As the Brave and Intrepid crew were aware that several weeks had elapsed since their last adventure and were keen to test their narrowboating skills even further, they set about planning another mission into unknown areas of the British Inland Waterways. With the kind permission of Cran, the 'Stealth' Narrowboat was made available to the crew. The route started at Norbury Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal, some 5 miles to the west of Stafford and is to end at The Aqueduct Marina approximately 5 miles South West of Middlewich, seven days later. The route and the dangers that they might encounter are totally unknown to the crew!! This must therefore be their most dangerous mission yet.
The adventure begins:
Neil, Alan and Ron met at Alan's House at
8-20am prompt, eager to depart into the unknown areas of
|They set their navigation systems for Norbury Junction and quickly located the 'Stealth' narrowboat safely moored close to 'The Junction Inn' public house. The boat was found to be in excellent condition and after the crew quickly transferred their possessions on board, they set off to find a suitable establishment to procure the necessary provisions for their difficult journey.|
After coffee at a canalside
cafe, Neil quickly located a Waitrose Superstore in the nearby town of
Newport where plentiful supplies of Smoked Mackerel Fillets, Salad and
Fruit, together with multi-grain bread and toilet rolls were procured.
After safely depositing the said items
back into the boat and switching on the refrigeration facilities, the crew
set off towards the Aqueduct Marina, where they rapidly located the
cafeteria for a healthy lunch. At 3pm the pre-arranged taxi service
efficiently ferried the crew back to the boat where, after updating the crew
with the amusing entries in Cran's diary they, except Ron, set about the
formidable task of putting the duvet covers on the bedding. After much
wrestling the crew found need of rest.
It was apparent that no cruising would be
possible this day and therefore the crew set off in search of food and ale.
The Junction Inn proved adequate for their needs offering healthy and
refreshing Wychwood 'Bountiful' ale 4%, together with sizzling low fat
chicken stir fry with Reggae Reggae sauce and rice (except Alan). The
crew returned to the narrowboat at the early hour of 10-30pm to enjoy a
little coffee without the benefit of cheese or biscuits.
The crew were aware that the narrowboat must be turned in the morning in challenging conditions and
retired to their bunks to contemplate the exciting adventures ahead.
Sunday 5th September (Slightly overcast, but a pleasant day)
The crew arose at 7-30 eager to start their adventure.
|The crew tried to learn the secrets of Neil's perfect porridge, but he refused to share these with the other crew. Porridge portions were larger than usual this morning, but served with fresh Orange Juice.|
After a daring reversing manoeuvre onto the water point the crew contemplated how to turn the narrowboat in such a crowded and confined space at Norbury Junction
No difficulty was encountered whilst Ron turned the
boat in the difficult conditions and they set off northwards towards unknown
|Neil prepared toast and coffee, consumed on the move, whilst the boat was negotiated under strange double bridges with built in telegraph poles|
Alan set a target of reaching Audlem for the evening,
but the crew knew how many locks must be passed before reaching this goal.
Before long the crew were confronted with the first lock of the mission, occupied by another boat. However, as expected, they quickly adapted to a rapid and efficient locking routine.
Much to the amazement of the other canal users, the
crew had reached Market Drayton by lunchtime. They immediately moored
to prepare a healthy lunch of Hot Dogs with small portions of Pork Pie, with
salad and Pickled Onions (except Ron & Neil). Afterwards Alan took
time to report their incredible progress to the media, via the local
Wetherby Radio Station, Tempo FM, by a live interview.
|Neil took delight in attempting to knock the other crew into the canal, but underestimated their immense strength.|
Soon the feared Audlem flight of locks appeared
before the crew. However, despite a number of other craft, with
inexperienced crew, the obstacle was soon defeated. Ron went ahead
with radios to cunningly locate an excellent mooring position close to the
town, whilst the crew showered and readied themselves for an evening of ale and
The crew hurried to the Lord Combermere where they
were delighted to find Timothy Taylors Landlord on offer, much to their
considerable enjoyment. They instantly identified Chicken Passander on
the specials board and quickly ordered three portions with extra popadoms and
chutney from the attractive young landlady. The choice proved well
founded and the crew feasted upon the fare and the accompanying ale.
