Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Alone in the middle of nowhere

All alone in the picturesque stillness of Vale Royal
We are alone, quite alone, enjoying the afternoon sunshine in the stillness of Vale Royal. There's not a car, a train or a plane to be heard, just birdsong and a very occasional dog walker.
We know we are alone because the Vale Royal lock keeper told us so; he'd just locked up the only other boat on the stretch, no-one else has come down to join us and the lock is now shut for the day.
I don't think I've ever had four miles of waterway entirely to myself – especially one so delightful.
We passed the last vestiges of population behind as we left Hunts Lock at Northwich – where the lock-keeper was a mine of information about the Weaver, with an iPad full of fascinating photos to show us. (That's the benefit of a quiet waterway; no-one's queueing up to use the lock!)
Just before the lock we saw Yarwood Basin, the vestigial remains of the once-great shipyards and below the lock was the sprawling muddle of Jalsea Marine where a fascinating collection of boats of all shapes, sizes and conditions told its own story of this remarkable river.
This handsome wooden classic ...
and this ageing river tug both moored at Jalsea
But after that, solitude and silence. Vale Royal is renowned as one of the prettiest sections of the Weaver, a flat grassy floor where the river spills into pools and streams as well as its main course and thickly tree-lined sides. We took a circular walk back to the locks, then across to Vale Royal Abbey, flattened by Henry VIII during the Reformation and the site rebuilt into a house by one of his lackeys. It was later sold to the Cholmondeley  (pronounced 'chumley') family who owned it until after WWII when ICI used it as a headquarters and eventually it slid into disrepair. It has now been restored as luxury apartments, the centrepiece of a posh golf course. 
A couple of side stories here: the 3rd Lord Delamere was one of the pioneering settlers in Kenya in the early 1900s and ran several hundred thousand acres of ranches there. He was also one of the 'Happy Valley Club' of wealthy colonials whose antics of drinking, drug taking and wide swapping were made famous in the film White Mischief.
At this time the Vale Royal house was leased out to a wealthy businessman Robert Dempster who lived there with his daughter. When she married, she moved and acquired the 'modest' Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk. When her husband died she hired an archaeologist to excavate some of the mounds on the estate – and he discovered the most important Anglo-Saxon burial site in Europe.
The impressive Vale Royal Abbey, now restored as luxury apartments
Via fields and country lanes we arrived at Newbridge swing bridge and walked the half mile back up the towpath to the boat.

Not as old as it looks

The magnificent old Post Office, now a Wetherspoon's
Stroll through the centre of Northwich and you'll be impressed by the numbers of beautiful medieval timber framed buildings. Except they aren't! Most are barely a hundred years old.
There is a reason – they were designed to be jacked up and supported - or moved - in the event of subsidence. And subsidence, as we know, has always been a major issue because of the underground salt workings. Timber framing, with its inherent flexibility, doesn't suffer the same disastrous cracking as stone or brick, if the ground moves and is also lighter and therefore easier to prop up or move.
The most remarkable of the town's timber framed buildings is the 1914 built three storey, Elizabethean style old Post Office, now a Wetherspoon's pub - The Penny Black. But there are plenty more: here are a few and a couple that aren't but still caught the eye.

