Prologue: The Day Before It All Began
Welcome to the travel / holiday / misadventure book following four friends as they journey from England into Wales and back again, all along the Llangollen Canal. It’s currently the day before we set off, and right now there’s a lot of organising still to be done. There’s so much to think about, so many items that you simply must bring on a canal holiday and can’t afford to forget that it’s all a little daunting. At least, that’s how it feels right now. There’s a lot of packing left to be done.
We will be ready, I have no doubt.
All four of us are here now (it’s Friday evening), and enjoying a chat, accompanied by our liquid friends Mr Cider and Miss Pink Wine. We’ve started this booze cruise / holiday as we mean to go on!
Chapter One: The Long Boat
An early start this morning found us on the road with plenty of time to spare. As a result we were able to stop twice on the way to the canal.
The first stop involved taking on fluids (tea, coffee, and hot chocolate), and the second stop, not too long afterwards involved letting out some fluids.
And then, really before we knew it, we had arrived at the marina. Our boat was ready early, and so as soon as we got there (after enduring the lengthy lock safety video) we were on the boat and figuring out how to fit in everything that came with us for the journey.
We managed to pack everything in its appropriate place (there’s not much storage but we’ve made it work), and tossed a coin to see who got which “cabin” – which really meant which part of the corridor.
We were given a manual safety and how-to demonstration, which I’m sure someone paid attention too. Well, hopefully. However I had to dash out as the food shopping arrived at the same time!
Yet again more magic was performed and the food (masses of it) somehow managed to get squirrelled away quite successfully, although the fridge is looking slightly full.
And then, after all of that, it was time to get under way. Our first obstacle was getting out of the tiny marina, which involved a sharp turn and careful steering beneath a road bridge (kindly operated by the boat company).
Everyone took their turn on the tiller, some more successful than others (I totally didn’t run it aground, well maybe just a little bit but nothing some teamwork and a big pole didn’t resolve quickly).
We have negotiated bridges, locks, avoiding other boats, and even a close run in with a fisherman (which involved some expert driving from The Captain… I’ll leave you to guess who that might be).
Given that the weather was so surprisingly good, we chose to push on through the Grindley Brook staircase, a series of three locks side by side, before mooring up for the evening.
We seem to have fallen into a routine pretty quickly, with two of us tackling the lock business and the other two negotiating the boat through the locks.
All in all a very successful first day. It’s very peaceful sat here, drinking coffee and watching the sun slowly set.
Chapter Two: A Day Of Bridges
After exhausting ourselves on the first day, we went to bed early. And as someone smart once said “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” – this means that Trevor must be the wisest of us all, as he was up at 4AM exploring the local area and watering the flowers.
After that the rest of us woke at the still quite unreasonable-when-on-holiday time of 6AM. However, the early start was worth it, as we were able to have a superb breakfast (Eggs Benedict) and set off for the day before 8AM.
The first set of challenges for the day came in the form of several “lift” bridges, to work these bridges you need to wind a crank as fast as you can to lift up one side of the bridge to allow the boat to get through (imagine a small, one-sided, and run down version of Tower Bridge in London and you’re probably half way there).
Elaine and I, as chief lock workers and general dogsbodies, hopped out at each opportunity and winched up the bridges with lightning speed (slow lightning, perhaps). We got quite good at it in the end, and it certainly allowed us to work off breakfast!
There was one minor incident with a fellow narrowboat at this stage, when a privately owned boat came speeding through the water and almost drove into our boat, before barging their way to the front of the queue and passing through the gate ahead of us, disobeying many of the laws of the canal in the process. However, it ultimately worked in our favour as several minutes later we got our revenge by passing them at another lift bridge, so I suppose it all evens out in the end.
Today we have spotted herons, ducks (lots of these – including huge families full of ducklings), and even a kingfisher.
I almost missed the kingfisher as I was in the shower at the time, but having been called urgently, I threw on some clothes (though not enough to be considered appropriately dressed) and dashed up to the stern deck just in time to see the legendary flash of blue feathers. I then apologised to the rest of my crew-mates for standing there in nothing more than a t-shirt and boxer shorts. Still, I saw the kingfisher. So it was worth it.
