Chapter 6 - Our Canal Trip & Peak District

Reflections at Platt Lane Bridge

Saturday 12th July to Friday 18th

Doug & Val drove us to the Swanley Bridge Marina at Nantwich (about an hour along the motorway) to meet up with Will & Pamela Aslett and their narrowboat "Charlton". After unloading our gear we all went into the town of Nantwich for some lunch. Nantwich a pretty little place, found a nice little pub but unfortunately the hamburger I had was worse than Macdonalds!

Swanley Bridge Marina is very large and it was strange to see a marina in the middle of nowhere and just leading out into a narrow little canal. Over two hundred narrowboats tied up but not much else there.

We set off along the Llangollen canal with Captain Will at the tiller and Pamela and us as the willing crew. We soon learnt how to operate the locks and gates and I think Pamela was rather pleased to be able to hand over some of the task to us.

Life on the canal is certainly very relaxing as you travel along so slowly and apart from the occasional lock to negotiate, or bridge to lift, there is little to do except enjoy the scenery as you pass by.

The canal locks are designed to raise or lower the level of the water in an enclosed section of the canal, the lock, to allow boats to go to another level of water. Lock gates have to be swung open at one end of the lock to allow the boat to come in. There is just enough room for one narrowboat at a time to enter the locks on this canal. The gates are then closed behind the boat and valves are opened, by manually winding them, at the other end of the lock to allow water to flow in and raise the water in the lock, to the level at the other end. As soon as the water level inside the lock and outside in the canal, are equal, the gates at the forward end can be opened and the boat can proceed on its way.

At one point in the Llangollen Canal, called the Grindley Brook Locks, there is a staircase of three locks in succession that enable boats to raise some 40 feet, or about ten meters, to reach a higher level of the canal.

All together we encountered about 16 locks and quite a few bridges that had to be raised by hand to allow "Charlton" to pass through the canal, in each direction. As well as this there were a large number of overhead bridges and three tunnels, one of which, the Chirk tunnel, was 420 meters long. However the highlight of our journey on the Llangollen Canal was crossing the two aqueducts that carry the canal high above the surrounding countryside.

The larger of the aqueducts, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the canal 1007 feet (307 meters) across the River Dee valley. It is 126 feet (38 meters) above the river Dee at it's highest point. A cast iron trough, just wide enough for one boat, holds the water on the aqueduct and there is a narrow walkway beside it. Most amazing is that construction of the aqueduct started in 1795, and completed in 1805. All the work would have to have been carried out by hand - an amazing accomplishment..

The narrowboats travel at about four knots so there is plenty of time to see and enjoy the passing scenery and wonder about the people who live in the occasional canal-side houses or surrounding farms. Wildflowers grow profusely along the banks and birds flit by among the trees and hedges. Hungry ducks and graceful swans are always looking for something to eat, and we saw herons, kingfishers, robins, yellow wagtails and heard many others about the canal.

When it was time for lunch or to stop for the night, there was usually a nearby pub where we could enjoy a drink or a hearty meal, and interesting towns or villages to visit, like the very pretty Wrenbury, with it's ingenious and amusing scarecrow competition. It was here too that we enjoyed our last night's dinner at the Cotton Arms Hotel. Excellent food and service. Other memorable meals were had at the canal side Jack Mytton Inn and the Black Lyon Hotel at Ellesmere, another very interesting town.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing week on the beautiful Llangollen canal with Will and Pamela. We couldn't help thinking how pleasant it would be to spend a few months travelling the network of canals which connect so much of this country.

Will and Pamela have been great companions. Pamela, a former teacher, is very interested in the theatre and art and appreciates Shakespeare. Will is one of the few Asletts I have met outside our immediate family, and as yet we have not discovered a link between our branches of Asletts. However, as Will pointed out, there are similarities in our natures, and as our trip progressed I could not help comparing Will with brother George, not in appearance, but in the careful way they do things. There must be a link somewhere.

Week beginning Saturday 19th July

We had such a relaxing and enjoyable week on the canal that we are happy to just catch up with the laundry and not do too much of anything for a couple of days. Of course, just downloading, sorting and adjusting the myriad of photos that we have taken is quite a task in itself, but it does need to be done as we go along or we would never remember where we've taken them all.

Have been on a couple of shopping expeditions with Val and checked out the local Mark & Spencer's, Tesco's, Sainsbury's, Next and others that will remain nameless. Lots of Sales happening but we have mostly resisted any urge to spend unnecessarily.

We set off on Sunday in Val's Toyota Camry, which she has very kindly lent us, to visit the Shugborough Estate. This magnificent and historic estate is owned by the National Trust but is maintained and administered by the Staffordshire County Council. It has been the home of the Earls of Lichfield since the 1700s. The present Earl of Lichfield is the son of the well-known Royal Photographer Patrick Lichfield who died in 2005. There was so much of interest to see that we had no trouble spending a few hours wandering through the magnificent home and estate grounds.

