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The 1999 "Earnest" Maiden Voyage Cruise

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10. Llangollen to Birmingham, via Llangollen (Inc. Montgomery Canal, Ellesmere Town Arm, Prees Branch, Whitchurch Arm), Shropshire Union and Staffs and Worcs Canals + B.C.N. Mainline. 

Wednesday 4th August. Linda's mum was leaving for home in her trusty mini-cab at 9.00am. We wanted water and amazingly no one had moored on the water point overnight. Neil left our moorings at 7.45am and went passed he deserted Wharf, beyond here it gets shallow. This is just gravel and is probably put in the canal by the miserable horse trip boat operators, to discourage any one from going up here or trying their luck past the winding point and going on "Their" part of the canal. After rattling round Neil reversed up the canal a boat length, stirring up a lot of said gravel! We shot off, Neil had forgotten how much flow is on the Llangollen Canal and how mush faster it is on the return. We filled with water and Linda's mum left. We finally got off at 9.30am, with Linda on the bike to do the traffic duty, does any one else bother? Linda halted us once but stopped the rest of the hoards coming up, cheering them all up saying there were four moorings up for grabs. Trevor was passed at 11.00am and much video was taken going across the aqueduct. All went well until just before the shallow Irish Bridge No 27, where we got held up by a narrowboat jam, the likes of, Neil has not seen since the 1970's!  The bloke in front said that there were three middle aged women in a deepish draught narrowboat trying to get through the bridge. They had got involved with a hire boat coming down and both were hopelessly jammed! The private boater women were apparently very stroppy and foul mouthed, blaming the hire boats for getting them stuck! Neil went to investigate while Linda stopped and helped moor up all the hire boats ponded up behind us. The women were beyond help, Neil spoke to the Scottish captain of the hire boat behind the one that was stuck. He said that if they had been men and so rude they would have ended up in the cut! Neil took a bit of video on full telephoto from a distance. After a 50 minute delay they rattled passed us off line and nearly getting stuck again. They went passed to a crescendo of booing and derisory comments from the 15 or so boats that were held up. 
After this we took a while to get going, but most people stopped for lunch so eventually we were off again. We stopped fairly early at 3.40pm as it was a reasonable afternoon. The chosen stopping place was just above Bridge No 11, not far below the two odd New Marton Locks. As we were mooring we noticed a well worn old narrowboat with some serious parrots inside the lady waved as we think she saw "Scsi". The children went to investigate and soon we were all called up to see a hudge completely trained Pink Cockatoo, who was quite happy to sit and perform antics on the roof of the boat. The friendly lady said that he did not have his wings clipped, but as he had grown up on their boat he never wondered from it. The lady's other parrot was a very rare crested type, this one was not very tame as it had not been hatched from a chick. "Scsi" was paid a visit by the lady but all our parrot could manage was her normal imitation of one of Linda's sneezing attacks. The chosen pub for the night was the slightly eccentric and very good "Jack Myton Inn". This large establishment was off the beaten track and was a true inn. We all watched TV in the comfortable lounge drinking an excellent pint of Timothy Taylors Landlord, one of Neil's favorite beers. Eventually we were called to our booked table in a charming Spanish feel restaurant. We had an excellent "European" flavor, reasonably price meal. It is a shame this excellent spot did not seem that highly patronised, but then it was mid week.


