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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Going against the flow!

Just a quick post today as internet access a bit dodgy. I stopped for 24 hours in the lovely Ellesmere and visited the laundrette. I know that doesn't sound like fun but if you haven't washed your clothes for quite some time, then a visit to the laundrette is positively exciting. Not only that but Tesco (usually boo hiss) has seen fit to build a store right at the canal basin. I compromised my principles of shopping local and not giving money to the robber barons by stocking up - I admit it, I'm weak willed!

We are now not far from the mountains and the rain is incredible here. It is sunny and then I can see the rain travelling down the mountain and coming towards me in a solid line. At least we get some warning! I have stopped complaining about the rain now - I am floating in a boat where there are loads of poor souls out there whose houses and businesses have been flooded out.

The title of this post reflects the fact that although the Llangollen Canal (actually it is officially still the Shropshire Union (Llangollen Branch) is only a canal, it feels more like a river in that there is a pronounced flow downstream thanks to the canal being fed by a reservoir. Consequently, I travelled 8 miles today and did 2 locks which would normally take me just over 3 hours and today it took over 4 hours. The closer we get to Llangollen, the faster the flow. The canal is also very narrow and shallow in parts and that makes the flow quicker. It's hard work steering for long periods of time, but worth it. I'll be crossing the famous aqueduct tomorrow if the wind would only die down a bit!

An example of the many beautiful moorings we have found

Monday, 25 June 2012

Into Welsh Wales with a smile

I found the first three weeks of this trip really quite stressful and somewhat disappointing. Part of it was the weather – yuck – and partly it was because I had built it up so much in my own mind over the last months that reality was never going to match up. I also hadn’t allowed for the fact that I might find some of it quite scary!

My darkish mood changed after Audlem. This is a village but is better known for its flight of 15 locks. The biggest flight I had done before this was 6. I got myself into a right state beforehand. I convinced myself that I was mad to be attempting this singlehanded, as a not particularly fit 51 year old woman. I worried that I wouldn’t have the energy to complete them, but there would be nowhere to stop. I worried I might have an accident. In short, I had a sudden crisis of confidence. The only good thing was that it didn’t occur to me for a minute to turn back.

dreaded audlem flight

Start of Audlem Flight

I started the flight at around 7.30am after walking Bonny. I wanted to avoid queuing if I could for at least some of it. Unfortunately a boat just ahead of me had thought the same thing so for the first hour or so, I was following him down, which meant I had to reset each lock before using it. It was really tiring but I found I coped much better when I decided not to focus on how many locks I had to do or had done, but just on the one I was presently doing. I did have a hairy moment when I got temporarily trapped between my boat and a rather slimy lock wall. My boat just sort of leaned on me and didn’t want to let me go!

This is the only problem single handing locks. If nobody is coming towards you, then you have to balance the boat in the mouth of the lock, squeeze between boat and wall to climb back up to close the gates. I have met the odd lone boater who just leaves gates open and says ‘Oh I’m on my own’, but that annoys me as it gives us lone boaters a bad name. Yes it can be difficult and yes it uses more energy, but it can be done and we have chosen to cruise alone so we should do it properly! (End of mini rant!)

When I reached the bottom of the flight I was exhausted, but as high as a kite! The sense of achievement was overwhelming and I thought if I can manage that, I can cope with anything! In that spirit I decided to change my plan and go down the Llangollen Canal into Welsh Wales. I had dismissed the idea previously because it is not an easy canal to navigate. There are lift bridges which I have never coped with before and a staircase lock that I have never done alone. There is a real tidal wave at the bottom of each lock because of the way the Llangollen is fed by a reservoir. There are also a lot of locks and the odd mountain, not to mention the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. if you want to see the most impressive aqueduct in the world, then search the above name online. I will be crossing this in my little boat!!!

Despite these new challenges, I am going for it. After all I was in search of adventure and this is a big one! I am writing this having just passed Wrenbury and having just operated my first two lift bridges and yes, it was as difficult as I had imagined.

The problem is that the controls to lift the bridges are on the non towpath side. The idea is to tie up on the helpful bollards on the towpath side, cross the bridge, open it, get your helpful crew to drive the boat through the bridge and then lower it and get back on the boat. One problem, Bonny the dog doesn’t yet know how to steer! So if I tie the boat up and lift the bridge, how do I get back to the boat to drive it through? Nobody thought to leave a bit of space on the side where the controls are in order for a single hander to tie their boat where they can get back to it! I ended up balancing the boat near the bridge, holding my bow rope to stop it escaping, lifting the bridge without hitting my boat, clambering back on board via the pointy end, driving the boat through, reversing back up close to the bridge, jumping the gap and lowering the bridge, trying not to squash my boat and then jumping back on the blunt end. And there are quite a lot of lift bridges on this canal!

The experience at Audlem has given me the confidence to try new things and with even the sun making an appearance I am smiling as I travel into Wales to face these new challenges!

lovely clean towpath llangollen

 Near the start of the Llangollen Canal

Friday, 15 June 2012

Pictures So Far

I thought I’d use some of my precious data allowance to show you a few of the places we have visited so far. Neville, my neighbour at Fradley, suggested I found a free wi-fi hot spot and used their data instead. A good idea that I will keep in mind, however no hot spots so far in the back of beyond where I have been spending most of my time!

shug hall
This is Shugborough Hall where Bonny had her day out!

