Friday, 24 July 2009


Although there were several very sharp showers through the day, it was generally pleasantly warm - once one had dried out each time!

The day started with Mike doing a little DIY - some varnish on the thresholds front and back which are looking a little worn. As soon as we set off we encountered the six locks on the Titford Canal, traditionally known as The Crow. The had been quite a lot of water coming down overnight and the short pounds were more than full - as each lock was emptied the level below overflowed the top and sides of the lock.

We made an attempt to buy some replacment hardwood for the back and side doors but the workshop advertising it only buys it in to order - could we come back in a few days? Ah well, it is not operationally critical, more cosmetic.

Back on Brindley's Old Main Line, we remained underneath the motorway on stilts for some time, passing over Stewarts aqueduct, with the New Main Line below.
We continued under the stilts almost up to the summit tunnel, which looked as if it was set in quite rural surroundings, especially at the easten end - provided you do look too far away from the canal!

Next came the three Smethwick Locks - which seemed quite hard to operate this time - which brought us back down to the New Main Line. We actually passed another boat as it turned onto the line we had just left. Again, perhaps no more than three or four boats passed - so where do all the boats moored at Brindley Place come from?

Just around the corner we stopped at the top of Farmers Bridge Locks to use the services. We nearly bought a replacement bow rope but it seemed a bit expensive so we left it - may be we can follow up the advice from the garage on the Shroppie which suggested a discarded climbing/caving rope!

Winding was a bit tricky - not officially a turning point but the entrance to the moorings was just large enough - given the odd bump at the front! Back at bridley Place and the mooring spot we had picked out when we passed half an hour earlier had now been taken, but we did manage to find a satisfactory spot, but these particular moorings are suprisingly popular and filled up. There were some more back around towards Farmers Bridge not taken but they do suffer from being close to the air conditioning plant for the National Indoor Arena. Time then to do some packing up and cleaning, ready to hand over to the Oxford crew in the morning.

Wolverhampton 21 and Titford Pool

Thursday 23rd July

It was just a short distance from Autherley to Aldersley Junction where the Wolverhampton 21 begins. It was a pleasant, sometimes sunny and generally quite warm start to the day and we steadily made our way up the flight. We were told that there were a couple of boats ahead of us but we only saw three boats coming down. Much quieter than when we came the other way earlier in the summer.

Just as we entered the top lock the inevitable rain arrived - suddenly and very heavy. We moved around into Broad Street Basin where we knew that there were all the usual facilities. After completing this we moved back around the corner to tie up for lunch. Rain continued!
The afternoon was a gentle meander along the original line of the contour canal.

Coseley Tunnel - especially at the south end - looks as if it is quite rural. At Tipton Factory we took the turning to continue along the Old Main Line rather than drop down onto Telford's New Main Line. This was because we planned to explore the short Titford Branch up to Titford Pool. We passed not a single boat all the way from Wolverhampton. The water quality seems to continue to improve - for most of the way we could see right to the bottom even in the centre of the canal. at one point, the old line (which is three locks higher than the new line) passes over the branch to Netherton Tunnel as well as meeting Brades Branch which comes up to join the two lines together, midway between the ends.

At Oldbury Junction - right underneath the motorway which runs on stilts overhead - we made a very sharp turn to the bottom of the flight of six locks.

Despite our assumption that there is little traffic along this way, the locks and their mechanisms were in very good order. They are also remarkably close together. At the top of the flight is the original engine house, now a base for the Birmingham Canal Society.

There is only a short run to the end of the branch - Titford Pool is not especially photogenic! Along the way there is the Maltings - still apparently in operation. After turning around we moored just above the locks. Seems quite isolated although there is industry in evidence on both sides.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Stretton and Autherley

The day started wet, once again, but there were only two locks on today's agenda. The route continued the classic Shroppie cuttings and embankments - very pretty but equally wet on the towpath. Numerous high bridges cross the canal, including the noted Avenue Bridge, part of the Chillington Hall estate.

At one point we were held up for a few minutes by a maintenance team who were clearing extended undergrowth and trees that were reducing the width of the canal.

We also stopped for diesel at the garage alongside bridge 19 - the first time we have had self-serve boat diesel! It was a very friendly place with a small range of chandlery. We hoped at first that we were going to be able to buy a better replacement for our bow rope but it turned out not to be large enough. We did however learn that the original was cotton, not hemp or plastic.

