Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Nantwich to Ellesmere

Friday 18th July

Nantwich to Wrenbury

Rain in the night as forecast.  One mouse on the floor where the carpet would have been. Another mouse on the deck at the stern.  No Hugo. No sign of him from 5.30am onwards.  The wish was to leave at 8am and beat the lock queues into the Llangollen.

This idea was soon abandoned as we sat down to await the arrival of our feline.  After calling him several times, and watching the queues for the facilities block lengthen, then shorten and lengthen again, we decided to try a cunning plan.  Guessing that he was somewhere close by in the long grass or hedge, James found a way into the field behind the hedge, armed with a Tesco bag and a boat hook. He systematically walked along the hedge, beating it occasionally, and shaking the bag, which Hugo hates.  He didn’t speak, as he didn’t want Hugo to realise it was him.

It worked!  There was a call from Hazel: “We have a cat!” as he ran onto the stern and down into the cabin.  We think he wasn’t very well, as he hardly had any food for the next two days.

By this time, there was a queue for the sanitary station, so we pressed on towards the Llangollen Canal, where we knew there was another at the top of the first four locks.

We expected a queue at the locks, but there were two boats coming down, and none waiting to go up, so it was easy.  At the top we filled up the water tank from a very slow tap.  To begin with we couldn’t see the rubbish bin anywhere, expecting a large wheelie bin with a red lid.  Eventually we found a huge steel bin like a tractor trailer, in a field through a gate.

Hurleston Locks

There is a flow on the Llangollen Canal, as water is led off the River Dee and diverted into the canal above Llangollen town. It flows all the way back for 46 miles into Hurleston Reservoir, which lies alongside these first four locks. We could see the canal water flowing quite quickly down a channel into the reservoir, just above the top lock.

Water flowing into Hurleston Reservoir

The flow of water caused some interesting challenges at the entrances to some of the locks, as there was a strong side stream from the bypass weirs.

Baddiley Locks with a strong side current

Knowing that rain was forecast for the next day, we pressed on for a few miles and a few locks to Wrenbury, where it seemed as though we took the last available mooring, between the two lift bridges.  A lot of boats, almost fender to fender. On the other side of the hedge was a motor home rally, with lots of camper vans.

 Moored in a line at Wrenbury

It was a very hot evening and we wandered along the towpath to see who was there. A few boats we recognised but no one we knew.  We went to the Dusty Miller for our evening meal and had the most wonderful food and service. Unusual for a top location such as this. The “Dusty hand crafted puff pie” was delicious.  They also had Old Rosie cider on draught.

Last time we were in Wrenbury was in 2000. We were booked in for Soul Survivor, Message 2000 in Manchester.  Our gearbox was giving us problems and we had to have it replaced (for the second time) in Wrenbury. We went to the church on the Sunday morning, and mentioned our plight to one of the ladies there, who turned out to be the vicar’s wife, Debbie. Mark, the vicar was at another of his three churches that morning.  After the service, we were back on the boat, when someone knocked. It was Mark, who had come to pray for us, and to invite us for a meal. Such lovely hospitality.  We met their children aged about four and six.

We mentioned this story to the couple sitting next to us at the Dusty Miller. They were locals, and knew Mark and Debbie, and told us that Mark had had cancer and died two years after our last visit.

We booked a table at the Cotton Arms for Sunday lunch at 1230, before returning to the boat. It was very hot and humid.

Hugo stayed in the hedge

9 locks, 6 miles,

Saturday 19th July


Thunder and lightening in the night, followed by heavy rain, so we stayed in bed as long as possible. We would have caught up with emails and blogs but there was no signal for internet, phone or TV.  zzzzzzz

The rain eased off by early afternoon, and we wandered up the road to the village and found the shop. We also noticed that the church service times had changed from 10.30am to 9.15am. We returned to the boat via a footpath that led from the churchyard down to the first lift bridge, through the site of the proposed marina, now a field.

