The boat’s living accommodation is as limited as the term ‘narrowboat’ suggests. It’s quite adequate but the storage space in the living and sleeping quarters is not as well designed, in this particular boat, as the kitchen’s is. There’s a splendid and quite roomy shower, with loo and washbasin but there’s also a second lavatory for the aft cabin, which hardly seems necessary and you’d think the space would be better used for something else – there is a rail and hangers in there but, as Mig says, it feels quite wrong to hang clothes in the toilet. In the living area there’s a sofa which turns into a bed and two armchairs that turn into single beds, though that’s quite a kerfuffle apparently. There are also two tables, a small square one and a larger one, that can be put up when wanted. There are radiators and a stove – this is all fine and very comfortable, but space to put clothes and other things is almost non-existent apart from a very small hanging wardrobe. Still, it’s comfortable for four, though I think that six people would find it cramped.
On Sunday, we headed for the end of the line at Llangollen. This was to be the most interesting and beautiful part of the trip and we have been so lucky with the weather, because what we wanted – and got – was a clear sky and not too much wind. The temperature didn’t matter – by this time, I was wearing a lot of layers, including tights under my jeans. Mig and Barney have been this way in rain and very strong winds.
I had decided that this was the day I should get to grips with bridges. Having worked out what I was doing wrong, I reckoned that I should simply line the boat up just left or right of centre of the bridge, depending where the tow path was, and then trust myself. And it did the trick. I did three bridges nearly perfectly – well, the first was acceptable, the second was perfect and the third was very good although I wavered rather anxiously over the canal afterwards as there was a moored boat and a bend immediately afterwards and, though I negotiated them all right, it took me quite some time to get my line back afterwards. Maybe because of that, the next couple of bridges weren’t great. Still, I wasn’t too unhappy with myself. I handed the tiller back to Barney after that as things were going to get interesting – tunnels, narrows and, spectacularly, aqueducts.
Having raised ourselves so much with locks, we went for some 20 miles before encountering two more and then they were the last. We reached Chirk and the first aqueduct, which also marked the boundary from England with Wales. There were several bridges, which I was glad not to be dealing with as they were tricky, especially one immediately followed by a blind corner, two tunnels and a lifting bridge, then the main aqueduct.
I can hardly begin to describe it, nor the effect it had on me. Not only is it a magnificent edifice, but the wonder that men built it, over two hundred years ago – the grandeur of the concept, the quality of the design and its execution, the courage and skill of the workmen, the fact that it was built while there was a war on (it took ten years to build and was finished in 1805), the actuality of riding over it, walking along the tow path, feeling quite wobbly on occasion but too thrilled by the views and the experience to let any of that stop me, clutching my iPad and feeling quite sure I was going to drop it at any moment – this aqueduct is 127 feet in the air, over 1,000 feet long and boats still ride over it, it is in daily use for the purpose it was originally built, even if recreationally rather than industrially – words aren’t working and nor will photos. What I mean, I think, is that I had seen photos but the reality is breathtaking. I could not help thinking about Thomas Telford’s concept and the men who had so bravely worked on building this edifice over ten years. It was windy up there and we were safe. They weren’t. I was looking around at the view and feeling a touch of vertigo, they were working on, however they felt and trying to ignore the drop that they would suffer if they made a mistake. I hoped they felt the pride of their part in this achievement. After a while, I got back on the boat and felt less wobbly – though I realised, later, that part of it wasn’t vertigo but sea legs because the ground moved when I was standing still in Llangollen too, later.
We reached the town at around half past five, turned round and moored. Mig had phoned earlier and booked a table at a lovely restaurant called the Corn Mill. We had time to shower and change and warm up – after the warmth of the weather last week, it has been cold (I may have mentioned this already) and we were very high up and, when on the boat and particularly on the aqueducts, quite exposed to the elements. Mind you, Mig and Barney have had far worse weather there, including such strong winds that the boats were pretty well uncontrollable.
We had a gorgeous meal – Mig started with a basil panna cotta which I’ve not come across as a savoury dish before but was delicious (we are tasters of each others’ food) and served with several varieties of tomato, tapenade and a lovely (she said, she didn’t share that!) crisp slice of tomato that had been dried and possibly fried – it looked like a biscuit. Barney and I shared a charcuterie platter that also had chicken liver pâté, piccalilli made with fresh mustard powder (I know members of the Colman family, I know my mustard), a delicious onion marmalade, some wonderful little onions pickled in balsamic vinegar, I’m sure – I must find out how to do that – various other bits and pieces including marvellous olives and two sorts of home made bread. After that, they both had sea bass and I had crab linguine. After dinner, Mig and Barney went outside to look at the River Dee, but I discovered I had wifi! so went on to Facebook instead, until I heard about the splendid water wheel, so I did go out to look at it before lurching back inside for coffee. At the end of the evening, we had at least half of our second bottle of wine left, so I took it back to the boat.
The next morning, which was Monday, we shopped in Llandudno, which was jolly good as there was an independent greengrocer as well as a proper butcher, before coffee at the quay and then a horse-drawn boat trip up the canal – I know! darlings, the whole tourist experience and so it should be – before we set off downstream again. Lovely Barney steered the whole way because it needed someone who wasn’t going to panic (exit me) and who enjoyed it (exit Mig). I decided not to take pictures going over the aqueduct this time but enjoy the experience, though found I was still a bit woozy and couldn’t just turn around but had to lean on the railings for security before I looked all about at the wonderful views and the fields and River Dee far below. Then the boat caught up with me and I got on and steered the rest of the way – which will look good on Mig’s photo, but was not really steering at all because the aqueduct is so narrow that there’s nowhere to go wrong.
I opened the bridge but didn’t have to close it as there was another boat following us, and we kept going on down the canal, waiting for other boats when necessary. It was all quite relaxed, patient but not frustrating, as it will be later in the season. Back into England over the Chirk aqueduct, then we stopped and moored outside a pub. Barney and I went for a pint or two, he having prepared dinner (I’m being absurdly well looked after and have grown out of nearly all my clothes) and lurched back, I having forgotten jacket and handbag, and having to turn back. Once we were on the boat, I listened to him speak and knew he had had a drop too much and that meant I had too, though I’d had a pint less than him.
Then we had wine with dinner. Remarkably, none of us had any trace of a hangover at any time that week. We must have worked off the alcohol in advance, as we didn’t drink during the day, apart from the occasional tot of rum for the steersman (me or Barney, Mig neither steering nor liking rum).
I haven’t downloaded photos yet, I must do that – this site really doesn’t like uploading more than one or two so, if they’re worth posting, I may put them up on my old Blogger blog. But not tonight. I’m tired and a bit dismal, not that there has been anything amiss with the day.