We passed through Wheaton Aston lock where the disposal facility was still out of order, but the notice indicated that there would be facilities at Autherley Junction.

At Stretton Aqueduct the canal passes over the A5 and Christine took to the towpath to take some photos. We hoped to find a lunch stop in Brewood but there was nothing possible - also the canal is very much in a cutting that a broadband signal would be difficuly anyway. So, we had to press on a bit further until we found a bank where we could moor.

After lunch we continued to cover the final stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal, arriving at the stop lock at Autherley. The staff at the Napton Boats hire base said that they have been trying to negotiate with BW for a replacement but it does not seem to be a priority, despite promises to do something.

Just around the corner we moored at the same site as we stayed on the way up (then whilst we waited for a piece of glass for the stolen window) Christine walked to Morrisons for a few items. Later we tried to set up the satellite dish but without success. No broadband signal and only a weak analogue TV!

Norbury Junction

Tuesday 21st July

We woke unusually late and so it was well after 10 o'cklock before we set off. Half an hour later we arrived at the Tyrley Locks which we passed through in just over 35 minutes - helped a little by a very steady stream of boats coming down. The amount of water coming down the flight made most of the overflow weirs below the locks very difficult to assess.

From here the route was a series of cuttings and embankments, all amazing testimony to the engineering initiative of the original 'navigators'. They are very pretty, even beautiful at times - although nature has now helped by masking the harshness of the original earthworks. In fact, whilst on the huge Sheldon Embankment it is mostly diffiuclt to gain a true impression of its height above the surrounding landscape.

We stopped at a convenient place for lunch and took our time before setting off again. The morning had been both very wet and then quite mild. Mostly, however, it was a very 'wet' drizzle. The high bridge with the old telegraph pole never ceases to be a point of interest. It looks so old that it probably was a 'telegraph' pole rather than a 'telephone' one!

We called at Norbury Junction to use the facilities. Not long after setting off again the rain returned with a vengeance but we had to struggle on for a couple of miles more than we might had wanted as there were no available mooring places through Gnosall, Cowley Tunnel and Cutting. We were quite relieved when we eventually were able to pull in for the night. A 'small' fire seemed an appropriate response!


Monday 20th July

Soon after we set off we crossed over the River Weaver before arriving at the bottom of the Audlem flight of fifteen locks. They were quite busy but few delays other than the usual time taken when passing another boat in a short pound. The overflows are quite strong in most of this flight - as well as the others further up. As a result it is quite a challenge to steer the boat into the lock (from below) without hitting the sides of the lock.

We paused after three locks. Whilst Mike filled up the water tank and emptied the elsan, Christine went to the local shop in Audlem village and brought back some milk.

After the rain of the past few days it was good to have some sunshine - apart from an overcast spell in the middle. With the occasional moments of free time waiting for locks to fill or empty, Mike took a look at the chimney seal and applied some fresh sealant. Not clear, however, how successful this is likely to be. He also tackled some of the tunnel scratches!

Once through the Audlem flight we moored up form lunch before moving on the the five locks at Adderley. From there it was about an hour's run to Market Drayton - typically straight Shroppie. We moored opposite the newish long term mooring pontoons and followed the signs for the footpath into town. The main landmarks wre the Buttermarket, the church and a Tudor Hotel. Generally, notthe most inspiring town centre. However, there was a good Wilkinsons store and we picked up a number of useful items. Walking back we also called at Homebase for a soldering iron.

Back at the boat, we moved a short distance for an overnight mooring. Mike then completed the painting tasks before using the new soldering iron to repair the radio aerial. He then routed the wires and tidied them up with some pieces of trunking. Not beautiful but functional!

Nantwich on Sunday

Sunday 19th July

We had already identified the times of services at Nantwich Parish Church - after a slow start to the day (not as slow as it might have been as a result of someone mis-reading the alarm clock!) we walked into town. We expected it to be a communion service (as it said on the notice board) but it turned out to be Morning Prayer. There was a good congregation (about 80) and a well-trained choir, although the acoustics of the church are not really helpful to them. The main theme of the service was to launch their latest appeal. Having already spent £1.5 million of the church they are now seeking £900,000 for the latest set of works and they clearly expect to be able to raise it!

