“Would You Do It Again?” – David

The title of this post is a chance to sum up the trip and answer the question that you are always asked by people who have heard of the trip.  It can’t be a one-word answer as no trip is ever perfect in every way, all the time, in every context.

Would we fly Business Class both directions?  Hell yeah, if only to avoid being on a 737-MAX H8te ever again. That aircraft is just horrid in Economy.  Even SeatGuru.com says the “Premium Economy” seats are as bad as seeing  Death Himself walking backwards out of an outhouse reading MAD Magazine with his pants down and shit on his shoes.  

Boat.  The Lapland Bunting was a fine boat, perfect for two blokes, but converting Rob’s bed each night was an annoyance.  Perhaps a slightly longer one, that has two berths that we could leave as berths and a sit down ‘salon’ as the Brits call it.  Maybe even the womenfolk would come along for at least part of the trip. We know them well enough that the day and half going through the Mere district wildlife reserve might bore them a bit, but then there is always wine to be consumed before it goes bad.  One does not want wine to spoil and we know the womenfolk would attack that task with their usual devotion and dedication. We did ask them about participation in another adventure of this ilk and their consideration is that going two days without a shower is not going to happen. There would have to be hotel rooms on the route and a ‘wider fucking boat’ to quote one of the spouses.

We’d probably skip the Irish Whiskey Museum tour in Dublin  And skip a hotel in Temple Bar. There were a couple of hotels we eyed near Grafton Street in Dublin that looked appropriately plush, yet modest in price and near all kinds of things like pubs.

Taxis.  No walking from Wrenbury to the Marina.  Book a taxi at Crewe to Wrenbury with a stop at the local provisioners before reaching the marina, so one can take the training, sign the papers, load up and get motoring to Wileymoore Lock for opening time and a pint of real ale.

Weather.  I think we chose the right time to go.  We both opined that in the high summer season that traffic on the canal would be near-oppressive and unpleasant.  Off-season was just right, with exception of Storm Callum.

Storm Callum.  Yes, it was windy and rainy for two days or so.  We did get soaked to the eyelids, but it was a challenge, not a bad thing.

Provisions.  We would know more about our consumables habits and provision appropriately with an emphasis on things that can be consumed with one hand whilst piloting.

Bacon Sarnie and Chips with a Salad – Ellesmere Pub

Bacon Sarnies:  Yes, yes, yes, ohgawd yes!

Oscar in the pub at Wileymoore.

Dogs in Pubs.  Eminently Civilized.  We ate well, especially the Sunday Roasts, but also Gammon and Chips, Yorkshire Puddings the size of a cat’s head covered in lovely gravy and steak at the Tomahawk Restaurant finished over a wood fire on our last night in Dublin.  

People.  To a person they were polite, friendly and  often curious why two blokes from Canada would make the effort to come this far to drive around in a narrowboat in October.  A common theme we did hear was “Ahh, Canadians, so you’re not Americans then.  What do you think of the Yanks down south?”  Our answer was usually, “The neighbours?  Oh well…”

One trick we learned many years ago from work travel to foreign climes was that a very modest Canadian Flag pin on your collar opens a lot of doors when they recognize you’re not American.  I always has a half-dozen in my pocket and would give them to folks who engaged with us, especially if they said they had family or friends in Canada. You can get them, free, from your Member of Parliament and they are only available from Parliament.

One little girl of perhaps six was with her grandpa at Wileymoore and she had never seen a narrowboat, or a lock.  Grandpa was explaining how it all worked and she was fascinated.  It turned out that Grandpa was in the Royal Engineers as a sapper, as was Rob, in the Canadian reserves, so the doors of welcome were opened and Grace got to see the boat with her Grandpa.  Both walked away with a tiny Canadian flag pin as a memento of their impromptu visit.

Walkie-Talkies.  If you have two, testing the flotation abilities of one of them makes the other one of no use, when you discover that a walkie talkie does not float.  That and a tea cup were the only victims of our adventure.  The broken tea cup was kept as a place to put tea bags when the brew reached the correct potency.

River Liffey in Dublin

Dublin.  Probably an extra day there, mayhaps even a bus trip down to Cork, if only to see the place.  Trinity College, housing the Book of Kells is a tourist spot that we semi-wanted to see, but then again, we also wanted to hit other places, so it was left off the list.  