We travelled under (or through) more than 30 bridges today, taking it in turn to drive the boat. We occasionally attempted to get through some of the bridges sideways, but generally we were quite good, which is more than can be said for some of the boat handling we’ve witnessed today: there have been plenty of bangs and scrapes to watch and enjoy, although the one or two that involved hitting our boat weren’t quite so much fun.
We stopped for water this morning, which confused us to start with, as the “magic” key we were given when we picked up the boat, which was supposed to unlock everything we needed along the journey didn’t unlock the tap we wanted to use.
After a lot of deliberation and discussion it turned out that the lock over the tap was already unlocked and so we didn’t need the key in the end.
Today was something of a learning day for everyone, from “what can you feed a duck?” to “how do you fill a canal” (the Captain, rather quickly even if she says so herself, decided that the answer was “by bucket”… as for the ducks question, Elaine and I conducted a scientific study at the end of the day, and I’ll reveal the answer in a moment).
At ice cream o’clock, I hopped out at a local marina with Trevor and Elaine, leaving the Captain to man (or woman) the boat. As per usual we tied her up (the boat not the Captain!) and went on our way.
When I got back I discovered the Captain on shore with rope in hand, looking out of sorts. It turns out the bow line (the rope that holds the front of the boat steady) had pinged off and the mooring pin had sunk into the water. Fortunately she was able to rescue both the pin and the boat, and still eat her Feast lolly.
To round off a long day of full-steam-ahead travel, we settled in for a fantastic barbecue and a beautiful golden sunset.
As for that in-depth and highly scientific study of what to feed a duck. Our research has conclusively proven that small bits of potato and apple are best, whilst beetroot, cucumber, and lettuce (google’s suggestion) are not popular.
Also that tomatoes sink like stones.
Chapter Three: The Mayhem Of Trevor
Firstly, and I’d like to be very clear about this… neither the mayhem nor the Trevor in the title relate to our Trevor. You know.
In fact the Trevor in question is a tiny basin at the end of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day began, as all of them seem to at the moment, with an early start. Not by Trevor this time (and in this case I mean our Trevor, just to be clear). No, the Captain and I (now promoted to “ship’s boy”) woke early for no good reason – I’m putting it down to excitement.
Breakfast arrived in the form of a delicious fry up. Just right for starting the day. Sausages, bacon, black pudding, beans, toast, and scrambled eggs were all served up and duly eaten.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a traditional cooked breakfast if the smoke alarm didn’t go off. And so it did.
Then we were off and running, trying to get a head start on all of the other boaters in the area.
Today was always going to be an exciting one, as the plan involved going through tunnels and over aqueducts and trying to negotiate some very narrow spaces.
The first big adventure was Chirk Tunnel, at almost 500 metres in length its quite an experience. Especially when someone pips the (very) loud horn right by your head! Or when someone else creeps up behind you in the dark and breaths on your neck (Trevor! Our Trevor that is, not the place… we haven’t got to that bit yet). I jumped right out of my skin twice on that tunnel journey.
After that came a hot and hilly hike. That’s right, we actually got off the boat! Not only that, but we walked the best part of 6 miles in the process (over 16,000 steps!). It was such a shock to the system that at least one of us came down with a mild case of motion sickness when on dry land.
Our destination was Chirk Castle, an almost 700 year old National Trust property. The trek up to it felt like a very long way (it also had a Famous Five vibe, with backpacks and walking boots, and a couple of mysteries to solve, such as “what was that smell…?”).
We made it, and in good time too. And we all felt jolly spiffing upon arrival. Ok, not spiffing, or even that jolly – it was more like exhaustion, that’s what we all felt.
With just enough time to regain our puff we were ready for our tour of the building. We were taken around by a very knowledgeable woman, who made it interesting for everyone there.
Meanwhile outside, a very elderly man in a flat cap and wax jacket was marching around, talking loudly, and acting for all the world like Basil Fawlty. Only I don’t think he was joking. He was the “outside only” tour guide, as he put it.
