Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Skinny Locks and Unfamiliar Territory

After completing the 18 locks on the Ashton Canal yesterday both of us comment how much easier it was to do narrow locks.  Last night we moored on the Peak Forest Canal about 500 metres from Dukinfield Junction.

Jan had recorded the latest episode of New Tricks on the small TV last night and before we left this morning I managed to edit and convert the AV file to DivX format before saving it to the media tank.

I'd anticipated taking a number of photos of today's cruise along the Peak Forest Canal but seemed to spend much of my time down the weed hatch instead. The first couple of times resulted in the removal of unwanted objects but then we seemed to acquire phantom objects. The wake would bubble out one side of the rudder and Waiouru felt as if it was being held back. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the canal must be so shallow we were carving a groove along the bottom. Progress through Woodley Tunnel was particularly slow.

Just before Chadkirk Aqueduct we met our first moving boat for the day. They hovered whilst we attempted to slide past. That didn't work because we ran aground. I was wondering why the other boat wasn't attempting to pass us when Jan pointed out a limb of a willow tree was protruding across the other half of the canal. We managed to reverse back so they could detour around the obstruction, but they had also decided to reverse. Eventually everything was resolved and we reached Hyde Bank Tunnel. There was still a problem with the depth of water because we bounced over a large mud bank at the western end.

Shortly thereafter we reached Rose Hill Tunnel.

As you can see from the above photo, it has a very high roof! Despite us cruising the Peak Forest Canal in 2007, neither of us could remember any of the canal until we reached Marple Locks. We didn't remember Marple Aqueduct and you would expect us to have done because it's so imposing.

Jan at the tiller.  Should be easy to steer in this location

View of the railway bridge to the left

View to the right looking over the tree tops

We reached the bottom of the Marple Flight just after midday and had decided to stop for the day. However during lunch Jan suggested we go up the flight. It's possible this comment might have arisen because there was no TV signal below the bottom lock. But then I might be wrong about that!

Something I noticed in a couple of the locks.  Behind the lower gates were grooves in the masonry which looked like they might have been constructed for ground paddle rods.  Then in the top lock I noticed what appears to be a bricked up opening for a ground paddle.  I wonder if I’m correct and when the paddles were relocated to the gates?

It took us just on three hours to complete the 16 locks. They were all against us and we didn't see any boats coming down. Three quarters the way up the flight I asked Jan if she would like a 'takeway' dinner instead of having to cook. I know.... I'm just that kind of a guy! I even volunteered to walk in to Marple to buy it.

We continued on up the flight reaching the top lock at 5.30pm.

The problem for us was the 48 hour moorings at the junction are in the same poor condition that we found in 2007. We couldn't get any closer than a metre from the towpath. In the end we decided to continue towards Whaley Bridge where we eventually stopped on a good piece of steel piling about a kilometre from Marple Junction.

That's when Jan mentioned we had nothing to eat. Now I'm not fooled by these comments. I've been with this girl for almost 43 years and I know she can produce a tasty meal from fresh air and water. And so it came to pass that we sat down to a delicious dinner. We have both the dot and DTV signals.  Shortly after mooring the heavens opened and the liquid sunshine fell.

I do like a happy ending!

