Monday, January 23, 2017

We’re finally in Wales!

After a very frosty night at the bottom of the New Marton Locks it was bright and crisp first thing Saturday. IMG_3327

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It wasn’t to last, though. By the time we’d got organised and started up the first of the two locks the fog was back.

New Marton Bottom Lock
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I took great care on the locksides!

Picturesque setting of New Marton Top Lock
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That’s it now, no more locks till we retrace our steps.

The canal skirts St. Martins Moor, an area of flat, boggy ground.IMG_3338
The north side of the canal, in contrast, is rich grazing as the land rises towards the village of St. Martins.

I think this was the only boat we saw on the move on Saturday…IMG_3340

Almost artistic tree pruning
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I regret not getting it’s reflection in the water…

We pulled in at the Poacher’s Pocket pub, next the Gledrid Bridge, 19W.IMG_3344
I was glad to get inside. It didn’t seem to warm up at all.

You may have noticed that the bridges since Frankton Junction are numbered from 1 again, but now have a “W” suffix. This is due to the way the navigation was constructed, with several changes in the planned route. Bridge 69 is on the other side of the junction, Bridge 70 being the first crossing of the Montgomery Canal. There’s an explanation of this seeming anomaly on an earlier post.

I spent the weekend double-checking the plumbing, sorting out the contents of the cupboards and shelves that occupy the space above the calorifier, and then re-installing said cupboards and shelves.

So today we set off again, intending to cross the border.

Leaving Gledrid Bridge, the Poachers Pocket on the left and moorings just through the bridge.IMG_3345

Along Chirk Bank, looking over the rooftops and the Ceiriog Valley IMG_3346

After following the top of the bank for a half-mile or so, the canal turns right to cross the valley on Chirk Aqueduct.IMG_3350

The railway viaduct alongside was built in 1846, 45 years after the aqueduct.

Crossing the border as we pass over the River Ceiriog
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Should be Afon Ceiriog, now, I guess…

The aqueduct was hard work to cross, the flow heading “downhill” impeding progress. But at least there’s something to look at as you crawl across the span…
Chirk Tunnel comes next, with the same problem and no view at all!IMG_3358

The low sun lights up the first 50 yards of the bore. 
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Painfully slow progress against the flow through here, I’m glad I’m not a boat-horse.

The tunnel emerges in a cutting, there’s often a blow-down or two along here to use as fuel, but we didn’t stop today. Plenty of coal still on the roof.IMG_3362

Chirk Marina is passed on the left side, before we’re plunged into the gloom of Whitehouse Tunnel, this one mercifully only ⅓ the length of Chirk.IMG_3366

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There are good moorings between the north end of the tunnel and the next bridge, so we pulled in here.
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That’ll do for today. Another couple of little jobs to do. There’s always something, isn’t there!

Since last post – Locks 2, miles 6½

Friday, January 20, 2017

All change, we’ve now got a dry rear end!

The new hot water cylinder, in marine terms, calorifier, arrived on Thursday morning at Val and John’s following a cock-up by TNT on Wednesday afternoon. But the fact that it only took 3 days to make and deliver was exceptionally good service from Copper Cylinders Supplies.

Old and new…
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…and cosy in it’s new home.
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All the fittings were correct and in the same places, apart from the PRV connection which was at the top rather than the bottom so required a bit of minor re-plumbing.

No leaks when I filled up with water, nor on the engine and water heater indirect circuits. But the Webasto was reluctant to fire up, eventually getting there but gurgling and bubbling as the air pockets worked their way out to the header tank. Unfortunately after the initial run to check the joints, it wouldn’t start up again, no matter what I tried. They can be very temperamental, these diesel heaters. Still, that’s a fairly minor issue, and the major one has been resolved.

We’d travelled up from Ellesmere to Frankton Junction on Wednesday, out of the arm and then across to the services to top up the water tank.

Would you credit it, no boats around, then one appears as we try to join the main line!IMG_3297

The service wharf is part of the old maintenance yard which is contemporary with the canal. Beech House, to the left, was occupied by Thomas Telford during the construction of the canal, and then became the Ellesmere Canal Company offices.IMG_3298

The long building alongside the water taps covers the dry dock, which is still in use.
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The canal is winding as it hangs onto the contour heading to Frankton, and there’s a particularly sharp bend around Val Hill, with two blind bridges crossing over.

Val Hill…
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…and Bridge 65 IMG_3306

It’s pretty shallow along here, we often run aground under Bridge 61 where there’s an underwater shelf on the towpath side, and the approach to Bridge 67 always involves a scrape under the skeg.