The Brunner public library of 1909

An estate agent's office, complete with gargoyles

The Plaza Cinema of 1925, now a bingo hall but still an eye-catcher

And some wonderful old cigarette advertising on a shop wall

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Weekend on the Weaver

Barnton Cut amid the mellow colours of autumn
We have dawdled our way to Northwich this weekend – there's something about the Weaver which makes you dawdle rather than rush.
Yesterday we returned through the two locks we'd gone down through, at Dutton and Saltersford. Mac is the resident lady lockie at Dutton. She's lived at the pretty lock house and worked the locks for over 20 years, starting in the days when big coasters regularly made the run up to the Brunner Mond works at Winnington. A board at the lock displays some fascinating stats about the ships that have been through – including the fact that the lock uses nearly half a million gallons of water per fill!
Big boats on the Weaver
And the biggest of them, the St Michael (c. http://balmaha.net)
We moored last night in Barnton Cut just beyond Saltersford in a tree lined stretch where the sun was beautifully highlighting the first hints of autumn in the leaves. It is here that the canal and river come closest together and just a short walk up the hill brings one to the canal between its two tunnels. The village of Barnton is just across the canal and had a shop for some emergency provisions and an SOS ice-cream.
This morning Brian managed to fall in once again while leaping for the bank from the moored boat – I think he needs a stronger pair of glasses. It wouldn't be so bad but the little chap is such a feeble swimmer. I think we'll take him to our grand daughter's swimming classes.
After wringing Brian out we carried on upstream, past the Anderton Lift and towards Northwich. Along the way we kept passing bags of rubbish floating in the water. After the first few we realised this was more than just a few lazy boaters or fishermen and as we came into the town we saw the cause: Saturday night scrotes had pushed a 'dumpster' - one of those big wheeled rubbish bins - into the water and it was slowly leaking out bags of litter. Wish I'd seen them, I'd have done a Brian on them and sent them overboard with the rubbish.
Local heroes: a salt miner, Paula Radcliffe and Gary Barlow
Northwich owes its existence to salt which has been extracted from the ground below it since Roman times. Unfortunately salt extraction almost killed off the town too. Originally the salt was mined but in the 19th century the extraction was made quicker and cheaper by pumping hot water underground in which the salt dissolved. The brine was then brought out and the salt extracted. Unfortunately this seriously weakened the land: the salt mines had been kept structurally sound by careful extraction but the brine process dissolved everything. Serious subsidence appeared in the countryside, creating 'flashes' or water filled lagoons and areas of Northwich too started to subside.
But a £28m project has now stabilised four old mines under the town, pumping them full of a cement based mixture, and enabled new development to begin. We are moored tonight opposite the first of these – Hayhurst Quay, a 40 boat marina, Waitrose and leisure area.
We were moored further upstream just across from Macdonalds but moved a  bit further from the temptations of the Golden Arches!
As well as its salt mines, Northwich was the shipbuilding centre of the Weaver. W J Yarwood's yard here built large numbers of working narrowboats from the 1900s onwards and the yard built many larger craft - tugs, barges and coasters - before it closed in 1965. Unfortunately all that remains these days is a small mooring basin; the rest is a neat little housing estate which at least has a memorial plaque.
We passed it on our afternoon walk along the town's 'water heritage trail'. It's a pretty walk along the Weaver and its subsidiary the River Dane,  but it's still a little sad to see some of the old navigation buildings now empty and sliding into disrepair.
The quirky Edwardian sewage pumping station house
And inside, its immaculately restored pumping engines
Much more cheery was the little Edwardian pumping station in Weir Street, in its quirky circular turreted home where a couple of jolly volunteer enthusiasts were running the pumping engine. This Crossley single cylinder four-stroke, powered by gas rather than petrol, and its stablemate, drive lift pumps that, in their day, pumped sewage from parts of the town to the treatment plant. Electric pumps do the job today but will people be coming to visit them on a Sunday afternoon in a hundred years time? I don't think so.
PS Found my Christmas present on the walk too: a quadcopter. What a great device; radio controlled and computer managed and with a built in HD video camera, it flies, hovers, manoeuvres at the flick of a switch.