Monday, September 22, 2014

A smell, a theft, aground

Time to leave Manchester, but first the building opposite the mooring is rather interesting.  I can’t decide whether it’s a converted old building or something new built as a replica.  The confusing part is the twin arches at the base.  They look like they led to boat loading areas inside a warehouse.  However they have a concrete arch?  Today they are a cafe.
The second lock on the Ashton Canal has an old canalside property which is currently being renovated.  It appears to be either a new home or small office complex.
On the opposite side is a large former warehouse or factory complex which has also been renovated and converted into residential apartments.
Above Lock 2 and adjacent to the entrance to New Islington Marina is a modern building which appears to be leaning over the canal.
The next major building of interest is one which frequently appears on blogs of boaters who have passed this way.
We both saw the irony in going up the 18 Locks of the Ashton Canal having come down the 19 locks of the Rochdale the previous Friday.  What wasn’t appreciated was the condition of a number of the lock gates.  Too many of the lower lock gates wouldn’t stay shut.  Jan developed a technique of slightly raising one of the top paddles and then going back to shut the gates.  This worked on all but one of the locks.  Halfway up the flight Jan heard the alarm of the CO detector in the bedroom.  When she went to investigate she discovered a horrible “rotten egg” (sulphur) smell in the bedroom and cratch.  We frantically searched for the source before deciding it was probably external and had “leaked” into the cratch when Waiouru was in one of the lock chambers.  We Rolled up the cratch cover sides and opened the top half of the cabin front doors to vent the boat.  It appears to have worked.
Jan was making some lunch with the side hatch doors open.  She had left one of her recently baked blackberry muffins on the galley top and turned around to observe a thieving Canadian Goose stick its head through the open side hatch and steal her muffin. 
By now we had gained some height and could look back down towards Manchester.
We came this way in 2007 but the only part of the canal I remember is the water point immediately above Lock 18.  Unfortunately getting to it involved quite a delay.  I couldn’t get Waiouru into the lock.  The boat would only go 2/3 the way into the lock and then ground.  Applying more power just made the problem worse.  If I knocked the engine out of gear then the boat drifted out of the lock.  Eventually I drifted into the lock and just managed to clear the lower gates.  The next problem was the gates wouldn’t stay shut behind the boat.   Jan tried her trick of slightly raising a top paddle but that flushed Waiouru back out of the lock.  Eventually we managed to get the boat back into the lock and used the centreline to hold her in place whilst Jan ran in some water to hold the lower gates shut.   
The water pressure from the tap at Fairfield Junction was good but it still took some time to fill the tank.  A passing walker asked if we were from NZ?  We confirmed he was correct and that’s when he told us he had just returned from working with the NZ Army contingent in the Sinai.  I knew he meant the MFO organisation of which NZ was an original contributor.  The MFO was created by the USA to monitor the border between Egypt and Israel after the UN refused to be involved.  The MFO has been in existence for over 30 years.  One of the many peace-keeping missions that never seems to end.
The stretch of canal from Fairfield Junction to Dunkinfield Junction has no locks and there was plenty of water.  I didn’t manage the turn onto the Peak Forest Canal in one movement.  But then I’ll claim it is a tight turn.  Dunkinfield Junction is where Peter & Margaret (nb Kelly-Louise) took us not long after we had arrived in the UK.  There is an interesting museum opposite the turn.
We made a very tight left turn into Portland Basin Marina at this point.  Actually the blue boat with the yellow tunnel band in the above photo was a contributing factor.  The arm to Portland Basin Marina doesn’t have a winding hole at the end which meant I had to reverse out and then do a reverse turn at the junction.  Oh, we went to the marina for diesel (90p/ltr domestic).  There should now be sufficient fuel in the tank to keep us going for another couple of weeks.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


It’s not our first visit.  We hired a boat for a fortnight in 2005 and completed the Cheshire Ring.  Dawn to dusk cruising at a frenetic place.  This time we’re taking it easy and smelling the flowers!

Something I’ve noticed when reading other blogs is that Wordpress blogs tend to load far slower than those using Blogger.  Am I on my own?  It’s one reason why I haven’t converted over.

The current mooring at Ducie Street Junction is very close to the Aldi.  We’ve already made one heavily laden return trip and will complete another before leaving.  There’s a M&S outlet which has enabled Jan to replace some of her more religious (holy) apparel.  I went to PC World and bought an external DVD reader/writer for the laptop.  The ultra cheap eBay external drive has proven to be a very bad buy as it only intermittently reads disks.

This morning I donned my frilly back and white French maids outfit to vacuum the floors.  The garden shed thinks this additional attention is most unfair and is now crying out for some TLC.  However my enthusiasm has now waned and it will have to wait until tomorrow.  Waiouru’s exterior needs a good wash but I’ve managed to convince myself this would be a wasted effort with so many locks left to do. 

A walk to the Arndale Shopping Centre revealed that Mick Jagger’s father and his mates had a gig going opposite the main entrance.  I think Michael Jackson was also in the band.  If you can’t recognize him then he’s the one wearing the gloves.  I didn’t know Elvis could play the drums!

Only one boat has passed us since we moored here on Friday afternoon.  As NB Tanya Louise went past going up the Rochdale the steerer called out he was a blog reader.  Jan got such a surprise she failed to ask his name.  Boat crew if you read this, please leave a comment with your name and we’ll amend the post.