Eager to experience the delights of Audlem, the crew
moved on the 'Shroppie Fly' where they enjoyed further Landlord and Courage
Directors, whilst watching a young girl, with a very short skirt, playing
Pool. Neil refused to look at the girl and spent his time watching
'Crocodile Dundee' on the TV.
After leaving the 'Shroppie Fly' the crew returned to the boat to enjoy small portions of cheese, biscuits and grapes (except Alan) with their coffee, before retiring to their bunks to contemplate the dangers that lay ahead of them in reaching the Llangollen Canal.
Monday 6th September (Cloudy and blustery, but with some hazy sunshine)
The crew were awoken during the night with much banging
and clunking as high winds battered the boat. However, the crew
remained calm and comfortable in their warm bunks. The wind had
dropped when the crew rose and Neil prepared plentiful supplies of his award
The boat passed the 'Shroppie Fly' whilst traversing the remaining 4 locks of the Audlem flight, before the boat continued on long straight and wide sections of the Shropshire Union towards Nantwich, arriving at 11am.
Even with the fresh water supplies on board at dangerous levels, the forward lookout was able to spot the cunningly disguised water point and they were soon refilling their tanks, much to their obvious relief.
Soon the crew were seen passing Nantwich, but they
knew that they would soon be at Hurlestone Junction signalling that they
would soon be leaving the relative safety of the Shropshire Union Canal.
|The formidable Hurleston Junction came only too quick for the experienced crew, with its extremely narrow giant lock looming ahead of them.|
|Ron elected to make the impossible turn in the high windy conditions, whilst the others sheltered on the safety of dry land, fearing the worst!!|
The lock-keeper congratulated the crew on their 'text book' ascent of the Hurleston Locks, as others stood on in amazement.
The crew were proud of their achievements during the first part of the Llangollen Canal and quickly stopped to prepare a healthy lunch of Smoked Mackerel Fillets, Salad and Boiled egg, with a little whole grain bread. Alan managed a few Pickled Onions, which greatly calmed his nerves.
The crew were conscious that Neil had so far avoided any head injuries on this mission and recorded that many of his scars from previous injuries were clearing up well.
The crew were amazed at the strange wild animals in the area, but put in down to the fact that they would soon be entering the wilds of North Wales.
Alan consulted the master spreadsheet and confirmed
that Whitchurch should be the destination for the evening. However,
the other members of the crew knew this to be an impossible target, but
agreed to continue with the mission.
They were not perturbed by the giant Wrenbury Lift Bridge crossing their path. The complex hydraulic machinery soon ground into action as Alan operated the complicated control panel to stop the traffic and lift the bridge
Whilst negotiating the Wrenbury Bridge a Holiday Boat full of inexperienced Swedish boaters pulled out in front of the Stealth and proceeded at less than 1 mph. This could easily have scuppered the mission, had Neil not made another of his daring overtaking manoeuvres.
Flushed with the success of Neil's amazing overtaking manoeuvre the crew continued on their epic cruise, however, soon the clouds thickened and rain started to fall. The crew were not perturbed by this change in weather and continued helping a number of craft with inexperienced through a series of locks. One by one the other craft gave up in the poor weather conditions and moored, but the crew battled on in the increasingly worsening conditions.
The crew soon arrived at the feared Grindley Brook staircase locks. At this late hour the lockkeeper had finished for the day and normally no traffic would be allowed through. However, the crew's instinctive skills, permitted them to operate the complex locking machinery with little effort.
They moored just short of their planned destination knowing that the Horse & Jockey was nearby and hurried to test their un-usual very light colour 'Endeavour' ale (except Alan - Hyde Ale). Fish Pie dinners were enjoyed (Except Alan, who enjoyed his fish differently cooked). After only 3 pints the crew made their way back to the boat in the pouring rain and retired to their bunks whilst listening the rain beating on the roof.