The next day Thursday 5th August saw us start off at 8.30am. The plan was to go down the open section of the Montgomery Canal, which is still only as far as Queens Head. We moored up at Welsh Frankton Junction at 9.30am, behind one other hire boat and waited instructions from the wandering B.W. lock keeper who had just arrived. We were soon on our way passing through the pretty flight of locks which for so many years had been visited as a dry derelict site. The bottom lock was exited at 10.15am, the junction with the old Weston Arm was soon passed. A small section of this has been opened up for moorings and a water point. Under Lockgate Bridge No 71 we could see the distant hire boat refilling the new Graham Palmer Lock for us, the mad fools! This new lock was added as the Perry Embankment beyond had either sunk into the boggy area or had been flattened in the 50 years it had been abandoned due to a serious breach that was never repaired. The new lock only had a drop of about 1ft 6ins and has just single top and bottom gates. The embankment beyond looks almost completely new, for the most part it is cement capping on top of a plastic liner. As this part of the restoration has been a few years waiting for boats due to all the stupid environmental lobbying it has now taken on a mature feel. The new Perry Aqueduct soon came up even though we were going along at about 2 miles an hour following the slow hire boat. Neil jumped of while we still going and got some reasonable video of "Earnest" going across. At Green Wicket the embankment ends and the original dredged profile of the canal starts again. Rednal Basin was passed with its small swing bridge blocking the entrance, we never investigated whether this works and you could go up here. It did not seen to have been turned into a "nature reserve"! 
The tiny hamlet of Heath Houses with its bridges and wharf buildings were next passed, beyond this the final straight to Queen's Head was entered. We went straight past the winding point and went trough the new Bridge 76 and the A5 by-pass bridge. The A5 bridge was put in a few years ago when the restoration had not yet reached here. We actually managed to get into the chamber of the top Aston Lock, but as expected the Bottom gates were securely pad locked. A fair bit of video as taken of this new section including the ridiculous nature reserve beside the locks, which was a condition of them being restored. The end was reached at 11.55am, after this we had to reverse to the winding point where we winded and then set back onto the far moorings beside the old corrugated iron wharf warehouse. Between 12.15pm and 1.00pm we had a quick pint and meal in the "Queen's Head", which was OK. Soon we were joined by the two other boat crews who had ventured down here that day. Welsh Frankton locks are manned between 9.00am - 11.00am and 2.00pm - 4.00pm. We wanted to get out that night so we were soon on our way. We started a mass exodus, but we still had enough time to go up the short stub of the Weston Arm and reverse back. It was at this point we spotted a black Army helicopter practising flying under power cables, maybe this was a S.A.S. training session! 
We started the bottom of Frankton Locks at 2.20am and came out of the top staircase at 3.00pm. Neil had a chat with the lock keeper about B.W. sulking since not getting any lottery money to finish of the Montgomery Canal Restoration and not opening Aston Locks. He said the next 400,000 restoration money had been found from other sources which would see the canal restored through to Crickheath. The main problem was the dropped bridge at Redwith which we saw on our walk last year, this was going to be replaced with a swing bridge. Onwards we ploughed spending 30 minutes going up and down the Ellesmere Town Arm, something we last did in 1977. The never navigated Prees Branch was next to be tackled. back in the 1970's before the marina was built in the abandoned clay pit this arm was totally unusable. The first bridge was the last working example of a "Pull the chain" lift bridge, all the rest of the manual ones were lifted by a hydraulic ram. The second lift bridge was permanently chained up as the small lane had been shut. At the end we stuffed "Earnest" into the reeds where the arm used to continue to Quina Brook, for it never reached its intended destination of Prees. It was at this point that a nosey woman thought we were lost and that we could not go up there anyways because it was a nature reserve. We assured her that we were not lost, we were aware yet another canal had been lost as a "nature reserve" and we always like to go to the "end" of a waterway. It was an easy wind in the marina entrance. This last detour took another 50 minutes. It was now getting a bit late and there was rumblings of a mutiny so we decided to stop at the next pub. Linda phoned the "Waggoners" at Platt Lane on the mobile and yes, they were doing food till 9.00am. 
One good thing about the new flimsy Nicholson's waterway guides is that most pubs listed now have their phone numbers. Since the 1970's Neil has always used the Nicholson's / B.W. guides. He still has a few of his parent's straight line original B.W.B. guides. While digressing, what would boater's do now without mobile phones? Neil kept on an analogue Vodaphone phone for a few years because you could normally get it to work by standing on the roof or going up the side of a cutting. This is when a digital one would not work at all. Things changed round the other way a few years ago. Neil has a Vodaphone system digital phone now, Julian or someone else normally has a Cellnet digital phone. Orange and one-2-one phones only work in cities. For the last year there has not been anywhere (Except Braunston!) that one phone or the other would not work inside the boat.
We moored a bit before Platt Lane Bridge No 43 on some serious piling, non-towpath side and well afloat. This was because we noticed on the way up that boats moored on the towpath near the bridge were having to use their gang planks. The spot we chose was beside a small service lane to serve the odd smallholdings along this bank. We had stopped at 7.50am and were soon walking the half mile to the pub. This was another totally remote excellent unspoilt establishment. Even though we had the kids with us, we stayed until nearly closing time.


