Llangollen Canal - September 1990

Whittington to Llangollen and Ellesmere

Editorial note from Andrew: This voyage was my third canal trip at the age of 29 again with my parents. The difference here is that by now I had got married and so Alison got her first trip on the canals.

The text from the original log is reproduced verbatim but I have added comments into the log text and the occasional extra photo or link where, for instance, we have cruised the same part of the canal and have a more recent photo. As I write this in Nov 2007, we have recently decided at the Sojourn owners' meeting to base her at Wrenbury on the Llangollen in 2008 so we will be able to revisit old haunts! (Postscript: We sold our share in early 2008 so didn't see Wrenbury...)

The Voyage of the "James Howard"

The "James Howard" was hired from Maestermyn Hire Cruisers, Whittington.

The Crew

Day 1 Sunday 16th September 1990

Weather dry & hazy.

15.00 Captains party arrived to take over vessel. Not ready. Made last run ashore - Had tea in grounds of Whittington "Castle".

Captain's party arrives

18.00 Took over vessel & received instruction on engine, heaters etc. Well fitted out.

18.30 Andrew & Alison arrived. Stores loaded & cabins allocated

Staff make up the beds

19.00 Evening meal at "The Narrow Boat Inn" Good value.

Narrowboat Inn advert

20.42 Picked up Jim & Melanie, plus bikes, at Gobowen station. Too dark for them to safely ride to boat yard.

22.00 All hands turned in.

Day 2 Monday 17th September 1990

Summary - Distance steamed 14 miles, Locks - 2, Total time steamed 7 hrs 10 min

Overcast with occasional light showers

07.00 Crew began to rouse.

07.40 Loaded bikes on cabin top & started engines.

Mum making breakfast

07.45 Under way course west. Breakfast served to all hands at action stations

Crew eating breakfast

08.25 Approaching first locks at New Marton carried out rescue! Spotted squirrel swimming frantically unable to get up steep canal side. Stopped & sent rescue party ashore. Andrew held out plastic dustpan. Squirrel climbed on to it, sprang on to his shoulder & away to safety.

Locks at New Marton(?)

08.30 Into first New Marton lock, "first trippers" under instruction.

09.10 Cleared second lock

09.50 Bridge 13, St. Martins Moor.

11.00 Moored at Bridge 21. Crew shopped. Weather cool & windy. Lit gas cabin heaters.

Chirk Aqueduct postcard

11.10 Under way again. Checked lights in readiness for Chirk Tunnel which is immediately after Chirk Aqueduct.

On Chirk Aqueduct

Venturing onto Chirk Aqueduct alongside the highly ornamental railway viaduct.

Aerial view of Chirk Aqueduct

Then we gather our courage in the pond at the tunnel entrance.

In to the blackness of Chirk Tunnel...

Entrance to Chirk Tunnel

... and out into the daylight again on the heels of another boat struggling to make headway against the flow.

End of Chirk Tunnel ahead

12.30 Moored for lunch opposite winding hole beyond Chirk Tunnel (Editor's note: Ouch!). Not very wise as a tourist boat from Trevor came down to turn with much engine revving.

12.45 Off again and through Whitehouse Tunnel (only 191 yards long!)

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - Wow!

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct plaque Good guidebook view of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

120 feet above the River Dee there was a terrific feeling of height & exposure.

Jim steering over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

After 1007 yards without a handrail it was a relief to come chugging into Trevor in the afternoon sunshine.

View over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Approaching the Trevor end of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

14.20 Moored at Trevor intending to stay overnight & then turn back east in the morning.

Trevor basin Afternoon at Trevor

Following encouraging report from shore recce parties, decided to venture on towards Llangollen. Canal very twisty with concrete banks.

18.00 Moored about Bridge 40.

18.45 Very nice meal. Salad with turkey & ham and Alison's crumble. Evening spent playing dominoes, 'Pictionary' etc.

22.00 All hands turned in.

Day 3 Tuesday 18th September 1990

Overcast with occasional showers overnight - brightening.

Summary - Hours steamed 8 hrs 25 mins, Distance - 16 miles, Locks - 2

07.00 Frances up making tea & cooking sausages

08.15 Engines on standby - bilges pumped.

Hills near Llangollen

08.20 Underway into Welsh hill country. Water is exceptionally clear before boats' props stir up the mud.

Narrow bit of canal near Llangollen

The canal is very narrow. Had to go astern at one point to let boat coming other through. Boats coming with the flow i.e. coming from Llangollen have right-of-way except where passing points make it obvious to do otherwise.

