Admittedly it’s not all plain sailing (pun intended!). Many areas lack good internet coverage, which is crucial for my online work. A fair proportion is relatively rural, meaning getting groceries or accessing public transport can be challenging. And hire boaters are prolific, especially in high season, along with day boats. We frequently question whether they get much instruction on ‘please slow down past moored boats’. Occasionally we felt tempted to follow disgruntled boaters who place a sign on their boats saying, “What part of SLOW DOWN PAST MOORED BOATS don’t you understand?” But we resisted.
In our opinion, its delights far outweigh the small challenges. We never had a problem finding a mooring. And importantly, it’s reasonably close to my daughter and grandsons. So we decided a while ago to languish on the Llangollen Canal through the summer and into autumn until we head back to New Zealand for a while on 28th November 2022. That’s tomorrow here in the UK!
During our extended stay, we welcomed a number of visitors. It’s always a pleasure to have friends or family on board.
Highlights Of The Llangollen Canal
At 46 miles long, the Llangollen Canal meanders spectacularly through Cheshire farmland, the Shropshire lake district meres, to the Welsh mountains. The canal originally proposed to link the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the River Mersey at Netherpool (now known as Ellesmere Port), incorporating the River Dee at Chester. Sadly due to a number of complications, this never eventuated.
It’s one of the few canals to have a flow. Around 12 million gallons of water a day move along from Horshoe Falls at the top down to Hurleston Reservoir at the bottom. Here the water is treated and sent to homes in Crewe and mid-Cheshire. Due to the ‘current’, it’s slower to get to Llangollen than back. Especially travelling through Chirk tunnel, one of the longest in the country to have a towpath running through it.
You’ll discover the delights of two impressive aqueducts and 21 locks along the route. Along with countless lift and swing bridges which make it more challenging for single-handed boaters to navigate.
Chirk Aqueduct lies in both England AND Wales! Having stood alone for 40 years, a viaduct was constructed alongside it. It’s quite incredible to be cruising over and witnessing a train rushing so close by.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (Pont-ker-sulth-tay) is the longest aqueduct in Britain and, in 2009, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Completed in 1805, it took ten years to build, and every ten years, it’s closed at either end, a plug on it is pulled, and the water drained. It takes a whopping two hours for the water to empty! We believe a local ten-year-old is chosen to perform this feat. Though completely outstanding, it’s unfortunately also a place to be wary.
The gaps between the historic railings are wide enough for a child to fit through. There are signs at each end warning parents to keep hold of their kids. We haven’t heard of any small children accidentally falling off, though. But in 2016, a 17-year-old boy managed to squeeze through and fell to his death when one of the railings came away in his hand after some teenage ‘bravado’ in front of his mates. And I was aghast to discover that on 14th September this year, a 23-year-old local man had fallen (or jumped) from the aqueduct.
Scary stuff! It’s quite an experience going over at the back of a narrowboat – with a sheer drop and no barrier on one side. Not for the fainthearted.
There’s so much more to discover if you read on …
Hurleston To Whitchurch
We began our journey on the Llangollen Canal on 25th June 2022, ascending Hurleston locks on a delightful blue sky day. It took us until 9th July to reach Whitchurch, where we moored on the Arm for the weekend, and Barry traded selling his greeting cards. These are only 48-hour moorings apart from the winter months, sadly. Although Whitchurch is near my daughter, it’s a long walk into town to catch a bus or train!
The closest location is above Grindley Brook locks – but again, these are only 48-hour mornings. The 14-day ones are a fair distance from the road. We do love it there, though. The cafe is fabulous, the 41 bus takes you into Malpas, Chester or Whitchurch, and there are a number of pleasant walks.
Whitchurch To Ellesmere
After our weekend on the Arm, we moved to the 48-hour moorings, which are conveniently a short walk to an Aldi store. Our first visitors, Helen and Gav, arrived on 14th July for a couple of nights, and we cruised through lift bridges as far as Whixall Moss. This is a collection of mosses, collectively forming the third largest area of lowland-raised peat bog in the UK. Parts of this area of outstanding beauty are in Wales. It’s very peaceful despite being only a ten-minute drive from Whitchurch. And was a perfect spot for a couple of summer barbeques.
July was a busy month as our grandsons were on school holidays from the 22nd. A friend of my daughter’s, Sarah, and her two gorgeous girls came for the weekend that day. We’d cruised back to Whitchurch, then returned to the mosses. The boys stayed a number of times over the following six weeks.
Ellesmere To Pontcysyllte
The Ellesmere Arm is another favourite spot of ours. The handy location to a large Tescos and short walk to the mere makes it a most pleasant stay. Sadly though, once again, it’s only a 48-hour mooring.
Our next stop was Chirk, where we welcomed my niece and her twin boys. It was their first overnight stay on board, and we had a fabulous time. We’d already walked up to Chirk Castle with one grandson, then returned with the twins. We would make the same journey another two times in the following weeks! The National Trust owns the castle, so we were thankful for our membership. It’s a 13th-century ‘Marcher’ castle that, from 1595, became the home of the Myddelton family for over 400 years and is well worth the bracing walk from the canal.
