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John Dodwell continues his adventure from the Montgomery Canal to the Llangollen.
I returned to HELEN at Maesbury on the Montgomery Canal, having been at the Living Waterways Awards the previous evening. It was a day when the horse boat was working and so I took a trip with Tim Barker (of Bywater Boats) and his horse Cracker (who incidentally 'writes' a column in Towpath Talk) on their boat COUNTESS to Redwith Bridge.
Most boats can't go on this restored section as there is nowhere to turn. This isn't a problem for COUNTESS since - rather like a BCN Joey boat - the rudder is moved to the other end and back the boat goes. This is one of only about half a dozen horseboats in the country so do go on it if you can.
When I eventually set off - single handed for most of the journey to Stourbridge - I went up the three Aston locks and tied for the night at Queens Head. Good food in the pub.
When I left in the morning, local young canoeists were active. I got to Frankton Locks about 12.30. Four boats were going up and four down. Booking is very easy via the Northwich office and can be made as late as 10am of the day you want to make passage.
Booking is in place as the two staircase locks are of different sizes which can lead to the bottom one being flooded with water all over the place. Then the pound between locks 3 and 4 is short and can get low if the locks are not operated properly. There was a volunteer lock keeper helping out. He lives in nearby Welshampton and is in his third year of volunteering.
Just before Frankton, there's the shallow Graham Palmer Lock, built during the restoration to deal with a difference in levels caused by peat subsidence. Named after the guy who started IWA's Waterway Recovery Group - you can see his memorial stone beside the lock.
Then on to Ellesmere and the Tesco for shopping. I stopped for the night near Bridge 50 at one of the many 48 hour moorings installed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society some years ago. I find them convenient as I can use the rings already there and I don't have to fuss around with hooks or pins. I should have liked to have moored by one of the Meres (as I've done before) but the schedule didn't permit.
One of the problems a deep drafted boat like HELEN has on the Llangollen is with the scours downstream of bridges and elsewhere, caused by the moving water depositing grit etc. I made a list to pass to the waterway manager. The one just above Povey's Lock was particularly noteworthy!
I passed through an angling match for the first time this year. Interestingly, a group of mixed ages, not just those retired. A number of anglers caught fish as I passed - mainly small roach but also perch.
My usual method when passing anglers is to go at tickover and so avoid swirling their keepnets; stay in the middle and so not disturb the far side where many of them fish and may have put in ground bait; talk to them by saying 'good morning' or ask how many they've caught (they almost all reply); and finally, remember to get well past the last angler before speeding up and disturbing the water.
An interesting feature of this Canal is the variety of places where stop planks are kept - I saw one built into the bridge when it was made.
Grindley Brook was no trouble. Down the six locks in about an hour. It's a pretty scene by Lock 6. And I was intrigued by the couple enjoying sitting by the waterside, reading their newspapers.
I stopped for the night just before Wrenbury, having done about eight hours.
I was lucky at the Wrenbury lift bridges as approaching boat crews worked them both. I'd had similar luck yesterday at the two Hassell's bridges. I worked down the three locks at Baddiley and then the two at Swanley. Some of the top gates have strapping posts on the top lock gates and so I was able to practise my strapping skills.
It's hedge cutting season and some farmers have already cut theirs. It certainly makes it easier to see the surrounding countryside.
Around Swanley, I saw a Patrol Notice on a boat moored on the offside. It looked neglected and I suspect the Notice was from the licence enforcement team, starting the process of making sure everyone pays.
I was helped down Hurlestone by Martin, the seasonal keeper and then tied for the evening close to Nantwich Aqueduct. Tomorrow I'm expecting help from one of the Trust staff, experiencing what boating is about.
Take a boat trip
If John has inspired you to take to the water then take a look at our boat trip pages. You'll find everything you need to know about taking a boat holiday.
John Dodwell was formerly one of our 10 trustees. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.
John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!