Friday, 30 October 2015

A short cruise to Frankton Junction

The overnight rain decided to go somewhere else leaving us with a dark grey sky.  However after two days in Ellesmere we were itching to get on our way and winded Waiouru in the hole at the end of the arm before mooring on the CRT services to top up the water tank and dispose of the rubbish.

The CRT premises at Ellesmere appear to be quite extensive and I wonder how long it will be before they are on the disposal list.

There is an old two story brick building In the junction which has a turret style structure at the junction end.  Most likely this is where the canal company would keep track of passing boats and collect tolls.

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The building is now private residences but you can see the ‘turret’ at the left end.  What caught my eye were the two circular openings on the end and side of the building.

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Did hobbits live here?  What was their purpose.  Presumably canal related!

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The facilities block with CRT offices behind and above

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Looking back you can see the entrance to the dry dock at the end of the facilities

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The large workshop building .

We had a “blast from the past” just before Frankton Junction.  One private mooring had a mechanical parking meter!

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Are you old enough the remember these?

We stopped at the junction and then reversed a short distance down the Montgomery Canal to moor above the top of the staircase locks.

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We had a little giggle at the comments of one hire boat crew after we mentioned the impending winter closures.  The lady said “Well I suppose they have to close the canals at this time of the year to remove all the leaves!”  Jan immediately had visions of rows of CRT volunteers lining the banks picking leaves out of the cut. Today is Friday and their hire period finishes on Saturday.  The boat crew told us they had to returned the boat to Middlewich.  I must have looked surprised at the timeframe, but they seemed quite confident they would make it.  I doubt they will be slowing for moored boats!

A couple of CRT employees arrived at the staircase locks behind us and I wandered down to ask them about a rumour we had heard whilst at Ellesmere.  We had been told the planned stoppage at Bridge 15W between Ellesmere and Chirk had been cancelled.  If this is correct then we will be able to cruise between Ellesmere and Llangollen until the canal reopens on 18 December.  They were able to tell me the stoppage had been delayed until 18 November.  As a consequence the contractors are going to start work at the bottom of the canal (Nantwich end) and work their way up the canal to Llangollen.  With a little planning we may be able to head back down the canal on the 17th of November.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ellesmere

Despite the forecast, the weather was good enough for a short walk around the town and nearby mere.  My route took me back down the canal towpath to the tunnel and then around the western side of the mere before returning to the boat via the town.

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Ellesmere has a castle, although all that remains is the Motte (earth mound) on top of which is a bowling green.  The castle was probably a Motte and bailey built by the Normans in the 11th century as part of their strategy of pacifying their conquered Anglo-Saxon subjects.  This area bordering Wales was the domain of the March Lords who were rather ruthless Norman barons.  They probably had to be to keep the dastardly Welsh in check.  Edward I might have claimed to have conquered Wales and made his son the Prince of Wales but that didn’t stop the Welsh rebellions.  Henry VIII (him again) reduced the power of the March Lords and created a union between Wales and England with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535.   When this happened Ellesmere became part of Shropshire.

The noteworthy architecture in the town is a mixture of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian. By 1805 the canal had reached Ellesmere.  The plan was for the canal to continue to the coast near Chester terminating at Ellesmere Port.  Which was named after the town!   The arrival of the railway made construction of the final part of the canal from Trevor (Trefor) to Ellesmere Port financial unviable.  Interestingly the railway connection to Ellesmere was subsequently abandoned but the canal lives on.

Ellesmere & the mere

The main attraction in Ellesmere is ‘The Mere’, one of nine glacial meres in the area.  A mere is a large shallow lake.  A glacial mere is formed when a large block of ice remained in the location after the last ice age.  Because a mere is shallow, the water tends to be the same temperature at any depth.  This is caused by wind acting on the surface moving and mixing the water.

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The land to the left/middle of the above photo is an island.  Initially I thought it was natural but have now read it Is man made having been constructed in 1812 from land excavated for the construction of the nearby gardens at Ellesmere house.  It was named Moscow Island after Napoleon’s disastrous campaign into Russia the same year.

The public park is on the west and north edge of the mere.

IMG_8528IMG_8530I found the northern section of the park particularly attractive.

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A lovely time of year for the colours

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Canal link

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A large bottle of insect repellent was required near here.

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On the way back into the town I passed Ellesmere Cemetery where I happened to notice the Commonwealth War Graves plaque beside the main gates.

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The war graves website states “On Ellesmere Cemetery are 5 Commonwealth war graves from World War I and one (and 2 Polish war graves) from World War II.”  My assumption is these deaths are similar to those at Whitchurch and a consequence of accidents or wounds.

The centre of Ellesmere looks very similar to any other small market town.

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Much of this looks strange

You wouldn’t think we had been this way four years ago because we didn’t remember much of it.  A couple of the lift bridges popped back into our memories along with some key locations like the Whixall Moss Junction and the Meres before Ellesmere.  I remembered the long straight but not the earlier winding parts. 