10.30 Turned boat just beyond Bridge 45. Took on water then moored overlooking Llangollen.

Llangollen Wharf building

An interesting little town with a railway station with steam(!) trains. All hands ashore to do shopping.

View over Llangollen Crew going ashore at Llangollen

??.25 Captain & First Mate re-joined ship. rest of crew followed.

??.45 Set off back towards Trevor. Slow going due to amount of traffic (mostly Americans) coming the other way.

Once clear of narrow part, speed "over the ground" increased due to our traveling with the flow.

??.10 Made rather a hash of rejoining main canal at Trevor. Came into T junction too fast. Then Captain decided to over-rule an earlier agreed plan to go straight onto the aqueduct & send someone back to pick up a mooring stake left behind at Trevor the night before. result was a deal of shouting, tooting by other vessels in vicinity and near mutiny! Everyone blamed the Skipper - Ah! the loneliness of command!

Back across the dramatic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Back over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct View down from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct View down from Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

through Chirk Tunnel again -

Chirk Tunnel

- and out on to Chirk Aqueduct.

Chirk Aqueduct Howard walking over Chirk Aqueduct

15.35 Clear Chirk Tunnel & Aqueduct and begin the long hard drive for "home". Morale is high as all hands take turns at the helm.

Andrew steering

The confident -

Melanie steering

- and the not-so-confident

Alison steering

17.30 Through Marston Locks

There was an Ancient Mariner and he didn't seem to be doing much...

18.00 Moored at Maestermyn. Had toilets pumped out. Given new mooring stake free-of-charge to replace one lost at Trevor.

18.50 Andrew & Frances went off to get chinese take-away at Gobowen but found none there. Eventually produced very good meal at Oswestry & got it back to the ship just as the crew was on the point of expiring at 20.10.

21.30 All very tired & turned in to read

Lights out

Day 4 Wednesday 19th September 1990

Heavy rain & wind overnight. Woke to bright blue sky.

Summary - Hours steamed 8 hrs, Distance 16 miles, Locks 3 + 3 staircase locks

07.50 Hands began to rouse - Jim topped up fresh water.

08.00 Andrew checked engines - on stand by.

08.05 Underway, Andrew at helm. Crew breakfasted "by watches" taking turns to steer. Bright but cool & windy. Saw Canadian geese in field.

Melanie steering again

09.15 Passed Bridge 63.

10.00 Moored in Ellesmere Basin. Had toasted teacakes in nice little tea shop. There is a beautiful deli & bread shop (J & T Vermeulen & Son) Must come back here to shop & also visit the 'Mere' on the return trip.

Ellesmere Basin Ellesmere postcard

11.15 Under way again.

11.30 Stopped to rescue dustbin lid, lost overboard in gale.

12.40 Passed Bridge 50. Mel & Alison doing lunch. Howard at helm

Hard work in the galley

But the ladies are not restricted to the galley. "Now little boat, just come this way"

Mum leading boat into a lock

"Left hand down a bit, Mr Christian"

Mum or Melanie steering (hope one of them is!)

"Look Mum, no hands!"

Alison balancing on side of boat

13.45 Negotiated lift Bridge 45, Jim operating bridge, Howard steering & other hands cringing!

Jom working lift bridge

Stopped at Bridge 43. Supposed to be free-range eggs but none in sight. Picked brambles instead.

Bramble picking by canal

16.00 Moored beyond lift bridge 31 & walked into Whitchurch. Bought sweaters for Dad & Howard.

A lift bridge

17.05 Under way again.

18.00 Negotiated Grindley Brook staircase locks with assistance from lock-keeper. The trick is to be sure there is somewhere for the upper locks to flow to without flooding the towpath & washing people off their feet.

Grindley Brook staircase locks Cottages at Grindley Brook staircase locks(?)

18.20 Moored just beyond Grindley Brook

Day 5 Thursday 20th September 1990

Dull - wind dropped & no rain.

Summary - Hours steamed 6.5 hrs, Distance 12 miles, Locks 13

07.40 Engines on standby

07.42 Underway. Negotiated locks while the girls slept. Frances demonstrated her lock-working skills!

09.05 Bridge 24

09.30 Cleared Marbury Lock. Weather gone much colder.

Howard working a lift bridge

10.15 Moored at Wrenbury after taking on water at boat yard - quite a trick manoeuvre with the lift bridge just as we entered the basin. Nice little souvenir shop at the water point. Walked into Wrenbury to shop for groceries. Wrenbury is pretty... boring.

(Interesting comment about Wrenbury as Sojourn will be based there in 2008!)