Considering our fairly late night we started early at 6.35am on Friday 6th August. Alan was to leave on Sunday and we really wanted to get to the top of the Wolverhampton Flight, which is very handy for the station. This meant Alan could get a train directly to Wigan. It has not been mentioned that we had on board a laptop computer this year and Neil had bought a data connection lead for his mobile phone. We used an expensive (and very quick!) internet connection to find out the times of the trains for Alan. Neil had occasionally "spamed" everybody with e-mail updates of "Earnest's" progress round the system. It was our plan to get as far as possible down the Shroppie that night, so Neil walked the un-cruised stub of the Whitchurch Arm, while Linda carried on. This mooring arm has recently been restored to encourage people to stop and walk into Whitchurch, this is as far as the first bridge, it was not open in 1993 when we were last here. There is a hare brained scheme to finally link with the town with a new inclined plane, but we can't see this coming to fruition. It took until Grindley Brook Staircase for Neil to catch up with the boat, which was at 9.05am and we went straight in! The staircase of three and the three separate locks were dispatched in an hour! There was no hold-up at Wrenbury Lift Bridge , in fact a boater coming up did it for us. There was a slight hold-up at Hurleston as the poor lock keeper was extracting yet another fiberglass cruiser who had got stuck with his fenders down. He remembered us and helped us down, it still taking less than an hour to do the flight of four locks. The Shroppie main line was reached at 3.15pm,  there was a bit of traffic in our direction, but it was moving along quite fast. The bottom of the Audlem Flight of 15 locks was reached at 5.50pm and there were still people going up. We decided to have dinner on the water point just below Lock No 13,  the third one up, as the tank was nearly empty. At 7.00pm we started off again, we have in the past, more by luck than judgment done the Audlem flight late in the day when it was quiet. Neil lock wheeled for the first half, then Linda for the second half, with Peter and Alan working the boat through. There seemed to be an excessive amount of water coming down the by-weirs, more than on the Llangollen! This led to some fast entrances to lock chambers to get steerage, which tended to amuse some other boater's who were walking up the flight. We moored at the top at 8.35pm a 14 hour solid day, the longest run under way this year, and in a family week!


Saturday 7th August was another early start at 7.25am, because we wanted to get to Brewood that night. Adderly flight of 5 lock was soon dispatched with no one else around. The failed housing development we saw in 1993, just before Market Drayton had been rescued and was now finished. More houses were also going up the other side of Bridge No 62. Soon we were in the steamy rocky ravine of the Tyrley Flight of 5 locks, truly a magical setting. It was a hot day, the cool humid smell in Woodseaves cutting was welcoming. No other boats were met coming the other way. The out of the way "Wharf Inn", at the bottom of Shebdon Embankment, that we visited in 1984 was passed at 12.15pm. Next followed the equally steamy Grub St Cutting with the second double arch bridge of the cruise, this time with the remains of a telegraph pole on top of the lower arch. We can remember in the early 1970's most of the old London to Liverpool trunk line telegraph poles were still insitu, a long gone characteristic of the Shroppie, surely a section should have been preserved? We were getting very low on diesel, we had not had any since Manchester. Linda phoned Turner's Garage at Wheaton Aston who would not give the price, but said it was still the cheapest on the system! They were open until 5.00pm, which was going to be tight to make. On the off chance Linda hopped of just before Norbury Junction to see if Anglo Welsh (The old Shropshire Union Cruises) would do any, but they said as it was changeover day they would not. Neil picked Linda up at the other end of the Wharf without stopping and we ploughed on. Neil put the emergency 2 gallons of diesel in the tank. We got this road diesel at Blackburn, when we nearly ran out in 1993 on the "dry" Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Gnosall was fairly busy and we eventually arrived at Turner's Garage rickety little non-towpath wharf, just before Tavern Bridge No 19. Their price per litre was 14.5p per litre, beat that! Neil filled up the tank, the spare diesel tank and everything else he could find with diesel. 52 gallons went in the tank, and 5gallons elsewhere! After this 20 minute stop we were on our way again. As we approached the cutting through Brewood we could see that it was fairly busy, so we stopped just after Countrywide Cruisers wharf / winding point. Just before we passed the winding point a 40ft Springer narrowboat shot round in front of us, we have never seen a narrowboat turn in one go so quickly. As the guy passed us Neil realised the reason for this quick maneuver, the chap wanted to get out in front of a hire boat that was coming the other way. Neil gave him a wink and the guy chuckled "Like mind, like mind!"  As we were trying to moor at 5.20pm, we remembered our mooring here in 1995, there was a nasty shelf just below the water line. Neil sank some of the fenders and we eventually managed to stop banging about. We wandered around the village and eventually chose one of the quieter pubs. We got back fairly early. Later on there was a lot of commotion on the towpath further up, we were glad we moored up this quieter end.


