4 counties and a nostalgia trip (part 2)

Crew: Christine & Terry, brother Christopher, parents Joy & Brian
Day guest: Rosemary
: Freiya (60' Derwent class) from Viking Afloat, Gailey
Route: Middlewich - Chester - Wrenbury - Gailey
Dates: 17th June - 25 June 2000

Our first week covered the section from Gailey to Middlewich, including the Caldon Canal. This is the account of our second week.

Part 2 - Four seasons in a day
Saturday 17th June Middlewhich - Church Minshull

After Friday's exertions, we spent most of the hot, sunny Saturday moored - shopping, tidying, washing, and reconfiguring the boat (for the new crew) and had another look round the festival. Tim's fiancee Caroline arrived with friends to pick him up, and soon Joyce and Brian arrived as well - so things got a bit snug with 10 of us on the boat!

Tim & co left later in the afternoon, and we got away at about 4:15 in search of a quiet mooring out of town for the night. We encountered a strong cross wind when I dropped the crew off at lock 2 and I had a lot of trouble getting off the lee shore. We found a delightful spot by bridge 14 near Church Minshull, nicely trimmed grass and with mooring rings, the best mooring of the trip so far.

Sunday 18th Church Minshull - Waverton

The day dawned bright and sunny again, and we were soon trundling through some wonderful scenery. We stopped at Venetian Marina for lunch and took a look round, but made the mistake of mooring before going through the lock. By the time we were ready to depart, there was quite a queue as boats were leaving the marina - another lesson learnt. We trundled on through beautiful scenery which I enjoyed more than the Caldon, but sunshine does help. At Barbridge we turned right towards Chester and the canal immediately lost its rural charm as we ran right along side a noisy main road.

We soon arrived at Bunbury were we stopped for lunch and took on water at the glacially slow taps. After the crowd at Venetian we were on our own working through the broad locks. As the afternoon wore on it got quite hot, so we sought a shady mooring just past Tillstone lock for a siesta.

We started off after an hour's break, and spent a full 40 minutes slowly passing all the moored boats at Golden Nook (I know linear moorings are necessary, but really - this was too many). We had trouble finding a decent mooring spot along here as we couldn't get near the heavily overgrown towpath because of the ledge the runs along here for miles. We were also heading directly into the setting sun which made steering difficult. We eventually reached a short mooring at Egg Bridge, where the couple already moored kindly moved up to make room for us.

Monday 19th Waverton - Bates Mill Br

ChesterWe had been promised another hot and sunny day, so we attempted early start getting underway at 8:30. We arrived in Chester 2 hrs later had no trouble mooring on the rings by Br 123E in fact were the only boat there. Chester is a lovely city and we would have explored more had it not been so hot (hottest day of the year so far). After mooching around the city for a bit and having a mediocre lunch at the pub by the moorings we turned the boat at the winding hole and set off southwards.

The passage back through the Chester locks gave us our hairiest moments in the entire cruise. The first one out of town ( Hoole Lane lock) has only gate paddles, and lifting them caused a jet of water to fly across the lock as there are no baffles. Fortunately, I was lurking at the other end of the lock and no harm done.

However the 5th lock out (Christleton lock) could have been lethal. We had used the centre bollard to control the boat. We then opened the ground paddle on the same side as the boat as per normal, but on this occasion the water lifted the bow and threw the boat over to the opposite wall. But the centre rope was restraining the cabin top while the hull shot sideways giving us an alarming list. Christine let the centre rope go and we slammed into the opposite lock wall. No damage done and no one hurt but we came away chastened. Subsequent ground paddles were opened much more gingerly, and bow & stern ropes used for preference, but there were no further problems.

Swans and model boatA family of swans provided some entertainment after we moored in the evening. They approached expecting to be fed, and while they were feeding at the front of the boat I got out my radio controlled model and sent it in their direction. Daddy swan took great exception and went steaming towards the model intent on murder. I had the model beat a hasty retreat behind the stern. Every time I sent the model out I got the same strong reaction, probably a territorial thing. We used the decoy to get got some good photos.


Duck with sugar puffs cerealLater that evening we had a visit from a mallard, as we were out of bread Christopher tried Sugar Puffs. This was greeted with much enthusiasm, lots of flapping of wings and tail wagging. We gradually enticed the bird onto the foredeck for a portrait session. for some reason he didn't want to hang about and what with wet feet on the smooth deck there was a lot of flapping wings and sliding about, very funny to watch. better than anything on the TV.