 

Rob contentedly piloting a narrowboat

Company.  I couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else but Rob.  We both mesh in attitudes and tasks, getting things done and enjoying each other’s company.  Adding the spousal units would be the only thing that would have made it better.  Trip of a Lifetime?  No trip, except the last one to the hereafter is a Trip of a Lifetime, but this was most certainly in the top five.

And not flying on at 737-MAX H8te ever again

 

Getting Home

There are joys to flying on bonus points, but routing is never one of them.  We were fortunate that at least for this trip, it was Montreal-Dublin, then return Dublin to Montreal.  Except that we had to go back home through Toronto, then Montreal and train it back to the loved ones.  One of our original routings saw us going Ottawa – Toronto – Frankfurt – Heathrow. Given a choice between having a Brazilian ballwaxing by Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS who has hooks for hands or flying into Heathrow, I’d have hairless balls.  Heathrow is a complete and utter shitshow of the first order on almost any level you care to measure, as well as being an eight to twelve hour time suck to get anywhere near out of the joint.

Dublin was easier getting in and getting out.  Looking at our itinerary we did see if we could change our flights.  Rather than flying to Toronto, then flying over Ottawa, landing in Montreal and taking a train back to Ottawa, we figured why not ask if we could just go Toronto to Ottawa, even if it cost us a few bucks.  Air Canada doesn’t actually have ticket folks in Dublin, Swissport handles those things for Air Canada, as is the nominal practice worldwide. We eventually found the guy, who was amazingly adept at spinning his pen in his non-typing hand, but wasn’t entirely sure where Ottawa was, or if there were flights from Toronto to Ottawa.  He stared at his screen for a good 6 minutes, spinning his pen, then said sorry, we don’t have that information. Oh well, through the veal pen lines for Security, then on the aircraft.

We were fortunate the aircraft was an Airbus 330-300 which actually has a seat pitch that almost fits humans.  According to SeatGuru.com the pitch and recline on the 737-MAX Hate is 30” with a 3” recline, while the A330-300 is 31” pitch and 4” recline.  Trust us, that one inch in pitch and recline makes all the difference in the world. We could actually sleep on the plane home, so we did. Meal?  There was some chicken thing that ate like food.

We disembarked in Toronto and had to hot foot it through Customs to catch our flight to Montreal. The Montreal flight was uneventful, part of the usual rotation and it landed successfully in Montreal.  Where the wheels fell off was in Baggage. Ten minutes, then twenty staring fitfully at the belt with about 100 other people. I approach the ‘Service” counter, tugging my forelock. The baggage guy gets on the radio “We’re missing a can from that Toronto flight, where the hell it is?” is the radioed question.  

The reply is unintelligible and I do make out “Tabernac!” but they assured us it won’t take long. Another 20 minutes and bags start falling out the belt. We grab ours and go in search for the Via Rail Shuttle Bus. Eventually, having been misdirected by a paramedic to the wrong level, we find the right place and nearing the last possible moment, the shuttle appears.  We’re going to be tight making our connection, even though the Dorval Via stop is not that far, getting into and out of the airport is never quick.

The Dorval Via waiting room is utilitarian, with employees hiding behind their desks for fear they make eye contact with customers.  We roll out to the actual platform and consult the signage as to where we should stand to come approximately near where our car is supposed to stop.  A bright light in the distance, ostensibly down the rail line gets bigger and bigger, then becomes a train that grinds to a halt. Boarding commences and we settle into our seats for the last leg, a last beer and avoid the food offerings.

The measure of a trip might include Planes, Trains and Automobiles and we exceed that measure. Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Ferries, Narrowboat and Bus, not to mention Walking.  We did miss Funicular, Cog Railway, Hot Air Balloon, Street Car, Sedan Chair, Horseback, Rickshaw, TukTuk, Scooter, Jeepney and Zip Line, but we can live with that.

 

Teeling in Dublin

For our second tasting we taxied across town to Teeling Distillery, the one that actually produces and distills in Dublin.  Yes aging is done outside Dublin, but the making of the product is done in town. Aging is expensive as it consists of hundreds of barrels sitting in warehouses doing nothing more than gathering flavours and tannins from the wood over extended periods of time.  

