Total Pageviews

Friday, January 28, 2011

Canal Boating in Wales part 1

To set this Narrow Boat narrative trip up:

We had heard about the amazing aquaduct that had boats going across a bridge 200' in the air.  It seemed the thing to go for so we looked about and came up with  If you look at the Llangollen route (which is a dead end canal) and then extend the trip into two weeks you would find the small town of Anderton, south of Manchester and snuggled next to Northwich (not Norwich).  Anderton is a hub of UKBoat Hire with a complete rebuild marina.

If you liked this article, the continued trip is described here (Part 2, click here).

If you want to see a photo tour of the boat we were on click here.

We had just done a two week B&B walking trip in Scotland and then trained into Northwich and got on the boat.  See the last bit of Count Ferrari's blog on Isle of Skye and Fort William.  For a good canal boat walk through, see the Canal Boat Description.

This blog starts about 3 days into the trip.  Somewhere there is a hidden Leisure Log of going to Nantwich which was way fun.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010:   Nantwich to a bit beyond the Hurleston 4 locks.  2:00 PM – 5:00 PM travel day on the canal (not a brutally long day…).
Pretty Polly in the Nantwich center square.

It was a leisurely start to the travel as we (the girls) went off shopping in Nantwich for the AM as described.  We had to double back a mile or a bit more and then came the sharp right hand turn for  the locks.  That was a bit of a boat handling cluster but the turn was made and we had to hang out on an unmowed side of the canal as we waited our turn to climb the 4 locks.  There were passing ponds between them and traffic coming down as we took our turn going up.  As both boats opened their respective locks, one had to wait until the other emerged into the passing bay, as the emerged boat was out of the way the other would slip across into the opposite lock and vice versa.
We found water at the top of the lock and it only took 15 minutes.  Must be more pressure there than before, as I cannot divine any less use of water.

Observations of the Count:
A.       I like the shallow wide galley sink, with a small rinse sink next, and a built in drain basin for the drip dry dishes.  It is very handy for dishes and laundry which I do a bit of each night and then put on the radiators to dry.

B.      The single handed mixed faucet is a treat after all the B&Bs with hot and cold separate on EVERY sink we saw.  Our shower is very easy to operate!

C.      BBC TV doesn’t seem to have  commercial breaks.  We only get two or three stations but we get the news and weather with an odd show, many on architectural issues or designs or on buying houses or flats for various budgets.

D.      Internet is not on, out here in the bush and farms, as we enter Wales at Wixall.   Other boaters have bemoaned the cellular service so I expect the USB stick to be less effective than one would hope.

E.       Did I mention the beer was too cold on the first day?   Literally!  It was frozen with about 30% liquid when opened.  The 16 oz can was so frozen I couldn’t open it all the way open.

We moored up at one of the British Waterway public mooring spots, generally with room for 4-5 boats and mooring rings in concrete to tie to.  It is nicer than pounding stakes and it is mowed so nicer to board the boat without tripping on brush.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010:  Somewhere past Hurleston to Fern Wood:  9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. Sun (short sleeves) for most of the day and sprinkles at the end.

10 locks                  6  lift bridges and 14 miles for the day’s data.

I know I was tired of driving at the end of the day and couldn’t wait to make popcorn and settle down with my book.  Nap after.  Dinner was soft tacos prepared by the Countess.  Very tasty!  It is wonderful to be able to eat one’s own cooking.   That may be one of the better reasons to do a boating experience like this.
Stair Step Locks (4 in a row with no passing lanes and a lock tender managing traffic direction)

Note the trailer hitch!  I have never seen the like.  71’ overall length is the most for these locks.
Note on plumbing:
Polly smelled a bad smell in the head so we monitored all day and didn’t notice anything later.  We had been told to get a pump out from the waste tank when a red light appears on our electric toilet flush button.  So far no red light.  I am hoping we can combine pumpout with getting more diesel as the services will be in the same spot.  We were told to get diesel in a week.  I suspect her odors were the cow pastures we were going through at the time???  They were pretty intense then.
The views on this section are amazingly lush farm fields with cows, the odd horse and sheep.  We went past a sheep pasture with clover taller than halfway up the sheep and no signs of grazing anywhere on the 20 acres or so the ~30 sheep were in.  I am impressed by the fabulous farmland here in England.  It has been farmed for over 2,000 years and is quite impressive with the hedges as fences instead of piled rocks like we saw in Scotland.  There must be some monster hedge trimming machine as there are miles of this hedge and most of it is trimmed at around 7’
Thursday, September 23, 2010:  Fern’s Wood to past Ellesmere and the Fenton Locks,  Sun to start, light rain at end, 9:00 AM finish at 18:30 (our latest travel in the boat so far)

