Monday, 30 July 2012


We arrived at Chester on Wednesday afternoon, resolving to stay there to see the city only during the following day and then we would move on towards Ellesmere Port on the Friday.

But in a now very familiar fashion we delayed that departure for two more whole days because there was just too much to see and it was  not possible to cram it all into a single twenty four hours.

There was shopping to be done on that first day and my goodness –- Spend! Spend! Spend! – It is surprising how a  large choice of so many beautiful city shops makes the lonely boater decide that he cannot possibly survive without many of the goods that he sees. The fact that he has existed very adequately for four years without the need for them is beside the point. As an example; on four consecutive days nearby Tesco and Poundland both had products which we hadn’t seen or perhaps even thought of the day before. But we decided that we had to have them.

On one day we walked around the City Walls, amazed that they were still mostly intact and noted that the road system was along the same routes as the medieval ones. But as a result all the city gates had needed to be rebuilt wider to accommodate the now heavier and  swifter twentieth Century motorised traffic.


013  The Eastern Gate

The Victorian East Gate


We spent another day at the Grosvenor Museum and Art Gallery as well as visiting the Cathedral which we enjoyed enormously, as well as the rich vegetable soup and crusty roll we had for lunch in the monks old refectory. Then on another occasion we visited the pretty Grosvenor Gardens and promenaded the river Dee where we felt a wonderful holiday spirit and had coffee and ice-cream in the warm sunshine, sheltered from the biting breeze.

Chester while we were there was filled with people. The olde worlde pubs as well as the modern fashionable restaurants were all very busy as were the shops. People seemed to share our holiday spirit. But maybe the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on Friday afternoon helped everybody feel better.

So this morning after last minute shopping yet again at Tesco, the Sun was shining through a promising white woolly cumulus sky, which encouraged the  little fleet to let go finally. But due to the movement of other traffic around us, it took some time to make the passage along the deep North Wall rock cutting and down an impressive thirty three feet through the Northgate Staircase lock. But then once into the Basin below, now being redeveloped quite tastefully with flats and pubs all around, we were soon enjoying the open scene again.

The busy chatter and urgent antics of the people, amusing to both Janis and I as confirmed people-watchers, was replaced by the familiar chug of the Russell Newbery singing sweetly to me again with its regular fixed beat and the rural tranquillity of the countryside.


014  The Victorian 'Black and White' Architecture 

Some of the Victorian Built ‘Black and White’ buildings of Chester



A Squirrel feeding from Janis’ hand in Grosvenor Gardens

Friday, 27 July 2012

Saucy Business (Barbecued I hope)

I’m on my own again tonight so thought it time I had a say on the computer.

It’s not easy for me to use it you know, except when the Skipper’s ashore and I don’t always feel like it then. He and Janis go ashore a lot together and they do seem to get on quite happily I suppose.

In fact ……. Are you on your own? Then come a bit closer for a minute I want to tell you something …..

In fact …… I think there might be something going on between them. There then!  …. What do you think about that?

I actually saw him give her a kiss the other night!

It was after they had been to Beeston Castle and as it was a lovely warm evening they’d eaten a barbecued picnic together on the towpath.

It smelt lovely ……..

Anyway  just after the Sun had set and as they had finished eating, they cleared up the rubbish, put the canvas chairs away and, lo and behold, he gave her a quick peck ….. and then he said:


Now then would you believe it?

I couldn’t …… not from my Skipper anyway. I didn’t think he was capable of such a thing.

And that was it.

What do you reckon then? ….. I’ve been waiting for it to happen again and so far ….. No news!

But I do think we haven’t heard the last of this you know. I think Janis should take care ‘cos I reckon he must be a bit of a shady character.

Anyway I’ll let you know as soon as I get any more news.

Oops! Don’t tell anybody what I’ve just said will you …... Keep it to yourself!