Sunday 8th August we started off at 7.55am. Last night there must have been a minor riot on the main moorings for Brewood, between Bridges 14 and 13. A lot of boats had moved on and two were stuck on the non towpath side with their mooring ropes cut! We would never have thought that this could happen in Brewood, even on a Saturday night. Beyond Bridge 13 another boater was stirring, Neil asked him what happened last night, he said "Young yob anglers, who thought we should not be mooring on the 48 hour moorings!" Neil respects proper anglers, but there is a new young yob culture of "anglers" who do not belong to any angling clubs or buy day tickets, just using it as an excuse to terrorise people on the towpath. B.W. and the angling club bailiffs ought to stop these people, before all anglers get a bad name. Autherley Junction and its stop lock was passed at 9.55am. The Water Travel hire base was all securely boarded up and 3 of their hire boats were sheeted over having been burnt out, what has been going on here? Neil has heard that there has been trouble at this once peaceful spot, as the Sanitary Station had to be closed, due to repeated vandalism. 
After the small detour on the Staffs and Worcs Canal we swung off at Aldersley Junction. This recently had a facelift, revealing all the bases of the cottages and warehouse that used to be here. At 10.10 we got stuck into the Wolverhampton 21 flight of locks which used to be one of Neil's favorites. We have never had any trouble with yobs here, maybe we have just been lucky (or quick!). In the old days this was always one of the flights Neil used to like to throw himself at. There was not much around, we eventually caught a boat up, but it did not hold us up till the last two locks. Neil was off on the bike, lock wheeling ahead of the boat as soon as it was in the lock. We were up to the top in the customary 2 hours. Alan packed up and left with Linda and the kids who were going to see him off. Neil went through the bridge round the corner to the re-sited water point, just outside the rejuvenated B.W. Broad St. yard. 
After a 50 minute fill up we were off again at 1.00pm, destination the Convention Centre, St Vincent St. moorings in Birmingham. We stuck to the New Main Line. There seemed to be a bunch of kids at the end of the Coseley Tunnel. We all came out on deck after shutting the front doors. Linda had a small conversation with them. They were sheepishly hiding some bottles with cloth hanging out of the necks! These were obvious Motalov Cocktails, but we don't think they were intended for boater's! Peter has been doing a lot more steering recently and Neil got him to steer through the Three Factory Locks at Tipton, where there were some friendly kids. We arrived at the St Vincent St moorings at 4.55pm and moored on the quieter non Convention Centre side. That night we went to The Cafe Rouge in the new restaurant area next to the Sea Life Centre.


Captain Alan has just negotiated yet another of the Llangollen Canal "chicanes".

"Three ignorant Women in a boat", having just pushed a hire boat up the bank, they have got stuck. Coming up in the shallowest section of the Llangollen Canal just before Irish Bridge No 27.

Frankton Junction, waiting for top lock, Montgomery Canal (finally, after a 29 year wait!)

That staircase with it's characteristic little iron bridge, Welsh Frankton, Montgomery Canal. Linda in "Summer Holiday" mode of dress.

Frankton Staircase.

Frankton Staircase.

Frankton Staircase.

The two Lower Frankton Locks.

Coming back up Frankton Lower Lock.

Frankton Locks viewed from afar. 

Looking up the stub of the Weston Arm. 

Captain Alan at end of the Weston Arm, on the way back. Water points a plenty on the left bank!

Lockgate Bridge No 71, just after Weston Arm Junction, Montgomery Canal.