One can argue that the real magic of whiskey is in the aging and the place where the product is aged, the terroir, to go all wine-maker on you and there may be some truth in that. Jack Daniel’s tastes like water from their spring and the countryside around Lynchburg TN, where that particular product is aged.  Scottish Whiskey aficionados claim that Islay tastes like Islay, while those along the River Livet say the highlands flavour comes through. Wine snobs are certain they can tell if the vintner was left-handed or right-handed from various characteristics they claim to taste from a swig of ski-doo pack wine from Hamilton.  

We call bullshit across the board.  We test for three things in total. Our palates test for two;  1) Does it taste good? 2) Do I want some more? The third characteristic is more a physical reaction  3) Why are my ankles not working any more? (See point 2) A simple formula that has never led us astray in +20 years of skilled-professional/gifted-amateur level drinking.

The Teeling Distillery also has a long history as well, but has risen essentially from a closed distillery in the family, with inventory, to a fully working shop that triple-distills their products in pot stills.  Do watch the video on their website for a nice appreciation of their craft. The tour was ideal, the guide being well-schooled and knowledgeable about the process and the craft. Being in a working distillery, it’s noisy and hot but well worth the trip.  The tasting flight was different from Jameson’s, as all of Teeling product is pot-still made, the three stills being named after the daughters of the founding brothers.

Tasting notes: Does it taste good?  Hell yeah. Do I want more? Hell yeah.  Are my ankles still working? Yep, fine, as with any tasting flight, there isn’t enough actual product to cause ankle impairment. Between the two, Jameson’s and Teeling, which would I prefer?  The answer is yes.

 

Jameson’s in Dublin

Scrim and I like whiskey.  Scottish or Irish, no matter.  We have also tried the Japanese offerings, but have stopped short of tipples from places like Cyprus or Madagascar.  We’re certain the offerings are tasty, but it is much like looking for real Southern Fried Chicken in Taiwan or Egypt:  If you find it, it won’t hit the mark.

Jameson’s has been distilling whiskey since shortly after the earth cooled and matures the product for a minimum of three years plus a day to be called Irish Whiskey. There are literally thousands of stories about the golden nectar, both Scottish and Irish and we won’t be retelling them here. Suffice to say Jameson’s is the purveyor of a lot of Irish Whiskey.  

The Jameson’s distillery in Dublin is not an actual working distillery any more. Being in the city, land is expensive and to age Irish Whiskey you need a lot of land for the warehousing and aging of the product.  However, the tour is in the former location, where a reasonable percentage of the original works are preserved and presented to the visitors.

There is a tour, telling the story of the company.  Scrim got to sit in the recreation of Jameson’s office as part of the tour.  There is also a tasting of various kinds of Jameson’s products led by someone who has at least memorized the spiel.  Yes, you are presented with a flight of column still and pot still products, but the quantity for a tasting is never much more than a tablespoon or so of each.

You would have to take fifteen tours in a row to get shit-faced and frankly, getting shit-faced isn’t the objective. The objective is to appreciate the history and savor some of the product, nothing the differences between them and developing an appreciation for the art of the distiller.  We did. 

Tasting notes from the tour?  Jeez but they make good hooch!  The slightly longer tasting notes comes back to how the original liquor is made, before it hits the barrel.  A column still is very much a continuous process of distilling the mash to create the first strike.  This is almost exactly how vodka is made, as the objective is quantity of production.  Pot stills are batch processes, in that the still is loaded with mash then heated and run until all the mash is boiled off, less the lees that always remain.  Clean the pot, load it up, do it again. 

There is a difference in the product that you can really only discover tasting different types back to back.  The pot still product, after aging is a more complex flavour to my mouth.  Jameson’s has kept one of their original pot stills around on display in the courtyard, so you can see the scale of the thing. 

Which is better?  It depends on your taste and what you like.  Any of the Jameson’s products are eminently drinkable.     