I wouldn’t like the Skipper to think I’ve been gossiping.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Beeston Castle

Last Saturday after a glorious month or more on the Llangollen Canal, our little convoy arrived at Hurleston Junction again and headed north west towards Chester and Ellesmere Port. The Sun was shining for us and there was little breeze to hinder our run.

We tied up for the night to the rings on the towpath supplied at the visitor moorings just above Wharton’s Lock, in a beautiful rural setting about half a mile away from the crag that rises steeply up to about three hundred feet above the otherwise flat Cheshire Plain. At its peak are the remains of the almost impregnable Beeston Castle, a Fourteenth Century fortress built in stone by Hugh Lupus (Hugh the Wolf), who was the Earl of Chester at that time and lord of the area. The ruins sparkled in the bright afternoon sunshine and with the thick green mantle of trees around its slopes, it cast a long dark shadow across the patchwork of pastures as the Sun set lower in the late afternoon.



Beeston Castle across the plain

Janis and I, as we sat out in the balmy evening air after our day’s travel, enjoying our gin and tonics decided to visit the ruins the following day and true to our wishes the Sun returned in full on the Sunday morning as we set off along the footpaths towards the hill.

As we made our way through scented green cow pastures and arable fields of young corn the butterflies appeared and we saw our first Small Tortoiseshell of the year. His colours were bright and he was a fine specimen.


016-1  The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly 

The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly


019  On the way to the castle

On the way to the top


We arrived at last at the ticket office, a tidy Victorian copy of a medieval gatehouse, about halfway up the hill and were persuaded by the lady taking the money, a volunteer at English Heritage, to become members. Since there are many of these sites on our projected route we decided it was good value for money and quickly made out our direct debits.

The Sunshine had brought the families out on this Sunday and there were many visitors as we arrived at the ruins.

There were a few walls still impressively standing and one could imagine  the way the castle must have looked in all its grandeur and such a daunting sight to an invader. But the spooky quality of decay was evident all around too in collapsed towers leaving foundations only visible at times.

But the young families were oblivious to this as they munched their picnics and played knightly games with plastic swords and various forms or armour bought at the ticket office.

Surprise surprise! There was even a Batman there with his cape blowing in the breeze.



View towards the south through a ‘window’



Janis resting



Oxeye Daisy and Common Ragwort thriving on the Walls



Battlements, tower and steep ditch


The woodland walk with dappled sunshine sparkling through the thick mantle overhead was shaded as we walked down to the base of the hill on our way home and it wasn’t till we returned to the open corn fields that we realised how cooling the effect had been.

The weather remained fine all day and in the evening we sat out again with our G & T’s chatting happily of our adventure while enjoying our barbequed pork and salad. Eventually the Sun went down beneath a sky of many shades of pink and dark silhouetted clouds.

The day had been a glorious one.



Friday, 20 July 2012

Passing Days and Banks of Butterbur

The days pass quickly but quietly and mostly with the persistent patter of heavy rain on the roof. While along the waterlogged edges of the  canal saturated banks of Butterbur drip soggily into the water, the large rhubarb shaped leaves glistening in the still air. The clouds have been monotonously grey for many weeks frequently with large splashes of black making the day as dark as a winter’s afternoon.

And the rain has visited us every day.


005  Banks of Butterburr in the rain

Banks of Butterbur with rain on the lens as well as on the canal


006  Wrenbury Church

Wrenbury Church on another grey start to the day


But today has been different.

We have basked in at least half an hour’s Sunshine overall as we travelled slowly along the Llangollen Canal from the sleepy village of Wrenbury towards the junction with the Shropshire Union at Hurleston and it appears that the weather is on the change. All the forecasts foretell a weekend at least, to bask in.

Since leaving Chirk after travelling from there to the end of the canal and back on ‘Roots and Wings’, happily to discover ‘Futurest’ waiting as patiently and ready to go as ever for me and with batteries fully charged through the solar panel, the little flotilla has progressed steadily north eastwards without any delays other than a stop overnight.