All I want for Christmas is ... a quadcopter

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Weaver weaves its magic

Moored at the Devil's Garden
I've never known anyone have a bad word to say about the River Weaver and after two days on it I know why. It's charming, fascinating, easygoing and – for a river – no problem to moor on. What more could you ask.
Handsome and huge - the Weaver swingbridges
Coming into one of the giant double locks
The Weaver came into being as a navigable waterway to serve the local industries and though the commercial traffic has sadly gone, everything about it is still to a commercial scale. The locks are huge, the river is crossed by massive swingbridges, that rarely need to swing these days, there are huge factories on its banksides and there's even a commercial sized wrecked ship.
There's an elegance to the locks and the black and white painted bridges that recalls the golden era of the waterways. The water's edge factories are far from handsome – they never were and now as they slide into disuse and dilapidation they are a sad reminder of the Weaver's better days. The massive chemical works at the Runcorn end which we reached today might be unsightly too but at least they are very much functioning still.
The Brunner Mond soda ash works faces you as you leave the boat lift
The massive Brunner Mond chemical works is your first sight exiting the boat lift. This was a forerunner of ICI, then became independent again and now is part of the giant Tata group. It produces soda ash, used in washing soda and many products, and was also where polythene was discovered in an experiment 'which went wrong'.
Ww turned right in front of it and headed west towards the Mersey. The factory is soon left behind as the river threads through a steep sided tree-lined valley before passing another, equally large, derelict factory and heading to Saltersford Locks. The locks on the Weaver are huge and paired, with a lock-keeper at each to operate them for we fortunate few boaters.
The river itself is extremely gentle natured, with just the mildest flow on its deep water. It brushes briefly with habitation at Acton Bridge where there is a caravan park, a smattering of houses and a couple of accessible pubs, then heads into the countryside again. Until now it has run almost parallel with the canal up at the top of the hill but from Dutton Locks it moves away, still in lush, tree filled countryside.
It's here at Dutton Locks that the MV Chica lies sunk and slowly mouldering away. It's been here since sinking more or less overnight back in 1993 and being abandoned by its owners. At the time of its demise it was operating, without much luck, as a hotel boat on the Weaver but its prior history is still something of a mystery. It could be a wooden sail powered cargo boat built in Norway, it may have done gun running in the Med and smuggled booze across the Gibraltar Straits, or maybe that's al folklore. For more info, take a look here.
The wreck of the mysterious MV Chica at Dutton Locks, 
Last night – and again tonight after today's trip – we moored at 'Devil's Garden', a spot entirely the antithesis of its name; a quiet, sheltered bend with a hillside running up behind us. The only devils here were probably the lads who had created a BMX course that looked like a deserted Max Max encampment in a field at the top of the hill.
From the boat we looked out at bar tailed godwits feeding in the water opposite as well as some small, mysterious grey/black birds that defied identification by diving underwater every time we came near. We reckon they are little grebes. Elsewhere today we've seen buzzards, a tufted duck, golden eye ducks and a still to be identified hawk on the ground with some prey.
But we haven't seen any UFOs though some kids back in 1978 did claim to see a spaceship and some aliens here at the Garden. Wonder what they'd been smoking?
Beer and BMX at the Mad Max style encampment at Devil's Garden
Today we headed downriver toward Runcorn, the steep valley slipping away into open, flatter countryside as we neared the estuary. The last stretch is fully canalised, by-passing the river's original route, and suddenly after a trio of bridges – swing, rail and motorway – the country was gone and we were into the sprawling industrial belt of Runcorn where a vast chemical plant, or is it plants plural I really couldn't tell, lines the bank. For the best part of two miles a myriad of pipes, towers, cables and  huge curiously shaped containers runs along the riverside. The real strangeness is the near stillness of it all: aside from the occasional hiss of escaping steam, an occasional whiff in the air and one solitary person you wouldn't know if it was closed down or about to erupt. I wish I could tell you what was produced there but even Google doesn't seem to know.
Just what is going on inside those myriad pipes and towers?
We moored at Weston Marsh Lock where craft can exit onto the Manchester Ship Canal. The original River Weaver swings in here too to create a sizeable estuary with the Ship Canal in the distance and the Mersey estuary beyond it. The Weaver Navigation carries on for a further mile down to Weston Point docks but we'd had enough chemical plants by then.
We've back-tracked and are moored again in the Devil's Garden. Tomorrow we will re-trace our path back past the boat lift and head into the eastern half of the Weaver to Northwich and Winsford.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Down and down we go