We spent lunch at the castle, then wandered around a bit more (including exploring the gardens, which seemed to go on forever). Then it was time to head back to the boat. None of us really wanted to walk the nearly 2 mile trip back and so when we spotted a helpful man in a National Trust minibus we managed to get a lift back almost half way. The remaining walk didn’t seem so bad after that.
Back on the boat and underway (after some well earned scones), we pootled along quite well, apart from getting stuck behind a rather old man and his wife – I managed to negotiate safe passage past them, by which I mean I stood at the bow of our boat as we approached their stern and very politely asked them to move out of the way, you’re slowing us down. Of course these canal boats are quite noisy so naturally I had to shout loudly to be heard. To make sure I didn’t completely offend them, I smiled a lot and tried to look innocent. It seemed to do the trick and we were soon on our way leaving them in our wake.
Somehow we all managed to get caught out by the arrival of the enormous Pontcysyllte aqueduct – even though it’s the main reason for our trip up here, and we’d just negotiated our way carefully around a long string of chugging narrowboats.
The aqueduct is an amazing feat of Thomas Telford engineering, and the views are spectacular (we were very high up) but in all honesty I think it’s best viewed from off the boat.
And so, at last we come to the main theme of this entry: the mayhem of Trevor.
Now, stick with me for a minute as the word Trevor is going to come up a lot, and deciding which Trevor I mean may not be easy, but everything will make sense in the end.
Trevor is tiny, with a sharp bend in the middle, and no room to manoeuvre. It’s also incredibly busy as everyone converges here off the back of the aqueduct.
At Trevor, our Trevor found himself at the end of a rope pulling in the nose of the narrowboat with all his strength, whilst also chatting to the Three Stooges of Trevor who sit on the wall watching all the Trevor visitors as they struggle to get around. Some of those visitors are also called Trevor (I heard at least 2 get mentioned when we were there).
We had decided (before really appreciating what Trevor was like) that Trevor was going to be our watering stop straight after the aqueduct. This was a grand idea apart from 2 small flaws. Firstly, as previously mentioned, Trevor is ridiculously small and busy, and secondly it hasn’t been a free watering hole for almost 20 years, despite what our map says!
This is where Elaine switched on the charm and sweet talked a guy at the local boat hire company, getting us free access to a usually paid for water supply, as long as we were quick about it.
Getting our boat into Trevor’s boat hire company marina was no mean feat. It took the whole team (and the barge pole) to do it.
And so Trevor (that’s our Trevor now) was pulling the bow rope and chatting to his new friends, Elaine was dashing about with a hose that was only just long enough to reach the boat, the Captain was keeping the boat in check, and I had the other two ropes. It was a delicate operation but as a crew we pulled together and got the job done.
You can see that Trevor (both the place and person) was busy. Add in a few impatient and inexperienced boat handlers to the mix, and Trevor soon became a bumping ground, full of mayhem (I mean, someone actually tried to put a barge pole through our window… it was just that kind of crazy).
And throughout the whole thing we were watched and encouraged by Trevor’s new friends, these three funny old men who like to hang around this place and enjoy the chaos. With that, we were done with Trevor, and it was time to move on.
We navigated our way through some of the narrowest sections of the canal, which was no mean feat, especially the parts that said “one way only”.
In the end we moored up in a reasonably quiet spot, ate home made steak and ale pie and trifle (the cream for the trifle was whisked up by hand by Trevor and me, using nothing but a fork… something that impressed the Captain, I can tell you).
Chapter Four: Reaching The Top
We had a later start to the day today, which meant getting up at 7AM and leisurely eating a breakfast of cereal and toast. This gave us a chance to wake up gracefully before pushing on to our main destination of the day: Llangollen.
After early showers and a fresh change of clothes it turned out that three quarters of us went for the very nautical “stripy top” look whilst one of us very much didn’t (can you guess who? I’ll give you a clue: his name begins with T).
And then we cast off, and got underway. It was a very smooth transition from being tied up to making way. Probably a little too smooth, as about an hour later we realised that the Captain had left behind one of the mooring hooks!
“No time to worry about such things now, we’ll have to keep an eye out for it on the way back down this afternoon.”
