Thursday 27th February – Chester to Chirk (29 miles)
Oooh heck ! what a blustery night, which only served to make the rain hammering down on the roof sound worse than it actually was. But I just love the feeling of being nicely tucked up in bed under a lovely and warm duvet, a hot mug of coffee and a good book whilst listening to the elements outside. However, by the time we awoke the following morning the wind and the rain had stopped, the sun was shining brightly, and it was ‘moving on day’. But we were in no hurry as our destination was less than one hours drive away, over the border into Wales. The CC rules are that on the day of departure you have to vacate your pitch by ‘noon’ and you cannot arrive on a site before ‘noon’, well you could but you probably wouldn’t be able to book in and ‘pitch up’. So we had plenty of time to drink our morning coffee in bed as usual before leisurely getting on with the preparing to leave routines. We have been blessed with good weather over the last week, irrespective of what the weather forecasters had predicted, and we hope that our luck holds at our next five-day halt as we will be meeting up with some good friends who also enjoy doing a bit of walking.
We really need to thank Paul & Debs for recommending this CC site at Chirk as it is not one that I would have probably ever have considered, which would ultimately have been at my great loss. This site sits quite literally outside the gates of ‘Chirk Castle’, not one of the crumbled, broken down rubble variety, but a proper ‘still standing’, ‘still furnished’ Castle which is ‘open to the public’ and although being a self-confessed history heathen, I still like Castles, but I don’t care who built it, lived in it, attacked it or died in it !! Now, if it was only the castle that was here then I certainly wouldn’t be raving about this place, but this site is also just a few minutes walk to the ‘Shropshire Union Canal’, Narrowboats being another one of my passions and I still have living on one fulltime on my ‘Bucket List‘. From this canal towpath there is a tunnel which can be walked through and there are a couple of very nice Aqueducts, the most famous being the ‘Pontcysylite Aqueduct’, and this is within walking distance from the Campsite and once we have crossed that we can continue walking on to ‘Llangollen’, all of this within a mere 9 miles !! Fortunately there is a bus back from Llangollen to Chirk if we don’t want to walk back again !! And what better way to enjoy all of this than with some good friends !!
We had some ‘spits and spots’ on the journey but nothing too serious to contend with and by the time we arrived the sun was shining again. Unexpectedly, the site was pretty well occupied and we didn’t have too many empty ‘Pitches’ to choose from as we had forgotten that different regions in the Country have ‘School Half Term Holidays’ on different weeks and it was quite evident that this was still the holiday period !! However, we found a nice sizeable pitch that accommodated ‘Big Momma’ with room to spare. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t matter how much you spend on Satellite TV systems, there are some locations where you are not going to get a signal, and this was one of them, well at least from our ‘pitch’. But that is where also having the standard TV omnidirectional Ariel fitted comes into its own, we may not have been able to get any TV reception from our ‘Camos Sat Dome’ but we could get a perfectly good TV & Radio Reception on the bog standard ‘Status’ TV Ariel.
Once settled in we had a quick-lunch and then went to explore the immediate area. They refer to ‘Chirk’ as a town and who am I to argue, but to us this was more like a large ‘village’, although it did have everything you could want. A five-minute walk brought you to the small Railway Station which had services to Wrexham, Chester and Llangollen and the station was next to the Canal. Outside of the small Railway Station were bus stops where you could catch buses to Wrexham, Oswestry and Llangollen and places in between, so good transport links on the doorstep. Another ten minute walk saw you in the centre of Chirk, okay the one Main Street but it did have a number of eateries including an Indian Restaurant, Fish & Chip shop, a Thai Noodle Bar, a Pub and a Hotel, both of which served food and a nice looking ‘Tea Room’ which had some delicious looking cakes on display, we resisted going inside, well on this occasion at least. There were a few other useful shops, a ‘Spar’ mini-market, a local butcher, a green-grocers, a hardware store and a Post Office as well as ‘several’ hairdressers ! There was also a ‘Vets’, a Doctors surgery, A Dentist and although we didn’t see it, even a Leisure Centre with Swimming Pool. For Golfers there was a local Golf Club and for Boaters there was a Marina just a short walking distance away. So, Chirk may only be relatively small but to be honest it had everything you could want, I may have to make a note of this place, especially the possibility of an ideal ‘Winter’ mooring for the day that I get to fulfil the only other outstanding ‘to do’ on my ‘Bucket List’.
we returned to ‘Big Momma’ and after I had made us both a well deserved cuppa, Shazza decided it was time to make some fresh bread rolls and another fruit cake.
