Chapter Seven: Carry on Barging

Today’s mission was to get to the four consecutive locks at Hurleston, which represent the start of the Llangollen Canal. If we achieved it, it would mean that we covered the entire length of the Llangollen on this trip. It would be a big tick in the box for all of us.

Having travelled so far yesterday, we were all confident that it would be easy to achieve. It wasn’t that far. Not a patch on some of the distances we’d previously covered in a day. It also meant returning to the location of the boat hire company and hoping they didn’t stop us and take the boat back. We weren’t ready to give her up yet. Not by a long stretch.

To provide us with enough energy to get through the mission we started the day with a fry up. With full stomachs and gritted teeth we set off. It was time to complete the plan.

Of course the one thing you can’t plan for is how long it’ll take you to get through each lock along the way, and when we hit traffic jam after traffic jam it became increasingly obvious that reaching the end of the canal was going to be difficult, if not impossible. It seemed everyone was out on the water today. And there were a lot of locks to get through.

At one particular lock, things got so bad that Elaine and I decided to try and speed everyone up by helping them along – there were a number of retired husbands and wives (husband on the tiller, wife working the lock, always) and by winching half of the lock for them we hoped they’d move along a bit quicker.

It seems you can’t do anything quickly on a canal, and retired people love to chat.

Still, we made it through eventually and carried on our journey. The sun, our ever present companion was even hotter today, and we all made sure we smeared plenty of sun cream on. Who would’ve thought that you’d get such a good tan in Wales!

The boat was like a sauna inside, and to get some air in we travelled along with all of the doors and windows open, including the side door hatch. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and it seemed to work quite well, except they having the side hatch open is technically against the rules (the boat hire company forbid the hatch bring opened whilst moving because they don’t want people sticking their heads out and getting bashed by passing boats).

Fortunately we remembered to close it up as we headed towards the boat hire company (we didn’t want to give them any reason to stop us on our journey).

Wrenbury Mill is where we hired the boat, and it’s the only part of the canal that has an electronic lift bridge. When we arrived Elaine pushed the buttons and I stopped the traffic (there was quite a queue). I must admit it made a very pleasant change from all the winching.

Once passed the little marina, thankfully no one stopped us, we carried on trundling along the final part of the canal. It felt like a bit of a slog, but at least the traffic had eased off.

We were now flying through locks like a well oiled machine. It’s just a pity that some of the locks weren’t as well oiled as us.

One of them, Baddily Lock No.3 was completely ceased up. We managed to get the lock gates open and closed, but some of the winches were very stiff and one just wouldn’t budge at all.

Time rolled on and so did we, eating lunch on the go (bread and soup… it needed using up).

We conducted a few more duck experiments, concluding that overall ducks are fussy eaters, and that they’d rather stand in the canal overspill at each lock and have the food come to them, rather than they come to the food. Making these overspill areas something of a duck McDonalds.

Finally we made it to Hurleston. The end of the canal was in sight. So too was the end of our journey.

But not quite yet.

We filled up with water and then made our way down the four locks. The Captain and Trevor drove the boat whilst Elaine and I worked the locks, as per our usual routine. At the bottom, Trevor performed his first boat turn, which included a rather hefty smack against the concrete lining of the canal – the bang was so loud I suspect they heard it back in Llangollen!

Then we swapped roles, the Captain and Trevor finally had to work the locks together. You could tell they weren’t very well practised, especially when Trevor sat on the lock gate the Captain was trying to open, making it impossible to move.

For our part, we shared driving duties in the locks. I drove the first one, successfully navigating around an oncoming boat, and only gently tapping the sides of the very narrow lock on entry. Elaine drove into her locks without once touching the sides, although she wasn’t helped by an oncoming boat that offered to turn both left and right at the same time, to get out of our way.

It seemed we weren’t too bad a driving team and the new lock workers weren’t that bad either, however after making our way back to the top, everyone decided that we should get back to our normal roles.

Now, this has been a great journey, and whilst we have taken every opportunity to be safe and not take any risks, injuries are part of life on the water.

Our Captain sustained a horrendous very tiny cut to the leg (from leaning on the throttle or by insect bite… we aren’t sure). But I earned my first aid badge, by applying a tiny plaster and drawing a smiley face on it. Fortunately, within about 10 minutes that Captain made a full recovery.

And then the days travelling was over. We moored up within a few minutes of the marina (we’re handing the boat back tomorrow morning), ate tea (quiche and veg), sipped celebratory champagne, and then went to the pub.

We weren’t there long, again it was gone 10PM by the time we arrived, but it was just enough time for a chat and to finish off this wonderful experience.

And to plan the next one.

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