We ploughed on through some of the narrowest sections of the canal so far.
These tight, one-way sections (unlike yesterday’s) required some of our crew to wander on ahead and report back if anyone was coming, as there was absolutely no way two boats would fit next to each other here. There was barely enough room for a single boat at times.
Then, just as it felt like this would never end, we arrived at Llangollen Wharf. This is the destination we’ve been heading towards ever since the start of the holiday. And it didn’t disappoint.
Before we could moor up, we had to turn the boat around (to get ready for the return journey), which required an inch perfect turning from our Captain, who took this opportunity to impress the locals with her boat handling skills. And she nailed it.
We timed our arrival perfectly, so that we stepped off of our boat and on to the horse drawn barge that would take us all the way along the shallowest part of the Llangollen Canal. With just enough time in between for an ice cream.
The horse drawn barge was a pleasant 45 minute trip, and the woman driving the boat was very friendly. We even made friends with a pair of American tourists, from Minnesota, who seemed to like this little town as much as we did. Harley, the black and white Welsh Cobb that pulled us along made the whole thing look effortless. He barely even knew we were there.
After that we ventured down into the quaint little town, which is full of unique shops, and has a beautiful river running through it (as well as the canal, obviously). In fact as we walked across the bridge to the town centre (in search of international postage stamps for postcards to foreign lands) there was a distinctly Swiss feel about the place, which probably came from all of the green, tree-lined hills surrounding us and the pointy churches, as well as the white-water river.
The Captain went looking for the stamps, but came back with a bagful of food shopping instead. Elaine and Trevor provided us with pre-lunch chips (in a lovely curry sauce), which gave us the strength to walk back up the steep steps to the canal, which oddly enough runs at about 75 feet above the height of the town.
For my part I picked up the international stamp from the post office, and a small collection of babychams (I know, who’d have thought you’d find that here!?)
As the pre-lunch chips were just a stop gap, we had our actual lunch on the move. Nothing fancy, just warm pasty and beans – something quick and easy that could be consumed as we all stood in the glorious sunshine on the cockpit by the tiller.
It was at around this point in the day that we remembered to look for our missing mooring hook, as we slowly drifted past last night’s mooring location.
Elaine hopped off and searched for the metal hook, and after a few minutes of pulling back the long grass on the edge of the canal she found it! The Captain relaxed a little knowing that the contents of the boat was complete again. As punishment for the mishap I made the Captain unwind our only lift bridge of the day. I’m not sure she enjoyed the experience.
The return journey took us back into Trevor, which was very quiet, not at all like yesterday. Even the Three Stooges weren’t there.
Immediately after Trevor we crossed the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, and wended our way down through Chirk (and the really long tunnel).
Beyond Chirk we rather conveniently came to a stop just outside a pub called The Poachers. The reason we stopped, we told ourselves, was to let some of the quicker barges behind us get through, you know, because it’s polite. The reason we popped into the pub for a pint of cider however, was because it would be rude not to.
Our final act of the day was to moor up in exactly the same place as Sunday night, set up the barbecue again, and enjoy a delightful evening in the warmth of the setting sun.
Chapter Five: The Fully Monty
Water is a precious commodity on a canal boat. You are given strict instructions to refill every day. So it’s easy to understand why Trevor decided not to have a shower first thing this morning (unlike the rest of us). He was doing his bit for conservation, and besides he’d planned to have a wash later on before we ate out (which was to be our reward for a hard day’s boating).
Unfortunately it was a swelteringly hot day, and so some of the crew thought Trevor’s idea, whilst admirable, was perhaps not very sensible. And even a little stinky.
Either way, Trevor’s lack of showering didn’t impact his driving skills, he successfully navigated through some tight spots as we headed backward down the canal, towards today’s destination. He even got a high five from one enthusiastic narrow boater after a particularly tricky manoeuvre.
Our journey today took us on to a different canal. Goodbye Llangollen, hello Montgomery.
The Monty (as the locals call it) was abandoned long ago, and is still in the process of being restored. Access is restricted to 12 boats a day, you can only enter or leave between the hours of 12-2PM, and you have to pre-book your place.