Afterwards we called at Morrisons to pick up a few things we forgot yesterday and then returned to the boat. After lunch we eventually cast off. It was pleasant to begin with be we soon spotted some very dark clouds appearing over the horizon. Just as w arrived at Hack Green Locks the heavens oppened, along with some thunder. We were quickly soaked and tied up temporarily between the locks until there was some respite.

Eventually it cleared enough for us to continue but the afternoon was marked by further sharp showers. As a result when we arrived near the bottom of Audlem locks we decided to call it a day and moored up - although it took a while to find a spot where there was sufficient depth of water alongside the bank in order to bring the boat close enough to moor.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Saturday 18th July

The overnight rain and wind cleared and the morning was dry, although very overcast. After the two Swanley locks we soon reached the Hurleston Flight. Despite a steady flow of boats in both directions earlier, there was surprisingly no queue and we dropped down to the junction quickly smoothly.

Not long after joining the main Shropshire Union canal we arrived at Nantwich Basin where we used the water and disposal facilities. A BW man was awaiting help to clear the blocked sanitary dispoal point - he had just put up warning tape across the door - but he kindly arranged for us to use the former elsan point attached to the boatyard.

We planned a shopping trip but were concerned whether we would find an empty mooring spot. Christine went ahead with the radio and it was not until the end of the line of mooring sites that we were able to pull in. (We tried an earlier spot but it was not long enough).

After lunch we went into town and returned with two heavy rucksacks and umpteen carrier bags! We also checked out the times of Sunday services at Nantwich church. We decided to take it easy for the rest of the day - just as well as rain soon returned and overnight was especially wet.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Lots of Rain

Friday 17th July

A thoroughly wet day. If it were not for the aim of reaching Nantwich tomorrow for shopping, we might well have hibernated for the day! After some very frustrating times with no internet connection - or when there was a signal getting no email - Mike spent some time whilst moored near Whitchurch with at least some signal. It turned out that there were several problems, most notably that the system was set to download Windows Updates automatically as soon as a connection was established. Some large downloads were pending and this completely blocked any other exchanges! At least in the end all oustanding emails were downloaded even if we did not have enough time to upload the blogs from the past few days.

Fairly quickly we arrived at Grindley Brook staircase, expecting to find a queue but, apart from one already going down, the flight was quite empty! In fact we saw very few boats moving all day, in either direction. Not sure if it was due to the weather or the changeover days for the hire bases that are within normal cruising distance of this stretch. certainly it seems that few boats come down this far from the upper end of the Llangollen.

We treated ourselves to a good hour lunch break! The we moved on and reached the bottom of the three Baddiley Locks just as yet another heavy shower arrived. Time definitely to moor up early for the rest of the day! Alas, no internet connection so blogs will have to wait yet another day. However, well before stopping Christine decided that it was time for a fire - which kept the cabin cosy for the rest of the evening - steering with the chimney on is not so simple!

Return from Montgomery

Thursday 16th July

We wanted to be in good time for the Frankton Locks - we had almost the whole of the Montgomery still to do - so we set off in good time.
Going back the way we had just come meant we could look out for things we missed on the way down - and also took a photo of the turnover bridge and warehouse. The morning weather was encouraging, warm and sunny. The boat which had left the gates open on the way down did the same on the way back. We later heard from Colin the lock keeper that he bragged to him that he knew everything about boat, having sailed the Med and everywhere else, it seems. Still, the keeper had to point out him that he was opening the wrong paddles!

It was not long after 11 o'clock that we joined the queue at the bottom of the locks. The keeper had already started to let boats through - the aforementioned boat decided (despite notices to the contrary) to enter the bottom lock before the flight was opened. Alas (!) he had to back out when boats started to come down.

It was over an hour later that our turn came to commence the flight - but there were some pleasant people on the boat before us and chatting about previosu canal experiences soon passed the time.

From the top we turned back onto the main Llangollen Canal but, as we ate our lunch on the move (Christine had baked some baguettes whilst waiting at Frankton) the rain returned and stayed with us for most of the rest of the day. Soon we arrived at Ellesmere where we stopped for water and elsan. By now the idea had been established that we should aim to shop on Saturday afternoon in Nantwich, rather than today in Ellesmere - so we pressed on as this is quite an ambitious target! Still, we know there are some good shops in Nantwich - not to say that are none in Ellesmere!