The Calor Gas decided to run out, so James changed the bottles over.  The camping gas appeared to be running out also when we had our barbecue before Nantwich, and we had decided to change it at the shop in Wrenbury, as we don’t see suppliers very often.

Later James went for a walk across the lift bridge, over farmland, mostly green fields.  He didn’t have a map, there was no signal for Google maps, and the little yellow footpath arrows seemed to peter out. He ended up in a huge field with no obvious way out except back the same way. He did see some buzzards and a hare standing on its hind legs.

Wrenbury Church Lift Bridge
No boating today

Sunday 20th July

We set an alarm to ensure we got up in time for church, and had croissants for breakfast. We walked up the path to the church, with shopping trolley and camping gas canister in hand.

We had a great welcome at the church, and met Debbie once again.  Their new vicar has only been in post for a few months, and her name is Alison. She spoke with great clarity about Jacob’s ladder. I am sure she will work really well with the people of Wrenbury.

Debbie in St Margaret’s Church in Wrenbury

Mark’s memorial

We went to the shop to buy milk and replace the gas, only to find that our gas bottle was still mostly full, although the valve is faulty. We decided to keep it until it ran out.

As the service was earlier than we had expected, we decided to cancel our table reservation at the Cotton Arms, and move on.  We had the lift bridge to negotiate, and Calor gas to replace at the boatyard.

We reversed in to the boatyard and purchased the Calor gas. James put the canister back in place, and Hazel took the CRT key and went to open the lift bridge. As she stepped off the stern, she missed her footing and ended up in the water! Someone brought a stepladder for her to climb out. She has a badly bruised arm, a twisted ankle and cut knees.

While she was in the shower and changing, James seized an opportunity and took the boat through the bridge when it was open for someone else.

We cruised slowly along through pleasant countryside, noticing that there are lots of good moorings along this stretch, many with rings, supplied by the Shropshire Union Canal Society. We went through Marbury Lock, and then bought some local produce at Quoisley Lock.  A main road runs alongside the canal at this point, and while we were at the lock, a car came off the road and hit a tree with a loud bang and a big cloud of smoke. Another boat was level with him and they asked if he was OK. He said he was, and drove off again!

We went one lock further on, and stopped for the day. We had a good meal in the Willeymoor Lock Tavern, a converted lock cottage. Everywhere you looked in the pub, there were displays of ornamental teapots.

Teapots in Willeymoor Lock Tavern

3 locks, 4 miles, 1 lift bridge, 1 dunking. 2hr35

Monday 21st July

Willeymoor to Whitchurch

A lovely sunny morning, with two kingfishers going up and down.  Also evidence of a mouse on the floor. Hugo seems to be feeling better. It may be that the heat affected him on Friday, as he has so much fur, and it was extremely hot and humid. He is now eating properly again.

The first lock (Povey’s Lock) was empty for us, and in a mile we were at the first of the Grindley Brook locks. This was also in our favour.

Grindley Brook lock 6

As we reached the top of the lock, James checked round the corner, and the next lock was empty. By the time we left the lock two minutes later, the next one was being filled by the crew of a boat coming down. Two children with windlasses, who hadn’t learned to check first.  They also left the windlasses on the spindle, which can be dangerous.  Hey Ho, school holidays are here!

After the three single locks, there is a staircase of three. We had heard horrendous tales of queues of boats waiting half a day to get up or down. We had no such problems – the locks were set for us and there was no-one else waiting.

Grindley Brook staircase locks

Remarkably, we found some people having breakfast in the café, and it turned out to be Stephen and Anne Waters from Byfleet Methodist Church, plus two friends. We had to carry on up the flight of locks, so we moored at the first opportunity and walked back for a chat.

Stephen and Anne Waters

After using all the facilities there, we continued, and found ourselves following a very slow boat for the mile to Whitchurch. There are three lift bridges on this stretch, and a junction into the Whitchurch arm. It was very complicated there, with boats coming out, going in, carrying on, and coming the other way. 

