Last summer an old friend indicated that he’d like to visit me on the boat in England. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, mainly because I went back to Canada earlier than originally planned. This year he didn’t let the opportunity get away.
Rob graduated with me from high school in Parksville (many of you will know him) and we’ve kept in touch off and on over the years through Facebook. We met once, briefly, at a reunion years ago. I won’t mention the last time before the reunion that I saw him, many of you might also remember that (it has to do with a certain grad party in 1978).
He is now an airline pilot, and has the fortunate ability to hop on flights (if there are empty seats) to almost anywhere. So this year he came for a visit! I was still in the marina at Church Minshull finishing off the solar panel installation when he arrived. And, as these things tend to be, it was like no time had passed. We fell right back into our friendship, and quickly set off on the canal. I, also as is usual, put him to work on the locks. With minimal instruction of course. Well, I suppose I should have known that a pilot would figure things out pretty quickly…he got the hang of the whole narrowboat world faster than most. Before long he was doing all the driving! To say he loved the canal life might be an understatement, you’d have to verify that with him, but as he’s already planning on returning next year (and an earlier retirement?) I think it’s a safe bet.
We also managed to visit several pubs, another pastime we both had in common…
The highlight of the week, and the reason for heading up the Llangollen canal into Wales, was the Pontcysllte Aqueduct. The structure is a World Heritage Site, and a wonder of 19th century engineering. Built on 18 huge stone piers, it’s a cast iron aqueduct carrying the canal 126 feet above the River Dee.
It’s pretty windy up there so the boat tends to careen off the sides and as the metal is only 1/2 inch thick, the sides do bow out as you bounce off. Very disconcerting to say the least but the crossing is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I recommend it.
The town of Llangollen at the end of the canal is very pretty and generally centred on the canal. It has good moorings (at a small fee but with power and water), decent shopping, and lots to see. We didn’t take the steam train but I do hope to do so in the next couple of weeks. It was also pretty cool to see the horse-drawn day boat, a bit of living history…
The return trip ‘down’ the Llangollen canal included a side trip to the Chirk Castle. It was a bit of a hike but we were lucky to get a ride from a shuttle bus that was off it’s route. The castle has an interesting history. Much of the building is medieval, having been started in the 13th century by Roger Mortimer of Chirk on behalf of King Edward I to help ‘subdue’ the Welsh. It is a Grade 1 listed site now owned by the National Trust but was lived in as a family home until 2004.
The same family occupied the castle for over 400 years, and most of the furniture and art is still there.
I can’t overstate how great the ‘reunion’ with Rob was. Old friends remain friends, as if no time has passed. We relived past glories, commiserated about never-forgotten troubles, shared our histories over the last 40 years, and compared our plans for the future. I certainly look forward to doing it all again next year! And if anyone has any doubts about why I’m doing this adventure, just ask Rob, he gets it.