Friday, September 29, 2017

But You Paid For a Ticket?

Walking the towpath
Although we are over here in the UK on a Narrowboat holiday, a lot of our time is spent walking. Sometimes you must get out and walk to operate the locks, raise lift bridges or check to see there are no boats coming the other way on narrow sections, but often people are just out walking because they enjoy it.

Under a bridge
Almost everywhere there is a canal, there is a “towpath” on one side of it. Originally the towpath was for the horses which pulled the narrowboats before they had engines installed. These towpaths go under the bridges, across the aqueducts and even through the shorter tunnels. No longer used by horses, these paths are well used by not only boaters, but also locals out for a stroll or walking their dogs, and often we will be moored out in the countryside, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and someone walking a dog will wander by the boat window.

Although the canals do run through cities, generally they are out in the countryside and you pass more cows and sheep than cars and trucks. Trees and hedges usually line the canals, so walking beside the canal is a very pleasant experience. As well, a canal has to be flat, so their routes were planned to never go over hills or into valleys. (The tunnels and aqueducts do that) As a result, walking the towpath is a pleasant stroll through the English countryside and there are no hills to climb. Most of us get out and do at least four or five miles and some have done over twenty miles every day, even in the “Welsh mist”. One of the crew, a non-fittbit-er has probably done more, as they walked for the entire  day.
The cows watch us pass

You might ask why are we walking when we paid for a boat hire. In fact while exploring the Great Orme in Llandudno, and three of the crew took the tram up the mountain (Well more of a pretty big hill . . . . ) and decided to get off in the middle and walk the second half, another tram rider questioned them “But why walk? . .  you paid for a ticket.” It is like that on the boat. Often there are more people out walking than on the boat, because walking the canals is a pleasant as gliding along in the boat.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Just a Welsh Mist

Narrowboat in the Rain
The weather here in the UK has not been ideal this trip. We have been able to count the sunshine in hours, and it is not that many. Mostly it has been damp and rainy. The Welsh folk just seem to accept this as normal so we have adapted and are going with the flow. We all brought rain gear and the boat comes equipped with full rain gear and umbrellas.

Wet Aqueduct Crossing
One day while piloting the boat through a gentle rain we passed another boater going the opposite direction and made a comment about the rain. He answered “This is not rain, this is just a little Welsh Mist.”. We discovered that this is a local term to refer to any rain, even a downpour is “just a Welsh Mist!”.

Today started out quite nice (which means no rain) and we made it until lunch without breaking out the rain gear, but as we crossed into England from Wales, the clouds opened and we got to experience a real “Welsh Mist” and it rained hard and steady all afternoon.

The Crew Dressed for the "Mist"
Now in a narrowboat you have no choice of inside or out for the bridge; you drive standing at the back of the boat steering with a tiller. No windscreen, roof or side curtains. You need your raingear. People on the canal just accept it and keep going, so we did the same. Our raingear worked fine, but we discovered that Tilley hats are not waterproof, and Bill and John’s “waterproof leather” Australian hats were an exaggeration; everyone’s head got wet.

I managed most of the afternoon, but I have to admit, when a crew member came out dressed in dry raingear and offered to take over, I decided that I had had enough of the Welsh Mist. Time for a beer!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Something Completely Different

Riding the Train
After two days of hard slogging through aqueducts, tunnels tight turns and single lane sections of canal, we were ready for something different and Llangollen provides a perfect opportunity. The canal runs alongside one side of the River Dee, and the train runs along the other side. Now this is no ordinary train; it is a real steam train pulling traditional steam-era passenger cars. Our Return ticket cost us £13.50 each, but I hurried aboard and captured a first class compartment for our party of six. This provided us with comfortable plush seating (if a little worn), steam heating if required, and adjustable lighting (Dim or Bright). It was easy to imagine Mrs. Marple or Poirot
Riding First Class
sitting in a similar compartment traveling somewhere to solve a murder.

As I was waiting for the train I went up towards the engine as it sat smoking, steaming and leaking water and oil to get a few pictures. The engineer was casually leaning against the open engine door and I asked him to smile as I took his picture. I then noticed the firebox open and glowing red hot with the burning coal, and I asked if he would mind moving a bit so I could get a picture of it. “Come on up, we’re not moving for a few minutes yet.”. I climbed up into the engine to get a great picture of the inside of the engine.

Warm your feet?
Inside the Engine
Now this is a special “tourist” train and the total ride is only about 2.5 miles, and takes about an hour return with a 15 minute stop to switch the engine around to pull the cars back to Llangollen, but it is pretty unique experience with the smoke and steam and the unique whistle at each stop. Part of the trip is through another tunnel, and the smoke and sparks from the stack flash by the windows in the dark and when you come out the other side the windows are fogged from the steam, even on a sunny afternoon (Yes, we discovered that
the sun does occasionally defeat the Welsh mist).

I couldn’t help thinking how much my grandfather who was a great steam train fan would have enjoyed this part of the trip. I know it was a highlight of the trip so far. 

Narrowboat Day Two

Walking the Aqueduct
This was the second day on the Narrowboat, and we went from England into Wales. We spent the night outside of a town called Chirk, and went to Llangollen. This was a particularly challenging section of the canal with two tunnels, two aquaducts, and two sections of single boat width canal. Only one bridge and no locks, but still plenty to keep us busy.