I can’t recall visiting Chirk village previously; this time, I went a few times. It’s quite lovely. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, as I didn’t take any photos! Just keep away from the little gift shop on the corner if you value your savings (I succumbed!).
We continued to Pontcysyllte, crossing the amazing aqueduct and turning left, where we found another perfect barbeque mooring. We caught up with Mark on the Slushie Boat and Sam on board Gangplank gins. It’s always wonderful to see fellow traders.
A week after Melanie and the boys left, we headed to Anglesey for a holiday with Lisa and her family. Sam and Mark graciously kept an eye on Areandare for us in our absence.
Pontcysyllte to Llangollen
Returning to the boat on 20th August, our next visitors came all the way from Australia! Not that they came so far ‘just’ to see us, of course. I worked with Andrea as a midwife in Gisborne many years ago, and she and Sean had left to live in Australia. I think it was about ten years since we’d seen them. Due to our packed schedule of grandson visits, we unfortunately only managed two days with them. But we made the most of every minute, returning to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and heading as far as Llangollen.
We walked to The Horseshoe Falls and stopped for a drink at The Chainbridge Hotel. One day I’d love to stay there – Barry checked it out for my birthday at the end of September but sadly decided the cost was too exorbitant for us. It’s a breathtaking vista from there onto the River Dee, where we watched white water rafts hurtling down. Rather them than me!
After Sean and Andrea left, in between grandson visits, we visited Plas Newydd, where ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’ resided. It’s a heartwarming story of love and friendship, and community kindness to and from the women. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, from Ireland, eloped and set up house together in the late 18th century, scandalising contemporary British society of the era. The house is laden with interesting collections of wood panelling put together in a jigsaw-like fashion. It’s quirkily unique. In 1932 the house was acquired by Llangollen Urban District Council, and it is now a museum.
We hoped to dine at The Corn Mill with our guests but hadn’t realised how popular it was. Instead, we ate at the cafe on the corner – which wasn’t nearly as nice. Barry and I booked the Cornmill afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed it. We returned with my sister and brother-in-law, who arrived a few weeks later… Oh! I almost forgot. My ‘boss’ Dom, and his lovely wife Jane, popped by to see us at Llangollen Basin, and we also had a surprise visit from a Gisborne friend, Martin, and his sister, who were en route to Hollyhead to catch a ferry to Ireland. Goodness, we had a busy visitors summer and early autumn.
We celebrated my 63rd birthday in Llangollen, and I got to meet my eldest daughter for lunch in Wrexham, as there’s a great bus service from the town. We LOVE Llangollen and thoroughly enjoyed pottering there for a while.
A lengthy Return Journey
During October, Barry again worked for Calendar Club – this time in the northwest as Gav changed from being the Territorial Manager for the southwest to there this year. He travelled backwards and forwards by train or via Gav and Helen’s van, and they spent a couple of nights on the boat with us, which was fabulous. I also had a week in Cornwall and Devon, visiting a friend who lived in West Germany near me in the early 1980s. It was extremely special to see her (and Cornwall!) again.
I was fortunate to finally go inside St Michael’s Mount Castle, too – another good use of National Trust membership!
During our soiree on the Llangollen Canal, we spent a few weeks in the tranquil moorings of Trevor Basin. This area began a £15 million development plan as we departed on 11th October. In fact, work began a couple of days before we left, with arborists chopping down trees and levelling the foliage. Next time we visit, which isn’t likely to be for a few years, it will look very different. According to a Wrexham newspaper report in February, the plan includes the following:
- A new welcome area to manage the high number of visitors to the aqueduct
- A rewilding project is also set to be carried out to restore ecosystems at a former industrial site, which links the basin to the village of Cefn Mawr.
- A woodland activity area and a new walking route will be developed.
Hopefully, there will still be a few visitor moorings allocated too, as it’s a super spot to moor and marvel at this interesting area.
November was spent returning towards Hurleston Junction. Barry’s godson, Dylan (from Gisborne), and his partner Miranda (from Australia) joined us for the final cruising day from Grindley Brook. Dylan is currently teaching in Battersea for two years, and we hope to welcome them both back next summer. Dylan stayed with his mum and dad, and sister in the summer of 2014 when we were in Hebden Bridge and experienced the shortest and deepest locks on the system then.
Reluctantly Leaving The Llangollen – And Areandare
After just over four months, we relished a long day’s travel on 12th November from Grindley Brook all the way to the Barbridge Inn, where we had dinner – a very delicious one, at that. There’s a new manager in place, and we were mightily impressed by the menu and customer service.
The following day we returned to Nantwich, where Dylan and Miranda caught a train back to the big city. After catching up with work calls for a few days, Barry moved Areandare to moor underneath a busy road bridge just outside Christleton. He spent a few days toiling away, getting all manner of boaty ‘blue’ jobs done in preparation for leaving our floating home for up to six months.
He then reversed to the winding hole and returned us to moor Areandare at Tattenhall Marina while we’re away in New Zealand. It’s close to public transport, near Lisa, and we’ve got to know the helpful managers there.
Ka Kite Ano – See You Again Soon
So dear reader, I’m not sure how often we’ll post for a while. Nothing new there, then! But the next one will be from the sunny summer of Aotearoa. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, keep as warm as you can within the constraints of rising fuel bills.