Paul and Debs arrived in ‘Bugsy’ just a little after 4pm and once they had got themselves settled they joined us in ‘Big Momma’ for the evening and we spent all night chatting away and just generally catching up on things.
We awoke not just to the beginning of a new month, but also a month that would see us into a ‘new’ season as we were now heading towards Spring, at the end of this month we would again change our clocks by putting them forward one hour effectively making it lighter in the evenings for longer. Also by sheer coincidence we found ourselves in Wales and today was St. David’s Day, he being the patron Saint of Wales. We had awoken early, at 7.15am, and there had been an overnight frost, however this had been the first frost we had encountered since being back in the UK ! The good Welsh people know how to honour their Saint though as the sun was already rising and it already felt like a mild Spring morning rather than a crisp and sharp Winter one. As I stepped out of the van, in my shorts and hooded fleece, to go to the shower block, I was expecting to shiver just a little but was pleasantly surprised to discover that even at this early part of the day the sun already had warmth. It reminded me a little of the mornings in Portugal when I would go outside to do a weather check to see whether it was a shorts and tee-shirt day or one requiring jeans and a sweater !! Today it was more a matter checking to see if it would be full winter rain jacket and fleece to go over the jeans and sweater or just a light fleece lined top, the latter proved to be the case.
In the days before, some would say that we had an almighty ‘brain fart’, we gave up our very good careers, sold our house and ‘all’ of our furniture and all our worldly possessions to live a nomadic life in ‘Big Momma’, we would spend Sundays sat in front of the TV watching hours of ‘back to back’ programmes called ‘Narrowboat World’. Programmes that would show life on the canals, primarily in the UK, although occasionally some in Europe. It wasn’t just dedicated to full-time ‘Liveaboards’ but also those who both holidayed on them in hire boats and those who worked on and around them in industries associated to the canals. The programme would show many of the canals, the towpaths, villages and towns and this served to just keep that other ‘dream’ alive of one day perhaps owning our own Narrowboat and living on the canals. The Campsite we are on here at Chirk is located just a few minutes walk away from the ‘Shropshire Union Canal’ which, if you follow the towpath in a Westerly direction leads on to the Llangollen canal. I had seen this canal on another programme called ‘Great Canal Walks’ and knew that there was a very famous Aqueduct along this route, the ‘Pontcysylite’ which crossed the River Dee which ran three hundred metres below. The towpath too went across the aqueduct but the most awesome bit is that although the people crossing on foot had a safety rail to stop them falling over the edge, on the Narrowboat side there was no such safety railing, all that those stood on the boat can see during the crossing is the three hundred metre drop below !! So if you are a Narrowboater who suffers with Vertigo then best just close your eyes during the crossing and keep the tiller straight !!
During our previous evenings meal we had decided that we would walk the towpath from Chirk Aqueduct all the way to the town of Llangollen, a distance of 9 miles, and then return on the bus. However, because we needed to first walk from the Campsite to the Aqueduct, and accounting for our walk back to the Campsite once we had got off the bus on the return journey, today’s exercise, which we have dedicated as the ‘Paul & Debs Expedition‘, will be closer to 11 miles !! But the sun was shining, there was no chill factor and there was only the merest whisper of a breeze, not quite shorts and tee-shirt weather but no need to dress for arctic conditions either.
With our day packs, containing our picnic lunches, flask of coffee and bottles of water, and armed with hiking poles we set off in beautiful morning sunshine amid blue skies and white cotton wool ball clouds. I of course went armed with my trusty camera to record the days sights, however, I took so many that I have made a separate photographic account to accompany this blog post, entitled ‘Views from the towpath‘. Although a still photograph cannot truly compensate for being there and doing it yourself, I trust that I have included sufficient so that with a little bit of imagination you can get a feeling for it too. The wonderful thing about walking along the towpath is that you get exactly the same views that you would get if you were aboard a Narrowboat, stood at the stern, tiller in hand, the vibration of the diesel-powered engine gently vibrating under your feet, the gentle noise from the chug of the engine in your ears, the smell from the smoke as it burns the logs on the fire and the sights of the ever-changing scenery as you slowly meander through the calm water at a sedate 4mph. Being a weekend, and a sunny one at that, there were quite a lot of walkers, many were families and we all had one thing in common, we were just enjoying the fresh air, the sights, the sounds and the smells of the countryside. When you walk along this particular stretch of canal towpath it isn’t just about the water and boats or even the ever-changing views. A lot of work has been put in by Canal Restoration Groups to make it a visually enjoyable experience as all along the route there is a wide variety of canal side sculptures, the majority are related to the Canals former industrial heritage and occasionally a particular character.
