We were delighted to win a 3-night narrowboat break with ABC Boat Hire in the Silver Travel Advisor 2020 Christmas Prize Draw. Having never done this type of holiday before, we researched the routes available, and decided on the route between Whitchurch and Ellesmere along the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire; short enough to do over the 3 days (11 hours sailing time in total), interesting towns either end, nice scenery enroute, and most importantly no tricky locks to manage (just a couple of lift-bridges to deal with).
We arrived in Whitchurch on the Friday afternoon, parked at ABC’s marina and checked in with reception where we were shown to the boat. After loaded the boat with our stuff, we then had a handover with one of the friendly technicians, untied the ropes and we were off! We’d decided to sail a couple of hours towards Ellesmere and then moor up for the evening. No sooner were we away from the marina then the first lift-bridge appeared, which we managed to negotiate successfully. My husband (the Captain) was getting used to steering the boat – somewhat slower and less responsive than what he’s normally used to driving! After a bit of zig-zagging across the canal, and managing to avoid some cows who had decided to take a canal side dip, we managed to get to a peaceful spot before Bridge 43 where we tied up for the evening. Now we could finally relax with a glass of wine while I made dinner in the very well-equipped galley. Our boat was a 4-berth but with just the two of us, it was comfortable. We both slept well, being woken next morning by cows, and geese in the farm on the other side of the hedge!
Setting off early after breakfast, we puttered along the canal – some twisty bits, then a right turn at the Prees Branch towards Ellesmere where the canal became straighter and broader. We passed by the Fenns, Whixhall, and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Preserve, which is part of Britain’s 3rd largest lowland raised bog area, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ramsar Wetland, teeming with plant, insect and birdlife and apparently even large enough to be seen from space! Further along the canal, we passed by beautiful Cole Mere, one of the meres (lakes) that make up the ‘mini-lake-district’ of Shropshire. By this time, the Captain was much more relaxed about driving the boat. Even the Ellesmere Tunnel didn’t faze him, and we managed to turn the boat around and moor up near the marina. We disembarked and walked up the canal path into the town of Ellesmere, a pretty town with some interesting Georgian houses, and a well-preserved Canal Yard dating from the 1800’s where Thomas Telford worked while building the canal. We walked to the Mere, the largest of the lakes in the area, which has walking trails and a café. One of the trails is the Sculpture Trail, where sculptures by local artists line the way (https://www.ellesmeresculpture.co.uk/), including one dedicated to the locally-born Jebb sisters who founded the Save the Children Fund during the aftermath of WW1. After walking around part of the Mere, we returned to the town centre, and a very nice pub lunch in the Red Lion beer garden. On returning to the boat, we set off back towards Whitchurch, and moored up for the evening near Blake Mere, another lovely peaceful spot, with only birdsong (and the occasional ducks quacking) for company.
The next day, we retraced our journey along the canal, stopping on the way to top up the water, and for a bite of lunch onboard before returning to Whitchurch in the early afternoon. Another manoeuvre at the Whitchurch Town Arm to turn the boat around and moor up just ahead of the marina where we started ready to hand over the next day. With some time to fill, we took a walk up the canal path to the Grindley Locks where there is a small café, selling homemade ice cream, and you can watch the boats transverse the staircase locks there. It was interesting to see but I’m glad we didn’t have to do any of that! We walked back to Whitchurch and around the town where there are attractive buildings and a lovely Anglican church. Back on the boat for dinner on board, and watching the Euro 2020 final on the very small TV! Next morning after breakfast, we sailed the short distance back to the marina where the friendly ABC staff helped us return the boat safely and securely.
In summary, we enjoyed our break, but at times it was a little stressful – it takes time to get used to steering and manoeuvring the boat, and with two people only you are responsible for everything. However, once you get the hang of it, and are able to wind down to the slower pace of travel, it is lovely to putter along, and to moor up in quiet places overnight. There are interesting places and lovely scenery along the way. Everyone we met along the way was very friendly and helpful, especially with the lift bridges! The boat was fully equipped and comfortable, and this route is ideal for beginners as there are no locks but do remember to take insect repellent! Go with an open mind, and a can-do attitude and you’ll enjoy it too!