Saturday, 15 July 2017


Looking down over the narrow edge towards DB & and our shadow

Our first and last time before this time, (got it?), cruising the Llangollen Canal was in 2011 when we were newbies, first timers, taking the long journey on Nb Avalon Mist from Devizes to Willington. I was tiller shy and avoided the long steel arm where possible as I felt I was an accident waiting to happen. My recollection of the Llangollen Canal was a pretty and scenic canal with a lot of holiday rental boats banging along. Now, thinking about it, who was I to have such an attitude when we were still nbb’s (new born boaties) growing through our infant stage. I decided then to nickname this canal as the ‘Clangy’.

The ‘Clangy’ hadn’t been on our repeat list but with few deadlines to meet in our 2017 unwritten cruising timetable we were close to Hurleston Junction with the choice of straight ahead to Chester or left to Welsh Wales. We decided Wales when we saw there was no queue apart from the mid-placed 34’ Narrowboat occupying the space of 3 boats, waiting to go up the flight of 4 locks at Hurleston Junction. The tiller-man was at the bottom lock, on his ‘mobile’ when I arrived there. I asked him in a deadpan way “Is that your heap of s boat down there?” He replied saying he was in no rush and we could go before him. I yelled down to Cptn and the rest of the nearby world, backing up words with hand signals for DB to move into the Bottom Lock. Later Cptn reported that the Bottom Lock is narrower than the other narrow locks. We remember in 2011 seeing a working boat try to get into the Bottom Lock. I think its stern must have been wrapped with fenders meaning its ‘bum’ wouldn’t fit and no amount of forcing would budge the lock. I expect it had to have a fender removal if it was going to get in. Who knows what happened?? I’m not bothered. Another memory from 2011, at the Top Lock, was I found €30. Finders keepers.

We cruised up the locks and no pounds dried up on us, not like in our 2011, some of the pounds were mudbaths and flooding below from above was the 'fixit' means. We were on the move but no rush as I was set on steering DB over the aqueducts in the next week or two, heights don’t make me squirm.

We didn’t move far on our first day but were happy to find ring moorings. Ring moorings are handy but not essential. I like them. I observed, as we cruised along the Llangollen Canal, there are plenty of isolated places with 48hr signage which indicate ring moorings.  Day 2 we got to Wrenbury, in time for lunch at the Dusty Miller. Great Sunday roast and dog friendly. We could have gone to see Elvis at the Cotton Arms but thought it might be a bit rowdy for the chilled mood we were in. I have heard that the food is great there but you need to pre-book. Wrenbury is a good stopping place and I like the moorings after the key operated lift bridge.

The weather, yes, there is no escaping the weather. It has been a mixed bag, as it is likened to in this country. We knew there was rain coming and we moved to Willeymore, no less, Lock where there is a remote pub family owned. The location sounded perfick for a couple of days and we could get on with some interior decorating works. 

The kitchen needed to be decorated and this meant the wall units needed to be removed. With the canopies in situ over the wheelhouse and stern we had room to move out from the kitchen. All good. It was a bit 'rocky' being moored near the Lock with the boat traffic rocking DB with every passing.

Day 1   1 wall cabinet emptied and down - sand, fill (Decorator’s caulk is the biz, you don’t have to sand if you use this stuff just smooth over with soft finger and wipe with damp cloth.) paint wall and ceiling.

We moved DB along the Cut and moored below the next Lock, Povey’s Lock. There are a couple of rings before the Lock mooring and the water is calm and boat traffic didn’t disturb us.

Day 2    2 wall cabinets emptied and down - sand, fill, paint wall and ceiling. Restore.

A good job was done. There is still more to do in the open plan living area but it is straight forward. Cptn had his power tools out and got some stuff finished near the entry door. I’m determined to get the decorating done this year. Yep, DolcieBlue was launched 4 years ago!!!