Looking back at the lift. The side braces and pulley gear were added later
It is one of the wonders of the English canal system, a scheduled monument and a 'must do' for any serious canal enthusiast. But until today we hadn't been on the Anderton Boat Lift. We've passed it by, visited the exhibition centre and watched boats go up and down between the Trent & Mersey canal and the River Weaver below, yet never used it.
But now we have. And a very enthralling experience it was too. Not thrilling; the descent is too smooth and gentle for that but fascinating to be using a system that dates back to 1875 when it was a prodigious feat of engineering.
Entering the caisson at the top of the lift
The boat lift came into being to solve a problem: salt excavation was – still is – a major industry in this part of Cheshire and the salt was transported by canal boats from the mines to Anderton where it had to be loaded onto barges to take it down the River Weaver to the Mersey estuary. Snag was the Weaver was fifty feet below the canal: the salt had to be shovelled out of the canal boats and onto salt chutes running down the steep hillside to the river basin below where the river barges waited.
To solve this time consuming process Edwin Clark was commissioned to design a lift to bring boats up and down between the two waterways.
His solution was elegantly simple. Two huge caissons – water filled tanks – were each supported on a single water filled ram and the rams joined by a pipe that allowed water to pass between them so they counterbalanced each other. Slightly increasing the water level in the upper caisson would increase its weight, moving it down while the other moved correspondingly upwards.
It all worked sublimely for a time, until the cast iron rams and the pistons began to suffer serious corrosion. In 1904 the whole lot was replaced by an electric motor powered system using pulleys, cables and massive counterweights to balance the caissons. These changes created the lift as it looks today – a new top deck carrying pulleys and motors was added above the original framework and large A-frame braces installed at the sides to take the load.
The descent begins inside the maze of girders and columns
The electric lift worked usccessfully for 75 years until extensive corrosion closed it in 1983. In 1997 a £7 restoration programme began, going back to the original hydraulic power (this time using oil and with ceramic coated stainless steel rams) and the restored lift was opened in 2002.
So what's it like? Each caisson takes two narrowboats and our companion boat, with an unpronouncable name, joined us to wait as the entry gate to the caisson was raised; we motored in and the gate closed behind. It looked a long way down. We were surrounded by a maze of massive diameter riveted cast iron columns and beams, built to the if-in-doubt-make-it-bigger philosophy of pre-computer age engineering.
As we go down the Anderton tripboat rises to meet us
And carries on up towards the canal
The descent started with some gentle bouncing before the caisson settled down into a slow, almost imperceptible sinking earthwards. Just before halfway the roof of the Lift's tripboat started to appear as its caisson rose from below and continued to rise as we dropped. It looked impressive, suspended on its single central ram rather like a waiter balancing a heavy tray on one hand. (To be fair, the caisson also runs in a locating guide at each corner but it's the ram and of course us in the other one that take the load.)
While we reach the river and the caisson door opens
Soon we were down, where a C&RT man gave us a little chat about the history and technology of the lift while the water levels were balanced and the exit gates opened.
And then we were off onto the River Weaver where I swung a right and headed down river. But the Weaver is for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Heading south

Into the Preston Brook Tunnel and onto the Trent & Mersey
We are back on a narrow canal and our bows are pointed southwards. After a summer spent largely 'oop north we are finally heading south.
That said, we are still very much in the north, having just exited the Preston Brook Tunnel and emerged onto the top end of the Trent & Mersey canal.
Through a tree lined cutting on the Bridgewater
About to pass a pair of widebeam workboats
Brian enjoys a spot of luxury hiding from the chilly morning weather
Today's run took us from the chic little town of Lymm on a picturesque and largely tree-lined country route broken by the occasional pretty village and the glimpse here and there of some very smart houses. It's a pleasant run though not an especially memorable one: I couldn't recall any of it from our couple of previous trips until, every now and then, a scene stirred a memory – the distant view of a Ship Canal bridge that we walked to on a previous trip; the old canal building of Thorn Marine, now seemingly spared from the threat of demolition; the little hamlet of Moore where canal meets road briefly at a handy little local shop.
Daresbury Laboratories with its 'Keep Away' warnings
Or, standing in starkly modern contrast to the rural nature of the rest of the canal, the ultra-modern buildings of Daresbury Laboratories – spread further still since our last visit – and so many 'No Mooring, No Fishing, No Access' signs you wondered what sort of dangerous or top secret processes were going on there. Disappointingly for the conspiracy theorists and spy novel enthusiasts among us, according to the website it's more high tech than sci-fi, listing computer science, accelerator science, medical technology and electron microscopy among the work that goes on. I still expect armed guards in SWAT paraphenalia to come running if I ever tried to moor there.
Picturesque traditional cranes to handle stop planks are a regular sight
The Bridgewater Canal is generally in good nick: the bridges are sound, the water deep and the towpath perfect. The traditional stop-plank cranes are a regular sight along the canal and presumably practical as well as pretty since they have to close off the water flow in case of a breach or for maintenance.
This is all as it should be – after all the owners – Peel Holdings not Canal & River Trust – have only a couple of canals (this one and the Manchester Ship Canal) to look after among a staggering £6bn of corporate assets, from Salford's Media City to Pinewood Studios. And the Bridgewater doesn't even have any locks to maintain.
The previous day we'd seen stretches of towpath being relaid and today spotted a couple of big work barges clearing offside trees.
The Bridgewater actually runs through to Runcorn where it used to link through to the River Mersey via a flight of now defunct locks but we, like most boaters, veer left under the huge M56 bridge for the final mile down to the tunnel. And here, at the tunnel entrance, the Trent & Mersey officially begins.
Dutton Dry Dock, the attractive hundred year old structure still in busy use
Fifteen minutes later we exited and went through the shallow Dutton Stop Lock where we stopped to say a brief hello to Tim Leech at his dry dock and show him the engine whose assistance in rebuilding the water pump and providing other bits for we are very grateful. A couple of bends later and we tucked up for the night on some quiet moorings in front of a handsome old working boat with the rather less handsome name of 'MSC Co Works Tug No2'. I preferred its original name of Ceres before it was sold to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the 1940s.
Tomorrow we are hoping for a first for us – a trip on the Anderton Boat Lift.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

