2016 Walk 2 – Llangollen to Ellesmere

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A bright but showery start to the walk

I awoke to bright blue skies and the forecast suggested a fine day with a chance of a shower near noon. In the time it took to eat breakfast the forecast had deteriorated to showery weather with the chance of a break near noon. Nevertheless it was lovely and bright when I hefted my fully loaded pack onto my back and headed up the hill to join the Llangollen Canal.

A 10k run was underway and marshalls were positioned along canal although I never saw any runners in the 3k stretch that paralleled my route. A handful of narrowboats were tied up alongside however most were moored at a purpose-built facility next to the winding hole a couple hundred meters in the opposite direction. I remember the winding hole well as this is where I turned my 69-foot narrowboat around for the return journey to Middlewich in 2003. It looks nothing like it did then but addition of a dozen or two slips no doubt helps to reduce the congestion in the busy summer months.

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Canalside Latte

Within ten minutes of starting out a heavy shower fell from what appeared to be clear and sunny skies. The showers continued on and off but I made good progress through Trevor and then on to Pontcysyllte where I crossed Thomas Telford’s magnificent aqueduct, and World Heritage Site, towering 126 feet above the River Dee. On the other side a narrowboat cafe with a very posh coffee machine built into the bow was tempting but I decided to push on.

Once past Pontcysyllte the towpath was very peaceful and I made good progress. Much of this section was covered by overhanging trees which offered some protection from the increasingly heavy showers. I’d been avoiding putting on my wet weather gear but with the clouds getting darker I decided to take advantage of the shelter and get suited up.

I passed through the Whitehouses tunnel at the same time as half a dozen kids in kayaks but from the din I thought I was approaching the Spanish Armada. They too suffered from some questionable navigation and spent most of the time careening into the tunnel walls at right angles. Nevertheless they seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it.

I carried on to Chirk by which time my right knee was giving me grief, so much so that I thought I’d be unable to carry on. I considered using a bus but being Sunday there were none and so I opted for a cup of tea at the second narrowboat cafe encountered this morning. I sat in the drizzly weather next to the Chirck aquaduct and chatted with three English walkers that had walked from Llangollen and were taking a break before heading back.

After my break I decided to carry on to the next town. My knee flared up now and then however I was able to maintain a brisk hobble for most of the day. By noon the weather seemed to be improving and so I was able to shed the Gortex and enjoy the occasional sunny break.

The towpath wound it’s way out of the hills and into the lovely Shropshire countryside. In my opinion Shropshire is one of Britain’s best kept walking secrets. The Llangollen Canal towpath eventually becomes part of the Shropshire Way which in places was a bit rough underfoot but wonderful for wildlife viewing, and in unexpected ways too. I met an older gentleman walking his barn owl, as you do. The owl was perched on his arm and he commented that he had a messy face because he was a messy eater. He was a wonderful looking bird despite the messy face.

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A frustrated Heron sharing the towpath with a relentless walker

Marton Locks were the first I encountered on my walk and although they are few and far between on this side of Ellesmere that is certainly not the case on the other. If I remember correctly we navigated through 25 locks on our trip from Middlewich to Llangollen in 2003 and of course the same again on our return trip. Today’s walk featured nearly 40 bridges and a single Heron who, like the sheep I encountered yesterday, I repeatedly drove forward for at least a mile.

Another shower rolled in but it would prove to be the last one of the day. By the time I reached Frankton Lock, at the junction with the Montgomery canal, it looked as though the sun was here to stay. I took a brief break on a bench and then continued on, sticking to the towpath rather than following the Shropshire Way across the fields. Judging from the towpath very few people did so. I did however walk by a narrowboat that had just moored for the day. It contained two friendly couples who offered me a cold beer and canalside chat. Things had warmed up considerably and so the beer and conversation were just what the doctor ordered.

I continued on towards Ellesmere which eventually rejoined the Shropshire Way. I remember cruising this stretch back in 2003 and the rural views are truly magnificent. By this point in my walk I had covered nearly 20 miles and so despite the beautiful scenery I was greatly relieved when I hobbled in to Ellesmere.

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Mereside Farm in Ellesmere

I was staying at Mereside Farm just on the edge of town which provides excellent self-catering accommodation for singles. I stopped into town for some groceries and got some helpful instructions from proprietor Nicky and a local I met along the way. Before long I was resting comfortably in my room in a converted stable block. The former occupants were in a field only meters away and I wasn’t sure how they felt about this. However I was far too exhausted to give it more than a passing thought.

My knee was feeling better but I’ve decided to invest in some new walking shoes and so tomorrow will be spent in Shrewsbury looking for replacements.

New Jaunts Old Haunts

Walking through the Saanich Peninsula in late April

On one of my weekly 15-mile walks through the Saanich Peninsula

My trip to Britain and Belgium is rapidly approaching and I’ve been busy researching, sorting out logistics and walking. A combination of fine weather and flexible hours has allowed me to clock a minimum of 5 miles a day and at least one 15-mile hike per week. The photo above was taken on the one wet outing in mid-April when I practically had the Lochside Trail to myself. On one stretch, normally very popular with cyclists, I counted only seven whizz by in a two-hour period. In contrast during the same period I walked by six deer and hundreds of slugs, the latter of whom took full advantage of the gentle rain to slither about on the grass that lined the footpaths.

This route never gets old

This route never gets old

On my last hike I passed a pair of walkers and we were both so shocked we had to stop and chat. This might sound strange but hikers are a very odd sight on the Lochside Trail. Dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists outnumber us by a thousand to one. In the last seven years I’ve walked this route at least 60 times and I can count on one hand the number of hikers I’ve encountered. In fact other trail users often give me a quizzical look when they spot me approach with a fully laden backpack. Still this is much preferable to the stares I get in the city from those who simply assume I’m homeless. Fortunately the kindred spirits I met that day were heading to England to explore parts of the South West Coast Path and so we had a thoroughly enjoyable chat.

Surprise, my walking plans have changed! Instead of walking Offa’s Dyke I will divide my time between Cheshire/Shropshire/Wales, Yorkshire and the north Norfolk coast. I’m going to base myself in a handful of locations and explore each area on foot. I’ll be visiting some areas for the very first time while others are old haunts I haven’t ventured into for decades.

This new approach is essentially the one I used for my UK visits prior to my LEJOG in 2010. I believe this will be my 17th visit to Britain since 1983 and I’m finding that reasonably priced single rooms are getting thin on the ground. Cheap and cheerful rooms are giving way to luxurious ensuite sanctuaries geared to weekend getaways and not tired walkers looking for one night’s accommodation. I’m not the first to comment on this but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. I’ve more or less come to the decision that if I do another LEJOG-type walk I will be carrying a tent.

This church is definitely one place I will be visiting again

Christ Church Willaston

In my last article I featured a photo of a church and promised an explanation would be forthcoming. It is of Christ Church Willaston and it will be one of the first stops on my visit. If you’ve followed my blog over the years you will know that I’ve been trying to unravel the mystery surrounding my great-grandfather’s disappearance after the First World War. My research began in earnest in 1996 and it’s been quite a journey. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the streets of north-east London, Windsor, Chester and several villages on the Wirral. I followed in his footsteps on the battlefields surrounding Ypres and hunkered down in Archives across Britain in search of clues as to his whereabouts. Last month the Reverend of Christ Church Willaston confirmed that my great-grandfather is buried in their churchyard. I can scarcely believe that within two weeks my long journey will be over and I can’t help but notice that my feelings are similar to those I experienced the day I walked into John O’Groats.