Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blowy weather, a woody result and a number puzzle.

I’ll start with the puzzle. What’s the first of it’s type, but isn’t number one? I’ll leave you to mull that over for a bit.

Plan A was to head for Queen’s Head yesterday, but it was a pretty grim morning, snow and sleet showers driven on a strong wind. There was a weather window in the afternoon, but by that time we were doing other stuff.

Today was supposed to be better anyway, and the weatherman didn’t let us down. The wind is still with us, but at least there was no wet stuff in it.

Where we were moored is the junction where the Weston Arm branched off to Weston Lullingfields. It’s only a short stub now, leading to stop planks and a bridge alongside the sanitary station.

Weston Arm junctionIMG_3420The open area to the right was once occupied by a cluster of canal-related buildings. A warehouse, lock-keepers and boat builders houses, and the inevitable tavern jostled for space here.

Just ten minutes from here is the next lock, the shallow Graham Palmer Lock. Just above the lock is the site of the breach that led to the abandonment of the canal by the railway company owners in 1944.

Graham Palmer LockIMG_3428
Named for the founder of the Waterways Recovery Group (who were instrumental in re-opening the canal) the lock was built to accommodate changes in ground level since the navigation was first built. 

Only the first seven miles of the canal, from Frankton to Gronwen Wharf, are open for navigation at the moment, but the milestones are optimistic…
Sorry, there is a short, disconnected stretch at Welshpool, still navigable.

The canal crosses the River Perry on a new, steel aqueduct, then continues on, dead straight for a mile or so, before a left hand bend leads onto another straight length to Heath Houses.

Perry AqueductIMG_3434

Down the long straight
A couple of years ago we passed a very confident kingfisher along here. Unlike the rest of his ilk he didn’t clear off as soon as we got near, he stayed put and watched us go past! 

Looks like a bit of a public duty is called for…IMG_3437
I couldn’t leave that blocking the towpath and part of the canal, could I?

An hour with the bow saw and the towpath is clear, and the roof is part loaded again. Good timing, I’d split the last of our firewood supply the other day.

There’s a short arm to the right leading to the overgrown Rednal Basin, once an interchange wharf for the railway, now a haven for wildlife. The towpath crosses a now-fixed swing bridge.

Arm to Rednal BasinIMG_3440

Rail and road bridges, and old canal warehouse at Heath Houses IMG_3442 

I mentioned the other day that the canal has SSSI status, which restricts the number of craft that can use it. One of the reasons is the existence of pockets of rare aquatic plants that would be damaged by boat wash. A solution is these linear lagoons, a fabric curtain supported by a timber barrier which allows water to pass to and fro, but considerably reduces the effect of passing boats.IMG_3443

Although bright and dry it was windy, and cold too. So we called it a day at Queen’s Head, pulling onto the moorings just up from the old A5 bridge.

Ok then. The conundrum. What’s first of it’s type, but not number one?IMG_3424
The first brick bridge crossing the canal since Frankton Junction. Effectively the first on the Montgomery Canal. But it’s Bridge 70…

The reason goes back to the construction of the local canals. The proposal to build a branch of the Ellesmere Canal from near Llanymynech to Frankton, sparked an interest in connecting Newtown with this new route. The Ellesmere Canal was intended to head south to Shrewsbury and the river Severn, and north to Netherpool on the River Mersey.
This would allow quarry and mine owners access to far bigger markets, so an Act of Parliament was applied for and granted for what was now known as the Montgomeryshire Canal. This was completed in 1797, just a year after the construction of the link branch to the main line at Frankton. Great.

Now we come to the Ellesmere Canal. This was intended to run south from Netherpool (now Ellesmere Port) to Trevor, then west-ish to Ellesmere, and south again to Shrewsbury. But the route between the Mersey and Trevor posed severe difficulties. High hills and deep valleys would have required many locks, aqueducts and tunnels to traverse, at huge expense. Also at this time another canal was being constructed, the fast, direct route from Birmingham to join the older Chester Canal to give access to the Dee. This was the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal.
An alternative solution was now available. The up and down route north from Trevor was scrapped, and a new route, from Ellesmere west, would then connect with the B&LJ. This would still give access to the Dee and Mersey, but by a rather more roundabout route. But also considerably cheaper…

The already constructed section from Frankton to Trevor Basin was now downgraded from what should have been the main line to a branch, and the main through route was now the one from the junction with the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal at Hurleston, to Llanymynech and the junction with the Montgomeryshire Canal.
Hence the bridge numbering from Bridge 1 just above Hurleston Locks to Bridge 153 just this side of Newtown. The length we’re now on, originally part of the Ellesmere Canal, is now badged the Montgomery Canal, and includes the Montgomeryshire Canal.
Of course, the Ellesmere Canal is now known as the Llangollen Canal… And the bridges heading to the west from above Frankton Locks to Llangollen are numbered 1 to 45, but with the suffix W for west added to save any confusion. As if!
Got it? Good.