No locks whatsoever

Moored in the attractive canalside of Lymm
To paraphrase Danny Baker's 'sausage sandwich game', do we want broad locks, narrow locks or no locks whatsoever?
Well after all those broad locks of the past few weeks, we would prefer no locks whatsoever and that's what we've got today. We are heading out of Manchester on the Bridgewater Canal, a waterway notable for being the first industrial age canal built in England and also for having no locks at all. So, it's been a quiet day of standing at the helm: ironically on a chilly day when a bit of lock wheeling would have warmed us up.
More Banksy than banks on the canal out of Manchester
The run out of Manchester hasn't changed a lot in the 4-5 years since we were last this way. The smart new blocks of canalside apartments soon give way to a battered industrial wasteland that has ben claimed by graffiti artists(?) who have covered virtually every accessible surface with their multi-coloured work. The big landmark along the way is Old Trafford where huge posters of Alec Ferguson holding up trophies remind fans of happier days!
Old Trafford – those were the days, eh
At Waters Meeting the line out of Manchester reaches the main Bridgewater and it's turn right for Wigan and Liverpool or left – like us – for Preston Brook and the top of the Trent&Mersey Canal. The sprawl of Manchester's suburbs continues for several miles, some of it smart, like Sale, others less so.
Not long after Sale the canal passes a pair of very striking 'boat shaped' apartment blocks, somewhat poignantly sandwiched between a couple of what must have been in their day equally striking commercial buildings now in ruin.
This striking old canalside ruin...
...flanks these dramatic apartment blocks on one side...
...while the famous Linotype building lies derelict on the other side
Quite suddenly Manchester's suburbs are left behind and the canal is out into the Cheshire plains, passing the National Trust's Dunham Massey Hall and running along a heavily embanked stretch with far reaching views all around.
Finally we reach our destination for the day, the pretty and pretty posh little town of Lymm where even the moored narrowboats seem suitably spick and span. It's a likeable little spot and, despite its chic appeal, co-exists happily with the canal and the boats that run through its heart.
PS But what is it about Kiwis and canals? Having spent the last week in the company of two New Zealand crewed boats, we find ourselves moored next to another one, Tane Mahuta