We arrived promptly, moored up, and went for a walk along the canal. By this time, the heat from the sun was intense. It was hard to believe we were in England, or that just a couple of days ago when picked up the boat, the weather had been cold and wet.
The walk in the sunshine took us all the way past the first set of locks (which were padlocked shut, to stop anyone getting in or out), and down to a picnic area, where we disposed of our rubbish (there are bins at strategic points along the canal) and used the facilities before walking back up to the boat again.
By the time we got back to the boat the lock keeper had arrived and it was time for us to start making way. Elaine and I handled the locks whilst Trevor and the Captain drove the boat.
At the first lock I spotted a small hole in the floor by the lock gate, but thought nothing of it. Then, as the water rushed out of the lock to lower the boat, a short, sharp blast of dirty canal water came rushing up through that hole and squirted me right in the face! If it had been a cold day, it might not have been funny, but as it was so hot it wasn’t too bad. Elaine found it hilarious, as did the old lock keeper.
We moored up for lunch (nachos and salad, and a few picky bits) back at the place with the bins.
There was very little air movement, and by now the sun was raging. In fact it was so hot that some of our cheese started to melt!
After lunch we carried on pootling along, this canal is very wild and natural, with a completely different feel to the Llangollen. Peaceful. And quiet.
So peaceful in fact that Trevor and I both needed a little power nap. Just a few minutes to recharge our batteries. Although when questioned, we both denied that we’d been asleep, until confronted with hard evidence (Elaine took photos of us both).
By way of handling this mutiny, we pulled up at the first if two pubs along the canal; for some r&r. My punishment was to find a postbox and deliver a thick wedge of cards.
This could’ve been a long and difficult challenge as we were in quite a remote place, but after some searching I found a little red postbox and pushed all of the cards inside.
One of the best things about this pub stop, at the Queen’s Head, was the free wifi. Having struggled for decent signal for so long it was great to get back online. If nothing else, it gave me the chance to upload today’s blog photos.
After one drink we moved on. There was still plenty of water between us and our final stop of the day, the Navigation Inn.
Another boat had moored up beside us whilst we were in the pub. Manned by a retired husband and wife. In the few moments we had to chat, I asked them about the Navigation Inn. The husband looked me up and down, in my short shorts, sweaty t-shirt, blue shoes and Harry Potter socks and simply said “It’s quite a posh place”.
There were plenty of locks on our journey down the full length of the Monty, and one very stiff lift bridge. We negotiated them all easily (although I wouldn’t say winding the lift bridge was easy), we’re definitely getting into the swing of this now, and it didn’t take long to get to our final mooring spot.
Our only obstacle was a friendly fisherman who looked just like a Gerry Anderson puppet (think Parker from Thunderbirds, but with a stuck on beard). He was down to his last piece of bait (a worm), and he’d only caught two fish all afternoon. He was happy though. You meet all sorts of characters on the canal.
Before mooring up for the night we found a free shower block, and finally Trevor had his chance to freshen up. The rest of us had shower number two for the day.
We threw our glad rags on and headed to the Navigation Inn.
Now, with a name like Navigation Inn, and the confirmation that it was quite a posh establishment, what would you expect the decor of this pub to be like? All ships bells, charts, and pictures of knots, right?
Wrong. It was full of watches, horse brasses, and old canal plaques. Quite an odd choice really. And not posh at all. It was a little disappointing, in a way.
What wasn’t disappointing though was the food. It was delicious, though I think it helped that we were all hungry.
We rounded out the day with a trip to a local farm shop (which was actually a shed with a fridge in it and an honesty box). We bought some milk.
There was just enough time for a quick game of UNO and then it was lights out. Another successful, and very enjoyable day.
Chapter Six: The Captain Has A Plan
Yet another early start revealed a fine fog had descended on the Montgomery Canal. The temperature was quite cool, and visibility was limited.
We had not expected this. But it was a very welcome way of keeping the blistering heat down. At least for a little while.