The canal we navigated today starts at Llangollen, and so all the water for the canal comes from here. This means that unlike most of the canals, there is current which complicates things at times. When the canals are narrow, the current will move the boat more than normal.
Underground in a Boat

For the uninitiated, an aqueduct is a bridge that allows the canal to cross a valley. The biggest, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, was built over 200 years ago with stone arches supporting the 125 ft. iron water channel carrying the canal 127 feet over a river valley. You come around a corner, the canal narrows, and you are suddenly floating in a narrow channel of water over 100 feet in the air. Although you know it is a bridge, and there is a walkway and rail on one side, on the other there is nothing. You actually have to peer over the side of the boat to see that you are on a bridge. I was driving the boat, but the crew was snapping photos and the folk walking across the bridge were snapping holiday snaps of us. I expect to see us on Youtube anytime now . . .
Traffic Jam! Bill got me through . . .

We navigated two tunnels, the longest 191 yards long, under a hill. These tunnels are arched brick lined structures barely wider than the boat. There are no lights but the boat has a headlight. Although I have never piloted tunnels, I have been through a few and knew what to expect as well as the principles necessary to get the boat through. Unfortunately the boat ahead of us did not really know what she was doing and went too slowly and ended up bouncing off the walls all the way. Unfortunately this along with the current flowing through the narrow passage made it difficult. If you maintain a certain speed you can get through more smoothly, but even our slightly claustrophobic crew member made it through, although I think I heard a sign of relief as we exited into the daylight at the other end.

Travel Gnome on the Aqueduct

As well there was about 700 yards of single boat width canal where the canal was cut from a steep rock hillside. Now a narrow canal is not really that hard, but this section twisted and turned making some tight turns that our 70 foot long boat could barely get around. These narrow sections require some planning, because you have to let crew ashore to go ahead and check for oncoming boats, and to stop any boats coming into the section while you are navigating it, because there is no passing room and it is almost impossible to back up.

It was a busy day, and mooring outside the town of Llangollen, I was happy to relax with a nice glass of wine as dinner was prepared from in the galley. 

Note photo four by Shelley Glover

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Cows on a bridge
This is our third Narrowboat trip, My sister and her husband have done five, and our new friends have gone twice. As you pilot the Narrowboat through the UK’s canal system, bridges are a constant. There is a bridge every mile or so. Sometimes you have to actually pilot the boat across a bridge over a valley, but normally we are navigating the boat under the bridges. Now these bridges are very useful in navigating, because they are all numbered and you can track your progress and locate your position in the guide book by knowing which bridge you just went under. There are railway bridges, and motorway bridges, but the majority of the bridges crossing the canal are just bridges. They go nowhere; there is nothing on either end. Perhaps 100 years ago there was a cart road, but now there is just a field on either end of the bridge. We saw more cows on bridges than vehicles. And most of these bridges are old; crumbling brick structures arching across the canal no where near a road.

Now the boats are called “Narrowboats”, because the canals are narrow so the boats are only seven feet wide to allow two boats to pass in opposite direction on the canals. These bridges are even narrower, allowing only one boat to go under at a time. The canal under the bridges narrows to about nine feet, allowing only a foot at the most on either side. To compensate for being “narrow”, the boats are long, and with six people this year our boat is almost 70 feet long. For some reason, the bridges always seem to be positioned on a corner, so you are cruising along and you come around a corner to find a bridge in the middle of the corner. It is not easy to get a 70 foot long boat lined up to slip under a bridge that is only slightly wider than the boat. All the bridges sport scars from boats not being perfectly aligned and to see some of the scars, you have to wonder what the boats that made them look like. Sometimes you carefully get you boat all lined up to slip through and OOPS, there is another boat coming down who has the right-of-way and you have so quickly change course to let him through.
Two bridges in a row

But on our first day, we managed to successfully navigate three lift bridges, and under 45 regular bridges. We did run aground while trying to avoid a traffic jam at one bridge and we scared one of our crew who suddenly looked up to see the boat headed right into the side of a bridge (It was one that required a bit of a “tack” on a very sharp turn, and we actually made it through perfectly). Tomorrow we have two tunnels and two aqueducts to navigate, so there is always something to keep you entertained.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Four Countries in 24 Hours

No toll to walk . . .
Well, we are off on our latest adventure, this one another Narrowboat trip. It is actually two trips, each a seven day excursion. We pick up the boat in a little town called Whitchurch, and we take seven days to go into Wales and back, including crossing one of the longest and highest aqueducts. Next we are going back to Chester England, a quaint little town we visited following our last Narrowboat trip. Two years ago, we spent a week in Chester and
A "Local" we met on a Walk
really liked it. While there, I noticed the canal system runs right into Chester, so I thought it would be nice to go back to Chester on the Narrowboat.

To start this trip we fly out of Halifax Canada direct to Glasgow Scotland, on an overnight flight, getting into Glasgow with the rising sun the next day. We then picked up rental cars and drove on the "wrong" side of the road with no sleep, down through Scotland and Western England and into Wales. So, in less than 24 hours, we were in four countries, Canada, Scotland, England and Wales.

The Whole Gang on the Pier
We pick up the boat on Saturday, so we are spending two days here in Wales, visiting a town called Llandudno (Don’t ask me to pronounce that . . . ) Here are a few pictures from the town.
Lifeboat Garage - Bill & John were excited!