Arriving at the junction we were surprised to see no other boats moored above the locks, handy though as it meant we could get as close to the small parking area as possible.
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I stripped out the old cylinder, cut the lagging off in preparation to weighing it in, then had to wait till Val and John brought the replacement over the following morning. We’re getting used to having no hot water… the kettle is permanently ticking over on top of the stove.

Anyway, as I said, it installed OK, and the engine will heat the water. It’s just first thing that it’ll be cool without the Webasto working. So I had a cunning plan…

I was up early this morning, having arranged for a delivery from the local coal merchant. Not early enough though, he turned up at 08:15, while Meg and I were across the canal! We ran back, and by twenty-five past had another 10 bags of Exel smokeless on the roof.
It was a misty morning which finally cleared at lunchtime to give us a fine sunny afternoon. It’s getting colder, though.

With everything done and dusted we were free to leave, so got away at around half-eleven.

The top of Frankton Locks this morning.
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Looking back at the junction as we rejoin the main line. IMG_3317

We may drop down the locks on our way back, and spend some time on the Montgomery Canal. But it depends on the weather. The last two times we went on the Monty we got frozen in, while the main line was still ice-free. It’s quite remote, no shops or services, so not a good canal to get stuck on.

Another awkward turn takes the canal under Maestermyn BridgeIMG_3319
The Narrowboat pub and Maestermyn Cruisers hire base are just the other side of the bridge.

Twenty past twelve and it’s brightening up!
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Bridge 10W is a dismantled railway bridge which once carried the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, a section of Cambrian Railways. IMG_3323
Opened in 1864 it connected the routes to the Welsh coast to the main Crewe to Shrewsbury line.
In 1897,  east of Ellesmere at Welshampton, a major accident occurred which resulted in the death of 12 people. A summer excursion from Barmouth on the coast, returning to Lancashire and consisting of 15 coaches hauled by 2 locomotives left the rails near Welshampton Station. An enquiry established that the speed of the train was too high for the condition of the line, but the Cambrian Railways always maintained that a brake-coach, borrowed from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, caused the derailment.
The line was considered superfluous by the Beeching Reports of the mid-1960s. Passenger transport ceased in January 1965, freight carriage 6 years later.

I was planning on going up the two New Marton Locks and mooring above, but a sunny stretch of bank beckoned on the straight below the locks.IMG_3325
Stopping here gave me a chance to try out my cunning plan…
Early last year I swapped our aging Eberspacher heater with a reconditioned Webasto unit, after the Eber became unreliable. I’d ordered a new glow plug for the older unit which took several weeks to arrive due to it coming from Germany via Finland! It’s a long story…
Anyway, in the interim I decided to invest in the Webasto, which has been fine up till now. It had to come off for servicing and/or repair, and I’d still got the old Eberspacher, now with a brand new and well-travelled glow plug ready to be fitted. I should maybe explain that the glow plug is the initial igniter for the burner, which is self maintaining once it gets going. But a failing glow-plug makes starting poor and smoky.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I fitted the new glow-plug, re-installed the original unit, wired it up and pressed the start button, not really expecting much but hoping for the best. Amazingly it worked, after a few hiccups and burps and a cloud of smoke it ran quite happily for an hour till I knocked it off to tidy up the install. Result! It’ll stay on (and working, hopefully) till I get the Webasto sorted.

We’ll be moving up to Chirk Bank tomorrow, I reckon. It’s cold and frosty tonight, but should be fine and sunny tomorrow.

Locks 0, miles 6½ (since last post)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Done playing with the plumbing.

The calorifier is still leaking. My initial solder repair along the split seam lasted a couple of days, but started weeping again. So I thought, let’s stick a patch on it. The copper cylinder was cleaned and tinned with solder and a patch was made out of a flattened-out piece of copper pipe which got the same treatment.
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It looked OK but on filling up the system again it started to weep from under one edge, obviously I’d not got it clean enough for the solder to flow thoroughly.
I’m fed up with messing about now, so today have ordered a new one, due to be delivered locally on Wednesday. They’ll make it to the same design, so it should be a straight swap…

It’s not all been disappointment, on Saturday dear friends Val and John turned up bearing gifts and food. One item was of Val’s exceedingly good Christmas cakes.
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It’s really, really tasty. Shame Mags doesn’t like fruit cake…

We had a great afternoon catching up, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, although we do keep in touch. We’re heading their way, it’s to their house that the new calorifier will be delivered, and they’ll find us when it arrives.

Mags is still steadily getting better, although we’ve both got the sniffles again today. Hopefully they won’t amount to much. I think we’ll stay here another day and move on to Frankton Junction on Wednesday. There’s a carpark at the junction so V&J can meet us there.