At Hassel’s Lift Bridge we caught up with a very slow Yellow Peril (Viking Afloat) hire boat.  They appeared to be very nervous first day boaters so we just hung back and let them get on with it.  After an hour they decided to moor for an early lunch whilst we carried on.  From the look of their wake it appeared they might have acquired a large number of leaves on the propeller so we suggested they try a couple of brief bursts of reverse to flick them off.  We have been doing that quite regularly for the past week.

Eventually we reached a straight and there appeared to be a boat ahead with two crew on the back wearing red jackets.  Eventually we realized the boat wasn’t moving.  Neither were the crew.  As we got closer it became apparent the red jackets were actually signs and there was no boat.

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There is a wire frame box crate in the canal. A number of similar crates are further up the hill which suggests this one has rolled down the hill and into the canal. 

P1020012Why didn’t they remove it rather than placing warning signs?

We were heading down the long straight to Whixall Moss Junction when a grinding, thrashing sound could be heard.  I remembered there was a vehicle scrapyard around here and thought it was the sound of car bodies being shredded.  Jan has better eyesight and hearing.  She recognised it as a hedge trimmer.

P1020014This is the hedgerow beside the canal.  The tractor operator is unseen down in low ground.  He couldn’t see us and didn’t stop the machine as we passed.  The cutters on the head were firing offcuts into the canal so we ducked and looked the other way as we passed. 

Morris’ Lift Bridge could be seen in the distance.  The base of the bridge is at water level and if you haven’t been this way before you might initially thing the bridge has collapsed.

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Jan had to ask the old codger (these days anyone who looks older than me is an old codger) in the dark green overalls and grey cap to move off the bridge before she could raise it.  Neither of us could understand why he wanted to stand in the middle of the bridge.

My memory hasn’t totally failed because that vehicle scrapyard beside the canal is still there.  But it’s closed down!

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All that could be seen inside the yard were three large piles of old tyres. 

A decision was made to pass the Prees Branch.  We will go down it on the way back.

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Whixall Moss Junction

From this point onwards the cruise became more scenic.  We will have to stop and visit Wixhall moss on the way back, although I’m not sure where we will moor because there were “No Mooring” signs along this stretch.  Whixall Moss is a peat bog and is protected.  There are very few peat bogs left in England.  They have either been drained for agriculture or the peat cut.  It must have been quite a challenge for the canal builders to construct a waterproof canal across a bog.

We passed Cole Mere and then Blake Mere before arriving at the eastern portal of Ellesmere Tunnel.  This area is particularly attractive and we had no difficulty remembering it.

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I suddenly realised the stove flue wouldn’t fit through the tunnel and had to crab my way down the gunwale with an old cloth to remove it whilst Jan held Waiouru back from the portal mouth.

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It was an interesting transit through the tunnel.  This is a flowing canal and we’re going upstream pushing against the current.  This flow is constricted in the tunnel and caused Waiouru to ‘crab’.  No paint lost! Smile  But we would have lost the flue…..

There were no shortage of moorings at Ellesmere and we were therefore rather bemused by the mooring antic of the hire boat crews.  Breasted up in the winding hole at the end of the arm.  Others leaving rings between boats reducing the number of available moorings.  One boat moored across the junction.  I’m sure Charles Darwin would be able to explain it! Smile

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Whitchurch

It Is a short cruise from Grindley Brook to Whitchurch Branch Junction.  Along the way we passed under the busy A41 where I happened to notice a teapot had been placed on the flange of one of the steel girders that make up the bridge support beams.  It’s in the middle of the arch so must have been placed there from a boat.

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The 48 hour moorings at the junction were empty.  Actually most of the moorings on the canal have been empty.  It’s one of the advantages of cruising in autumn.

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Looking back at the empty moorings

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The lift bridge at the junction

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A left turn at the junction takes you into the Whitchurch Branch which is owned by a local restoration group made up of volunteers.  In summer the arm would be full of boats but today there were only two visiting boats.  Permanently moored boats are on the far side.   The arm ends at the brick bridge but the restoration group have plans to extend it.  The alignment of the old canal can be seen and followed.

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You can get a better understanding of the original route from Paul Balmer’s canal maps.  The open grassed area in the above photo is where the Whitchurch Waterway Trust would like to build a new town basin <drawing here>

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Whitchurch is the oldest inhabited town in Shropshire.  The name is a variation on ‘White Church’.  Apparently the original church was built from locally sourced white stone during the Norman period.  Wikipedia states it was founded by the Romans in 52AD and was on one of the main roads to Chester.

Some interesting facts about Whitchurch

  • Sir Henry Percy (Sir Harry Hotspur) was killed in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury and buried in Whitchurch.  His body was subsequently exhumed and quartered.  I doubt he felt it!
  • Whitchurch was the home of the JB Joyce tower clocks company, established in 1690, the oldest tower clock-making company in the world.  The company helped manufacture Big Ben.
  • The composer Sir Edward German (1862–1936) was born in the town
  • The church cemetery contains the graves of a number of WW2 Polish soldiers who died of their wounds whilst patients at the nearby military hospital.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Happy memories

The difference between men and boys is the size of the toys.  Today we received a number of emails and blog comments about ‘that’ car in yesterday’s post.  All of them were very quick to point out it was NOT a Triumph Scimitar but an MGB GT.  Obviously I’m not a petrol head!  If I’d asked for comments from the girls I’d have probably received.  It’s “brilliant white”, “pearly white”, “off white”, “light cream”, “enamel white”, etc.  BTW Jan thinks it is dirty grey.