Monday, 22 September 2014

Dirty old town

The final lock with the impossible looking Beetham Tower behind
After a delightful weekend of being spoilt by one of our daughters it was back to reality with a bang today with a trip down the Rochdale Nine, the last of the 92 Rochdale Canal locks that would bring us into Castlefield Basin in the heart of Manchester.
Into the underworld at Lock 85 – and no lewd acts please
The first of the Nine is not so bad but the tone is set by the second, located in a dimly lit underworld below an office block. It stinks of pigeon shit and urine and along the shadowy towpath lurk various dubious looking characters. In case you're wondering what could be going on there's a sign warning that it's an offence to commit 'lewd acts'.
Fortunately for Mrs B's delicate constitution none of that was actually going on at 11 o'clock in the morning and we headed on down to Lock 86 at the start of Manchester's famous gay village of restaurants and bars along Canal Street. Well, Mrs B got to the lock; I found myself in Canal Street with no way of reaching the lock landing except by a trip through a private car park and climbing over a fence.
The canal runs beside the Canal Street Gay Village 
At least there's a sign at this lock telling you to stay on the boat because there's no towpath down to the next one either. And no towpath means there's no rubbish. Manchester seems to be awash with the stuff. I haven't been through a lock on this flight when I wasn't crunching broken glass underfoot and walking past plastic bottles, bags of litter, beer cans and stuff I didn't want to look to closely at.
After the lively street scene of Canal Street, Lock 88 is back in old Manchester, hemmed tightly in by dingy high rise commercial buildings. Here water from the pound was pouring over the top gates and on over the bottom gates without the lock itself ever reaching a level that would let me get it open. A bit of diy balancing by fiddling around with the paddles at either end eventually got the water levels balanced and in we went.
From the gloominess of this lock we emerged onto the smartest on the flight: it sits between a modern pub and smart offices with benches for workers to eat their lunches on while watching the boats. It's also the filthiest with the remains of take-away lunches everywhere. Rubbish bins? All rammed full and overflowing – I don't think I've seen an empty one in Manchester. I'm starting to wonder if they do actually empty them.
Revamped Deansgate railway arches with twin level shops and restaurants
At Lock 90 we got our first glimpse of the impossibly unbalanced looking glass Beetham Tower that dominates the city centre skyline. If you were in the mood to be philosophical you could reflect on the juxtaposition of the ancient lock, the Metro trams behind it, the high rise glass tower and the old brick canalside buildings that were under redevelopment. You could, but by this stage my mood was more bad than reflective.
This medieval chain and drum system pulls the lock beam in tight space
The run down to Lock 91 took us past the cleverly redeveloped Deansgate railway arches which feature two level shops and restaurants. The lock itself could be equally charming but the broken glass and carpet of fag butts does rather detract from the appeal.
And finally to Lock 92, the one that all the tourists to Castlefield Basin see and therefore the cleanest and tidiest of the lot. You do get plenty of time to admire the surroundings as it takes the best part of half an hour to fill up thanks to a combo of slow filling and fast leaking. We stopped for a lunch break and a cup of tea before locating a couple of volunteers from the adjacent pub to join me to heave on the lock beam and finally forced the beggar open.
It's notorious for these slow filling antics; the rest of the locks get a bad press too but I found they work well enough – a bit on the heavy side but, hey, this is the Rochdale Canal it's got a reputation to live up.
Tonight we're in Castlefield but tomorrow we are back on our way and frankly I won't be sorry to leave the dirty old town behind.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

We survived!

Heading towards Victoria Mill on the way into Manchester
Hard hats, body armour, escorts, an array of prop clearing tools – we didn't need any of them. Just a lot of chocolate bars, bananas, drinks and plenty of elbow grease.
I'm pleased to report that, fortunately for us, the Rochdale's 19 locks didn't live up to their notorious reputation. We just had seven hours of tough locking work through some admittedly ropey looking areas and a depressing amount of rubbish to arrive at Piccadilly Village in Manchester.
The day started early – we were up at 5 a.m! Part of the reason was that 'official' advice is to be finished with the 19 lock flight by about 3pm – before the scrotes have got up and about. But I had also been reading the blogs of the canny Kiwis behind us who had stolen a march on the others of us planning to cross the summit level from Yorkshire by sneaking off at 6am. Time to get our own back.
Seriously, I was worried that with rumours of water shortages, I wanted to be first into each pound rather than second when a lock's worth of water had been drawn down by the boats in front. So 5a.m., cuppa in bed, 5.30 breakfast and 6.15 fire up and off we went.
Early on the journey and alongside M-way traffic in a new concrete channel
From where we were moored to the start of the 'danger area' at Lock 65 was an hour and a half's run and included the Grimshaw Lane liftbridge, a massive hydraulic bridge that lifts vertically on four rams to let boats through. It's part of a busy commuter road – another reason to get there early. To minimise the traffic delays Mrs B was driving the boat steadily at the closed bridge while I stood with finger on button to lift it ... and an old codger wobbled ever so slowly along the pavement across it...then crossed the road ever so slowly and wobbled on. For just a moment I was tempted to lift the bridge with him on it but the moment he stepped off, I pressed the button, the barriers came down, the bridge started lifting and the cars started queueing. Mrs B slid under the half-raised bridge (whipping the chimney off to get clearance) and I lowered it to let the 20-odd vehicles on their way.
It's a scruffy, typically urban canal here but soon we were  in a long, deep stretch of concrete channel built for the restoration and running beside motorway traffic. Them twisted under the m-way and were back into familiar urban canal.
Out from under the motorway and back into traditional canal