We breakfasted like kings, with another superb round of Eggs Benedict and cereal. Oh, and grapefruit for those that wanted it. Slicing and segmenting the grapefruit had been my job all week – and without a grapefruit knife at that! It’s a good job I’ve earned my grapefruit badge, otherwise it might have been a fruitless breakfast all week for half the crew, and that simply wouldn’t do.
Trevor conducted his usual morning maintenance, scooping out whatever gunk had been trapped around the prop, and generally making sure everything was as it should be in the engine department.
And then we were off, the plan was to motor along for as long as we had daylight, to put as much water under the hull as possible. You see, the Captain had a plan. She’d even worked out some speed / distance / time calculations to establish how far we should get today, and therefore how much we had left to do tomorrow in order to complete the entire length of the canal. It would be a gruelling trek of a day, but if everyone pulled together and mucked in we might just make it.
We trundled back along the full length of the Monty, taking it in turns on the tiller – I decided to steer the long, boring straight bits, which also happened to be the easiest. I did steer our boat, the Yellow Legged Gull (I don’t think I’ve mentioned her name yet… sorry about that) gracefully into one of the locks, all without bumping once and under the watchful eye of the Captain.
And as per the plan, we arrived at our morning mooring just before lunch, and by now the fog had burned off and it was to be another day of stunningly hot weather. So much so that Trevor decided to top up his tan, after a little housework that is.
I threw together a couple of pizzas at this point, so that we could eat lunch underway after departing the Monty.
With the sun beating down on us, Elaine and the Captain decided to lash an umbrella to the tiller, to offer some shade to the driver.
The top few locks in this little canal are padlocked shut each day, and only opened between 12-2PM. We were second in the queue to get out, but ended up fourth to go through the locks, as they operate a one-in-one-out approach.
I say “they” because these locks are manned by volunteers, one per lock today (yesterday there was only one volunteer in total). The Captain felt there were “too many chiefs”, and I must admit it did feel a little like overkill as each lock volunteer had a slightly different view on best practice: some kept us back in the lock, whilst waiting for the water to level out from the locks above, others just left us to move on as per usual. It was all a bit “fussy”, but we travelled through with patience and a smile, so it was alright in the end.
There was really only one incident of note during our final moments on the Monty: Trevor had been a little too enthusiastic and pushed the boat all the way forward in the lock, not realising (or so he says) that the gates in front were leaking ferociously.
This resulted in two things happening at once: Water soaked the whole of the front of the boat, including the Captain (who was heard to let out a little scream), and Trevor’s flip flops (not on his feet, I hasten to add) flew off the boat!
Both Captain and flip flops were rescued before we moved on.
Passing so slowly through these locks didn’t help our overall goal for the day, but it did give the pizzas enough time to cook, and so we ate them on the move.
Trevor knocked up quite a powerful cocktail, named “Trevor’s Quick Gin”, because it’s not slow. I’m not exactly sure what was in it, but it was nice.
The next stretch of the journey was the long haul back towards Grindley Brook (the staircase locks), which was our target for the day. This involved lots of locks and lift bridges, and along the way the whole crew had a chance to try a little bit of everything. All hands were definitely on deck, to ensure a smooth and efficient passage of travel.
But it’s fair to say that by now the crew knew their roles, with the Captain and Trevor mostly at the helm, and Elaine and the Ship’s Boy working locks and lift bridges.
Elaine and I had refined and perfected our technique by this stage, and were looking forward to Grindley Brook. Operating the staircase on our own (without any lock keepers) was what kept us going as we slogged away at winding mechanism after winding mechanism.
As you can imagine (not that you’d want to), we were quite hot and sweaty by the time we finally made it to the staircase, having travelled for the best part of 12 hours by this stage, and the calls of “put your back in to it” and “go faster!” from the two recently showered and fresh looking crew members onboard obviously helped us along tremendously. The way they absentmindedly kept driving the boat into the lock gates so that we couldn’t open them was also most useful. Their lack of attention, and general sparkly cleanliness just inspired confidence and motivation in us. Or, so they thought at least.
What actually motivated us was figuring out how to get the boat down the staircase. It involved both brain and body, as we had to work out the most efficient way to get the bottom lock empty, the middle lock partially filled (we called this one the pot noodle lock, because you had to fill it with water to the exact height), and the top lock completely full.
