Having originally decided to get to Ellesmere and assess the situation, it subsequently seemed that it was worth making a determined assault on the Llangollen summit. Song & Dance needs an oil change and service fairly shortly, and the marina in Ellesmere can fit us in next Tuesday, so we had just under a week to potter somewhere. A combination of hire boat base turn-round days, and the rumour that many of these hire-boaters were only interested in going as far as The Unpronounceable Viaduct before heading back meant that Friday and Saturday could be reasonable days to tackle the final stretch. And so, bidding Ellesmere farewell for a few days, we set off, having decided to try and get somewhere near Chirk base camp to put us in a good position.
The canal winds around the contours a bit, and the countryside is progressively less flat than the mosses and meres East of Ellesmere, as one approaches Lower Frankton, Frankton Junction, Welsh Frankton, Welsh Wales and so on. Meandering along the border, Song & Dance seemed to be one of very few boats heading uphill, while there seemed to be a never ending stream of boats coming the other way. The Llangollen Canal was living up to its reputation as the busiest spot on the network.
After some delay getting through the two St. Martins locks (mainly caused by a long queue of boats coming the other way, and a fund raising exercise at one of them, causing some degree of chaos), a late lunch ensued, out in the sticks, with an open view on the towpath side (unusual), and far off vistas of the Welsh Hills mountains.
And then fairly quickly you start getting closer and closer to the scenery; at Chirk Bank you suddenly realise you’re on the side of quite a deep valley, before launching across Chirk Aqueduct, which takes you into Wales properly: one minute soaring high above countryside, the next diving underground through Chirk Tunnel. The aqueduct is accompanied by a rather fine railway viaduct.
Although not overly long, Chirk Tunnel is always a bit of a challenge – a subject for another post – and one eventually emerges into a long deep cutting by Chirk Station and Chirk Castle. With loads of downstream traffic still milling around the upstream tunnel entrance, we decided not to try and stay at the visitor moorings there, although we knew Chirk well – we had some friends who lived in the nearby village until they passed a few years ago. There’s normally an overpowering smell of hot chocolate along this part of the canal: it passes by a large Cadbury’s chocolate factory, but today, not a whiff!
We knew there were reasonable moorings just before The Great Unpronounceable, but as we approached the nearly unpronounceable Froncysyllte, the Captain announced that he rather liked the view over the steep valley down to the River Dee, and jumped off to explore while further we were still cruising. Fortunately there was a suitable proper job visitor mooring about 100 yards further down, so we called it a day – we called it Wednesday – and retrieving Sir from the woods we settled down for a well earned bottle of the red stuff.