Whitchurch Arm

Another boat coming towards us turned round in a winding hole, and ended up between us and the slow boat. James walked ahead and operated the third lift bridge, as we were the last boat. 

One of the people on the slow boat saw our logos and introduced himself as Miles Harvey, a director of Premier Christian Radio.

We went another half mile and stopped for lunch (and for the day) at a pleasant spot between bridges 35 and 37.

Then around the corner towards us came Mistol, with Rob and Tricia, so they stopped to have lunch with us before moving on again.  It was great to see them once more. We parted company at Great Haywood on 4th July. Since then they have been to Llangollen via Stone and Middlewich, and have also done the Leek and Caldon canals while we have been going up the Shroppie. They do longer days than we do. 

Rob and Tricia on Mistol

Evening meal al fresco, with a wide towpath, and shady trees.

Buzzards in the trees and kingfishers in the bushes.

7 locks, 5 miles, 3 lift bridges, 1 mouse, 2hr40

Tuesday 22nd July

Hot weather forecast, so we emerged early and set off before Hugo had thought of going ashore, hoping to get to Ellesmere before the temperatures rose too high.

There seem to be buzzards everywhere. There were two last night, and today we passed a tree in which there were four. Also very common today were horseflies. James was doing a little slapping dance at the tiller, while Hazel was wielding our black and yellow zapper, which made a loud crack when she was successful.

There were two more lift bridges, which seem to need many turns of the windlass. Perhaps it was the hot weather. Then came the Prees branch, which goes a mile south to Whixall Marina and a nature reserve. This is one of the little bits we have never done. We will tick it off on the way back.

Whixall Moss Roving Bridge

Prees Branch

Just after the junction, we came across Amy Em moored up. Margaret was attending to something on the roof.  There were handy bollards nearby, so we tied up and said hello. Rex was out walking through Whixall Moss with Cassie, their dog. He was soon back, and we had tea on board Gabriel.

Rex and Margaret

More than two hours later, after catching up with the news, we were on our way again. We had discovered that although Gospel Belle and Trinity were somewhere up ahead, Peter and Lin had gone to Devon for a few days, and Henry and Lin had gone to Sussex.

It was so hot that we felt a need for shade, and we found a mooring soon after bridge 51, where we paused for lunch under a spreading oak tree.

A mile later we were passing Cole Mere, and we spotted Kairos moored up, with the side doors open. We pulled alongside, hoping to see Jonathan and his new wife Barbara, who we have never met. However, they had been and gone, and the boat was being looked after by Bill and Julie, who live there in a wooden chalet style bungalow in the woods, overlooking the lake. A stunning location, as the estate agents would say.

We passed the lovely Blake Mere, where there is a huge sign saying you are not allowed to do anything – there is a list. Then the Ellesmere Tunnel which is so short it did not require our tunnel light.

Finally we turned into the Ellesmere Arm and found a mooring, and visited the shops. We managed to obtain a piece of plastic from a sign writing shop, which we could use for the fuel gauge, which keeps coming away as it is only held on with a sticky gasket. We posted a card to Stan and Mary for their Diamond Wedding.  60 years married is quite something. Congratulations you two if you read this.

James chatted to the guy on Sam Hardy, who we have seen several times on our journey, but always in passing. His name is Pete, and he comes from Stafford Boat Club, and he gave me information about RCR.  He knows Joe and Mags Lockwood, and Graham and Brenda Thick.

Pizza on board.  Hugo was chased on board by a German Shepherd, who came right onto the boat and only stopped at the top of the steps down into the galley. The owner said absolutely nothing. It is quite extraordinary that the word “Sorry” is so hard for some people.


We had text messages from Henry and Peter, sent on Sunday, only just received. They have not gone away yet, so we should see them before they go, probably at Chirk.

11 miles, 2 lift bridges, I tunnel,  4hr20

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