Llangollen canal, May 1997
Crew: Terry & Christine Rigden, Pat & Bill Baker, Kate & Tim Williams,
This was our first ever time on a canal boat, we chose the Llangollen canal because of its spectacular scenery which we could show off to our American guests (Pat & Bill).
The Chirk marina is neat and clean, and we soon had our stuff loaded on board. My first impression standing on the counter looking down the 62' length of the boat was "its got a bigger bonnet than a Ford Capri". After being shown where everything was we threaded our way out of the marina and onto the canal. After just a few yards our mentor from the boatyard left us and we entered the Whitehouse tunnel.
As soon as we entered the tunnel the current became apparent and I had to increase the revs quite a lot to make progress, making it quite a noisy business. I soon learnt not to overdo it as the canal is very shallow and the boat sucked itself onto the bottom, slowing us down. Soon after not too many scrapes we emerged back into the sunshine, and caught our first glimpses of the famed Pontcysyllte aqueduct through the trees.
I quickly learnt how to drop off and pick up crew to operate the lift bridges and we began our approach to literally the high point of the trip. The aqueduct was clear of traffic so we proceeded over very slowly. I was very aware that all there was between us an a 120' drop was 1/2" thick cast iron so steering had my full attention. When we did touch the sides you could see them flex - I wouldn't like to try it in a stiff crosswind.
The view up the valley was breathtaking, with no safety rail to get in the way on the non-towpath side. Just as we neared the end Christopher popped out of the side hatch and walked up to the bow blithely ignoring the drop. Once we reached the end he hopped off with the bow rope to assist us round the very tight turn at T junction. With Chris hauling on a bow rope I managed to make the turn without hitting anything or taking my head off on the extremely low bridge that followed.
The canal soon became very narrow and shallow, which accentuated the current so we made slow but stately progress towards Llangollen.We ran aground a couple of times but some vigorous poling soon had us underway again. I reluctantly relinquished the tiller to Bill and went to the comparative quite of the bows. All too soon we arrived at Llangollen, and dropped most of the crew off to explore the town while we turned the boat around. Unfortunately there was nowhere to moor, so we headed back after retrieving the crew.
The return trip was just as picturesque. We used ropes to make the turn at Trevor having seen people get it spectacularly wrong there (and as the holes in the bank witness). This time Bill took us over the aqueduct while I went ahead to record the event.
Brian was at the helm when we arrived back at the marina to drop him and Joyce off. Unfortunately he didn't compensate for the current and hit the concrete side of the entrance HARD. Once safely back in the marina we had an excellent dinner at the Golf club, and bade farewell to Joyce and Brian before setting off again.
We passed through the Chirk tunnel and onto the only slightly less spectacular Chirk aqueduct. By then dusk was falling so we tied up for the night, near bridge 21 where there is a useful canalside shop.
Once the others were up and about we continued on our way heading for Ellesmere. We soon came to the New Marton locks (our first), and filled up at the water point just in front the first lock while we pondered how to operate the thing. It didn't seem worth starting the engine to go in so we dragged the boat in by hand. It's as well we had a lot of crew as it took some holding in place, we didn't do it that way again.
The next lock was a much smoother operation, done more conventionally. Some of the crew were still rather unsure of what to do, but were learning fast. We took a look at the Frankton flight at the start of the Monty but decided not to tackle it this trip. We arrived at Ellesmere at about dusk and tied up in the rather pleasant basin, joining Joy and Brian for a meal.
After much discussion about where to eat, I decided our American guests should experience some real English cuisine so we ended up at the local Indian restaurant. We all had excellent curries, what a shame the loos packed up that night. (they were the electric macerator type and we made the mistake of switching the water pump off so it didn't wake people up in the night....).
After leaving Ellesmere we spent the morning trundling east while debating where to turn, being unsure what our return progress would be against the current. After admiring the views of the meres we turned in the middle of nowhere (just before bridge 50) and reluctantly headed back to base.
As it was we got back to Chirk with time to spare so while the others got off to explore Chirk castle Christine and I decided we would do the Aqueduct one more time. This time we went straight on at Trevor and took a look round the hire boats, but none were anything like as nice as the one we were on.
Turning at Trevor basin was interesting, I dropped Christine off with the stern line so she could pull the back round. This was a mistake and she soon had to let it go. This left me on my own on the boat and I ended up running from stern to stem so I could push off at the front then back to the controls. This entertained the crowd for a while and I learnt a lot about boat handling.
When we got back to the marina I was asked to do a 270 degree turn and back the boat into its mooring. After my first disbelief that it was possible I gave it a go and was delighted to actually do it without hitting anything. I could finally get this big lump of metal to do what I wanted.
We had the usual hurried pack and clean before dispersing. After days in a long, thin crowded box, Christine and I headed off for a week all on our own in a rented house with its own private indoor pool, and there isn't a trip report for that part of the holiday.
But the Narrowboating bug had bitten and we soon started to plot our next trip.