Dublin Again

The Paramount Hotel, our digs for two nights, is in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, meaning it is a tourist destination.  To quote our taxi driver on the outbound trip “Temple Bar is full of damned tourists and is shiite if you want to see the real Dublin”  Oh well, we already had reservations, so we stuck with our plan. The taxi driver was right, it was shiite. The hotel was originally either a whorehouse or was fifteen different slums bashed together and called a hotel.  There was nothing wrong with it, except getting to your room meant walking in ever changing directions up and down tiny flights of stairs at odd angles in strange directions in some kind of triangle pattern.  Temple Bar is the neighbourhood and it is somewhat famous from books and movies, which also means it attracts tourists looking for something memorable.  By comparison, the Byward Market in Ottawa, or the Distillery district in Toronto would be equivalents, meaning lots of shops, restaurants and bars interspersed with historical structures.

We dined that first night at the Porterhouse Pub, simple fare, as we were tired from our trip across the Irish Sea and retired comparatively early, still on boat time mentally.  This was disturbed at 0600 by the sounds of kegs. Bars, of which Temple Bar has hundreds, require beer. Beer is transported in steel kegs. Empties must be removed and full ones delivered each morning to keep the thirsty patrons at bay.  We lay there, half dozing and hoping the sound would cease, allowing us to nod back off on a Monday morning. No. It would seem that Monday is the prime delivery day and 0600 the prime delivery time, for at least a friggin hour. Bang, clank, rumble, Bang, clank, rumble.  Repeat until you wish to do someone harm.

If we’re going to be up, then at least we can eat, so we adjourned to a joint just across the street that said it had breakfast.  Pinocchio’s was the name and yes, they did have breakfast. You could have toast and coffee. Groggily we agreed to toast and coffee, then noticing a large fiberglass Pinocchio head over in the corner, glaring at us the whole time.  Why an Italian pasta joint would have a fiberglass Pinocchio head, football mascot sized is the first puzzle. The second puzzle was why do you advertise breakfast if all you have is toast?

Our first stop was luggage.  Rob’s rolling bag decided after the miles of travel to blow a handle.  The telescoping handle wouldn’t retract any more, so rather than sacrifice his bag to Air Canada in a couple of days, we found a luggage store and obtained a new bag.  Since my contribution at this point was to stand around and look handsome, I figured I would help the staff load in a shipment of a couple of pallets of bags that were kindly dropped off in the road in front of the store. 

Across the street from the hotel was a place we both noted in our brains for sensible reasons.  If we returned home without some kind of treasures for our beloved partners in life, from an epic trip to the UK and Ireland, then we might as well just chain concrete blocks to our necks and drown in the River Liffey now and skip the flight home.

Being practical men we recognize that art is always appreciated.  We adjourned to Fab Cow and perused their wares.  Francis Leavey is the artist and one of the pieces of his that I had seen before was his single line drawings. They’re stunning pieces and getting to meet the artist is something you should always try to do, because then you understand the nuance and inspiration behind the work.  We bought modestly, because of luggage room, but we bought direct from the artist, which is always better.

Francis Leavey is a fascinating artist with a background in Chinese medicine and longish stays in China, as well as study of his art at a very deep level.  We compared notes, Francis speaking from how art reflects culture and me speaking how culture is reflected in food.  Eclectic and kind is the kind of mix one likes to be near.

Liquor was next on our list, Dublin being home to two magical distilleries, one that actually produces in Dublin and the other that has converted their old digs into an excellent display of the history of distilling in Ireland.

First stop, Jameson’s.

 

Return to Dublin

After returning the Lapland Bunting in Wrenbury, we did the wise thing and hired a taxi to get us and our luggage to Crewe.  We overnighted at a hotel near the train station in Crewe and did enjoy at least one hot, all over, plentiful showers to soap away nine days of boating.  Yes we had our own rooms. Then a longish walk to a pub for Sunday Roast and a chance to sleep in a real bed, with reliable electricity.

Overnight, the Irish Ferries did not disappoint us.  Our ferry, the Ulysses, was running with no issues. We would be getting to Ireland, without a five hour layover in a hateful holding pen in Holyhead, unlike our outgoing trip.  Skies were clear, winds were pleasant and the local news was filled with reporting of the damage caused by Storm Callum two days before. We did not avail ourselves of the complimentary copy of The Sun to see who’s titties would be featured on Pg. 3.