At the risk of sounding unappreciative of the wonderful surroundings, which I am most certainly not, I was ever so slightly disappointed on two counts. First, we only saw one Narrowboat actually cruising the stretch of canal that we walked. However, I do know that in the Winter months, generally between October and March there are a lot of canal closures due to maintenance work on locks, dredging, clearing of obstacles such as fallen trees and in some cases even emergency work where canal walls have been breached. But we did get to see quite a few boats moored up. My next small disappointment was in not seeing the Narrowboat called ‘Tilley’. In one of my previous posts I mentioned having read two recently published books by the young lad called ‘Dan’ (The Narrowboat Lad) and in his last book he mentioned that he was moored up in Chirk Marina. As he stated in his books that he enjoys cruising the canal during the winter I had rather hoped that he may have decided to take ‘Tilley’ for a bit of a cruise and that would have made a wonderful photo opportunity. How many times do you get to read books where you have the opportunity to meet the Author, other than at official formal book signings that is ?
We arrived at Llangollen, the canal sits high above the town and it was nice to look down over rooftops onto the town, the small railway station and the fast flowing River Dee. Paul and Debs, having been here before, took us to a riverside establishment they knew and we rewarded ourselves with a well-earned drink !! We took a small wander around the ‘small’ town, although it was very busy, something to do not so much with the un-seasonally good weather but more to do with it being St. David’s day. We took a look inside an ‘outdoor’ sort of shop where Paul was very impressed with a fold down BBQ come Fire Pit and although he managed to show some good self-restraint by not purchasing it, I suspect that on another day, on another visit that personal self-discipline may not hold so firm ! There were some other shops with very tempting cakes in the window and another with a lip . good chocolate covered fudge and nougat bar, on this occasion my resolve wavered slightly, however, not wanting to show weakness after Paul’s self-restraint I kept the wallet firmly in one’s pocket and just dribbled discreetly as we walked away. We didn’t have to wait too long for our bus back to Chirk, it was a relatively short journey which followed roughly the route of the canal but on the other side of the River Dee and although it hadn’t been a hard walk we were pleased to enjoy the return trip sat down. The bus conveniently dropped us at the small rail station in Chirk but we still had a fifteen minute walk back to the Campsite ! Paul & Debs had invited us to join them in ‘Bugsy’ for dinner later that evening but we still had sufficient time to get our walking boots off and relax for a couple of hours.
The evening just flew past, again we shared good company, excellent food, and a glass or two of ‘falling over juice’. We finished the evening off by playing a game of ‘guess the famous person’. Paul & Shazza teamed up against Debs and myself. A bit like the game of Charades, we picked out a random piece of paper which had the name of a celebrity, sports star, pop star, historical character etc. and by providing a number of clues to our respective partners had to guess the name of the person. We had just one minute to guess as many names as possible before the other team then took their turn. Debs and I both knew that had we have won, the ‘sulking’ from our very competitive respective partners would have been unbearable, so we contrived to let them win without them feeling that we had let them do so. We gave them a good run for their money so that they would not suspect our ploy and then at the last gasp we let them have it and we suffered a very respectable defeat of 83 points to 81 points !! No sooner had our weekend begun with Paul & Debs and it was almost over as they had to return home ready for work on Monday. We too had known that feeling and were thankful, for now at least, that we no longer have to face those Sunday Syndromes !
Once our friends had departed we elected to have a ‘rest’ day and that decision was confirmed for us as the sky turned grey followed by an afternoon of rain. I spent most of the afternoon trying to catch up with writing my blog and sorting through the ‘masses’ of photographs from our previous days walk to put into the separate photographic supplement to this post.