The new Graham Palmer Lock. About 1ft 6ins drop to compensate for the Perry Embankment collapsing into this boggy area.

Tribute to Graham "Piggy" Palmer at his lock. 

Wendy cranking away at Graham Palmer Lock.

Exiting Graham Palmer Lock.

The new Perry Aqueduct.

Side view of new Perry Aqueduct.

The new Perry Embankment, Montgomery Canal. 

Winding point on Perry Embankment.

Stop plank narrows at Green Wicket to protect from a breach on the embankment. Numbered as Bridge No 73. You can see how much the water level has been lowered by repositioned crash bars.

Rednal Basin. We never checked whether the new swing bridge works. 

Rail bridge over the canal and road at Heath Houses.

Restored wharf building at Heath Houses. Montgomery Canal.

Heath House Bridge No74.

Looking up final straight to Queen's Head. Corbett's Bridge No75 in distance. Still following that hire boat!

Corbett's Bridge No75. Note the lowered water level in this pound.

"The Queen's Head" pub.

The wharf at Queen's Head. New bridge No76. Coach is actually traveling over the A5 by-pass bridge just beyond this.

The recently constructed A5 by-pass bridge.

Aston Top Lock. Note chain and padlock round the bottom gates.

As far as we got, half way into Aston Top Lock. The elaborate spill ways to the left are for the "nature reserve" to take plants displaced from the locks and pounds.

"Earnest's" mooring spot at Queen's Head. We reversed back to here again after winding.

The entrance to the Ellesmere Town Arm, Llangollen Canal.

The towpath cross over bridge at the entrance to the Ellesmere Town Arm.

The end of the Ellesmere Town Arm. Lets hope that wharf building survives.

The other end of the wharf building, including repainted "Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company" lettering.

The junction with the Prees Branch (to the right). Llangollen Canal.

Allman's Lift Bridge No1 on the Prees Branch.

Allman's Lift Bridge. Note the old style pull chain to open. This was the only old style one still working on the Llangollen Canal.( Lift Bridge No19, just below Wrenbury is still chain operated , but was tied up this year.)

The end of the Prees branch for now, nature reserve beyond. 

The marina at the end of the Prees Branch.

The start of the newly opened up Whitchurch Arm that had been infilled. Llangollen Canal.

Bridge No1 on the Whitchurch Arm is the end for now. Llangollen Canal.

The winding point on the Whitchurch Arm.

Captain Alan steers out of Hack Green locks, Shropshire Union Canal.

Audlem Flight, Shropshire Union Canal.

That characteristic lock keepers hut, Audlem Flight, long may it continue to survive. Shropshire Union Canal.

Audlem Flight.

Audlem Flight. From Snows Bridge No 77. Lock No 6 is nearest.

The rescued housing development, just before Bridge No62, Market Drayton. Shropshire Union Canal.

Bridge No62 and little used basin, Market Drayton. Shropshire Union Canal.

Tyrley Bottom Lock, Shropshire Union Canal.

Tyrley Locks,  Shropshire Union Canal.

Tyrley Top Lock.

The steamy jungle of the Woodseaves Cutting, Shropshire Union Canal.

High Bridge No 57, Woodseaves Cutting.

The old preserved Cadbury Dairy Wharf at Cheswardine, Shropshire Union Canal.

Grub Street Cutting, High Bridge No 40, the second double arch bridge of the tour! Shropshire Union Canal.

Gnosall Bridge No 35, Gnosall, Shropshire Union Canal.

"The Boat" pub Gnosall. A stopping place on a few early cruises.

The kind of craft Ian Clarke would have if he was a ditch crawler! Pictured just before Cowley Tunnel. It was truly perfect even down to the similarly finished tender.

Cowley Tunnel, Northern Portal, Shropshire Union Canal.

The odd Wheaton Aston Lock, Shropshire Union Canal.

Telford's Stretton Aqueduct, Shropshire Union Canal.

Telford's improved A5, under Stretton Aqueduct. 

Going into Wolverhampton 21 Top Lock, B.C.N.

Wolverhampton Basin at top of the 21. Water point moved from here to round the corner under bridge.

"Caggy" Stevens old yard at Junction of defunct Toll End Communication Canal. B.C.N.

The tour continues...


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