Around lunch time a boat moored behind us and the crew went off to look for the water point at Ducie Street Junction.  Our Waterway Routes maps don’t show a tap and the other boat crew couldn’t find one!  I informed them our map showed the nearest tap to be two locks up the Rochdale Canal and in the basin to the right.   The following is a screen dump from the map

Actually I briefly mentioned this in the last post.  It looks like there is a shortcut between the Rochdale and Ashton Canals.  However Paul Balmer (who collects the data and creates the maps) told me those two arms are not joined.  Old Mill Street bisects them.  Additionally, they have slightly different water levels.

This next photo shows the Aston Canal arm looking back towards the Ashton Canal.

You will note the lift bridge on the exit from the arm to the Ashton Canal.  Looking in the opposite direction you can see Old Mill Street separates the two arms.

It’s also possible to see the difference in water levels in the above photo.  The other arm has quite a few boats moored in it and there appears to be shore power pods to some of the moorings.  It is this arm that has the boat facilities.

Towards the Rochdale Canal end of the basin looking back at the moored boats.

This next photo shows the remainder of the arm leading to the Rochdale Canal.

There were plenty of vacant moorings when I walked around the area.  However Paul informed me that it can sometimes get noisy in summer when the local teenagers decide to use it as their local swimming pool.  I guess I could fix that by dropping our self pump out hose over the side and telling a few of them we need to empty our toilet tank! Smile

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A welcome helping hand

With 20 locks between us and Ducie Street Junction (the junction in Manchester where the Rochdale and Ashton Canals meet) the suggestion from Ray of a 7.30am start seemed a good idea. Jan was awake and up very early.  So early that she was able to inform me the boat in front of us had its lights on at 4.00am.  I happened to be on Waiouru’s stern at 6.00am and observed Tug Harry’s departure.  We wouldn’t be the first boat to go down the flight today!

The performance of the “Electric Pole” (bow thruster) has been seriously degraded.  I suspected (and was dreading) something might be wrapped around the impeller.  The bow thruster does have a small weed hatch, but access is difficult.  However I remembered my fault finding principle of “look for the easy thing first” and checked the grills at the ends of the bow thruster tube.  Water clarity was very poor but there appeared to be something in the port (left) grill.  Using the boathook I attempted to extract the object from the grill.

Eventually I was able to remove a large clump of shredded blue cordage and a heavy duty plastic bag from the grill.  At some stage I’ll have to check the bow thruster via the weed hatch and see what else is down there.

I’ve heard of Arabian stallions.  Is this an Arabian mare? Smile

The stretch of canal from last night’s mooring to the M60 motorway was rather shallow and we had to reduce speed otherwise the engine started to smell of hot oil.  As it was we collected a few items on the propeller which (fortunately) I was able to throw off with bursts of reverse.

Immediately after Kay Lane Lock is Grimshaw Lane Lift Bridge.  This is the first time we’ve been under a lift bridge which rises at both ends.

The canal around the M60 appears to be a deep concrete trough and we made good time before having to slow yet again on the approach to Failsworth Top lock where there were a couple of dead shopping trolleys in the cut.  It was obvious they were dead as they were on their backs with only their feet sticking above the surface.  This is the first of the 20 locks on the way to the junction.  We disposed of our rubbish in the CRT facilities and picked up an additional two volunteer crew members in the form of Christine and Paul Balmer (nb Waterway Routes)

Paul and Christine produce canal DVD’s and route guides.  They also tend to turn up and help boaters at the more strenuous locations.  Last year Paul appeared at the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 and assisted us up the flight.  The additional pair of hands enabled the crews of Firefly NZ and Waiouru to implement a quicker locking routine.

Leonie wheel-locked ahead on their folding bike filling locks and opening gates; Paul and Ray steered whilst Christine, Jan and I leapfrogged through each other working the gates and paddles.  This made for very quick progress and we completed the 20 locks in 3.5 hours.

There is some reasonably attractive parkland about four locks prior to the junction.  It’s a pity there are no mooring rings.

There is an arm to the left just prior to Lock 82.  Paul informed us that Manchester has never had a beach.  However when the arm was redeveloped sand was dumped at the end to form a beach as part of a children’s play area.  It’s now colloquially know as Ancoats On Sea.  So Manchester now has a beach.

The arm with beach at the far end

Paul is obviously are far better collector than me.  He steered Waiouru today and managed to collect the following in half a day.

Apparently this is a rather poor result for him.  Christine informed me that when they did the Rochdale last year Paul had to go down their weed hatch 15 times.