021  Blake Mere

Blake Mere by the side of the canal


One afternoon we moored for the night alongside beautiful Blake Mere which was smooth, quiet and very mysterious like the back drop to some Arthurian Legend. Unfortunately there is no footpath that can take the walker all the way around, so Janis and I walked about half a mile along the towpath and over the bridge to the larger Cole Mere which was encircled by a wonderful woodland walk that took us past the sailing club and a small Victorian Church.

The Sun came out briefly and immediately the butterflies appeared as well, to allow us a photograph of the Ringlet as it spread its wings in the sudden unexpected warmth. Then the Sun was gone as were the butterflies.

But this evening we are tied up at a beautiful pastoral setting about a mile from the junction and its four locks, which we shall tackle in the morning.

And at the end of today the sunset, though unusual was heart-warming.

It’s the first we’ve seen for a long time and its promise is enormous.


009  Sunset. The first for ages



010  Sunset through the Cratch

…. through the cratch


Friday, 13 July 2012

The Llangollen Experience

My computer, quite contrarily, has decided to work again.

A week ago when it ‘pinged’ off quite suddenly, as it is regularly wont to do because of a faintly fluctuating 12 volt system on this ship, I tried in vain to get it to start again but it wouldn’t, prompting me to think that the machine had finally taken as much abuse as it could and had subsequently expired.


007  Approaching Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

‘Roots and Wings’ approaching Pontcysyllte Aqueduct


No matter what I did, which included trying it through the other lead on the 240 volt system, the machine remained quiet, cold and quite dead, apart from being able to trip the 240 volt fuse every time I tried to switch it on.

So I had written it off and had decided to buy another.

However this afternoon I decide to try it just one more time ….. just to make certain … and lo and behold when I pushed the switch the bright fixed light clicked strongly back at me immediately, while the other light began winking at me in the usual and very familiar fashion.

Just as if nothing had ever happened.

So my fingers are crossed even while I am typing in the hope that the light will continue blinking at me till I’ve finished this post.


088 At  Corrag

Janis the Steam at Carrog Station


The two little ships are now moored this wet rainy day at the moorings near Chirk Marina on the Llangollen Canal and in fact ‘Futurest’ has been here for sometime while her partner has ventured along the narrow and shallow part of the canal to the beautiful little town of Llangollen. This little place, huddled in the steep Dee Valley, is a delightful cross between a lively seaside town with its ice-cream, postcard and candyfloss shops and a popular mountain resort, complete with camping, climbing, walking gear and fishing tackle shops.

It has its own railway station too, complete with steam locomotive where one can travel back in time, as well as the eight miles along the steep sided valley of the River Dee, through ancient railway stations painted with the brown and cream livery of the old Great Western Railway and even complete with Victorian post boxes that are still in use. To a man of my age this was all very evocative of the days of my childhood. When Janis and I took a trip on the train and back it was almost too much excitement for me.

They say that this canal is the busiest in the country and it probably is. This is understandable as its two breath-taking aqueducts on their own, the stone built Chirk which runs parallel with the equally magnificent railway viaduct and the thrilling Pontcysyllte just a little further on, makes it one of those destinations that one has to visit before one dies. The beautiful scenery as well, even in the low cloud and almost continuous rain that we have been experiencing, makes it so different to any other waterway in the country. The whole of the Llangollen experience has been quite stunning.



Valle de Crucis Abbey

I crewed for Janis on ‘Roots and Wings’ which was very useful during the narrow sections that are only wide enough for one boat at a time to navigate.

There are no traffic lights so I walked ahead with my walky-talky, trying to do my best as a traffic policeman with boats that are continuously passing at peak times (and don’t seem to care how many are waiting patiently at the other end either). In that every-man-for-himself situation, it needs somebody with communication to physically hold up their hand to stop oncoming traffic to let the boats from the other direction have a go too.

It can be quite a nightmare as well as time consuming.

