“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

 

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.

 

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.

 

Tour the Lapland Bunting

This is more of a photographic tour of our boat, the Lapland Bunting, so you can appreciate the dimensions and location of the features. Yes, we are messy, no there is not a lot of storage space available.

The Pointy End, or as the more nautical call it, the Bow. There is a small well at the bow and there are two doors that lead to it from the forward berth

 

 

 

The Arse End, or the stern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moored up just below a lock at dusk.  Consider it a picture of the side

 

 

 

 

Engine, lights, horn and gauges at the stern in easy reach of the pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little Isuzu diesel lump under the floor at the stern

 

 

 

 

 

Scrim at the tiller, the Isuzu lump and weed box are under his feet along with the engine batteries, blackwater tank and fuel tank

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to the galley from the stern.  Wellies were important during the storm.  The shot of Scrim at the tiller was shot from the top step of the stairs to the stern

 

 

 

Reverse view into the diner area

 

 

 

 

 

We do insist on certain luxuries

 

 

 

 

 

The diner area that converts to Rob’s bed and the flip up and down seat that always provided Rob with amusement.  It was designed specifically to catch your kneecaps or arm with a spring-loaded latch much like a sofa-bed convertible circa 1958 before Health and Safety lawsuits

 

 

 

 

Diner area looking forward. The way forward makes you scuttle sideways like a crab and that piece of bloody trim almost always tried to rip off my right nipple

 

 

 

 

 

Head and lavatory.  There is a blackwater tank on the Lapland Bunting from the head only.  Greywater, meaning shower, galley sink or lavatory water goes out the side

 

 

 

 

 

Shower opposite the lav and head.  It is scaled to allow you to wash and rinse one ball at a time, but nothing else

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forward berth, technically a twin bed if you’re 9 years old

 

 

 

 

 

Reverse of the forward berth, the extra cushion is the second half of Rob’s bed in the diner.  Stowing it ‘correctly’ was a pain in the arse, so we just put it on top of the forward berth.    The doors lead out onto the smallish well on the bow.

 

 

And that’s the tour!

 

 

 

 

The Pace of Peacefull

When we are questioned about the pace of a narrowboat there are a few things that we can compare it to: Walking slowly.  Walking at a medium pace. Walking with a minor irritation and a dash of determination. The speed limit of the Shropshire Union Canal, for that matter all the narrowboat canals, is 4 miles per hour.  And that is about all a narrowboat can do, the little four-hole Isuzu diesel can muster pushing 4 to 5 tons of steel narrowboat and the passengers along with their suitcases, food and drink provisions.

For those of you familiar with boats, or imagining the idea of a high winding speedboat slashing through the water, a rooster-tail of spray soaking the air, and a wake flooding the shore, you are wrong. The Shropshire Union Canal was laid out by getting a dairy cow piss-drunk, then following it across the fields.  Sir Thomas Telford then said, ‘Dig the fucking canal there then!’

Actually is was more complicated than that, more of an actual feat of Victorian engineering before the railways.  The canal does meander a great deal, the longest semi-straight section we’ve encountered has been about a half-mile.  Towards Llangollen the canal is actually half the way up the side of a mountain, overlooking a valley that near as dammit looks like Mont Tremblant in the summer, the village of Llangollen falling down the hill from the canal along the river.  

Dairy and sheep farms butt right up against the canal, one side the former horse-drawn towpath, the other side unimproved scrub bush, bits of swamp and the occasional minuscule watering hole for cows and sheep.  Ducks abound, along with herons and the occasional grey squirrel grabbing up the last of his horde for winter.

There are rules of velocity of course, slow to a dead crawl passing other boats, under bridges or approaching lift bridges and locks.  Dead crawl in a

narrowboat is the pace of a leisurely stroll with no particular place to go while dragging a bale of hay on a rope. Invariably, when passing other boats there is a friendly hello, or good afternoon exchanged with the other boaters, an insider code that tells the others we know exactly how much fun we’re having and the rest of the humans have no idea exactly how satisfied we are with our lot right now.

