Friday, 2 September 2016

Some people do this for a holiday

Something old, something new on the Ashton
Over the past couple of days we've done about a quarter of the Cheshire Ring, probably the most famous of the canal rings. And right now I'm struggling to believe that some people do this for their holiday! It's been a tough two days.
We left the centre of Manchester yesterday on the famous – or more accurately the infamous - Rochdale Nine. These are the nine wide locks that take the canal up through the centre of the city to its junction with the Ashton Canal, where we would be going.
The Rochdale Nine start badly and get worse
The Nine run through the Gay Village, though there's nothing gay about these locks. They start badly, with water pouring over the gates making it hard even to get into the first one, and get steadily worse.
The locks themselves weren't too bad: bad but not too bad. Few of the double gates opened fully but I'm getting used to that on the big locks. The real issue was the mess - dirt, litter and broken glass everywhere. And it got steadily worse. After a couple came one where a bunch of derelicts had clearly been camped in makeshift tents. Halfway along another where a gang of noisy (but cheery) drunks had been joined at the lockside by construction workers on their lunch break - the litter just piled up around them.
But for sheer nastiness, Lock 85 can't be beaten. It runs underground and in its catacombs all manner of 'lewd and obscene' acts regularly take place despite a police notice declaring them illegal. Worse, though, were the dozens of discarded syringes and needles that you literally tramp through to operate the locks. Bet that wasn't mentioned in the holiday brochure.
It seems so easy to prevent – lock the towpath and only allow boaters access.
Will Alsop's wacky New Islington block by the canal
After all that, we relaxed for the night in the sanctuary of Thomas Telford basin in Piccadilly Village, an urban 'village' created in the 1990s were once had been redundant factories. It's a neat, well trimmed place and safe behind keypad entry systems. Boaters are allowed into the old basin for 24 hours and can even escape to the shops if a nice resident gives them the secret key code.
Today we tackled the 18 locks of the Ashton Canal - and at long last we were back on a narrow canal. Three cheers. It's another whose reputation for being in 'bandit country' where feral scrotes hide ready to disembowel captured crews is well known.
We saw none of that, just an urban canal that starts in the architectural bling and fun of redeveloped New Islington but soon gets back into the wastelands of disused mills and dog and goose poo strewn towpaths.
Ashton industry with the Etihad beyond
It's fascinating all the same: the old industries, the great views back to Manchester over the steeply climbing locks, the Etihad Stadium of Man City to admire and the Manchester Velodrome too – though we were too taken up with crunching over shopping trolleys from the nearby Asda to be much impressed by that.
Now this is a tough way to go canal boating
We were very much impressed by 'Jen and Lou in a Canoe', two girls canoeing to London from the Anderton Lift for a children's cancer charity on a route that just couldn't be any harder. Dragging a fully loaded canoe in and out of the canal round the locks is no fun – I know; I helped at one.
Nearing the top into one of the Ashton's old twin locks
So no vandals, no pirates and hardly a scrote in sight on the Ashton - about out biggest irritation was the desire of most of its lock gates to swing back open again just when you had turned your back on them. It was like a pantomime routine - but even less funny.
Dukinfield Junction and WCBS wooden boats
Eventually we reached Dukinfield Junction, a watery T-junction where we peeled right on the Peak Forest while the Huddersfield Narrow was straight across. On the junction is the magnificent Portland Basin warehouse, base for the Wooden Canal Boat Society and its collection of, er, wooden canal boats.
The pretty, tree lined Peak Forest quickly deludes you into forgetting that you are boating on the fringe of Manchester, offering only occasional glimpses of roads or industry. It is, sadly, a sludgy soup of silt and leaf mulch that brought our progress to a crawl at every bridge (some of them very low too).
Mind your head, Brian! Low bridge on the Peak Forest
After struggling to find a mooring on its shallow edges we lucked into some steel piling near Hyde where a passing dog walker gave the starving crew directions to the Village Chippy. I don't think I've ever walked so fast.

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