Canal trip

posted retrospectively – I was waiting for Phoebe’s pics!

Friday 15th September
Phoebe and Will, in Sim’s car, had arranged to meet me at Cosford Station just outside Wolverhampton at 12.30. My train got in just after 12. Shortly after 1300, I got a text to say that there was a horrendous hold-up on the motorway, and they’d be an hour and three-quarters late. Oh, well.

Cosford Station is rural (on the very outskirts of the town), between RAF Cosford / the RAF museum and the barracks / accommodation serving it. There’s a small hut containing a cafe, but really nothing else. Still, I was able to have a bacon sandwich before the cafe closed at 4. In the end, I had about a three-hour wait, relived occasionally by the odd handsome flyboy or squaddie passing.

Will volunteered to ring Blackwater Marina and let them know we were running very late, with an ETA of 1645 – and we did arrive almost exactly then. Very nice and helpful guy checked us in and did the handover, training Will on the steering etc, and doing a short run up the canal with us before jumping off. As we were so late, we didn’t make it to our planned overnight mooring spot. Theo caught a cab to a bridge in the middle of nowhere … Bridge 67, which turned out to be the wrong bridge. Fortunately, only a hundred yards from the right bridge, Bridge 66, so with some playing with pins on Google Maps by him and Phoebe we all managed to meet up. The bridges are either side of the branch-off to the currently-being-restored Montgomery Canal.  Food was pizza (traditional for me on a boating trip, though Phoebe wasn’t aware of that when buying the food), so quick and filling and much appreciated.

Saturday 16th September
Sadly, the recently restored bank area proved not to be solid! We were all awake, but not yet into “boating mode”, when a boat came past at full speed – six or even seven mph, I think. The massive wash pulled the mooring pins out and the boat swung round to nearly side-on. Fortunately, I was able to start the engine after only five seconds warm-up, and get us back facing sensibly … Will took over after a couple of minutes while I face down a massive adrenaline rush!

A good day’s boating. We successfully did the only two locks on the route (New Morton Lock 1 and Lock 2), with Will on the tiller, Phoebe and Theo on gates and paddles, and me “advising”! There were a couple of bank stops to look for a shop – the first at a tiny shop-free (but very pleasant) village. The second was at Bridge 16, where the dual-carriageway A5 crosses overhead. A short and very noisy stroll took us to a Marks and Spencer in a service area, where chicken, more munchies and alcohol were bought.

Towards the end of the day was the glorious Chirk Aqueduct, followed very shortly by the Chirk Tunnel We got lucky, and there were no oncoming boats, so Will took us pretty much straight through. A short distance further we turned round in the Black Park Winding Hole, with Will managing it pretty well. We went a couple of hundred yards back towards the tunnel before mooring for the night.

Light was starting to fade, but we managed twenty minutes or so of fishing. At least, I did, catching three roach up to about 3/4 pound – Phoebe and Will were less successful, and by the time they’d recovered from the dreaded “tackle in tree” in was getting too dark. Supper, courtesy of Phoebe, was a mild chicken curry and rice. We stayed up until after 1am: a most convivial group and an all-round excellent evening.

Sunday 17th
I was a bit concerned about getting us back to the Marina on time – we needed to be in by 0900h on Monday so had to moor for the night fairly close to it, and had virtually the whole distance we’d covered on Friday and Saturday to do. Locks can get busy … so I asked for a fairly early start. Theo took us back through the tunnel and over the aqueduct before handing over to Phoebe for her first time at the helm. Probably not the best place, in retrospect: the canal is narrow and winds tightly round the edge of assorted hills as it leaves the aqueduct. As we rounded one tight bend, there was a sign for collapsed banks, with a couple of boats moored opposite and a boat approaching. Grounding duly ensued!

Despite good efforts by Theo, Will and Phoebe, the boat didn’t move much. Eventually, they ended up at the bow, pushing with the pole, and I took the tiller. Fortunately, the grounding was (as usual) close to the stern, effectively under the lowest point which is the engine. By putting the tiller on a hard lock, and revving the engine to max, I was able to pile up enough water against the bank to raise that part of the boat the necessary couple of inches to loosen it, and with others stopping the nose from grounding on the soft bank we managed to get free. I did continue on the tiller for a few hundred yards, but found it too much stress on my back – you have to stand forward of the tiller in case it hits an obstacle and swings round violently.

Coming back down the locks was in our favour. We did have to wait for one boat ahead of us to go down, then one to come up, before we went through. Fortunately we were going in the least popular direction – there was a queue of six boats waiting to come up.

Another stop at Bridge 16 – this time, I didn’t accompany the others up to M&S as my back was beginning to feel rather fragile. We continued on to just past Bridge 60 (the numbers change where the Montgomery Canal joins!) and moored up about 1630. Although it had been occasionally spitting with rain during the day, it now started raining continuously, though not heavily, so fishing wasn’t really on. A quiet late afternoon, followed by a rich and delicious carbonara from Theo, and another pleasant evening of sitting chatting over the table until gone midnight. I wasn’t sure quite how long it would take, and the directions for handing the boat back were to moor up outside the marina between 0830 and 0900 and let them know and they would take the boat back inside so we could unload. Apparently, hirers are not insured to drive boats inside the marina.

So, I got up just after 0700 to make a start on cleaning the boat and packing, and was joined by the others over the next 20 minutes. We set off at the crack of 0800 – boats are not allowed to run their engines between 8pm and 8am. The boat made fast progress, but the packing and cleaning slightly less so, so we moored for a temporary ten minutes to get everything sorted. As I’d feared, the area round the marina was pretty much moored up, but we pulled in slightly on the bend rather close to Bridge 59 (White Bridge) about 0845 and Phoebe went off to alert the marina team. We didn’t bother mooring properly, simply stood on the bank and held the ropes.

Ten minutes later we were moored up inside the marina, with a light drizzle again. A brief stop in the office, where I was refunded 17.79 from the fuel deposit as we’d only used 24 litres, and quickly into the car. The rain got quite heavy during our short drive to Gobowen Station, where we dropped Theo in rather a downpour, but largely cleared up after half an hour.  After a short supermarket stop I was dropped at Cosford, here I had time for a bacon butty and  coffee before catching the train. A quick change at Smethwick Galton Bridge, and I was home by about 1320. Chelsea-cat was delighted to see me!

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