In the small world of life on the Cut, Sonja and Ian from Nb Isle of Aran were moored nearby and they were cruising up the Clangy. We first met them in 2011 on the Kennet & Avon Canal, not long after we had begun our adventure from Devizes on AM. In fact it was Ian who gave me my initial tutorage on filling the Lock as AM was going ‘up’ in the Lock. I was competent with how to empty a lock but filling a lock was another story. I was concerned I would drown AM and avert the disaster was in my hands. As we were the only boat in the wide lock, Ian was keen on using ropes to keep AM in position. All I can say now is we don’t use ropes, some boats do but we don’t unless we are instructed by Lockies on the rivers. I am in tune with the movement of water in the filling Lock. I always wind the paddle up halfway on both gates and check the water pressure. If the force is strong, I’ll wait until the cill is covered but if it is a piddly flow then I’ll wind up both paddles. Each to their own but always check if you help out with another boat. If the water flows in too fast then I find DB lurches and bangs her nose, there is also a chance water may douse the Bow.
Whitchurch Arm

After the brief stop for works to DB we moved to the Whitchurch Arm. Nice moorings and a bit of a walk to town. Baz and Celia on NB April Fool arrived. They were close to our mooring when we were in Mercia Marina. We had hoped that we would catch each other on the Clangy and we did. Baz and I play the Uke and fortunately, we met up again the next day in rural canalside moorings. We all enjoyed spending some time together and we could do some Uke-ing. See yas next time, maybe Willington or R. Soar?

Navigator on duty

Narrow bridges on this canal. 

Mid boat traffic at the lift bridge meant no stopping!!

Who lives here? Worzel Gummidge?

The Mere near Ellesmere

Our next stop was Ellesmere, close to the Montgomery Canal and not far to the Chirk Aqueduct and Pontyscyllte Aqueduct. I had to book passage on the Montgomery Canal and was gobsmacked when C&RT said when would we like to go? “Tomorrow?” I enquired. They confirmed tomorrow was fine and totally in concord with us having 4 days on the Canal.

Comfy mooring

Narrow means narrow.

Horse drawn craft

Lock house

The Montgomery Canal gives us 7 miles and back of cruising along a restored Canal from Frankton Locks to Gronwyn Bridge just past Maesbury Marsh. The restoration is continuing and a few miles remain to be linked to the Welsh side, I think. The signs as we move along the Montgomery Canal were probably meant to be positioned on the other side of the Canal. We came from the Frankton Locks and the sign reads we continue on to the Frankton Locks or return to Newtown!! You need to visit the Canal to make sense of this. But thoroughly worth the time out from the Clangy

The bow thrusters had a hissy fit and on the last day I had no back up for a sharp bend which left me and DB nestled in the shallow waters and trees. Here was I thinking that I had mastered the helm but this one was a learning curve. At this point I must write when people say we have the cheat’s button I get pissed off. It is really handy as we are 68 ft of steel and it is useful to be able to nudge direction when necessary. I can steer DB and I will use the Bow thrusters when I deem necessary. They are there to be used. What I have learnt is I must be prepared to manage without them when they don't work! Cptn had to wind DB, the day before, in awkward circumstances without the Bow thrusters. The winding hole is not clearly sign posted at the end of the Montgomery and I insisted DB be winded where a Boat Club have boats moored. A sign clearly says ‘No Winding’ but the C&RT scribbled sign doesn’t clearly indicate the winding hole is at the end of the canal 250yds further along. The Lift Bridge at the end builds muscle and once, to me, was enough. The cyclists and cars that were waiting seemed to enjoy a social occasion in the sun!

We were back on the Clangy after 4 days on the Montgomery Canal and we cruised on to Chirk on a beautiful summers day. Lots of boat traffic with smiley happy people. The next day, we crossed the Chirk Aqueduct with me at the helm and went straight through the Chirk Tunnel. Quite a long one, cruising into the current of water flowing from the River Dee.
Chirk Aqueduct

Not far, now, to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I thought the Chirk Tunnel had the strong water flow but it is the Whitehouse Tunnel that has the strong up canal flow. I remember AM struggling through this tunnel and I had thought it would be good to have some helpful leg power! We moored just before Fron(cysyllte), a mile to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The weather would have been beautiful, that day, to go over but we were waiting for an old friend who was going to cross with us the next day. It turned out he was unable to make it and the weather looked a bit sorry but we decided rain or shine we would do it. The sun shone through a cloudy sky and it was FAB. My dream had been to steer DB and now it is no longer a dream. In fact, I didn’t need to hold the wheel, although my hands rested on it. The water level on the aqueduct wouldn’t let craft go over the edge. I had joked about having some elastic around my ankle..... All tickety boo. 

I'm looking!!!!

Family event, I can't see anything!

The towpath has a fence.