It rained most of the night, pretty hard rain, but no worries except for a small leak in the galley overhead hatch.  I turned on the central heat around 6:00 AM and the boat was very pleasant when getting up at 7:30 AM.

CF started driving as Lori ate breakfast (she is always the latest ariser ).  Polly came back from her morning walk, exploring the chart book claim for a farm with various meats, eggs, and cheeses.  They were closed but no worries, there are towns ahead.

The girls took over driving around 10:00 AM and it allows me to sit looking forward near the bow, watching the world go past at 3-4k in the sun.  I get to sip the last coffee for the day and work on the Leisure Log.  I even got the radio working on some smooth rock station with news.

If one is sitting on the very bow in the open air, and approaching a blind corner or bridge you can easily get a blast of the horn in your ear!   The driver usually cannot see past the upcoming bridge and needs to signal their intent on coming through.  The girls thought they heard another horn early on the trip, but I think we are the only ones blowing our horn regularly and probably sound like a charter (or hire boat) doing something inane.

Good boat names:
Just Do It

Ellesmere is our commercial stop for the day.  It was a bit tricky as the dead end canal to town had a very small turnaround at the end.  I discovered that there is a proper way to turn that made it easier, however we managed to turn the wrong way with the extension of our brest line, by joining it with our stern line.  PP did an excellent job getting the line on a bollard and then sucking the midships in by judicial pulling and waiting for the boat to drift sideways.  Have you ever pulled a 54’ boat sideways?  A good pull for a 120lb girl, unused to the ways of vessels.  An excellent job!

Polly is that spot of blue and has a line attached to the middle
of our vessel that weighs 17 tons!
Princess Polly pulling the vessel on our U turn.
After we were turned, we moored up in the only berth open to fit us and walked the short distance (one minute) to the largest Tesco’s (large chain of grocery stores) we had seen in our entire trip.  The store was new and HUGE (as large as any in the US) with an excellent selection of all food groups.
After loading up on L60 worth of groceries the girls went off and bought a purse and other wierdnesses.  They came back as I was able to send out the Leisure Log on a VERY slow connection but it was steady enough to get it out after minutes of waiting.

Next we waited for drinking water which took nearly an hour (30 minutes for the boat in front of us and then 30 minutes for us.  We pushed on a bit and got a bit of progress for the day toward Llongollen.  We will be lucky to get there on Saturday which is half of our time of our entire charter.  We still will have to get back!

Friday, September 23, 2010:  Frankton Locks to Llongollen,  7:15 AM departure , Raining hard and cold with 10-15k of head wind.  17:15 Arrival in the sun.

CF is up at 6:45 and on the helm at 7:15 with coffee being served to him by PP.  One has on all the cold weather clothes in the arsenal… fleece tights, travel pants for wind, heavy socks, water proof boots, microfleece long sleeve shirt, fleece vest, fleece lined coat, rain slicker and ballcap.

That much layering of clothing was good for two hours at the helm which included 3 hot drinks and toast being served.  The boat umbrella was doing good service but was a bit to manage in the wind but worthwhile as it took some of the brunt off the weather.
We climbed the last two locks going to Llangollen and rewatered the boat (15 minutes) earlier than expected.  The girls took the helm at 9:30 and CF retired below to warm up.  Gloves on the radiator to warm for reuse, tea in the belly, sitting in the salon near the radiator is heaven.  Looking forward is the optimum seat in the salon, enjoying the passing shores, boats, and scenery.

An odd thing about canal boating are the multiple valley views as one traverses a built up embankment.  One allowed a view of 15 miles or so!  It is very scenic and when can one look down on a view in the San Juans?