The canal system is set up under the assumption that as a boater you have at least the sense to not look into your gas tank with a lighter and wonder if the tank is full.  This system would not work in North America, as we must be protected from all potential possibilities of using anything more than the simple brain-stem functions of respiration, elimination and an occasional heartbeat that seems to be the lowest common denominator that lawyers and lawmakers have decided we must have to be a society.  

There are tradeoffs of course.  Our boat, the Lapland Bunting, is 47 feet long, has a galley, a head, shower and a dinette that converts to a twin bed, as well as a twin bed forward.  The passageways between sections are not much more than 18 inches wide. You pass along sideways, trying not to hit your head on things like the ceiling, or a light fixture.  A certain piece of interior trim has tried, almost successfully twice now, to rip my right nipple from my body, as I scuttle along. If you have any time in a small recreational vehicle, you have the drill and the scale is readily apparent.  

Technically the boat sleeps five, but it would have to be two grownups and three children under the age of 6. For two strapping Canadian lads it is enough space but only just. Four grown up couples? Space is at such a premium that you would essentially be committing adultery every few minutes performing such mundane things as getting a cup of tea.  Had we brought out significant others along, there would have been a real and apprehended insurrection, possibly by the first lock on hour 2 of Day 1. It is not roomy. Roomy was never the objective.

Peaceful?  Oh yes. We’re not entirely certain as to what day of the week it is and we don’t particularly care and that is the true objective of the holiday.

Life on a Narrowboat

There are many people that live on narrowboats on the English canals year round and year after year. I cannot pretend to have the experience of these and folks and having watched many of them I’d say the long term effects affect both the happiness and sanity of people. In other words the experience tends to leave you slightly crazed but in a good way, one that makes you happy and allows one to generally ignore most of the rest of the world.

For myself I’ve enjoyed being on a boat, the specific type of boat matters less to me, I simply like being on the water. It calms me. Always moving from place to place like a vagabond of yesteryear meeting new people and moving on. People on the water are mostly friendly unless they are heading to divorce court like the one couple we passed the other day; another holiday boat, probably picked the wrong captain. Certainly on this boat I am happy Juudy isn’t here – she could take it for a few hours after that she would be as frustrated as the two dimensional beings in Flat Land on finding out there is a third dimension (or 3 or 4 dimensions if you want to worry about time). Our friend David was a much more suitable choice a he can be a bloke and blokes can make small spaces work. And is it a small space, I’m six foot and if there was a cross bed on this one I’d just be able to sleep crosswise.

Head space is fine but hips and shoulders are tight. Moving from the aft area which first houses the galley, small but workable, and then the L space dinette / bed. There is a flip up chair opposite the fixed seat. This has become a source of amusement and frustration for us. I am amused as David tries to get the thing open and he is frustrated with the warped and sickened mind that created such a horrible apparatus. The walls in this section are light fake wood, the type not out of place in the North American basements in the 70’s. From there the corridor is on the left and the head on the right with the door to the head about halfway along the corridor, I don’t fit. At least I don’t fit if I’m walking normally, I shuffle along the corridor crab style until I reach the door and then I can step in. Not as tight as an MRI machine, but still could be engineered better. Finally up front is the cabin where we were suppose to have two single beds. Just as well they didn’t as there would be no room for sleeping as 4-5 inches of the 24” mattresses are not usable due to the shape of the hull.

The rental boat we have has leisure batteries, in our part of the world these are called house batteries. There is just about but not quite enough charge in the batteries to keep my CPAP going all night. Other than that we charge batteries during the day and have two laptops. For me this is using just about no power. And yet I wake up in the wee small hours of the morning gasping for air that is no longer being feed by the CPAP machine. Note to self, buy the backup battery next time. Given the small number of amp hours the battery holds we leave the engine running most of the time. This is good as the engine provides power to our electronics as well as hot water. The diesel is also used to heat water in a boiler system for the radiators on board. So at 8:00 PM the power goes off and we start draining the batteries. If we need hot water – wait till morning or boil the kettle, leave the heater on and you’ll drain the starter battery and with all batteries drain, well, you could try push starting the motor but boats don’t really work like that.