Tuesday 7th September (Day started with clear skies and sunshine)
The crew awoke very early (7-15) to calm sunny
conditions, where after pleasant pleasing porridge they set off towards an
Very quickly the crew came across many obstacles in their path, but Ron can be seen here using his super-human strength to lift one of the bridges single handed and allow the craft to continue.
The morning unfolded into a excellent cruising
day through the beautiful countryside.
The crew became relaxed not knowing what the locals were planning
The crew found the locals had developed super fast craft to gain an advantage over the 'Stealth' narrowboat. However, the crew had a cunning plan up their sleeve.
|Quickly the crew developed the Rutland 913 turbo powered accelerator and fitted this to the "Stealth" boat enabling incredible speeds to be achieved.||
Warp speeds were maintained even through the long dark tunnels, thanks to the 'Rutland 913'
Whilst passing the giant "Cole Mere" the weather changed for the worse, with torrential rain and lightning, the crew quickly moored to prepare a healthy lunch of Pork Pie, Ham, Salad and Pickles with thunder defeating cup-a-soups.
After the rain subsided, the crew set-off
again arriving at Ellesmere around 3pm. They accurately located a
Tesco supermarket purchasing extra supplies of salad, bread and washing up
liquid with a little bicarbonate of soda. Afterward they located
a postcard shop (for Neil) and a local Deli selling an excellent variety of
local Pork Pie. They found need to test the "Black Sheep" and
"Speckled Hen" at 'The Market Hotel' before
returning to the boat for showers prior to setting off again for the town.
Having also purchased a new Pearsons
canal book they calculated that reaching Llangollen would be too far and
elected to attempt the entire length of the little used Montgomery Canal,
which they all agreed would be a testing trial for the crew.
The crew arrived at the Black Lion Hotel for dinner having Curries, Gammon and Steak & Kidney Pie, with a little 'Bountiful' Ale. Afterwards hurrying to the 'Market Hotel' next door to watch the second half of the England v Switzerland match with England winning 3:1, whilst enjoying a little more Speckled Hen.
Returning to the boat they admired the clear bright star filled sky, which they felt must be a good omen for their mission. Back on board though, they were unable to manage any cheese or biscuits or even sips of coffee and retired to their bunks knowing that tomorrow they will be leaving the safety of the Llangollen Canal into the dangers of the Montgomery Canal. Sleep came slowly for the troubled crew.
Wednesday 8th September (Day again started with clear skies and some sunshine, turning into a very hot afternoon)
The crew slept in until almost 8am preparing prompt
porridge before carefully negotiating the craft the short distance into the
Ellesmere Marina. Here they filled with 58 Lts of diesel, pumped out
the dangerously full front loo and replenished the fresh water tanks.
Alan took the opportunity to book their passage into the Montgomery Canal,
whilst the young lady at the other end was amazed by their incredible
The treacherous turn into the start of the Franklin Locks was untaken with utter precision, with much admiration from the locals
Considerable traffic was seen leaving the area due to the incredible danger
The crew were horrified to see the width of the canal and realised that successful navigation of this would require immense skill.
The locals could not believe the bravery of the crew by attempting to take a powered craft along this canal, but the crew were not perturbed.
The weather turned desperately hot in the afternoon, as the pressure bore upon the crew
A bridge cunningly hidden in the undergrowth by the locals, caused a moment of indecision that required a difficult manoeuvre .
The crew were amazed to see an ancient trans-shipment warehouse on their incredible route through the historic countryside.
|Progress was slow along the Montgomery Canal, but eventually they arrived in civilisation around the half way point and immediately moored to prepare a healthy lunch of Turkey Salad, with a little Pork Pie, together with the recently purchased Coleslaw.||
The crew triumphantly arrived at Maesbury Marsh indicating the success of their mission to travel the entire length of the navigable section of the Montgomery Canal. They turned the boat and made their way back towards Wootton for a celebratory evening.