The journey from here was interesting countryside but otherwise unremarkeable - except for the features noted on the way up! This time we stopped at the Shop In The Garden. It proved to be rather well stocked - the owner (who we assume would othersie be retired) was quite persuasive. As soon as he heard that we were interested in the local cheeses out came the samples, one of which included chilli - rather hot! As a result he offered Christine a drink of his lemon and elderflower cordial. No guesses for what was added to the shopping basket (Christine opted for two different cheeses!)

Montgomery Canal

Wednesday 15th July

We treated ourselves to a bit of a lie in as we had a reasonably easy run to Frankton wnere we were booked to go down onto the Montgomery Canal.

Almost immediately after setting off we arrived at the two New Marton locks. A boat ahead was going down and in difficulties as they could not fully open one of the bottom gates. Eventually Mike managed to clear several large stones which were resting on the floor of the lock No idea where they are now, but at least the gate opened! After going down the first lock, it was clear that the next hire boat did not know a lot about how to go through a lock - it was the first that they had encountered after being sent off from the hire base at Trevor. Mike stayed to show them through whilst Christine went on to the second lock. Here a group of young men were about to come up - but also had not tackled a lock before. They were given a demonstration/instruction as they helped Christine through, with Mike arriving just as she steered the boat out of the lock!

We arrived at Frankton in good time but there were five boats to go down - the other four were already there as also was the lock keeper who made an early start at penning the boats through the staircase. It was not until almost one o'clock before our turn arrived and we stopped for lunch below the four locks.

After lunch we called at the service station for water and elsan - one of the more remote services we have come across! By now the canal was just like it used to be forty years ago!

The first lock, named after the first chairman of the group which undertook the restoration, ws added to take account of changes in water levels after the closure.

Not only did we meet very few boats but the canal was quite narrow and shallow in places. At the Aston Locks, the second pound was almost a foot low - not helped by a hire boat going down and leaving all the bottom gates open. Our boat became stuck on mud at the lock landing above the third lock. Using all of our tricks for moving a stuck boat we eventually bow hauled it into the lock!

By now the rainy spells of the morning had cleared and it was a wonderful sunny afternoon - just how it should be. Like much of the Shropshire Union, this canal has some long straight stretches.
Almost at the end and we spotted Canal central - we knew that we were probably too late for the shop but Christine went to take a look whilst Mike continued on to Gronwen - only a few hundred metres further on. She found the people at the shop very friendly - albeit with no fresh food, but she did get the eggs on her list and a couple of bottles of cider, which were not on her list!

Juts before the final winding hole there is a road lift bridge - 80 turns to raise it and just far enough away from the turning that it had to be closed whilst we winded! In fact, before Christine arrived, the boat in front decided to leave the bridge up for Mike to go through. That was OK but they did not think about how Mike was to get to the winding mechanism - which, as usual, was on the non-towpath side! Fortunately he was able to tie the boat to a bollard just after the bridge - although this disturbed the keep net of a young lad who had caught four fish!

Christine returned and we continued to Gronwen, a pretty site and the canal cries out for further extension beyond this point. Mooring sites are few and far between and several were already full. We pulled in at the Canal Central - made difficult by a boat that had moored right in the middle - obviously trying to deter any others! A little later, a man from the boat added insult to injury by stating that he was about to run his engine - was that OK? Needless to say he did not wait for an answer!

Tunnels and Aqueducts

Tuesday 14th July

Although we were moored just below the locks, by the time we arrived there, a queue of four had formed - probably due to a slow boat just out from the nearby hire base. (Why do they not show hirers through a lock?) The route of the canal was gradually becoming more remote and, at the same time, attractive. A grey heron sat on a pole right alongside the canal - only taking off as we passed close by.

The bridges on this section frequently seem to be on blind bends, making it quite difficult with the amount of traffic - sometimes we had to wait for several boats to come through.

When we arrived at Chirk Aqueduct it was clear that there was a traffic jam at the other end, with only a short distance before the tunnel. We opted to wait - and then a person from one of three boats stuck in the tunnel came along to ask upcoming boats to give them some space!
The wide parapet on both sides makes the transit seem quite safe with a great view of the railway viaduct alongside - allegedly built higher to prove that it was better. After the tunnel there was a long cutting which completely hides the industry around Chirk.