It is still a working farm with lots of sheep and cattle, an extensive vegetable garden, a working Blacksmith, a Wood turner and a few other Craft shops set up in what used to be the Gardener's living quarters.

While we were having our lunch in the tea-room we met a very friendly couple who live at Ashbourne, not far away, in the Peak District. They suggested that we really needed to visit that area and that we should visit Kedleston Hall where she, Maureen, works as a volunteer. She told us that she would be on duty on Wednesday, and could maybe show us around, so we decided to put that on our agenda.

Monday 21st July

Went for a short drive to Dudley and Kingswinford where the Grosvenor branch of our family had lived and in the evening took Doug & Val to dinner at the Plough and Harrow. What was once a pub has become a very upmarket restaurant - we enjoyed our meal but didn't think it quite came up to the standard of a couple of the pub meals we had enjoyed in Suffolk.

Wednesday 23rd July

Set off to visit the Peak District and Kedleston Hall. We were a little early to visit the Hall so looked first at the All Saints' Church in the grounds. The main entrance and the adjoining wall are from the earliest church recorded on the site in 1198-99 - amazing!

Kedleston was designed for lavish entertaining and houses great collections of paintings, sculpture and original furniture and little has changed since it was designed and built by the architect Robert Adam in the 1760s for the Curzon family.

It is interesting to note that the chief carpenter and supervisor responsible for the production of much of the intricate wood carving and furniture, including a magnificent mapping desk, the great bed in the state bedchamber, tables and mirrors etc was James Gravenor - a possible relative. We need to find out more about this renowned craftsman!

The museum downstairs is full of fascinating objects collected by Lord Curzon from his travels in Asia and from his time as Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905.

From Kedleston we drove on to Ashbourne where we had a cuppa and a wander and then managed to track down our old friends Niall & Snookie who now live at Ellastone, just near Ashbourne. We had not seen them since they spent a couple of years in Townsville during the 1970s and efforts to contact them before we came to the UK had failed. They gave us a very warm welcome, dinner and a bed for the night. We had a lovely time catching up and seeing the magnificent home that they have created from a derelict barn. We hope we can see them again before we return to Australia.

The next morning, the 24th of July, Snookie escorted us through some of the byways that we would never have discovered by ourselves. Up over hills and down dales and through the tiny village of Tissington where she stopped to pick up some meat from the local Butcher. In the early morning mist (in that area they call it mizzle - a cross between mist and drizzle) the village at Ilam looked rather like a scene from a fairy story. Geoff suggested to Snookie that it reminded him of the legend of Brigadoon. She replied that there are some people who have lived their entire lives in this area, and that recently she had met an old woman who still used the words thee and thou in normal conversation. Shades of times long gone.

We even passed a couple of girls out exercising with a pack of hounds. Just one more unforgettable experience in this beautiful part of Britain.

As we said farewell to Snookie, she pointed us in the direction of Haddon Hall, which was to be our next destination. Haddon is not as opulent as some of the stately homes we have visited, but it's ancient battlements and time worn surfaces are immensely interesting, and it's gardens are very beautiful. Haddon Hall has been the setting for many TV dramas and movies, the most recent one being "The Other Boleyn Girl".

Haddon Hall has belonged to the Manners family for over 800 years and Lord and Lady Edward Manners still reside in part of the house.

After spending quite some time soaking up the atmosphere of Haddon Hall, we set off for Chatsworth House which is a magnificent home with extensive water features cascading down the hillside in a beautiful park setting. Chatsworth would need a full day to do it justice and as we didn't think we could cope with anymore that day, we decided to leave it for another time.

Drove on to Buxton, had a look around the shops and called at the Information centre to try to book accommodation for the night further along the track. The assistant there had no idea what she was doing so we gave up and just drove on. With our luck we knew we would find somewhere suitable - and we did. A great little pub at Little Hayfield on the way to Glossop called the Lantern Pike - very friendly and cosy - a couple of pints, a good meal and we were ready to sleep.

After a hearty English breakfast and a chat with a couple who had just walked the length of Hadrian's Wall we set off to drive through the beautiful Peak District and the Snake Pass - absolutely stunning scenery as the road snakes its way around the hills. One minute you are looking across rolling paddocks bordered by miles and miles of dry stone walls and the next minute you are looking over at a babbling brook running at the bottom of pine tree covered hills.

The road diverts to the Derwent Reservoir which is interesting because it was here that the RAF617 Squadron practised dropping the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb prior to the Dambusters attack on the Ruhr Valley dams in WWII. We did the short walk around through the forest before continuing on our way to Castleton, another beautiful little village overlooked by a ruined castle and caves where Blue Johnstone is mined for jewellery making. The walk up the hill to the castle looked a bit challenging for us so we just explored the quaint little shops in the village and had tea and cake before setting off again.

We criss crossed our way back through laneways avoiding the main roads wherever possible.

A slight detour to view the Arbor Low Stone Circle, an ancient religious site and burial ground and then it was time to head back to Sutton.

Another most enjoyable week.