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.

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