Five Counties in 14 days – don’t do this at home!

Summer 2011 was wet and I picked it to show off the Four counties ring and my hometown of Birmingham to Canadian family. It was the first real canal boat holiday I’d arranged myself and, despite the weather, confirmed I had a serious case of the narrowboat bug.

Those 14 days cruising around the beautiful counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Shropshire are blogged starting here.

Day 1: Overwater Marina to Nantwich, Cheshire (Shropshire Union Canal)

Nantwich marina, Shropshire Union canal.
Nantwich was our first overnight heading north from Overwater on the Shropshire Union canal.

Having been picked up from Crewe station by the cab with no suspension, we settled in onboard “Henry the Navigator”. We headed off under darkening skies to our first encounter with a lock, dropping Linda the rental lady off rather precariously at the first bridge.

Boy those bridges are narrow! Deceptively so since one side, not always the same side(!), also spans the tow-path – the walk-way alongside the canal originally built for the horses who would draw the first, unpowered narrow boats. Now they are a haven for ramblers and joggers, and us boaters too late to get to a proper mooring. Thus the bridge is only 2/3rds of the width it appears from a distance. Linda the rental lady says you should be a dog’s width from one side and be clear of the other. I think in some cases she was talking Chihuahua rather than Saint Bernard! 

We weaved and tacked our way down the canal, almost colliding with oncoming traffic, as we got used to the tiller handling. It seemed the smallest deviation from true would cause the boat to veer wildly towards the bank, or other boats. And if you were distracted for a second…

Closeup of lock paddle mechanism
We soon got the hang of locks after just one demonstration. It’s important to use the entire length of the arm for leverage and avoid injury.

We were better at online shopping than locks!

Anyway, we arrived at the first lock for a demonstration. Linda the rental lady chose to walk; how’s that for confidence?! On approach we realized we’d not been shown how to brake! By some miracle – and with Linda looking on -we managed to bring Henry alongside without too many collisions with other waiting vessels.

Locks 1 and 2 were negotiated fairly well following our expert instruction. We learned about windlass dos-and-don’t, mostly don’t lose them. Most importantly we gained an appreciation for the simplicity and longevity of this ancient equipment. Making proper use of the paddle-latches and not barging (is this where it comes from?) the gates.

And so, on to Nantwich and our rendezvous with family for a celebratory birthday tea!

Tesco home delivery made for the Canal boat holiday!

Online grocery shopping was invented for A Canal Boat holiday!

However, it was now raining and the forecast for tomorrow was for more rain, but were we disheartened? Well maybe a little, but no time for that, suddenly we were in Nantwich, our first experience of how quickly things seem to happen on a so-called leisurely cruise. Spotting a boat seemingly leaving a mooring, we manoeuvred  (willed!) Henry into the vacant spot behind him only to be told we couldn’t moor there. He had only been waiting for a mate following behind. Attempting to hide our disappointment we accelerated away only to discover that accelerate means nothing in narrow boating terms and we swiped his stern as we swung back out, but our “oops, sorry!” as we zig-zagged further up the canal was enough to get us by without an international incident.

It gets better with practice

Nantwich marina, Shropshire Union canal under darkening skies
Nantwich marina on our first night. The darkening skies a portent to the soaking we were about to get on our first full day aboard.

Happily, a furlong (1/8th of a mile to you land lubbers) ahead was what turned out to be Nantwich Marina, our original goal. And so, with more trepidation than in our last course change, we glided expertly to a halt about 50 yards too short of the last remaining mooring. Aldo dragged Henry the rest of the way to tie up, 0800-style (a loop, a figure eight and two more loops was the extent of our nautical knot instruction, 0800 being the UK equivalent of 1-800) for our first scheduled stop. 

The rain had become actually wet now but we were timely enough to miss the sharpest  of showers, content to wet our insides with beer and wine while we waited for my family to show. At least I had mobile reception and could guide my brother towards our mooring which they eventually found having run out of marinas to visit in the local area. 

Navigation Notes:

Overwater marina to Nantwich takes 2 1/2 hours traversing 2 locks.

You can find more FAQs answered here and tips on our Home Page. And if this has whetted your appetite for a cruise of your own, you can find all our Booking Details here.

Read our blog post about an easy 4 day pub-crawl on the Shropshire Union canal we did on Kodran in autumn 2019, or sit back and relax with our YouTube channel.