We went past a very fancy set of apartments with 5-6 canal boat slips, pool and common house with gym? And things of that nature.  Very POSH!  (note the use of the local colloquiums)

The ladies did a good job out there and we traded off as we got chilled.  We made it to our first tall aquaduct and then a 487 meter tunnel.  We got lucky and fell in behind two other boats, ramming the 2nd one just as we entered the tunnel.  The flow of the water stopped him instantly and we were right there to tap him on the stern.  The Countess was driving!  She drove the tunnel the entire tunnel.

After the tunnel the girls abandoned the Count and they went shopping in Chirk while CF fueled up and had the holding tank pumped at the Chirk Marina on his own.  He handled the entry like a pro and backed into the fuel slip expertly.  74l of diesel and a pumpout for L94 and Bob’s your uncle. 
CF made some veggie soup, crackers and cheese and the girls arrived a bit early.  We had lunch and then took off towards the long aquaduct which was coming up.

Lori expertly took the helm as we did the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Check it out on Google.  (Pronounced, not that we ever did, Pont ker sulth tee).
 It is 1000 ft long, 127’ feet tall at the deepest bit, and is supported by 18 stone piers.  It was completed in 1805, the year Nelson died at Trafalgar!  The cast iron tub parts are ¾” thick and that is all that is holding in the water we are driving through!  There is no turning needed although bumping the sides made me uneasy and we did but not as much as the fellow who was in front of us and was gunning his prop a bit more than the Countess.  This was our McGuffin for the canal bit of the voyage and it did NOT disappoint.

From Trevor (the one end of the aqueduct) we climbed slowly up to Llangollen and had to so some one way bits that were 1000’ of winding canal and we couldn’t see ahead to see if there was down stream traffic.  We got lucky and got to the top and moored in a very nice marina,CF backing into our slip smoothly, getting kudos from the ladies.  L6 cost a night included electricity (we didn’t use it), water and garbage.
Scouting the town took place after mooring up and having popcorn.  Llangollen was pretty shut down that evening but we managed to go out to dinner in a pub and had very good food for L24 or so.

Back to the boat for some cards, the wifi and the TV were not receiving.  No matter, we slept like logs and there might have been frost on the roof that night as it was cold out when I went out to check the depth after dark.  The moon was next to full, just waning but very bright.  The Big Dipper was up in the sky.  It looked much like the one I see over Griffin Hill (the name of our home farm).  Polaris was in the same place too.  There might be some astrologer who could explain all this.

Saturday, September 24, 2010:  Llangollen to Moreton Hall, Sunny but cold in the shade,

9.5 miles/ 0 locks / 1 lift bridge / 2 tunnels /2 aqueducts / 2 narrow one way parts

Departed 14:30, Arrived 18:15

OMG we left just in time.   The marina at Chirk has their changeover days on Saturday and everyone   leaves just after 14:30.  What a cluster we found after the big aqueduct!

It took us a week to get somewhat proficient at driving this boat but still we nudge the side of the canal in the narrow bits but we were NEVER sideways to traffic like some of these newbies.  Our skills were hard won and we tried to assist when we could, like telling one fellow to pass port to port and other bits of knowledge.  PP instructed a fellow on lock use for his first lock ever.  That was a hoot!

Sunday, September 25, 2010:  Moreton Hall to Whitchurch, departed 7:45 AM, arrived 17:00 PM.  Sunny day totally with some clouds.  Cold wind when it blew but it was not constant.

22 miles / 2 locks / 4 lifting Bridges / 1 tunnel

25 minute stop for water and olive oil in Ellesmere

CF got the boat moving early and the pace just happened with everyone driving a bit and lunch on the go.
We met two other boats with US citizens aboard, first a bunch from Chicago in passing and then another group from Maine who was watering with us and then found wandering the streets of Whitchurch looking dinner at 7:00 PM on a Sunday night.  No luck is our guess after we saw them turned down for food in the first pub.  We went back to the boat and had an excellent chef’s salad and garlic bread dinner.

