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.
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!
Near the start of the Llangollen Canal