Again to a Virgin train, with their talking toilets and fine service, we train to Holyhead, then stroll the 90 meters to the Ferry Terminal to embark, stopping for a coffee at the same place as our outbound trip.  This time, instead of the insane, we were merely accompanied by someone who needed a major adjustment to their prescription medications.  Either the UK is filled with crazies, or we just seem to attract them.  Perhaps we look too Canadian?  Or, they behave that way because they are trying to speak in Welsh.  For those who can, congratulations, but for the rest of it, trying to pronounce the words correctly hurts your mouth.

  

A shuttle bus boards the ferry and we seek out the Club Class forward.

The Ulysses was at one time the largest car ferry in the world and plies the Holyhead to Dublin route for Irish Ferries.  On our outbound journey we saw not much more than a quick tour with our objective being sleep after a hellish flight over to Dublin.  Plus, it was a dark and stormy night and nothing much to see of the Irish Sea. This time was different.

Club Class is reasonably plush, with free food and not free beer, but the particular joys of wide windows at the bow of the ship to allow you to see where you’re going.  Food and beverage obtained, we settle in to see the Irish Sea.

We followed another ferry from Holyhead, also transiting to Dublin, the Stena something or other, which launched a few minutes before us.  The safety briefing was conducted by the ostensible Captain of the ship, who near as we could discern was the Irish equivalent of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob, with the same sonorous voice and deliberate intonation.  Perhaps he was hired for his public speaking traits, not his seamanship, as his comment regarding muster stations included “If we are sinking, you unwashed proletarians had best get the hell out of my way, or I will kill you with my bare hands”

One thing we have noticed on this trip is that the majority of positions of the ‘service’ industry are occupied predominantly by members of former Soviet Union countries, working away from home in more prosperous environments than their home countries.  All pleasant and polite of course, with a willingness to serve well.

Captain Sideshow Bob kept the Ulysses well-aimed at the green stripe on the horizon and eventually we hit land, fortunately at the actual Irish Ferry Terminal in Dublin.  This made unloading much easier, but the signage was now in Celtic as well as English.

Taxi to the hotel, the Paramount, near Temple Bar and we unpacked for two nights

 

Thomas Telford was a Smart Guy

There are smart guys all along the narrowboat canal, but the smartest one was Thomas Telford, the Scottish lad who engineered the parts of the canal that we’ve run on.  Some context is in order. Telford died in 1834, or about two years after the Rideau Canal was opened here in Canada.  Various parts of the Shropshire Union Canal were built and running commercial traffic before work even started on the Rideau Canal in 1826.

We’ve explained earlier why there are so many canals in the UK:  Canals were the superhighways of their day, lugging large quantities of goods from place to place as horse drawn wagons could only pull a limited quantity of something a short distance on the unimproved roads of the day: A horse-drawn narrowboat could regularly ship 20 to 30 tons of something along the canals simply because a floating boat has almost no friction.  It isn’t fast, but it makes up for the lack of velocity with the increase in capacity.

Telford started out as a stonemason’s apprentice at the age of 14, learning how to bash rocks, then through various contacts in London became an engineer and surveyor eventually winding up in Shropshire. In 1790 he built his first Iron bridge, iron being the modern building marvel of the day, much as we look at carbon-fiber today.  

Telford was a bit of a maverick in that he tested things.  Would this kind of casting in this dimension, stand up to this kind of load?  We are talking before super computers. Telford’s tools were paper, pencil, perhaps a rudimentary slide rule and keen observation with a nimble mind.  Victorian-era high technology.

On our trip we got to try out a few pieces of his craft, the top three being the Chirk Aqueduct, the Chirk Tunnel and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You could argue that almost all of the canal system we traveled from Wrenbury to Llangollen was his work and you might not be far from wrong, but we’ve picked the more impressive pieces.

The problem with canals is water doesn’t run uphill very well.  The idea behind the canal is to have the least number of locks on a route that is not always a straight line from one place to another.  

Where it gets complicated is the land.

Unless you’re on a perfectly flat geography, there will be things that get in the way like rivers, valleys, hills, towns and fields. To change heights or to detour around things like rapids and waterfalls with a 30 ton load of slate or coal on a horse-drawn boat takes some engineering.  Locks work and in the day that was the choice. Wales, however, is hilly and there is no escaping it.