Then there were the Kiwis walking across the Aqueduct. All excited to see the NZ flag flying. We winded and cruised about 14 miles, getting to Ellesmere and moored on the arm 7 hours later. I was tired, I had steered all the way except for the last couple of miles. It was a downstream feel and we moved quickly. Don't be fooled that steering is the easy task. There was almost boat jam as we exited the Chirk Tunnel. Holiday boaters not knowing how to stop craft coming through the tunnel.... not my problem, we got through. Yep there were 4 boats waiting and 2 more boats coming across the Chirk Aqueduct. We were 1 boat waiting along with 2 more coming through the Tunnel. Tee hee, I got them moving!!

We got back to Hurleston Junction, on Thursday morning. That took us just over 2 days, if that, from crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. We had a rain rest day in Ellesmere. Yep, not much traffic really. At least one close call when I blasted my horn at the nose of a Nb appearing from under a bridge. Always be alert when on the Helm. There is always hope the reverse throttle jammed into full reverse will back out of the situation. And the hope is that the oncoming boat will do the same thing. And so they did. I eventually got around to turning off my horn. And in the small world we live makers from Waikuku, NZ. A short time makers from Fairlie NZ. Yay mainlanders!
And that’s it. 

It’s a Canal to repeat. Loved it and beautiful scenery. Lots of pastures, woodland and lakes. Almost made me feel at home. 

Beauty is everywhere, look and you will see.

A brief history

This is a blog set up by Chris and Sarah so family and friends can catch up with their travels on the British waterways in the summer of 2011. In 2010, I went to England with the idea of getting a narrow boat built. I had specific requirements so I thought that a new build may be the way to go. I e mailed to numerous boat builders, a great percentage of whom ignored me. The problem of having a family name of Laycock is that hotmail and a few others think that I am a porn star. At an early age you learn not to put C Laycock on your school books. But I guess that my nephew Paul did worse. Anyway I spent a very pleasant few weeks driving around the beautiful English countryside visiting boatyards, marinas, boat builders and just a few pubs. I had narrowed it down to two builders and in the last week I was in Devizes Wiltshire when I came across "Avalon Mist" 54 feet of throbbing neglected narrow boat. The past owner had lost interest, hadn’t maintained her and to add insult to injury had been made redundant. After a very short negotiation I was able to buy her for a pretty fair price. On the day the sale took place I had to beg her to take her trainers and a few rather suspect items of clothing, in other words she left everything. Lock stock and barrel.

Soon after the purchase I flew to California to meet Sarah and have a short holiday. Once back in NZ I started to try and organize works. The first thing that I learnt was that the marina does not allow any contractor on site, only their chosen ones, the excuse given is a concern about insurance, the suspicion is, graft, pay back, baksheesh, call it what you like. It is possible to take the boat off the marina to have the work done, but not really practical.

The first job to be tackled was to “winterize” the boat, i.e. drain off all the water, check the anti freeze in the engine and central heating and fit an automatic bilge pump.

No real problem there except communication, the mechanic just didn’t answer e mails. Difficult to do business like that.

The nice marina lady had a quiet word with him, and things did improve, thanks Debs you have been a star through out . He later confided in me the reason for this was that he was dyslexic, apparently a malady [he] claims affects a lot of mechanics.[It turns out that he is a great mechanic and a nice guy to boot].

That goes pretty high on my list of lame excuses, the top one being a really nice Irish guy Pat, who I had employed as a carpenter years ago when I lived in London. He was always a bit late for work, when I finally collared him about it; he said he could never decide what to wear to work.

Nice one Pat.

I digress, the boat was winterized, which was just as well as it was a cold one and the whole marina froze over.

Next job was to have her taken out of the water, have the hull stripped back to bare metal and have a bit of over plating done. There were a couple of areas where there was pitting, and I though if she’s out of the water, may as well do the job right, so a small amount of over plating and then the hull was blacked, and the engine bay partially de-rusted and then back in the water.

Seems like a good job was done, I had the marine surveyor who had done the original survey, check out all the major works and give me written reports and photos, so all good except once again communications.

I then came across a great guy, the partner of the woman who runs the marina and a carpenter/narrow boat fitter outer .He replaced the stern deck and did a great job, also did a great job on de-greasing, de-rusting and painting the engine compartment. A job I should have done myself, but I just didn’t fancy it, not only that be was great with communications and chasing other people up

So that takes us up to present.

There needs to be a bit of electrical work, not much. The outside is badly in need of paint, Sarah and I can do that and a bit of a tidy up inside, and then she will be a really nice boat.