron, it also carried the main water supply for South Cheshire.

The Horseshoe falls


The water flow is managed by an impressive 140m weir designed by Thomas Telford in 1808. Its known as the Horseshoe falls. As with most canals, the Llangollen has seen many owners over the years, usually the railway companies. After the decline of commercial traffic in the 1930s, in 1944, the London Midlands and Scottish railway were granted a parliamentary act of abandonment allowing it to close a 175 miles of canals. However the stretch now known as the Llangollen Canal was saved and maintained because it provided the main water supply south Cheshire. 12million gallons of water are drawn through here every day.

The river Dee at the Horseshoe falls

In 2009 the sheer beauty of the location alongside the pioneering engineering earnt the last 11 miles from Chirk to the Horseshoe falls was awarded a UNESCO world Heritage site status

Llangollen Bridge

Of course Llangollen isn’t just about the canal and the river, the town is a thriving tourist attraction in its own right, which makes it very busy with a combination of tacky gifts suitable for landfill and some fine artisan crafts and delicacies. We treated ourselves to Oggies for lunch, the Welsh equivalent to a Cornish pasty and in our opinion much better.

Two Oggies

And whilst we were plugged into an unlimited power source, I took the opportunity to bake some Christmas cakes.

Something to look forward to

The Notorious Narrows and Shallows


The last 4 miles into Llangollen is notoriously known for being narrow and shallow, and full of blind bends and happy hirers. We seriously debated whether to take the boat or catch the bus. Not one to shirk a challenge and so what if we scratched the paintwork, we set off on Firecrest to complete our journey. I say we, I set off on foot to see us safely through the Trevor basin bridge, but I quickly realised I was walking a well trodden and very well maintained footpath. As the stone slope up this bridge shows just how well worn.

I’m not sure what H&S would have to say about this slope

But it was a beautiful walk, so i just carried on.

Looking towards llangollen

I suspect this hotel garden features in many wedding photos,

The Bryn Howell hotel

some lucky to live just off the towpath

Who doesn’t dream of a white picket fence

But the last mile the canal was cut out from the rock face

That’s one worried helmsman


And although the photos don’t show it we could still see jagged edges sticking out. Luckily there is signage informing boaters that it is single way transit for the next couple of hundred metres and advices a crew member to walk ahead. Luckily I did so and was able to call Eric on when I saw the route was clear.

All clear

Thankfully on this journey we had anticipated the majority of boats would set off in the morning leaving a fairly clear run upstream. And it proved a wise plan to wait for rush hour to be over as I only had to phone back to Eric and tell him to wait twice. Not that waiting was a problem when faced with the magnificent scenery around us.

The Dee valley

And our reward was to arrive in llangollen unscathed with a choice of mooring, all with electric shore power and water points. (And I’d more than clocked up 10000 steps on my fitbit)

Probably a good job we had power, cause we weren’t going to get much solar here.