The River Dee cut a swath through the route for the canal, making things difficult.  If Telford had done locks there would have been at least a dozen, six down the valley, a short canal, then another six back up to where the canal would run, essentially a staircase on either side and at least a day or more to pass going up and down in 20 foot increments.  

An aqueduct was a wiser choice. It took ten years to build the stonework and put a cast iron canal trough on the top of aqueduct, to allow boats to pass in 20 minutes, instead of a full day. Telford then did the same thing at Chirk, not quite as long, or as high as Pontcysyllte, but the same concept of an aqueduct topped with a navigable canal.  In between? The Chirk Tunnel, 460 yards of hard work, lined by bricks containing the waterway and the towpath to pull the narrowboats through.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte and Chirk Aqueducts is a marvel.  There is a fenced walkway on one side, the former towpath for horses, but the other side is a sheer drop to the valley below.  We’ve included still photos for now, as the real-time video shot in high-def is too large for WordPress.  We’ll add links to a Youtube source later so you can see the whole thing as we transit.

A fun aside, on the outgoing trip a charming couple said they had never crossed the Pontcysyllte on a boat and could they come along?  There was plenty of room on the tiller deck so Rob had company on the journey as they marveled at the view and thanked us profusely for our hospitality when we made the other end.

Today, the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very impressive memorial to the days when engineers used their minds and hands to solve problems.  Thank you, Thomas Telford.

 

Food And Drink – Chippy

If one watches enough Coronation Street, you understand that a Chippy is the local Fish and Chip joint.  In Ellesmere on the return trip we decided to go truly local. Knowing the local Tesco would be open late after we moored up, we headed instead of to the Black Lion Hotel Pub, we went a few extra blocks to the local chippy, with a warm up stop at a local pub that did not serve food.  

A quick pint and a gab with a couple of locals “Ahh you’re Canadian then, we were worried you would be Yanks…” was not an uncommon comment that we heard more than once.  After our pints, we stepped next door for actual solid food.

What we call French Fries in Canada do not exist by that moniker in the UK:  Chips thanks and they have nothing to do with anything from McCain frozen, or from the Golden Arches drive-thru.  Chips start out as potatoes, cut into lengths then deep fried.

Since nowhere in England is more than 76 miles from the sea, fish is plentiful and almost always wonderfully fresh.  Again, battered then deep fried, a chippy trip is not for those without atorvastatin readily to hand. You can also get things like fried chicken or curry, but there had to be at least one meal of fish and chips from a real chippy.  With mushy peas, if only to keep to the stereotype.

Was it good?  Certainly it was.  We both ordered a small and the portion size would have fed a family of four, but the fish tasted like fish and the chips tasted like potatoes.  The mushy peas were the expected radioactive green and tasted somewhat like garden peas. A perfectly satisfying dinner after a day of hard work fighting the rain.

 

Locks, Bridges and Storm Callum

By now you might have an appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of our trip on the Lapland Bunting.  Rob pilots for a sound reason: He has the experience and expertise of many years of boating, knowing how to maneuver and take advantage of things like winds, current and the tiller.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pilot, I did and yes, the boat is a handfull of near-constant corrections, but on the occasions where I was at the tiller, we didn’t hit anything or anyone, so it is considered a win as far as I am concerned.  The duties that did come my way were more of an Enabler of Passage.

Locks have been around since pre-history on the Nile River as a way to get a boat laden with stuff around rapids or to make changes in elevation from one navigable part to another.  Locks rely on gravity to fill or empty the lock chamber. Gates at either end keep water in or out depending on what direction you’re going. The essential operation be it the Wileymoor Lock, Beveridge’s on the Rideau Canal or the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal, they all work the same.  The Rideau Canal, has Parks Canada Lock Keepers who do the work of doors and draining or filling the locks. As a boater you listen to what they tell you and ride the boat up and down as need be. Gatun Locks in Panama are merely orders of magnitude larger.

The Shropshire Union Canal has manual locks, which means someone has to open the doors, close the doors and work the windlasses and winding gear to fill or empty the lock, open the appropriate door to let the boat continue, then close the various doors and windlasses to allow whomever is next do their thing.  Since someone has to pilot the boat into the chamber, that would leave someone else to be the Lockie.