The site had emptied considerably on the Sunday and it was a quiet night, the rain having stopped during the early part of the evening. We awoke a little later than anticipated but we had not made any plans for our last day here at Chirk and so there was no rush. We enjoyed our usual first coffee in bed gazing through the large Heki skylight. The sun was shining and the sky was blue so we mulled over what to do. With the Castle literally on our doorstep it would be a shame not to go and take a look but on the other hand we knew that in less than a week we would be attending our ‘Elf & Elfette’ course. This was going to be quite a physical, hands on type of course with long days to test our stamina. We knew that over the next few days we would have little chance for long walks as their were other more ‘domestically’ important tasks to be conducted. We decided that we would leave the Castle visit for another time as we were adamant that this site was worthy of another visit at some point in the future and who knows, we may even end up working at this site ! And so we came to the decision that another canal walk was in order only this time we would head East from the Aqueduct.
First things first though, whilst I got on with the daily task of emptying the Grey Waste, topping up the Fresh Water and doing the necessary with the Toilet Cassette, Shazza wanted to bake a loaf of bread (I was very sorely tempted to say ‘needed’ but thought better of it !) as we were running short. With Shazza’s newly found expertise on the bread baking front we haven’t bought any bread for many weeks now, well every little helps on the housekeeping budget I suppose.
After a quick snack, not of freshly baked bread as I was informed that it had to cool first, we set off on our walk. On Saturday we had a destination and we knew roughly how far that walk would be, however, today there was no pre-determined destination or distance just a case of following the canal until we decided to turn around and come back.
This became a quite different canal side-walk to the one we had taken a couple of days before. Although on the photograph above you can see a nice dry ‘metalled’ road, this soon changed to a very wet and muddy towpath !!
We hadn’t been walking very long when we noticed a boat that appeared to be in trouble. As we got closer we could see that it had got too close to the bank and grounded on mud in the shallow water. I suggested, both by voice and miming actions, that they might want to throw me a rope, which I could wrap around a post and provide some leverage. I had learnt how to do this in the many Narrowboating books that I have read. However, they were too busy trying to push themselves off with a pole and were ‘revving’ the engine so much that they probably couldn’t hear me !!
We continued along the towpath and enjoyed looking at many of the moored up boats of all shapes and sizes, the wildlife, canal side properties and even some nice bits of canal side humour !!
Very often I will say things to Shazza and it appears as if she is not listening to a word I am saying, and some will say that they don’t blame her as I tend to talk rather a lot !! Then, on occasions she will say, or do, things that make me realise that she was listening after all and just chose to not confirm the fact. Let me give you an example………….
As I have already mentioned, perhaps on a couple of occasions in the past few blog posts, I have recently read two books called ‘The Narrowboat Lad’, a true story, but the relevant bit is that he lives on his Narrowboat called ‘Tilly’ on this stretch of canal. I was somewhat disappointed that I had not seen either ‘Dan’ or ‘Tilley’ whilst out on our long walk to Llangollen. I had mentioned the fact that he resided in this locality to Shazza many times whilst reading the book, especially relevant as I knew we were due to come here, but as always she had failed to acknowledge that she had heard me or taken any notice whatsoever. But there we were, casually strolling along the towpath when ‘Eagle-eyed’ Shazza announces, “There’s Dans Boat” ! Sure enough, there was ‘Tilly’ moored up on the canal, not only did I recognise the boat from his ‘You Tube’ videos but on the inside of one of the boat windows were flyers advertising his books !!
Unfortunately ‘Dan’ was not at home, ‘Tilley’ was all locked up and he was either at work or keeping warm at his parents house, my latter assumption being concluded in the lack of ‘Boaters Gold’ stored on the roof. At this time of year, those residing in their boats would ensure that they had plenty of this precious commodity !! But no matter, I had read his books and now had actually seen his boat with my own eyes, what a few days this has turned out to be !!
We continued our walk a little further before Shazza checked her ‘Gizmo’ that revealed that we had already walked four miles. We decided that we should turn back, well you can only look at so many Narrowboats, Beautiful Countryside Views and Canalside Properties, can’t you ?
Our ‘Shazza Expedition’ had been eight miles !! I certainly deserved a nice big slice of that fruit cake when we returned to ‘Big Momma’. There wasn’t much left of our last day here but we had certainly enjoyed ourselves. Southern Europe may certainly be that bit warmer than England right now but boy how we are enjoying ‘Living the Dream’ over here. Tomorrow is another ‘Move On’ day and we have a number of things to do over the next few days before we have to park ‘Big Momma’ up whilst we attend our formal training course with the Caravan Club.