We’re now on new territory for Waiouru.  However we have happy memories of travelling this way four years ago whilst on nb Kelly-Louise so kindly lent to us by Peter and Margaret.  At the time we were struggling with the consequences of our problems with the first builder.  The cruise on Kelly-Louise up the Llangollen to Ellesmere reminded us of why we dreamed of owning a narrowboat and cruising the inland waterways.  We will always be grateful to Peter & Margaret in assisting us to restore our dream.                                                                                            

We were two minutes late on our approach to Wrenbury as a boat had just closed the electric lift bridge.

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Despite having come this way four years previously neither of us could remember much about the route.  I remembered most of the locks but the canal seemed to be new!

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The sky was clear but it was cold in the shade. All too soon we arrived a Grindley Brook, our destination for the day.

Last time we were here it was very busy so Jan went forward with the walki-talkie only to find we were the only boat going up and two boats coming down .  One of which was the fuel boat Mountbatten which has a Facebook page <see previous link>.  I was able to enquire where they intended to be over the next few weeks and was advised they would deliver fuel by van if they couldn’t reach a boat by canal.  That’s handy to know.

There’s a shop below the bottom lock which I don’t remember from our previous trip.  We will have to remember to visit it on our return trip.

IMG_8507 I was attempting to get Waiouru into the middle chamber of the three staircase locks when she stopped with a thump as if we had hit the end of the lock with the bow fender.  But the stern hadn’t managed to get past the lower gates?

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There were two lock keepers on duty.  One was a volunteer in shorts <brrrrr> and the other a permanent CRT employee.  I mentioned the “bump” to the CRT lock keeper who told me that because I’d applied power to get into the lock (the propeller was fouled with leaves) the stern had gone down and I’d hit a length of railway iron which runs across the lower cill and is one inch higher than the cill.  If I had known that I would have altered my entry technique.

The lock keeper was also able to provide some information about the adjacent former lock keepers cottage.

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He lived in it for 10 years when he was the full time lock keeper at Grindley Brook.  The cottage had poor insulation and very thin glass in the windows.  It was sold about 10 years ago for £150,000 and the new owners have spent some serious money insulating, renovating and adding a large extension to the rear.

We stopped for the day above the locks just beyond the water point moorings  

Sunday, 25 October 2015

750 Hours and the large swan

Another 9am departure with an initial short cruise down the the CRT facilities.  The 48 hour moorings on the embankment were still full.  All but two of the boats were there when we arrived so either there will be a rush to leave later in the day or they have a different idea about time like our friend in front of us who still hadn’t moved.  Today was probably too cold to move!

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This is starting to sound like a grizzle so I’ll stop.

Our arrival at the facilities was perfect as the boat on them cast off on our approach.  Poor water pressure but it’s only two days since we last topped up.  Never pass a tap.  The next one may not be working!

A steady cruise to Hurleston Junction where we turned left to go up the flight of four locks.  On the way we passed these two interesting boats.

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Almost a hybrid narrowboat-dutch barge.  They won’t get wet when cruising!

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This one looks like a major project

At the flight a boat was already in the bottom lock heading up.  Jan went forward to prepare the lock as a boat arrived behind us.  After three weeks of quiet canals suddenly it’s busy?  There were four boats going up and four coming down.  When we reached the top we discovered a further four boats in a queue waiting to go down.

IMG_8501 We temporarily stopped on the 24 hour moorings above the flight whilst waiting for Mark from M&L Canal Services.  We had arranged for him to complete a 750 hour major service on the engine and also check the entire engine compartment.  It Is something we like done annually.  I have done the major service in the past but having Mark do it killed two birds with one stone.  I was very pleased when he reported engine, drive gear, electrics and plumbing were all OK.  Peter Berry (nb Kelly-Louise) recommended Mark and we’ve been very pleased with his quality of service.

By the time the service was complete the queue going down the flight had disappeared.

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Now we had a convoy to our front.

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Four of us with a very slow hire boat in the lead. 

We passed Swanley Marina just before our next set of locks. 

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This is where nb Kelly Louise sank after undergoing blacking whilst in the care of the marina.  They certainly won’t be getting any of our business!  Peter’s experience with his boat insurer also caused us some concern.  I do wonder how many boaters realise their marine insurance policy may be no where near as good as they believe.

The big swan is still in the same location.  We last saw it in Oct 2011.

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A new addition is this car.  I think it’s a Triumph Scimitar?

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No doubt Bill, KevinTOO or Garry will know Smile

We called it a day just short of the Wrenbury Church Lift Bridge.  With the change in the time it was getting dark by 4.30.  Another very good reason for stopping was the second semi final of the Rugby World Cup.  I managed to watch most of the game.  The final will be between two old adversaries.  Both of us have dual nationality so we can’t lose next Saturday!