In the world of narrowboats this is like the small cabin in the woods, the rustic option. But for two blokes to get away from the hectic world for a while, rustic is working just fine. The galley holds the Scotch bottles fine, there are places to make both tea and coffee and making of sandwiches. The rest of course is handled by any number of pubs with real ales and good food. And since at 8:00 PM it’s getting dark, we go to bed, waking up early with the sun and starting the engine and the heat. Pushing off down the river to meander through tremendous vistas and to find the next pub that will for a while be the best pub in the world.

As I write this the rain has stopped, we’ve seen a double rainbow and the villagers are coming out and about with their many dogs. Through the window I see some shrubs wet from the rain sparkling in the sun and past that a large green field dappled in sunlight. I think I’ll pour another Scotch and sit outside for the pipe.

Understanding English Lit

England has created some really great literature, from wonderful stories about bears named Winnie to the Hounds of the Baskervilles and to dragons such as Smaug. What has inspired these writers to create such wonderful works and build such grand worlds in which their stories take place? Stories filled with life not just people but with fairies, elves, ents and all manner of folk and beast.

I think it has to do the land. We crossed a wildlife preserve a few days ago and seeing a fairy or a even a dragon in those woods would not have been surprising. We have now have reached Llangollen and to do so have flown over a vast valley in a boat in an aqueduct. Most people looking at such a task, moving boats across a valley, would have taken the boats down in a series of locks and then backup on the other side. Thomas Telford not so much, he built a whacking great aqueduct so the boats “fly” 126 feet above the valley. Then build the canal on the side of the mountain so as people travel down the canal they can look down from the canal into the villages in the valley. Not something you would normally expect from a canal.

The woods here are somehow both wild and tame at least here outside of the major cities. Unlike bush in Canada where there is growth and undergrowth and then rot under all that, the forests we’ve seen in England and Wales along the canals are neat. They lack the same level of undergrowth and rot and seem somehow cleaner.

I know that sounds crazy but that’s how things are from what I’ve seen. Whether it is some sort of trick of nature, or perhaps there are fairies that keep the forests tidy, however it happens, it leads to places where imaginations can run and play and dream up worlds that are disk shaped  on the back of a turtle support by five large elephants. Perhaps just have things like an aqueduct in the sky lets you see big boxy boats floating overhead in exactly the way bricks don’t.

As I sit here though and peer through the window into the woods that take up the other side of the canal I’d like to think there are little folks in there, ready to inspire another great writer to wonderful flights of fancy and imagination.

Something folks on these isles are very good at.

Compare and Contrast

I have been on boats in a canal for a large part of my life, specifically the Rideau Canal as well as the St. Lawrence and part of Lake Ontario. This was on a house boats that belonged to family friends and four different cruisers. I have some experience with a boat going through water. So the chance to boat in England’s canals as a holiday was something long overdue, something I probably inherited from Father – if one can inherit such things.

The two very large differences from a North American boat and a Narrowboat are simple – the Narrowboats are slower and the steering is more precisely vague. When I say the boats are slow, the 4-5 ton boat we are pushing further into Wales has enough power to overcome the current in the canal, mostly. When the canal narrows for a bridge, every bridge nearly (and there are a lot of them) the boat is barely able to make way all the way thru. A small child walking beside the boat would stick it’s tongue out and give us the raspberry – thankfully we have not met that child yet. There was a delighted youngster at one bridge that declared she found a boat.

The other major difference is the steering. Here I am spoiled, the last two boats I had have both been twin engine and when both are working you don’t even need a wheel as using differential thrust is enough to maneuver and dock – I know this as I lost steering once. Actually twice, the other time though was the wheel coming off in my hands with only one engine working. That was also with David … hmmm.

Steering a narrowboat should be simple; going port, push the tiller to starboard, and frequently that is enough to get you through. However, a narrowboat pivots around its center and if you are against the wall you cannot really pivot. This means having to pull out the ass end using thrust to the side and/or backing out of the mooring before pushing forward and generally smacking the ass end against the dock.