The crew were humbled to find that the
locals had reserved a special mooring spot directly opposite the Queens Head
and they rested a while, but realised that the return journey must be
accomplished in just two days!!
After showers and watching the locals in
their canoes, the crew set off for the Queens Head where they were again
delighted to find Speckled Hen on offer. The waitress showed the crew
to best table in the pub, which was located in the conservatory overlooking
the canal. Here they watched numerous large lorries and tractors
ferrying their loads of potatoes to a nearby factory. Paella dishes
were enjoyed (except Ron) as the crew reminisced about their incredible
journey, so far.
The exhaustion of the day told upon the crew who returned to the boat at only 9-30, where coffee without cheese or biscuits was enjoyed. They agreed that an early start would be necessary to guarantee their place in the lock queue, knowing that a long difficult journey through the festival traffic in Ellesmere would have to be endured. They retired to their bunks satisfied that they had achieved the main goal of the mission, but were aware that reaching 'The Aqueduct Marina' by Saturday was no simple task.
Thursday 9th September (Day again started with clear skies and some sunshine, turning into a fine day)
The crew arose at 7-05am eager to consume Neil's
porridge and get underway. The engine maintenance procedures were
completed in record time and they cast off at 7-30 leaving the village of Wootton still sleeping.
Fully respecting the low speed limits the crew took
1½ hours to reach the start of Franklin Locks, finding three boats waiting
ahead of the them.
The lock-keeper (Colin) was again on duty and rushed to open the locks knowing the impossible targets the crew had set themselves for the day. Quickly the locking system started to operate, whilst the crew enjoyed toast, with marmalade (except Alan).
Using their instinctive skills the giant Franklin
Locks were cleared by 11-45 and the craft continued on its journey back to
Ellesmere, but the crew were only too aware that the build-up to the
Ellesmere Narrowboating Festival was in full swing and crippling delays may
jeopardise their progress.
The crew were again amazed to see that the festival organisers had arranged free passage for the 'Stealth Narrowboat'
Overwhelmed by the generosity of the Ellesmere Folk, the crew quite forgot that the dangers of the Ellesmere Tunnel lay ahead of them, but no disasters occurred.
After passing all the dangers of
Ellesmere the crew prepared Hot Dogs, with French Mustard, without Pork Pie,
but with a freshly boiled egg. These were consumed in relays so as not
to delay the progress of the narrowboat. Four more long hours of
lockless canal lay before crew before they would able to judge whether the
mission had been saved.
DISASTER OCCURRED The crew realised that supplies of Hob-Nobs would not last the until completion of the mission and spent a quiet moment sharing their remaining 2 biscuits.
No difficulties were encountered as the crew negotiated 3 giant lift bridges whilst passing near Whitchurch, but realised that they would soon encounter the Grindley Brook giant staircase locks
Only too quickly did the sight of the Grindley Brook locks come into view. Because of the immense distances required this day the crew declined to fill with water, knowing that no further water would be available until they again reached the Shropshire Union Canal. Neil did the complicated calculation and came to the conclusion that insufficient bread supplies remained on board for morning toast, much to the distress of the other crew.
The lock-keepers at the Grindley Brook staircase locks were amazed at the competence of the crew in handling the complicated machinery, but Neil disappeared during the activity, returning clutching a prize purchase and again saving the mission.
A number of other slower boats were
followed through the remaining single locks and at the late hour of 7pm the
narrowboat gently drew into moorings close to the Willeymoor Lock Tavern.
The crew enjoyed much ale and jollyment during the evening after their Willeymoor Grills, with good company from the friendly staff and Archie.
Using their advanced negotiating skills, the purchase of a Hovis Loaf from
the kitchen staff was completed and at a late hour the crew returned to the
boat clutching their loaf.
Friday 10th September (Rain overnight, but warm with a few showers during the morning)
The crew (except Neil) rose early nursing delicate
heads. However, they were relieved to hear noises coming from the
front cabin indicating that Neil was indeed still alive. However, this
assumption was later revised when is became apparent that this was an
overstatement. Small portions of porridge were taken together with
sips of Harrogate Spring Water (sparkling variety)
Three more locks were carefully operated before the
crew had to again stop all the traffic to raise the mighty Wrenbury Lift
Bridge, without the benefit of Pork Pie.