Wrenbury lift bridge and basin

11.15 Under way. The pubs are closed.

13.00 Cleared Swanley No. 1 lock having sausages & beans as we steamed.

13.15 Swanley No. 2 lock.

14.30 Cleared the Hurleston chain of locks in great style & immediately turned on to the Shropshire Union Main Line.

Thirteen locks today - a hard day's work

(13! A hard day's work! Hah! You don't know you're born. Grumble, grumble... For a hard day's work, check out some of the days on our recent trip round the Warwickshire Ring!)

Bring her in steady...

In a lock

Open the sluices carefully...

Alison opening lock paddles

and down she drops

Andrew steering in lock

the out into the open canal again.

View out through lock gates

15.00 Turned boat at Barbridge & took on water before mooring at the Barbridge Inn.

Barbridge Inn advert

This mooring had particularly tame pigeons & an escaped guinea pig!

Dad feeding pigeons with his hat! Andrew feeding pigeons

Had a very good meal at the inn then stayed to hear an excellent jazz band "The Salt City Jazzmen" - a good evening!

The end of a good evening!

Day 6 Friday 21st September 1990 "Homeward Bound"

Very cold & very windy with showers & bright periods.

Summary - Hours steamed 9 hrs, Distance 18 miles, Locks 16 + 3 x staircase locks

07.45 Engines checked and under way.

08.30 Cleared Hurleston chain of locks. Very cold & windy, making locking hard work.

Wet and windy day

09.30 Cleared Swanley No. 1 lock. Andrew in sickbay - either scurvy, the Black Death or a sore throat (still volunteered for service in emergencies).

Crew in wet weather gear

Helmsmen stood half-hour watches.

Howard steering

Half an hour at the helm...

Melanie steering

then time to thaw out below

Melanie and Mum relaxing

10.40 Moored at Bridge 17 to shop at "Bungalow Stores"

11.00 Under way.

11.40 Cleared Lift Bridge No. 21. The high wind made the passage of lift bridges 19 & 20 very difficult. All mooring made awkward by crosswind even with an experienced crew.

Trying to moor in windy conditions Trying to moor in windy conditions

12.15 Cleared Marbury Lock

Through Quoisley Lock. Crew eating bacon butties for lunch by turns. Even with mixed weather, there is so much to see as we sail along; sheep, rabbits, the occasional elegant heron

Sheep Rabbit Heron

& of course the animals looked at us as we went by.


14.30 Through Grindley Brook staircase very smoothly. Went through in a convoy of three boats.

17.00 Moored at Bridge 43 for the night. Fed the swans.


Mum & Dad went looking for a supposed shop without success. Very fine casserole made by Mum.

Mooring near Bridge 43(?)

There was a field full of working horses and their foals nearby but they had gone home for tea when the ladies got ashore - still it was a nice walk.

Alison, Mum and Melanie arriving back from walk

Day 7 Saturday 22nd September 1990

Light wind. Overcast but brightening. Noticeably milder.

Summary - Hours steamed 5.75 hrs, Distance 13 miles, Locks none

After our hard steaming on Day 6, we could afford to have a more leisurely run-in for home port at Maestermyn.

07.30 Crew roused slowly & had breakfast. Still no horses in field.

09.15 Checked engines & bilges

09.20 Started engines

09.30 Under way. Passed three swans which ignored Dad & Howard. However as soon as Alison appeared on deck, they saw her from a long way astern. Immediately they took off and flew after us, begging food.

More swans

10.10 Passed Prees Branch at Bridge 46.

Bridge 47. Occasional bright spells.

12.40 Moored opposite Blake Mere for lunch. (Noodles & tuna by Mel)

13.10 Under way. Confident in the helmsman's skill the crew relaxed reading on their bunks, playing games or simply staring into the middle distance.

Jim steering Mum relaxing Some very young looking people!!

13.40 Turned into Ellesmere Basin & moored. Shore leave for all hands. Visited the Mere - very beautiful.

Ellesmere Ellesmere

14.55 Under way.

16.40 Sighted beautiful blackberries in inaccessible location. Rammed bows hard ashore & picked furiously.

More bramble picking More bramble picking

16.45 Re-floated & under way again.

Jim bringing her home

17.00 Rang "Finished with engines" at Maestermyn. Andrew "paid off" sick. Alison allowed to go home with him on compassionate grounds (or should it be passionate grounds?) (Cheek: Ed). Rest of crew tidied up. Intended to have evening meal at the "Narrowboat Inn" but it was full of some sports team. Went and bought fish & chips at Gobowen instead.

Day 8 Sunday 23rd September 1990

Paid off crew - all with 'clean' discharges. Handed the "James Howard" over to the boatyard with 'defects list'.

Conclusion - a good trip

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