This is where I was forced to a halt in Penkridge through utter exhaustion! Note the blue sky – a very rare sight on this cruise so far.

Gnosall was a welcome stop as there are shops really close to the canal and a water point too. I’m quite pleased with this picture.

wharf at norbury
And here we are up to date at the wharf at Norbury Junction. I have just got my first lot of laundry done here so very happy – and clean. Pouring with rain of course, but what’s new!

Lastly, if I had a mind to move back into a house, this would be my ideal, seen near Norbury on one of our mammoth walks…
cottage at Norbury

Monday, 11 June 2012

At last – a glimpse of light

After mooching about Great Haywood for days waiting for the monsoon to end, I finally got moving on Saturday. It wasn’t ideal as it was drizzly and breezy but loads better than Sunday so we headed for Penkridge.

It was a hard trip. I was following 2 other boats through deep locks with nothing coming in the other direction, which means that once the boat in front has gone through, the water level in the lock is high. I then have to let all the water out again so that I can get my boat in and then fill it again. Basically it means twice the work. If a boat is coming in the other direction then their crew will do the work of emptying it to let their boat down. Sorry if that is blindingly obvious but there are some non boater readers of this blog!

What made it even harder work was that the boat in front was crewed by a couple who seemed to think that it was my duty to work their lock for them. Now most reasonable boaters will wander up to the lock and help the one in front – otherwise you are just standing by your boat waiting. (Although I have seen some of those – too posh to help boaters who stand holding the rope of the boat as an excuse not to help, rather than using the lock bollards designed for the purpose!)

But this couple just sat looking helpless! I did the first 3 locks for them and as they departed the lock they didn’t once say thanks, just – ‘see you at the next one’! What redeemed the day was the lady in the boat behind me who helped me through each lock and even helped the ones in front of me. By the 5th lock I had decided to be a little slow in going up to the lock with the hope that the couple in front would take the hint and do the work themselves. Unfortunately my lovely lady behind went and helped them!

By the time I got to Penkridge I was aching in muscles I didn’t even know I had! I had hoped to get to Gailey Wharf but I had no energy left and so tied up at the edge of the village.

The next day, miracles of miracles, the sun made an appearance! I didn’t want to waste the opportunity of dry cruising and so took Bon on an early, short walk and then started cruising at 7.30am. Things are so much better when the sun shines! We had 7 deepish locks to tackle but it didn’t seem such hard work, even though after the first one I was again following another boat and so had to reset the locks. I rested for 20 min at Gailey – the top of the lock flight – enough time for a tea and a wee! then on again on our longest cruising day yet. 7 hours after starting we tied up on my, so far, favourite canal – the Shropshire Union. There is a lovely mooring between bridges 7 and 8 – broad grassy towpath, fields on both sides and, thanks to the Shropshire Union canal society, mooring rings! Also good TV, phone and internet reception and that is where I am writing this from. We will stay here for a couple of days to recover. The backs of my legs are the most stiff after climbing all those lock ladders – 13 in two days.

Mind you, I will need to exercise those muscles because further up this canal there is a lock flight with 15 locks one after the other! I really feel we are on our adventure now, even if today the weather has reverted to yuck!

what are these mumBonny not too sure about these friendly cows!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

out and wet!

Bonny and I have been out and about since last Friday but haven’t got very far! We are currently moored outside Shugborough Hall at Great Haywood – a most beautiful spot right by the River Trent.

The weather is the main reason for our lack of progress – wet doesn’t even begin to describe it! Then yesterday, when we actually had a dry day, Bonny decided to utterly lose her head and ran off at the beginning of our morning walk. I then spent an ‘entertaining’ 8 hours chasing her around the formal gardens of Shugborough Hall! The gate keeper was very understanding and let me in for free. Other visitors tried their hand at catching her but Bonny wasn’t having any of it. She found the largest ground spreading Yew Tree in Europe to hide in amongst and that was that!

I did manage to persuade her to follow me all the way to the gate at lunch time and I thought she would then follow me over the bridge and back to the boat. However being a bank holiday there were loads of people on the bridge (narrow and pedestrian only) so she freaked out and ran back into the estate. I was utterly exhausted and stressed and so returned to the boat for a quick sandwich and sit down before returning to the fray. An hour after returning and 8 hours after she ran off and even more exhausted Bonny allowed herself to be caught. Apart from a graze on one heel she was in one piece.

I feel such a failure as a dog owner. When she does this, she isn’t just being naughty, she acts as if she is terrified of me – even though I have never harmed her. She would rather go to a total stranger than come back to me and I don’t understand why. I was also really hoping that this would be an exercise in freedom for both of us, but I can’t risk this happening again, so it looks like it’s going to be lead walks only for the foreseeable future – so sad.

It is lovely to have finally started, but so far I’m not really feeling the joy. I think it’s a combination of tiredness, wet weather and adrenalin come down, but I’m not concerned – I shall just be how I am and see what happens!

I had thought about moving on today before the rain starts again but we are both too tired, so having a lazy day instead.

Here is our first cruise picture… Bonny disappearing into the park!

bon taking off