The remaining locks were confidently handled at speed, in order to meet the blistering targets. Much to the dismay of the crew, several locks had to operated in light rain, but this did not delay progress.
The crew could not believe their eyes
when Hurleston Top Lock came into view, indicating the end of the Langollen
Canal. The lock-keeper warned the crew of dangerous winds below bottom
lock at the treacherous Hurleston Junction, but the crew were not concerned.
Characteristically they helped a single handed boat up the difficult flight,
before attempting the impossible turn onto the Shropshire Union Canal.
However, as predicted, the turn was completed faultlessly, as other boaters
looked on in amazement from their boats all firmly grounded on the banks.
The crew were quick to moor opposite the
'Old Barbridge Inn' before 2pm and set about preparing their last lunch of
Smoked Mackerel Fillets, Salad and Bread, with a fresh boiled egg.
All pork pie stocks had been exhausted some days before, but they
supplemented their healthy diet with fresh orange juice, before preparing the last of their
precious Cup-a-Soups. This being their final destination for the day,
they relaxed and reminisced by reading through the various Boat Logs from
The crew felt confident of the success of
the overall mission, but were reminded that 'Barbridge Junction' and two
more deep and heavy gated locks on the Middlewich Branch must be negotiated
the following day, before the crew could finally relax.
The crew, fuelled with their successes,
were unable to rest and therefore set about maintenance and cleaning duties.
Whilst Ron and Neil were busy with mops and cleaning clothes, Alan lifted
the engine cover and set about pumping out the bilges which had collected
some water as a result of the recent rains. Cran's portable pump
quickly collected some 10 bucket fulls of water which was deposited into the
bushes. The prop shaft greaser was refilled and the reed hatch
inspected. A temporary early morning squeak and lack of correct RPM
readings was thought to be caused by alternator belt slippage. The
belt was inspected and found to be quite loose and was therefore tightened.
The situation in the morning would be carefully monitored.
After the exertions of the day the crew
awarded themselves tea with some of the recently purchased chocolate
digestives (Milk Chocolate variety), in lieu of hob-nobs.
After showers the crew set off to the 'The Olde Barbridge Inn' in Wardle for their final night of entertainment, catching a glimpse of The Stealth Boat gleaming in the evening sunshine.
The crew were pleased to see Speckled Hen ale on offer and ordered several pints (except Ron) to accompany their dinners of Gammon (with egg & pineapple), except Ron, served by an attractive young waitress with long legs.
The crew were pleased with the progress of their expedition so far, but realised that some difficult manoeuvres still had to be completed.
The crew returned to the boat at an early hour in light rain, unable to manage any coffee, cheese or biscuits. The crew found it difficult to sleep, whilst listening to rain beating on the roof of the boat.
Saturday 11th September (Warm and cloudy, with a risk of some rain later)
The crew awoke early packing and tidying
their belongings, before enjoying their final porridge together, with extra
orange juice. The set off before 8-30 heading towards
Barbridge Junction. The turn into the Middlewich Arm was
accomplished without stress, but progress was slow because of the large
number of moored boats.
They were amazed at the deep of the heavy gated locks on this canal, but suppressed any signs of fear.
At 9-30am the Stealth narrowboat pulled alongside the fuelling jetty at the Aqueduct Marina indicating a successful conclusion to the mission!!
The fuel and water tanks were filled and both toilets emptied and the final cleaning completed.
The car was loaded before the crew once more took the boat out onto the canal, to manually haul the craft back to a nearby mooring, so that it was pointing in the right direction for its next mission.
Here the crew secured the vessel, greased the prop shaft, shut down the electrics, gas and locked it, awaiting Cran to join it shortly. The crew returned to their loved ones thankful that that they had successfully averted all the disasters that could have scuppered the mission.
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