It isn’t a particularly difficult thing to do and gravity being reliable on this planet, means the locks work as they should when operated as they should, which we did about two dozen times.  Up and down, gravity and water pressure being our transportation friend.

Lift bridges along the canal are also a feature.  All but one were manually powered, meaning crank the windlass around 30 times or so to raise the bridge and crank it another 30 or so the other way to lower the bridge, the road being generally a dirt track or cow path from one field to another.  Hydraulics are good, reliable things. Again, since someone has to pilot the boat, that means someone else has to operate the lift bridges. The whole process of locking and lift bridges can be done solo and hundreds do, but it is easier with two people.

 

Where locking, lift bridges and boating become less fun is in the midst of a named storm called Callum.

We knew going into this trip that there was always potential for less than idyllic weather, the UK being the UK.  There was a cold night in Whitchurch, frost on the Lapland Bunting when we opened the hatch in the morning, but we also knew we had packed rain gear and boots to cope with the occasional downpour and soggy ground.  

In the course of two days Calum dropped a month worth of rain on the part of Wales we were in, along with rather bracing winds. Wind and rain, when you’re in the house is not a problem. On a narrowboat, it is simply miserable, especially since a narrowboat is essentially a 230 square foot, under powered steel sail and the wind is always blowing in exactly the wrong direction on an open tiller deck.  

Rain gear or not, we both got soaked to the skin for two days with a cold Welsh gale. After mooring clothing was hung on the interior radiators in a futile attempt to reduce the moisture content from cold terrarium to only modestly sodden. We did forebear with frequent cups of tea for the pilot and lockie to ward off the chill and the damp, but standing next to the heating radiators after mooring up was very welcome.

We were rewarded for our perseverance with a double rainbow toward evening on the second day of rain.  A good omen.

It was a Dark and Stormy Day

It’s a gray day, rainy and wet the wind blowing hard and making navigation difficult as the boat is pushed into the wall. A challenging day to remind me that boating is not always fun and pleasant sunny days but that there are days you’d rather stay tied to shore and watch the day blow past. And that sometimes that is not any option. We have to get the boat back to whence it came and ourselves off to Dublin for a few days to get adapted back to world time from canal time.

We fight the rain and wind moving off the safety of the mooring and into the channel, looking a little like the Michelin man with all the layers – only in blue as that is the colour of my rain gear. Not on the pull today. As we’ve noted narrowboats are, well narrow, but also they are long. The canals are also narrow, the one we are in now is 14 feet or so wide. We are pointing the wrong way and have the choice of backing out of the section we are on or going to the other end where there is a winding hole – a space large enough to turn a narrowboat using the power of the engine or of the wind or in the day, of horses or of the crew.

On my boat back in Canada this would be a simple matter of putting the transmission in reverse and using proportional thrust to steer out, around the corner and if I’d wanted, wherever we needed to go. Narrowboats don’t reverse that well, I can get it going fairly straight but the precise steering of twin engines is not possible.

We push off and slowly move past all the moored boats, at the speed of a 6 month old toddler crawling. As we get to the end I judge the distance, what I have learned of the boat, slowing to a near dead stop.  I use the prop wash in reverse to start turning the boat around the center. When it starts to move backwards I hard over the tiller and change to forward using the prop in forward with the tiller to continue moving the boat around it’s center. I’m now committed to this process switching between forward and reverse to keep the boat still but moving around its center.

As we pass the quarter turn, the wind comes in to the port side of the boat, I try to hold it but the 47 feet by about 5 feet above the water makes a very good 230 plus square foot steel sail. There is nothing for it, get the horses, oh wait you don’t get horses anymore, and the wind is causing the issue. Muster the crew, Dave. Bravely Dave whose physic is not that of an Olympian but more of a older techie with a mix of writer that smokes too much, tries to use the pole to push the boat against the wind. Wind 1, Dave 0.

So Dave jumps off the bow and tugs the rope much like the small ponies of yesterday would have. He pulls and pulls, I help we the engine a little. At last like the Little Engine That Could he has freed the boat, the engine now able to push us out of the Ellesmere branch of the Llangollen canal. There will be more pushing today a then a little scotch and some food when we find a find a place to moor that is fairly sheltered.