Lock 65 and the start of 'bandit country'
And there was Lock 65, with not a bandit in sight, just a couple of bemused schoolkids watching the rare sight of a boat in this handsome old lock. Then a sweeping turn and bridge took us into a regenerated section of Failsworth where a huge canalside Tesco with moorings beckoned – but not to us; we were stuck in mud under the bridge and poled our way through with some problems. If this was what it was going to be like...
Marooned in shallows under the bridge at Failsworth
And they were like it for a while. We were back in familiar scruffiness now, with plenty of junk in the locks, dog cr*p round the locks and the producers of said cr*p being walked by an odd bod bunch of characters, most of whom (and their dogs) were a lot more friendly than appearances suggested.
But the canal itself here was desperately shallow at the edges – deliberately so to help the ducks according to one old lady – leaving us to prod cautiously for the narrow deep-ish channel with the aid of the boat pole. When I wasn't locking, I was depth sounding from the bows with a pole as if we were threading through a minefield.
Lock 69 was a bit of fun. Water was leaking out the bottom faster than it was coming in the top so the gates wouldn't open. "It usually takes three people to open that" said a watching girl, helpfully. She reckoned without the Tug Harry crew – Mrs B and me heaved and eventually the gate budged.
By now the locks were getting closer together so I didn't do much boating but I did do plenty of walking, walking to set the next lock then back to see Mrs B out of the previous and back again to the next lock and on to the next and so on and so on. No wonder I was gettting a blister.
By now the canny Kiwis had caught up – and revealed their master plan for these locks. They had press-ganged some extra crew! The country that invented bungee jumping and the Zorb seems to have got the hang of canal boating too, dammit. But they were happy to help us keep moving along as well and with Leonie from Nb Firefly NZ on bicycle-mounted forward patrol setting the locks well ahead we were fair whizzing along. Thanks Leonie!
No shallows here! Water flooding across the towpath
The culprit – a by-wash blocked with rubbish and undergrowth
Rubbish is a too-familiar sight, unfortunately
There was certainly no sign of the opt complained about water shortages: in fact at Lock 74 there was so much water it has flooded the towpath and I was ankle deep in water as I opened the top gate. I could see the reason: the by-wash designed to carry surplus water was completely blocked with rubbish and undergrowth.
The end was coming into sight now. By lock 77, the hugely deep Anthony's Lock we could see distant views of Manchester and the huge Victoria Mill and its chimney that dominates the east Manchester skyline was prominently in view, then right beside us a couple of locks later.
Beyond this lock water was again spilling over the canal and onto the surrounding park – another piece of attractive canal-focused restoration. Unfortunately the big estate round here is also scrote central  but there were only a few skiving schoolkids and hoodie wearing yoofs hanging around as we went through.
The canal's rebuilt channel is the centrepiece of a new park
From here on the canal is heading right into Manchester's former canal heartland where massive brick former warehouses and mills are now apartments and offices and sit alongside the steel and glass of modern shops and homes. We pass building sites where yet more canalside conversions are underway, spreading outwards to meet the ever-present demand for more homes. Tucked in among it all are our final two locks, the low, brick arched bridges and cobbled towpaths still as they were 200 years ago almost lost in the bustling high-rise city around them.
Arriving at Lock 83 and almost there now
And then we arrive at our final lock, No 82 and a well-deserved rest

The presence of boats in the locks still draws enthusiastic interest from passers-by even in the busy city (just as it has at every lock on the route). You can see why so many people like to live and work around a canal. It's just a shame that all the millions that have gone into regenerating the canal area can't include keeping the whole area clean and litter free. The local council can't even keep its few litter bins empty let alone help – as it should – help the hard up canal charity clear the mess (mostly from city workers and dwellers) that's everywhere on the towpath and under the bridges.
But let's not end on a negative note: the Rochdale Canal has defied its reputation. It's a tough canal but a perfectly do-able one even in a boat like Harry with a three feet deep draught. But after 82 locks we are tucked up in the quiet Thomas Telford basin at the start of the Ashton Canal and taking a well deserved weekend off. When we return, the final Rochdale Nine will take us down to the centre of the city and the very end of the canal.