 Whitchurch was a fun place to explore with a church in session we could only look at the exterior but it was rebuilt in 1711 out of white rock, now somewhat less white, but that is where the name of the town came from.  It seems a prosperous town with lots of new houses, both semi detached (duplex) and detached.  All were brick with tile roof.  Many had single garages but very narrow, maybe 10’ wide at the most. There were the odd places with a double garage too.  Usually a bit larger and better sited with views or canal frontage.

A calculation was made for the next day’s journey.  13.5 miles, 16 locks, and 4 lifting bridges.

We shall see if we can do that in a day.  After that we have 4 travel days to cover 50 miles and 23 locks IF we are going to be able to explore Chester, the only city in the UK with it’s ancient wall intact, maybe even dating back to the Roman times.  We still want to arrive in Anderton to make a run up and down the Anderton Lift.  This is supposed to be unique, like the Falkirk Wheel.  We shall see.

Monday, September 26, 2010:  Whitchurch to the bottom of Hurreston Locks (near Nantwich).  Departed 08:00,  Overcast clouds but warmer than yesterday and no rain so far for the past 48 hours.

We hit the flow correctly as we caught the stairstep locks going down as the last boat in two going that way.  When we hit the holding pond at the base of the triple step lock there were 5 boats going up and we passed about 8 others in the next 2 miles.   I am glad to not have to wait in that lock queue.

In fact, with the traffic coming up at us we were able to cruise right in as others opposing boats came out so alleviating the issue of moving water or even opening the top gate.  Going down is much easier than going up as we had been doing on our way to Llangollen.

We had a fancy lift bridge opened by the boat astern of us.  One where it was operated by a key with traffic blinkers and gates and all like a RR crossing.  We skated on by without having to mess with it.  On the next lift bridge CF opened it and then left it open for the opposing traffic to close which was very handy for us.  One is supposed to leave all bridges down and all locks closed.

Here is Pretty Polly running the hydraulic lift on the counterbalanced lift bridge.

80,000,000 gallons of water come down the Llangollen canal a day.  The most water flow in the UK for a canal.
10,000 boats a year go up to Llangollen, the most traveled and narrowest bit of canal in the UK.
One must pay attention while driving.  You have, at most 5 seconds of inattention to the helm before you will have some serious correction/s to do.

What NOT to do:

You can NOT turn a 55’ boat around in 54’width of canal.  I tried and failed this AM.  I was nearly wedged bank to bank.  At the bow end was a nice bit of smooth steel canal lining and at the stern end was a big tree trunk, growing out into the canal by 6” or so.  One way of turning around is to stick your boat nose onto the bank and then crank the helm over and gun the prop. It just doesn’t work if one is less than half way turned….

A sign on a moored private vessel:  "Master boaters pass at 2MPH, Master Baiters go faster."

Ramblings and photos from the trip so far…..  No coherent plot or thoughts just fun stuff.

Here is a piece of art along the canal that must be a money maker in the summer.  It appears to be towed.

Cows in a lush pasture with the canal reeds in the foreground.  Miles of this to be seen.

There were at least 6 boats that reminded me of the Merrimac from the Civil War.

Here is an example of the Countess navigating under a bridge.  The Count would have had a bloody time of it without ducking on most of them.  This is a recently rebuilt bridge.  The older ones had a marvelous spiral bricking inside of them if they were built on a turn in the canal, as MANY were, all of them making very blind corners, requiring the sounding of a horn.
This stern was unique.  Very interesting attempt at making the boat LOOK fast but in reality it would be easy to fall off of.  Speaking of which, there was a fellow, cruising with his wife, who fell off just after they went past us.  We heard the big splash and there he was in the canal and his wife shutting down the boat and pulling him aboard.  He appeared to have to swim, so maybe the depth is more than we thought.  Whatever the depth, I am not going in voluntarily.  Maybe she pushed him with the tiller as could easily happen for helm corrections need to quick and firm.
The Welsh dragon.  Welsh flags were purchased in Llangollen and will be flown at Griffin Hill.

Note that one is looking DOWN into the valley.  When does this occur on a boat in the San Juans?
An inn with free mooring for the canal traffic.  VERY posh stuff indeed.  Note:  If you look close you will see the ends of two of the finger piers have been pierced by canal boat bows or sterns!  

1 comment:

  1. I see that your many years of boat handling paid off. What a wonderful way to see the interior of a country.