We tied up the ship in the basin at the end of the navigable part of the canal and stayed there for 48 hours walking, again in the rain mostly, to the end of the canal at the semi-circular weir off the River Dee called the Horseshoe Falls, as well as travelling further up the valley on the train to the tiny village of Carrog, perched precariously above the river.  Later back at Llangollen we shopped for provisions in town at a Spar shop and walked up the Valle Crucis, or Valley of the Cross, to the ruins of a medieval Cistertian abbey (like many of the others destroyed during the Reformation).

For me overall it has been quite an awe inspiring time.

We brought ‘Roots and Wings’ back to the moorings at Chirk yesterday evening and this morning I turned ‘Futurest’ around (in the rain) at the marina entrance so she is now facing the right direction for us to make a start back to Hurleston Junction and the Shropshire Union Canal tomorrow morning ….. Rain permitting.

Friday, 6 July 2012

An Apology

I regret to announce that my computer has broken down and I am having to post this mesop
from my mobile phone. All will be well as soon I can have it repaired. Thank you.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Montgomery Canal

‘Roots and Wings’ and ‘Futurest’ are tonight moored adjacent to the water point on the Weston Branch of the Montgomery Canal.


001  Plaque to 'Cressy' on Hurleston Bottom Lock

Dedication to ‘Cressy’


All is now calm and quiet after the battering of the strong breeze from the south west and the dousing from heavy showers that we have endured over the last couple of days. What has been worse is that the latter all seemed to occur at the most inopportune moments too; when we were just entering a lock or in the middle of our turn around at the navigable end of this canal, just beyond Maesbury.

Some would call it ‘Sods Law’.

Mostly on these wet occasions I am able to close the doors behind me on the top step, slide the lid aft up close to my stomach, put up my large umbrella and also with the jibes of passing boats about sissy southerners.

If I don’t take this precaution the rain pours into the back cabin and as well as soaking everything, it soon would fill the bilge. However the big black nylon dome keeps all things dry including myself, which makes it very useful to have around.


016  Rural Bridge

A rural Bridge


But when the rain catches you working the locks, there is nothing one can do except be extra careful on slippery grass and concrete surfaces near the lock.

However in spite of the wetting we seemed to suffer periodically, the passage down through the locks at Frankton and to the end at Maesbury and back, have proved most enjoyable and satisfactory. In between showers the roof of the little ship steamed as it dried in the bright warm June sunshine and the wild flowers and green foliage of trees sparkled brightly as the rain water on them dripped into the passing canal.

One hardly sees a dwelling down here let alone any towns or villages and the odd boat appears only occasionally to interrupt one’s languid reverie. In parts the canal is narrow and abundantly covered with Yellow Water lily which all disappear underwater as we pass due to the Venturi Effect between the ship and the bank nearby. It’s as if they are bowing to us as we regally go by. All this is very reminiscent of the Chesterfield Canal last year; just a narrow navigable ditch.


023  Janis operating Bridge

Janis operating Croft’s Mill Lift Bridge


However the one drawback is the booking system which is in place to preserve water supplies. We booked on Friday morning  before ten and were asked when we were returning. We said yesterday which we soon realised was too ambitious for dawdlers like Janis and I. But when Janis phoned yesterday, a Saturday, to change the plan all she heard was a machine telling her to phone on Monday as the office was not manned. But when we turned up at the bottom lock this morning, we were not allowed through because we hadn’t made the arrangement with them, as well as being in trouble for not cancelling our previous planned passage of yesterday.

So we have been here very pleasantly all day waiting to book our passage tomorrow morning for the journey up through the locks at midday.

On the way down on Friday we were joined at the Weston Branch Quay by Neil a friend of Janis’ who willingly crewed for us both, swapping from one boat to the other during the course of the journey. He stayed over night with us at Queens Head Moorings and returned to collect his car in the car park yesterday. It was good to meet him and he was certainly a very great help, which we appreciated.

And that’s it for now. We continue our adventure tomorrow.