There is a lot more to the story, like what happened to the Shrewsbury route, and the Prees Branch that never got there, and the history of the Whitchurch Arm, but I think I’ve rambled on enough for today.

Locks 1, miles 3½ 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heading downhill again.

The feeders attracted the expected quota of birds yesterday, including a couple of sparrows and thrushes. These ground-feeders only had what was dropped from above, so I put some seed and a broken up fat ball on the ground. They enjoyed their own portions, till this chap turned up and hoovered up the lot!
Inevitable, really. It was raining, and he was holding his tail up over his back like an umbrella…

It was windy and wet most of the day, so we didn’t venture far from the boat. Today started OK, but the fresh wind kept bringing bands of showers over. One minute rain, sleet or snow, the next sunshine.

We’d arranged to go down Frankton Locks today, so had to move otherwise we probably wouldn’t have bothered. The locks give access to the Montgomery Canal, and are controlled by C&RT. Only so many boats at a time are allowed on the canal, due to it’s status as a SSSI.

Heading towards Frankton

During the clearer spells the snow-covered slopes of the Breidden Hills were visible, 12 miles away.IMG_3407

These guys weren’t all that impressed with the weather either!IMG_3405

We arrived at the top of Frankton Locks after around 40 minutes. Time for a brew before the waterways men arrived.IMG_3409

In 1936 a breech occurred not far below the locks, and the then owners, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, chose to ignore their obligation to maintain the navigation and refused to repair it. In 1944 they successfully applied for an Act of Parliament to abandon the canal, on the grounds that it had not been used for several years!
Fast forward 40 years, and an effective campaign by the Montgomery Waterways Restoration Trust, the Inland Waterways Association, Shropshire Union Canal Society and lots of graft by the Waterways Recovery Group saw the locks reopened, followed by the 7 mile section to Gronwen Wharf.
The restoration further south to Newtown is slowly ongoing…

At around 11:45 our two C&RT chaperones arrived, and we were ushered into the top of the double staircase locks. Mags was pleased, with two in attendance at the lockside I looked after the tiller and she could stay inside.

In the top lock  IMG_3412

Below the staircase an abandoned dry-dock on the offside has become a garden feature, complete with model railway running around it’s perimeter.IMG_3414

Bottom lock of the four, and it’s snowing again.IMG_3415

We’d already decided not to go much further, so pulled in to the end of the truncated Weston Arm, joining the two boats already there.

Snow showers and sunny spells have been and gone this afternoon. We’ll probably head off to Queen’s Head if the weather is half decent tomorrow.

Hi Andy. Yes, she was definitely an ex-Challenger boat, but I didn't get the name. Well spotted!

Locks 4, miles 2

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Heading back upstream…

After a weekend in Ellesmere it was time to move on. Not that there’s anything wrong with the town, I actually quite like it.
The castle mound on the edge of the town is the only evidence of a wooden motte and bailey construction built in the 11th century. Like the rest of the town it seems to have had history pass it by, held by several successive families but never involved in any of the Marcher conflicts.

The town sits on the turnpike from Wrexham to Shrewsbury, so boasts at least two coaching inns, the Red Lion and the Black Lion.
The canal, built in the early 19th century, brought more prosperity, a lot of the more imposing buildings in the town date from the Georgian Period. Beech House, opposite the entrance to the town arm, was built in 1805 as canal company offices and the temporary residence of Thomas Telford, the supervising engineer for the construction of the navigation.

Georgian houses on Church StreetIMG_3385

The Mere from behind Ellesmere HouseIMG_3383

The modern town still has a country market town feel to it, even though it has no less than three supermarkets (two small and one larger) it still has a high street butcher, baker, pet shop, chemist, newsagent… All in all a pleasant place to spend a little time (and a little money…) in.

The town hall sits on the junction of Scotland Street, High Street and Cross Street.IMG_3387

The wharf is an open, paved area now, dominated by the recently-built Tesco store. Only one company warehouse still remains as a reminder of why it was built. A 1950’s Ordnance Survey map shows rather more buildings close to the wharf.