It sounds easy now, but at the end of a physically demanding day it took some doing.
But we did it, and it was very enjoyable. We had a real sense of achievement.
Two quick locks later and we were moored up and ready for tea: chicken, bacon, and cheese. It was delicious.
We decided to round off the night by picking up a few provisions at the local petrol station, and taking in a swift pint of cider at the local pub, The Horse and Jockey.
It was just about 10PM by the time we got to the pub, so it would have to be a very swift pint.
It was the perfect way to end what had been a pretty perfect day. Lots of great weather, great company, and great food. Seems a shame to think we only have one full day left.
But I can guarantee we’ll make the most of it. After all, the Captain has a plan.
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 that 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.
Epilogue: Room For A Little More
I woke knowing full well that we had to give the boat back first thing this morning. That was not a happy thought. None of us wanted our holiday to end. Maybe we could keep the boat and high-tail it on to a different canal, would anyone notice?
The weather, however, had a different plan. We picked the boat up in the rain last Saturday, we had blistering heat for the rest of the week, and now that Saturday had rolled around again the rain was back.
It really was time to leave. But not before breakfast.
We were using up the remaining food, which consisted of finishing up the little cereal multipacks then eating sausages in bread rolls. And I sliced and diced the final grapefruit.
Trevor, who now only operates at full speed ahead, decided to squeeze the life out of the cafetière, not realising that if you push the plunger down too quickly then the boiling brown water squirts out and goes everywhere.
Fortunately we had some kitchen roll left to use up, so really he did us a favour.
The Captain chose this moment to give Trevor a quick lesson on cafetière etiquette, only to spill more of the hot coffee.
This last, silly misadventure in a small way summed up our week: Funny, a little bit haphazard, and a learning experience for us all.
After untying the boat from her mooring, we chugged slowly down the last short stretch of canal. There was one last lift bridge to operate. Elaine and I hopped off the boat onto the bank and winched with all the strength we had left.
Next came the marina. It was early, and there were only a handful of boats moored up, which gave us enough room to manoeuvre into place.
I had to pop the pushing pole into the soft canal bed to get the front of the boat into position, whilst the Captain took care of the back.
Before we knew it we were unloading our belongings back into our cars and we were off the boat.
The Yellow Legged Gull, our home for a week, was ours no more. But, we had room for a little more adventure on this holiday, so we drove off (on land for a change) to a National Trust property called Erdigg.
Having no real clue how to get there, we pushed the postcode into the car’s satnav and followed the instructions to the letter. Sadly this approach brought us, after several winding lanes, to a bridal way which we couldn’t get down. Deciding that instinct was the better option at this point, we switched off the satnav and followed our noses.
The Captain and I in the first car, Trevor and Elaine in the second.
This approach seemed to work, as we soon found our way onto the grounds of Erdigg. Sure, we entered through the exit (confusing several other drivers along the way), but we got there.
The house itself was a fascinating property, set up in its Downton Abbey-era (despite being almost 500 years old), this property sells itself on telling the history of the Yorke family (the heads of which were all either called Simon or Philip… which was quite confusing).
But the real selling point is the garden. It’s very neat and well organised, inspired by the gardens of Versailles (or so they say). The best part was learning that it had a Grade 1 listed lawn, which basically meant they couldn’t do anything with it other than cut the grass.
Trevor has now decided that his back garden is Grade 1 Listed, too.
We had lunch at the property, explored the garden a little more, had an ice cream, and then departed.
We made just one stop at a service station on the way home, to take on fluids – coffee for the boat handlers, hot and tasteless mud for the lock workers.
The drive home was a long one, not helped by the threat (and then eventual appearance of) traffic jams on the motorway.
But we all made it back in the end. Holiday done.
Now all I need to do is sort through 4,500 photos and pick out the best ones for editing and sharing online.
It has been our absolute privilege to share this journey with you all, and we cannot thank you enough for following along.
Until next time (and there WILL be a next time), goodbye.
Scott, Jo, Trevor, and Elaine.