We opted to moor up for lunch before tackling the next adventure: the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Although the towpath was quite busy with walkers, there is very little protection on the other side - intimidating to say the least! Christine steered across both aqueducts in this direction but baulked at the tunnels!

By now we had decided not to go beyond Trevor as our boat draws 24ins and the remaining section is recommended for boats with no more than 21ins. In any case, this would give us time to go down the Montgomery Canal. We expect this to take us two days for the seven miles because of the limited opening times for the locks at Frankton.

With not a little difficulty we moored right at the end of the Trevor Arm and took the opportunity to buy some milk from a nearby shop.

Off again and we immediately returned over the huge Pontcysyllte Viaduct. From the towpath, there were views of the railway viaduct, about half a mile away from the aqueduct. This time Mike steered, whilst Christine soon jumped off the boat to walk alongside - in fact she stayed on the towpath for the next three miles until we reached the entrance to Chirk Tunnel.

We were heading towards the mooring between Bridge 13 and the New Marton locks, thus giving us an easy run to Frankton in the morning. Alas, it started to rain and by the time we were still short of the mooring it became very heavy with a strong wind - nasty! Eventually we reached our target and quickly moored up. we were glad of the heating system which quickly heated up the main cabin to a comfortable level.

Whixall Moss

Monday 13th July

A day of flat cruising lay ahead of us with no locks at all! Immediately we had to pass through the two lift bridges after Whitchurch.

Many of the accommodation bridges on this canal have a small hole in one side (often with a door) to store stop planks which can be used at the bridge narrow.

It was a warm, sunny morning so we took it in turns to steer or read. The first major point to pass was the junction with the Prees Branch - now restored for a short distance up to a marina. We opted to make direct to Llangollen and then decide what time was available for the branches. A lift bridge crossed the canal right at the water level.

Whixall Moss is a very flat area of peat bogs and the canal runs very straight across it.
A little later, after a stop for lunch, we passed alongside some of the meres. These large lakes are supposed to be relics of the Ice Age - the canal threads its way between them, at a distinctly higher level.

Ellesmere Tunnel is very short and heralds the arrival into Ellesmere. Just before the junction is a marina and we stopped to fill up with diesel. We also replaced the bow rope as the original one was frayed in the middle - not quite sure what event caused this! the new rope does its job but does not feel as good as the old one! After leaving the marina - not especially easy as the entrance is very tight - we stopped at the BW Yard for disposal and to fill up the water tank.

Soon after setting off once again the sunny weather turned very different and some heavy showers took over, with the occasional flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. In between there were still some bright sunny intervals.

We stopped at Frankton Junction to check on the opening times for the Montgomery Canal - only 7 miles but probably worth taking a look if we have time on the return trip. In the distance we could now begin to see the hills and mountains of Wales.

Yet more rain but we carried on until we were in sight of the two New Marton Locks before mooring for the night. as soon as we stopped the usn shone and there was a cheerful blue sky!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Grindley Brook

We had moored near Wrenbury as we had seen on the 'A Church Near You' web site that they were holding a family service at 10:30. As we walked across the field to the churchyard we could hear the bells calling people to church! We were warmly welcomed and the service was led by the Reader - there were three small children who proudly showed off some actions that they had learned at the playgroup.

The village holds an annual Scarecrow Weekend - the main activities were last weekend and there were lots of visitors but the entries into the competition - about 20 - are still kept on display for the following week.

Off again and we continued through lift bridges and locks, all at intervals along the way. The main Wrenbury lift bridge is a busy road and a bopat coming the other way warned us not to allow more than three boats through at a time - the last 'lift' had delayed the local traffic more than some of them thought fair and war almost broke out!

The canal was busier by now and queues built up at several locks - especially after a longer pound which gives opportunities for boats to set off as well as coming up through the locks. Most of the delays were less than half an hour and one of them gave us a chance to have our lunch!

By the middle of the afternoon we arrived at Grindley Brook. After rising up through the three separate locks we came to the bottom of the staircase - quite a traffic jam, made worse because the boats down had moored out of sequence. A lock keeper is on duty for the staircase, ensuring that there is a faqir allocation of traffic in each direction. Some Australians on a hire boat were having difficulty in understanding the expression 'three up and three down'. At the top we stopped for water etc.

The afternoon was bright and sunny, and pleasantly warm. By the time we reached Whitchurch we decided to call it a day, just after the short arm into the town. A lovely evening!