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Llangollen, spring 1986

flippin' freezin'
It was not warm

A 1-week trip from Simolda's hire base at Natwich to Llangollen and back, via Barbridge Junction. Total 93 mi and 42 locks.

This was an early learning experience. All hire boats are not equal. I think this one was chosen by price and location alone, and since then we've always checked the boat's facilities more carefully. Simolda were cheap and cheerful, and on a cold week in April continuous cabin heating would have been welcome. Everyone tried not to be the one who had to crawl out of bed in the morning to light the gas fires. The engine overheated, and we had to go along with one of the stern sheets up to prevent it happening again; otherwise hot air and fumes built up around the engine.

The high point of this route is the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, which is one of the spectacular features of the English canal system. It's high and only as wide as the boat, so you can just lean over from the steering position and look straight down into the Dee valley. But it's even better to walk over, on a narrow towpath cantilevered out over the trough and with only a flimsy railing on the big drop side and of course nothing on the water side. As I was crossing one way I met a girl coming the other way, who was unsure how to pass me. She was clinging on to the railing, and standing right in the centre of the path, unsure which was worse, moving nearer the edge, or letting go of the railing and moving nearer the water.

Diary extracts...

Sat 1986-04-12
Drive to Nantwich. The boatyard office is a garden shed, but get boat out early at 1330. Not quite as luxurious as last year's boat, doors don't separate cabins completely, gas fires, gas fridge, gas not auto-change and noisy 3-cyl air-cooled Lister diesel. 1st day solid cruising, 9 locks and get to Wrenbury (Cotton Arms). Weather fine but coolish.
Sun 1986-04-13
Cold night. Start early and keep going, except for 1/2 hour stop for pasties/fruit pies and water at top of staircase locks. Get to Ellesmere, eat on board and then to pub. Arrive at 1745. Rain/dull most of the day. Notice fumes from engine bay when leave Ellesmere tunnel, and engine stalled when set to idle just beyond tunnel at Ellesmere. Pass what on any other canal would be a lot of boats. What would this canal be like in summer.
Mon 1986-04-14
Shopping in Ellesmere, and visit bank. Investigate engine - problem is leaky exhaust causing engine to consume own fumes for cooling and air intake. Boatyard say try again, so drive with stern board off for a while to dissipate fumes. This works. Lunch on the move then on through shallower canal and into the spectacular bit. Chirk aqueduct and tunnel, then moor up just before Pontcysyllte itself, and walk out onto middle and look down, also walk underneath it. Then eat on board, then brave the rain for a trip to the Aqueduct pub.
Tue 1986-04-15
Set off about 0945. Dull, but not raining. Cross aqueduct, much better than walking across especially as driving side is towards edge. Off-side edge looks very thin, and flange at top is broken in places. Wonder how much side thrust or knock it could take. Then on through the Llangollen ditch. Very narrow and shallow and difficult to pass. Better in places where canal completely re-made with concrete U-sections, only just over 14ft wide, but deep right to the edge. Elsewhere, passing is very difficult. Large sections, esp coming into Llangollen, are definitely single-track. Arrive Llangollen midday, turn and moor (not very close) above town. Pub for lunch, then shopping and walking down to see Horseshoe Falls and the Dee valley. Evening back to the same pub.
Wed 1986-04-16
Start 0730 - probably first to leave Llangollen, so get a good run through the one-way bits. Meet first boat coming the other way quite near Trevor. Dull, wettish to start. Re-cross aqueduct, but not good photo weather. Keep right on across Chirk (disco-music echoing from boat in front in Chirk tunnel). Stop just past new A5 roadworks for lunch in Lion Inn (big sign "Food" but they've only got a few jumbo sausages, which we decide against). We're the only ones in, but it's warm. Just before going, a twit comes past at speed and washes out our spikes. Start off immediately in the rain and eat lunch in shifts. Aft OK until we suddenly get a poly bag round the prop, and go careering into the bank with no control (of course just then it really pees down, after being quite warm and pleasantly sunny for part of the afternoon). Got to Ellesmere in afternoon, and go to Black Lion in evening.
Thu 1986-04-17
Today 18mi + 10 locks. Leave Ellesmere after a bit of shopping and proceed reasonably uneventfully to Marbury by 1610. Dominating theme of weather is cold. Cabin is freezing in evening, even with both fires on. Strong wind. Lunch on move. Evening my brother turns up and drives us to a pub in Marbury (warm - luxury) where Wem bitter is consumed, along with large ice-creams.
Fri 1986-04-18
Start earlyish in sunshine, but still chilly. Easy day. Stop for lunch at top of Hurleston flight, then amble down behind a small narrow boat. Turn left and cruise up to Middlewich arm, where turn round and moor by Barbridge Inn (a Boddy's pub). Spend afternoon in warmth (sun + fire) reading, then eat on board and go for last pub evening in the pub.
Sat 1986-04-19
Arrive at boatyard at about the right time of 0930, and get cars loaded up quickly. The boatyard gave me back my 30L deposit in cash without even looking at the boat. Decided that next year's boat should have:- cabins that close off properly, decent hot water (not geyser), decent heating (pref gas boiler and radiators and safe to leave on at night), water-cooled engine (re-circulating - hull contact cooled) and preferably not look as scruffy as the Simolda boat. Therefore, we will pay more next time.

©nib 2003-03-22..2007-04-11

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