Add a complications like high wind into the mix and the process becomes a frustrating and tedious matter of making headway but in reverse until you pull the entire length of the boat from the side of the canal and then manage to get enough forward momentum to prevent the wind from pushing you back to the wall.

Believe me it is annoying.

The steering overall on the narrowboat should be simple and precise – there is a large rudder behind the prop directing the force left or right and thus pivoting the boat on its center. All the other boats I’ve dealt with once they were going straight you can sit back and relax, not for the narrow boat. We discovered this yesterday as I tried to the take a few pictures while piloting (the correct term for steering a boat). To say we were all over the place would be an understatement. It was a strange case of click, click, click and then oh dear get back on course, click, click, click, shit have to get back on course. Thankfully these boats are made of thick steel and the odd bang doesn’t really hurt.

Is the Llangollen better or worse than the Rideau? In a word no, both have there charms, we are running from postcard level beauty on this canal and if the other 2,000 or so miles of British canals are as lovely then simply by volume the British Waterways would win. I still haven’t done Trent Severn and hope to someday. But I think I will have to plan more trips on the UK canals.

Rescue By A Cab

Trains in England are a little different from Canada. In Canada if there is a station there are people there and there are cabs and phones etc. At least for the parts of Canada I’ve seen.

In England this isn’t always the case. We catch the train from Holyhead to Crewe and manage the change to the Wrenbury train – more of a truck on rails serving the smaller communities.  Three cars, comfortable enough, with a diesel engine that they wind up to 1200 rpm, then release the brakes to roll away.

Getting to Wrenbury there is nothing there, barely a station, no people and no phones. So we are two Canucks stuck in the middle of Nowhere with rolling luggage.

Cell phones point the way and we begin to walk, I’m fat, I don’t like walking, I complain a lot. We carry on for short while and I being looking on the phone for a cab from Wrenbury. Nope. There are no cabs in Wrenbury. We continue the walk, there are cabs in Nantwich and in Whitchurch that service the area but, as optimists, we figure we can cover the rest of the journey. Plod, plod, plod one foot in front of the other moving slowly forward. I scan my phone again, should we just call and have a cab get us. Plod, plod, plod ever on like true Canadians without complaint.

A car passes and then another and finally a taxi enroute somewhere else.  We flag it down, it is divine intervention. No. The cab has a passenger and is on it’s way from A2B – can we share for the short while? Some discussion and then a discussion. Rescue, they will take us up the main road to the marina. A few quid pushed in the hand of the passenger at the end ensures all are happy and we’ve made it to the marina.

Just in time for the health and safety briefing we are duly trained on what to do at locks and where to find things on the Lapland Bunting.  It isn’t any more complicated than a recreational vehicle that floats.  We will post more later about life on a narrowboat, but for the time being, we find the pointy end and the arse end, two somewhat informal nautical terms.

Our next stop, since we’re both running on only a few hours sleep, is to regain some strength for our mighty toils on the waterway.  A short stroll into Wrenbury and we find The Cotton Arms Freehouse, a CAMRA-award winning Pub and Kitchen.  The sign outside says it all “Children and Dogs Welcome”.  Real ale and roast beef dinner with some of the locals who welcome us to their village.

One small issue we had the foresight to plan for was provisioning.  The marina provides you with fuel, water, a boat and the equipment to operate the boat.  They do not provide provisions, meaning things like food.  We both like food and consider food to be almost as important as drink, air, or spouses.  You decide which order these should be in.      

We wander a little further into Wrenbury, finding the local convenience store and obtain important things like coffee, milk, bacon, bread, cheese, hummus, croissants, butter and crisps.  And liquor, specifically a blended malt scotch whisky called Sheep Dip.  Neither Scrim or I are abstemious, so yes, there is drinking on the boat, but both Scrim and I are responsible boaters.  Drinking is only permitted after we dock for the evening.  Or if it is really, really chilly.  Or if the name of the day of the week has the letter Y in it.  

A long walk back to the boat and we sign off the documentation adding our own uniquely Canadian touch to the registration number of the boat.  Lines off and the Lapland Bunting is pointed in the direction of Wileymoor Lock. 

We are underway.