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Bank Holiday Nature

What a glorious weekend! It was certainly wonderful to be on the canals in such fantastic weather. The newborn ducklings thought so too, the water was awash with them. Not the first this year, but I must have seen nearly ten families out. This poor oak tree has also had some visitors, these are oak apples, or oak galls.

Finishing the Rochdale, and into Huddersfield

It has been far too long since I last posted and a lot of water has passed under the bridges since then. to be more accurate passed through the locks!

Hebden Bridge is an eclectic, bohemian town with its own cinema, theatre, markets, pubs and cafes.

Sowerby Bridge sailed by with just a short stay but I did manage to take some snaps of the countries deepest lock at Tuel Lane. It’s so scary that you have to be helped through by the staff and volunteers.

Off the Rochdale and briefly onto the Calder and Hebble and the beautiful Salterhebble locks. Under the railway bridge on the left, sharp right a wiggle thorough the middle, sharp left and exit under the road on the right.

The Salterhebble Locks

And so we arrived in Huddersfield for the night. It looked a lot better in the cold light of morning.

reflecting on my stay in Huddersfield

The Rochdale Canal – the middle bit

Having left you with promises of a better canal after the climb out of Manchester, I have to say that the Rochdale has delivered as we reach the summit and start descending.

from Littleborough to Todmorden

This stretch of canal, despite the difficult locks and shallow parts, is one of the most beautiful that I have visited. Not only has the s scenery been amazing, as you can see from the photos, I have also enjoyed some excellent company. I have shared locks, and pubs, with two different boats and their occupants, making it the most social canal I have visited. Next I move on to Sowerby Bridge and will have to make up my mind where ~I am going next. The Rochdale Canal is currently closed behind me (part of one of the locks is broken). The Leeds and Liverpool is open again but travelling it will have to be at breakneck speed. The Huddersfield Narrow has a long, narrow, low tunnel and I need to check and see if the boat will fit through!

Starting the Rochdale canal

Early morning on the Bridgewater Canal

Getting into Manchester was relatively easy, even though I did have to do it under the radar. At least I hope that I went under the radar, you see I had used up my allowance (seven consecutive days in a four week period) for travel on the privately owned Bridgewater canal. So I set off early (7am) and arrived at Castlefield and the start of the Rochdale by 11am. What a beautiful and well kept canal the Bridgewater is probably because it was never privatised, though not having any expensive locks to repair helps. An idyllic way to cover 13 miles in four hours.

I had been warned about not stopping in Manchester and wanted to break free from the city centre before stopping again. There are locks on the Rochdale, and lots of locks just getting out of Manchester. The area around Piccadilly was particularly unpleasant with hooded loiterers and a supply of used and new needles on one of the lock arms. That, of course, was where the lock gate refused to open easily.

I stopped at New Islington marina for lunch. Sadly it was being refurbished and I couldn’t stop there longer. It will be a nice stopover when it is finished in the summer (2019). That was only 10 locks though and I pushed on hoping to find somewhere safe looking to stop. Sadly that wasn’t to be. Although I met many people who were friendly and helpful, including a volunteer lock keeper who had just finished helping two boats out of Manchester. He gave some sound advice (keep going) on where to stop and where to avoid and assisted me though three locks. The most demoralising part was when the landing lock for lock 66 was blocked with submerged shopping trollies. Unable to land I had to put the bow end to the lock and climb the lock gate.

If throwing things in a canal were an Olympic sport then surely Manchester would send a team and win gold!

Things improve, not only do people fish the rubbish out here they kindly stack it in a shopping trolley

Swearing and cursing I continued until 8pm when I found the first safe looking spot outside the Boat and Horses pub almost under the M60. At least here the locals were interested in getting rubbish out of the canal. The boat already moored there came out to help me moor up and assured me that the beauty of the canal increased heading north and that he and his wife liked it so much they had spent the winter there. Once again meeting nice people helped my cheer, along with a pint in the pub.

So today I spent 12 hours travelling 5 miles and 27 locks. Clearly I need to forsake any ideas of working as the boat people did when goods were transported by canal. That would have been a normal days work for them.

Note for boaters wanting to travel the Rochdale in Manchester.

1. Travel down hill into Manchester – the water levels were high and virtually every lock was set against me

2. Use the services of the volunteer lockies if at all possible.

3. Allow plenty of time.

The next day I only had a short trip to my next mooring spot. This was just as well as the steering developed a serious judder and I had to open the weed hatch (giving access to the propeller) to see what I had tangled around the prop shaft. Amongst the usual plastic I had somehow managed to tangle up some ladies underwear. It took ages to cut it off (the propeller).

I’m pretty sure that I would have noticed running someone over if this is what they were wearing.

At least now I was in the countryside, and picturesque countryside at that. But the Rochdale had another spanner to throw into the works (and into the canal as well I suppose). Two locks ahead the bottom had fallen out of the canal and the pound (stretch between two locks) was drained while the CRT worked on it.

Not enough water to navigate.

The workmen covered the hole and put clay over it to make it watertight

The same pound re watered

I was quite happy to sit tight and enjoy the countryside.

The cruise through Rochdale was largely uneventful. Not as bad as Manchester, but Rochdale wasn’t somewhere that I wanted to linger for any time. Seeing graffiti is unfortunately common along the canals and is a way of judging how safe an area is. Rochdale has the honour of being the first place I have watched the people responsible. Midday and in broad daylight. Just the other side of the bridge that they were decorating were two unsavoury characters hanging around on the lock landing. I even too a surreptitious photo in case they tried something on.

A strange place to conduct your business.

The push through Rochdale as worth it when I arrived in Littleborough. Here I was joined by several vintage working boats who were on their way to a rally in Hebden Bridge on 25th May. They headed off the next morning but I am going to hang around here for a few days.

Old working boats en route to a rally

Wonderful, Wet Wigan

I have delayed in Wigan partly because of the rain, but also as I needed to replan my route. As I arrived here the CRT announced a long delay to some major repairs on the Leeds and Liverpool with part of it closed until mid June. That would be too late for me even if I was driving it in my car, so my new plan is still to cross the Pennines but using the Rochdale and Huddersfield canal. Both are shorter but have lots of locks but more importantly both are open. At the moment anyway.

As a result I have had time to wander in Wigan, despite the rain and I have been incredibly impressed with the buildings in Wigan, or rather the old buildings. Let’s get out of the way the high rise flats (though they looked really well kept) from the 60/70s and the standard issue concrete building monstrosity from the same era. The buildings fall into two categories, the industrial mills down by the canal and the civic/ commercial buildings in the town centre. Some of the buildings have been restored and reused. Others have just been reused and a few are in danger of falling down.

Clearly there was a great deal of wealth in the town. It was known for pewter, clock and firearm manufacture, as well as coal mining  pre industrial revolution. This accelerated and huge mills were built to make cotton as this became available in bulk along the canals and then railways. 

I was surprised when the canal went through a place called Wigan Pier. I had assumed that it was a fictional book title. There is now an area, by the canal, that is proud of this name and Orwellian connection. It transpires that it wasn’t an area in Wigan in the industrial revolution – there was a wooden wharf that stuck out into the canal which someone once described as a pier. Not deterred I set off into town to buy a copy of The Road To Wigan Pier, but neither Waterstones or WH Smiths had a copy. As it describes Wigan and similar industrial cities pre WW II I shall keep looking for a copy.