Tuesday 20th Bates Mill Br - Wrenbury

We awoke to the sound of rain, so we had a leisurely cooked breakfast and set off about 10, by which time the rain had eased off. We met a bunch of very rude Australians who attempted to steal a lock set for us even though our boat was in clear sight and the our crew were within yards of the lock. A frank exchange of views followed and they stood and glared at us as we worked through (rather than help, which just slowed them down).

There is a good general stores by Beeston Stone lock, so Christine dashed off and bought some very nice cakes while we went through the lock. After that the view was dominated by Beeston castle in the distance. We stopped for lunch in a very pleasant shady spot just below Tilston Lock where we were greeted by a fellow cutwebber on Nb Willow but we didn't catch his name.

The weather clouded over as the afternoon progressed and a light rain started after we passed Bunbury, which didn't improve the rather dreary run to Barbridge where we stopped for water. Things got a bit exciting when a boat emerging from the Middlewich branch picked something up in the prop just as they needed to avoid a boat on the main line. This resulted in a lot of leaping about and hauling on ropes. It was the fourth time it had happened to them in as many days while we got through the two weeks without trouble.

Hurleston locksWe were running well ahead of schedule and decided to take a nose up the Llangollen canal. We reached Hurleston junction and locks about 3:30 and went straight up the flight in just under 20 minutes. The character of the canal changed immediately we left the Shroppie as we wended our way through quiet fields. We restocked the larder from the friendly shop by bridge 6. We were luck to find it open as the lady was normally closed on Tuesday pm, but happened to feel like opening only minutes before. We spent the night at Wrenbury just before the hire base. A delightful little village with some lovely old buildings, a selection of pubs and a small shop.

Wednesday 21st Wrenbury - Austens bridge

Lift Bridge north of WrenburyThe next day, whilst putting the kettle on for our early morning tea, I noticed a small grey furry creature scuttling round the kitchen. This got the rest of the crew up and Christopher finally persuaded it into an empty bag and he took it ashore - but it didn't want to leave a nice warm boat for cold wet grass! We tentatively identified it as a shrew (or vole), and this set off a whole barrage of shrew and vole jokes.

I was concerned about turning the in the hire boat base (given the strong winds) so we started early before they were up and about, but in the event it was easy and no one took any notice. We had intended to look round the hire boats but forgot once we got going.

After another brief provisioning stop at the Bridge 6 shop we went back down the Hurleston flight. It took just a little longer this time as there was some traffic. We had to do a shuffle with an oncoming boat in the rather short intermediate pound about half way down. The boat in front of us was being worked by a couple who were less agile than some of our crew so they worked both boats down.

Moorings and rainbow by Br 83We reached Nantwich basin and stopped for lunch just as the weather turned nasty - it even hailed for a bit. Once things calmed down we took a look round the boatyard and at some of the boats. One ('Reflections') quite appealed except for the awkward access to the trad stern. We also took a look at a new "budget build" boat and were appalled at the poor standard of construction. After a leisurely and interesting afternoon we set off towards Market Drayton, where we found some excellent moorings just north of Br 83. It even had picnic tables and barbecue pits (but not barbecue weather!).

Thursday 22nd Austens bridge - Market Drayton

Chris and Rosie working a lock After a slow start we set off towards Audlem to meet Christopher's friend Rosemary. Just as we were ready to depart we were passed by a working pair. They were making slow progress in the strong wind but gallantly pulled over and invited us to pass. We picked up rosemary at Audlem bottom lock, this was to be her first taste of canal boating and soon learnt all about locking as she helped us up the Audlem flight.

We stopped at the Shroppie fly and had a nose in the canal shop (I think the best I've seen, as gift shops go). I was concerned that we stay ahead of the working pair expecting them to be slow in the locks. As it turned out they were faster than many solo boats with crews we have seen, watching them work up the flight was poetry in motion, efficient but without any hurry.

Once we got going again, the flight crowded with a lot of traffic in both directions. We met Tony Long on Simmer Dim coming the other way, and I took the opportunity to take a look at Tony's diesel electric propulsion system. It looks like the ideal set up, very quiet with plenty of low speed torque and lots of electrical power for all mod cons. Unfortunately this wasn't the best place for a lengthy chat so I returned to our boat and continued working up the flight.