A row of houses on Wharf Street have got to be canal related…IMG_3388

…as must the large house overlooking the basin.    IMG_3389


Sunday morning we had a thin skin of ice on the arm, but it was all gone by lunchtime under the bright sun. It can get really thick on these still waters. But with the proximity of the town the arm is very popular as winter moorings. There is still space for us transients, though.

The manager of the local Tesco has come up with a novel idea to save the struggling supermarket giant a bit of cash…
Tomorrow night it’ll say SCO”…Be right back

I had a good chat with Iain, who used to have NB Gosty Hill and supplied solid fuel on the Ashby and Coventry Canals till about three years ago, putting the world according to C&RT to rights. Then we untied and set off back to the main line.

First port of call was Blackwater Meadow Marina, where we spent ¾ of an hour wedged in the entrance taking on diesel and a replacement gas bottle, then out again and onto the services to fill the water tank.

Blackwater Meadow Marina, a bit busy in there.IMG_3395

Filled up at both ends we had an uneventful cruise back to Coachman’s Bridge. Uneventful apart from a close encounter with another boat under Bridge 60…IMG_3396
A common occurrence in the summer, but unusual at this time of year.

We’ll be stopping here tomorrow, the bird feeders are up and already being well patronised. Then on Thursday we’ll be dropping down Frankton Locks on the Montgomery Canal.

Oh, talking about bird feeders, KevinToo asked why I didn’t empty the peanut feeder onto the ground as well as the seeds. I was always told that peanuts could choke smaller birds if swallowed whole. On the ground they can’t break them up into bite-sized pieces. So there you go…

You're welcome, Snowy Owl.

Locks 0, miles 1½

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shopping trip to Ellesmere

After a day off yesterday, and a very pleasant visit from Val, John and the dog Harry, we decided it was time to top up the cupboards. It was only a mile and some to Ellesmere so we were in no rush to get off. I think we’ll be missed, though. Our feeders had attracted quite a few birds, mainly blue-tits.

A spectacular sunrise yesterday… 

…brought our breakfast guests. Great Tit…IMG_3361

Blue Tit


When we were ready to leave this morning I emptied the seed and a fat ball onto the ground (not the peanuts, they should never be left loose), and our other regular visitor, Cock Robin, was soon there.IMG_3371

Leaving the mooring near Coachman’s BridgeIMG_3372

Here’s another one for Snowy Owl…

It was a beautiful day, as you can see, but there was a cool breeze blowing.

We pulled into the services at the wharf…IMG_3377

…before turning left into the arm to find a mooring for a couple of days. IMG_3378

It was busy down towards the basin, but there were two or three spaces. We turned around and moored on the end of the row, just a stone’s throw from Tesco’s.IMG_3380

The first of what will be several trips, to the supermarket and the town’s shops, was undertaken after a brew and a bite to eat. I think we’ll be here to Monday or maybe Tuesday, before heading back to Frankton and spending a few days on the Montgomery Canal.

Locks 0, miles 2

Thursday, January 22, 2015

That’s more like it!

Well, the weatherman was right; last nights damp and drizzle had cleared by this morning. Not a bright start by any means, but at least it was dry.

After Meg’s walk and breakfast, the first task was to clear the roof of logs and get them sliced up. That took 90 minutes, then, after a brew, we were on our way.

Although it’s cold, a weak and watery sun trying to make an appearance raises the spirits.IMG_3349

The day steadily improved, by half-twelve it was quite a bit brighter, by one we had pale blue skies.

Getting better…IMG_3350

…better still!

Maestermyn Bridge is an awkward, blind turn from either direction. I imagine it’s interesting sitting watching the boats go by in the summer…

Maestermyn Bridge and The Narrow BoatIMG_3351

I think this cart has been there for some time… long enough for a tree to grow through it!IMG_3354

We were planning to stop at Frankton Junction, just inside the Montgomery Canal above the locks, but there were two boats there already. So we reverted to Plan B, and cruised another 1½ miles to just before Coachman’s Bridge.

Ingledene and a misty Shropshire Plain in the distanceIMG_3356

Moored near Coachman’s BridgeIMG_3358

We’ll be stopping here tomorrow, we’ve visitors coming. Being as we’re here for two nights I put the bird feeders out in the hedge. I think the birds around here are used to being fed from boats. Within 15 minutes we had a robin checking out what’s on offer, soon followed by a coal-tit and a blue-tit. Could be busy in the morning.

Locks 0, miles 4½