Sunday, 10 September 2017

Swans at Swanley Bridge Marina

On Wednesday (6th September) we turned the corner straight into the first of four locks which begin the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. We pootled into our new marina at Swanley Bridge wondering if it was it named after the numerous swans and signets that greeted us.  Despite a reasonable breeze Captain managed to reverse with first mate doing her well worn impression of a towing shire horse hauling all fifteen tons onto its new mooring by a combination of skill and brute force. After oiling the squeeky jetty shackles (with spray olive oil) we were all tied up nice and quiet.

And quiet it is after Kings Orchard. It seems so much more open. We attribute this feeling to there being just one point of security in the shape of an electronically activated vehicle barrier into the marina and other than that we are free to roam. There are no locked jetties or locked toilet blocks and our boat (3rd in from the left of the row) is along side and tucked behind a hedge so it feels private. It's all very well kempt. There were a few people about but there was none of the Brummie yauping we have become accustomed to mooring up to. Perhaps we will miss it. Come to think of it, there was usually someone around to catch a rope or hurl an insult about the Captain's steering. Not so at Swanley.

Captain then decided to fetch the car from Kings Orchard Marina. So a delayed taxi got him to Nantwich railway station for a delayed train and after a change at Crewe he arrived at Lichfield, where with no waiting taxis, he legged at across fields for half an hour to the marina and the car. The dark, busy and fast M6 was a bit of a shock after a fortnight of canal speeds, but he survived and arrived back in time for a late and slightly singed dinner at 9.15pm. It had been a long day and the giant couscous turned out to be a mistake. Any foodstuff with 'giant' in the title is probably a mistake.

We spent the next couple of days getting to know the immediate area. This was especially important for Jonesy who needed to check out the sniffs and walks, and for First Mate who needed to check out the shops in Nantwich. This historic town is full of lovely shops, cafes and timbered buildings. It has something of the feel of Chester.

Our next serious jaunt will be to Chester on the run up to Christmas with maybe a cheeky couple of nights up the Llangollen before that.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Tidy Toy Town

Our boat outside The Shroppie Fly
We spent yesterday afternoon and evening in the picturesque town of Audlem. We had heard about the famous Shroppie Fly pub from Chertsey's crew as this used to be very much their neck of the cut. We were keen to check it out and arrived by early afternoon in bright sunshine. It is such a pretty town and very very tidy. Much more affluent than Market Drayton and Penkridge, it seems to nestle around the lock flight which adds to its charm. It was busy with boats which, unusally, are allowed to moor both sides of the canal.

We had the choice of three pubs that would allow us to take Jonesy and took advice on which to favour. This was, of course, a matter of taste and all three got recommendations from passing boaters. In the end, we had an afternoon walk and a lovely run round the playing field for Mr Jones and popped into the The Lord Combermere on the way. We decided to go back there for dinner and it was a good choice. The staff are attentive, the menu is imaginative and there is a nice atmosphere about the place. Some of you may remember the gammon and egg vs pineapple trauma of our  recent Stratford trip, No such issue here. Captain was served a wopping thick gammon steak with runny egg, just as he likes them, and fresh, yes fresh, pineapple and monster chips.

Audlem seems to have everything a passing boater could want for - a chip shop, pizza takeaway, pubs and a fully stocked Co-op. We liked it a lot. This morning we left, completing its pretty lock flight and made for Nantwich. But we only just managed to get tied up here. It is a very busy place for boats - where do they all come from? Tonight, we will venture into town for a mooch about and find some dinner.

Tomorrow is an auspicious day as we leave the Shropshire Union for the Llangollen canal and cruise into our new marina.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Pot Noodles

It's a mellow Sunday morning aboard PL 2. A bit rainy, but with the heating on and Cerys on Radio 6, a late breakfast of yoghurt and fruit, it's cosy. I am making up for the fact that I have so far failed to write a single blog this trip. Captain is elsewhere and I have stolen his laptop. Here is my chance to beat the early bird who has usually posted before I wake. So nothing here about flanges or smashed dollys or replacing the batteries or the fact that he nearly cried when, naked as the day he was born, and about to step into the shower, the whale gulper failed. I sprang into action and found a chandler's just up the cut, but moments later, he discovered it was just a wire that had come loose and was easily fixable. So for the moment, everything seems to be working as it should.

I have come over a bit Gerard Manly Hopkins over the last few days especially as I watched a massive bird of prey circling the canal. It made me think of his poem celebrating the power of 'The Windhover' written in May 1877.

       'As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
           Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
       Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!'

The cut has been dramatically beautiful: we have never been on the Shropshire Union before. It's wide, lush and feels laid back. Chugging along, you feel as if you are miles from anywhere. It's what makes boating occasionally mystical. I am glad that this feeling has been restored because we had a few days on the Staffie when it began to feel a bit stressful, like being stuck in umoving traffic on the M25 (well not really but the analogy will have to do). I guess we have been spoilt in mostly having the canal and locks to ourselves. On this end-of-summer trip to our new marina, we have been at the end of a long queue for locks, failed to find moorings for the first time in our five years of boating. Boaters are usually lovely but people seemed grumpy by canal standards.

We completely missed our stop at Goldstone because there was just nowhere to moor for miles. As it happened I have fresh food on board and a middle-of-nowhere mooring is fine because there is always the fall back of a reasonable dinner if the pub fails to materialise. Unlike the two youngish men who also failed to moor up for The Wharf Tavern for food. They told me the day after that they had feasted on some delicious Pot Noodles. Nothing wrong with Pot Noodles, of course. I've lived on them at a certain time of my life before I had heard of muesli or mange tout.

Last night was much more normal. We tied up nicely on the aqueduct above the river which runs under the canal. We are high over the pretty Georgian town of Market Drayton. For his early evening walk, we took Mr Jones and ambled in for dinner at the comfortable and very dog friendly Joules brewery pub - The Red Lion. We ate excellent burgers, pies and Jones had the pickings of a tin of various dog treats. It was a sunny all day yesterday and the evening was gorgeous. It is noticable that almost exactly on September first, we felt the air cool and the earth slowly tilting away from the sun.