We stopped for lunch just above lock 3 - after all that work we were more than ready for it. It was still raining on and off as we set off again, soon reaching the Adderley flight. The folks on the boat in front were very pleasant and chatty and we were soon working the flight together. Then we caught up a group on a tatty hire boat making very slow progress who rebuffed all offers of help with extreme rudeness, swearing at anyone who approached. I can only hope they found the whole business so unpleasant they won't return to the waterways.

At Market Drayton we managed to tuck in at the end of the visitor moorings by Br 62 at about 5 pm. The crew were taking their leave here so we unloaded all their stuff before adjourning to Talbot Inn for our farewell meal. We enjoyed an excellent meal in its non-smoking, child-free dining room. After saying our farewells we decided to move the boat up the far end of the moorings to get away from the generator on the back of the boat in front of us. Our new spot was quite near to 'Nifty Fifty', who we had seen during our September trip, but we didn't venture to disturb them as they seemed settled for the night.

After all the people, it was nice to have the boat to ourselves.

Friday 23rd

A dry but very cold day in the strong NE wind. I hadn't packed for winter weather, and ended up wearing just about everything I had that was still clean-ish. Christine took a longer spell at the tiller whilst I worked the locks through the Market Drayton flight, a reversal of our normal roles. It seemed a good idea for her to practice on someone else's paint, but she picked the technique up straight away. These locks don't have tail bridges so I tried stepping across the gap between the closed and open gate. I did it OK but it's not something I will repeat. We stopped to thaw out and have lunch at Norbury junction, where we had a brief browse round Narrow cutting on the Shroppiethe gift shop - but there are just so many of those places one can visit in a lifetime!

We pressed on through the narrow cuttings that characterise this section. They give some shelter from the wind, but there isn't much to see. Got to Wheaton Aston that evening and bagged the last visitor mooring. I got the model boat out and herded the ducks for a while, before loosing the prop on some rubbish. We spent the evening listing things we liked and disliked about the boat with a view to what we would specify in our own boat - one day.

Saturday 24th Market Drayton - Gailey

We had plenty of time to get back to base, so we had a late get up and a leisurely breakfast, before tackling the last real lock of the trip. After that we had a relaxed trundle to Brewood and took a good look round the hire boats, chatting to a very friendly and knowledgeable chap there. They have some nice boats but we prefer Freiya (though the semi trad stern would have been warmer on cold "winter" days like today).

We stopped at Autherly to take on water and have a look at the hire boats there. They asked what sort of boat we wanted and our reply of 4 berth with 2 fixed doubles met with the response "hmm - I can't think of anywhere you'd find something like that". I felt like saying "we're on one and we got it just up the road". We weren't inspired by what they had to offer.

The narrows, north of Autherly junctionThe junction itself is a bit tight if one is going north, but we got round without drama. The scenery changed character again, as we were surrounded by run down council estates with graffiti on every surface. We thought parts of the Shroppie were narrow, but this bit is just wide enough for the boat with small irregular passing places. Fortunately we didn't meet any traffic, but it would get awkward if two working pairs met.

After that the scenery improved, as we left Wolverhampton behind. The canal is very winding here and the builders delighted in putting bridges on the apex of tight corners. I tested the stopping power of the engine to the full when a Black Prince boat came through a blind bridge hole at full chat. I missed him, but it was all up to me. We stopped at the "restaurant" at Calf Heath Marina, hoping for a special end-of-cruise meal. The staff were friendly enough but the menu is standard pub grub, and the term restaurant a bit over ambitious.

We left just as a hen party arrived, and headed back to Gailey for our last night aboard. As we were mooring my corduroy cap was removed by an overhanging branch, and it sank before Chris could retrieve it (though had she done, it wouldn't necessarily have been wearable!). After we had moored Jim (the boatyard owner) came by for a chat and we spent a pleasant and informative hour with him before starting to load stuff into the car.

Sunday 25th

We finished packing our stuff and cleaning the boat, it took a lot longer than we thought. It's amazing just how spread out one can get stuff in just 2 weeks. We reluctantly gave Jim the keys back and spent another hour and a half chatting and looking over one of his share boats. After that we set off for Stourport to take a look at another share boat - but that's another story.

Lessons learnt
  1. Boats vary within classes
  2. Nicholsons guides are not very reliable
  3. We prefer a high driving position
  4. A second roof light is handy in tunnels
  5. Moor after locks, rather than just before
  6. Open paddles slowly especially in broad locks