Locks 0, miles 0.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blowy to Ellesmere

Despite the uninspiring weather forecast today’s trip wasn’t as bad as expected. We had a couple of flurries of sleety rain, but we also had some good spells of sunshine too.
It was the wind which could have caused problems, but we were sheltered by high hedges and tree-lined banks for most of the trip.
Last night’s thin covering of snow had mostly melted this morning as we set off, just 10 minutes before we stopped again to fill with water and drop of the rubbish at Bettisfield Bridge.
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The most likely stretch where the wind would have made it interesting was along Hampton Bank, where the canal is raised on a long embankment over the surrounding fields.
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It wasn’t too bad, although some particularly vicious gusts pushed us over, and I wouldn’t have wanted to try to moor on the windward bank.

Not much further on we started to come into the shelter of the woods surrounding the meres, a series of lakes left behind by the retreat of the ice after the last Ice Age.

Lovely out of the wind…
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…but the creaking of the trees could be heard over the engine…IMG_3281

Blake Mere
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There’s a low ridge at the western end of Blake Mere, penetrated by Ellesmere Tunnel.IMG_3285 
At just 87 yards long it’s the shortest of the three encountered this side of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Patience is required through the tunnels, the flow in the opposite direction is increased in the constriction, but if you put too much power on to counter it you risk screwing the stern around into the tunnel wall. As it is you tend to go through crab-wise. Coming back is a doddle of course.

Ellesmere Junction, with the route to Llangollen and the terminus to the left, the Ellesmere Arm to the right.IMG_3287

We turned down the arm to moor, not worried about finding a spot here at this time of year…
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…but surprised to see only two other boats!

I chugged gently to the end to turn around, getting considerable assistance by a sudden strengthening of the wind. Unfortunately the wind was accompanied by a sharp shower, by the time we turned around and moored Meg and I were wet for the first time today.

We’ll be here for the weekend now.

Locks 0, miles 5.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Another four lift bridges, a bit of Welsh wood and some snow!

My new pressure relief valve arrived at Argos yesterday lunchtime, so I went up into Whitchurch to collect it, and set about fitting it. Then I had a whoops moment… the port for the pressure gauge was ¼ BSP and the spigot on the back of the gauge was ⅛ BSP. Bugger. Without a reducing bush or a blanking plug I couldn’t install the new valve, so I stripped, cleaned and lubricated the old one and stuck that back instead. It seems to work – mostly. But I’ve left the floor out of the aft cupboard so I can look down and read the gauge from the tiller. If it’s getting high I can manually release the pressure. A reducing bush is on it’s way…

So this morning we were on our way again. The weather is looking a bit dodgy now, but we really do want to be at Ellesmere for the weekend.

Back out through the entrance to the Whitchurch ArmIMG_3248

The hire base just past the main road bridge has the fleet at home.IMG_3252
As well as ABC boats there are a handful of “Yellow Perils”, from Viking Afloat.

My first lift bridge for the day, Hassels No1, was just around the corner.IMG_3253

Hassels No 2 is just a couple of hundred yards on, then there’s a pleasant couple of miles through mixed scenery to the next at Tilstock Park.IMG_3257

After Tilstock Park the land starts to fall away as the canal heads out to cross Whixall Moss. The three “mosses” that the canal passes through, Fenns, Whixall and Bettisfield, comprise the third largest area of lowland peat-bog in the UK. It’s designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve, due to the rare species of flora and fauna found there.
Peat-cutting has now stopped to protect the eco-system, but some areas have been drained for agricultural use…
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…but there’s still an awful lot in it’s natural state.
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It was across here that the wind picked up and the first sleety shower blew over. My right cheek and ear went rapidly numb.

Morris’ Lift Bridge was the last today, and the worst.
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It took 90 turns of the windlass to raise it, and 40 to lower it. Thankfully the sleet shower had cleared through, but the wind tried to keep us pinned to the offside bank.

I was thinking of stopping just past Whixall Moss Junction, the connection to the Prees Branch, but decided to press on while it remained dry.

The Prees Branch heads off to the south
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The canal is flanked by a strip of woodland for the next mile or so anyway, which would have given me a bit of protection had another squall arrived, which also affected the decision.
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If I can’t see you, you can’t see me…
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It’s along here that the canal passes from England to Wales for a couple of miles, and also where I picked up a quantity of wood.IMG_3272
It doesn’t look much, but those round bits are 2 feet across and too thick to just split for the stove. The logs are about 5 foot, so there’s quite a bit there. It took some cutting up, I’ll tell you! I don’t know what it is, but so long as it burns I don’t care!

We pulled in just past Cornhill Bridge, still in Wales, and I just got the wood sorted when it started to rain which rapidly turned to snow. Lovely. It might be a bit grim tomorrow, but we’ve only a couple of hours and no locks or lift bridges to deal with, so I can hunker down on the tiller in my big coat and just plod on.

Locks 0, miles 7