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.

1 comment:

  1. Loved joining you on this leg of the 'Grand Tour'. A weekends you could go to the BIG match and watch some proper football!