Not wanting to contribute to the UK obesity problem; we fed Christine & Paul one bacon butty and a freshly baked blackberry muffin.  Paul also accepted a small shot of our sloe gin.   We then became engrossed in canal discussions and time seemed to fly bye.  All too soon Paul was off to check the accuracy of his map data in the local area whilst Christine headed for the station for the journey home.  Great to see you both and thank you very much for your time and efforts today!

Having now completed a return Pennine crossing I have to say that IMHO the eastern side is the more attractive.  The journey up the Aire & Calder and then the Rochdale Canal was the highlight of the trip. I’m pleased we were encouraged to undertake the trip as there was a strong possibility we would have opted for the River Trent instead.  The only time we struck a lack of water was at the ends of the summit pound.

Now for the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals

Friday, September 19, 2014

Through Rochdale

A late start today after the very early start yesterday.  We slept on a level bed after loosening the mooring ropes.  Not that it made much difference as both of us were very tired.  Departing at 10.30am we cruised down to the water and elsan facilities above Littleborough and on the way were somewhat amused to pass a good mooring above Bent House Lock.

If we had gone on an extra 10 minutes yesterday that would have been our mooring last night. 

The water pressure at the service area was rather low and we spent almost an hour filling both boats.  Wandering around I noticed this unofficial sign post.

Love the bottom sign.  Australia is down-under!

There is a large cooperative store at Littleborough with access from the moorings below Durn Lock.  However we pressed on towards Rochdale.  After Littleborough there was a long pound which was somewhat of a relief.  A large abandoned looking building on the outskirts of Rochadale had me wondering about it origins.

On reaching the fringe of Rochdale we turned into ditch crawlers as the canal was very shallow and full of rubbish.  Jan got off to open Moss Swing Bridge and then we got something around the prop when passing through.  The loss of steerage resulted in us running aground.  I poled us off the bottom and we limped down to the next bridge where Jan held Waiouru against the towpath whilst I dived down the weed hatch.  There were a couple more locks to do before reaching the mid point of the canal’s route through Rochdale.  I wish we had a 10p coin for every can and plastic bottle we saw in the canal.

Jan had some assistance from two locals at Lock 50.  Thomas (fine sounding name….. do you know it means strong and handsome?) regularly visits the canal with his grandfather.

Some unusual graffiti on one of the bridge arches.

I guess this means the old boaters wore wooden clogs.

It was somewhat of a relief to leave Rochdale behind and get back into open countryside.  The M62 motorway was built across the original route of the canal when it was abandoned.  Consequentially, the canal had to be re-routed when restored.  Apparently this was achieved by utilising one of the road culverts and repositioning a lock.  Whilst the road culvert is wide enough for a wide beam boat there’s insufficient room for a wide beam and a towpath.  As there was no other route for the towpath a moveable floating towpath was installed.  There is sufficient room for narrowboats to pass without having to move the pontoon.

Just beyond the culvert is the relocated lock.  It’s wide and deep with straight concrete sides and doors that seal well.  Just like the old boaters would have wanted their locks to be.

Looking back to the new lock it’s possible to see the former route of the canal to the left in the photo below.

Leaving the noise of the motorway traffic behind we headed into quiet, open countryside free of rubbish.  The day ended with good moorings at Slattocks.  Both the dot and DTV are OK and the aluminium washing tree is out on the back covered in clean rags.  There’s still a little light so some foraging in the hedgerows for yet more blackberries might be on the cards.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Summit

After dinner last night I decided to go foraging for blackberries as dusk was falling and to my surprise managed to fill a 2 litre container.  However another major reason for the walk was to check the number of moored boats before the summit.  Walking past the seven locks I noted 10 moored boats, only three of which were facing in the opposite direction.  Of the other seven at least 5 were showing signs of occupation.  This coincided with the information we had received from a resident whilst passing through Walsden.  He had informed me that it must be a busy day on the canal as he had counted five boats going towards the summit.

On reaching the Summit Pound at dusk I could see the water level was at least a foot (30cm) down.  Even more disturbing; the pound immediately below the summit lock was almost empty and there were two moored boats obviously waiting to go up in the morning.

Walking back to Waiouru I formulated a cunning plan which was subsequently discussed with Ray & Leonie.  We would start cruising at 6.00am and quietly pass those five moored boats arriving at the summit lock around 8.00am.  Obviously a suggested 6.00am was not something that was wildly popular.  But then we didn’t want to be stuck on the Yorkshire side of the summit beating our rain drums!

I should have checked the metrology forecast because it was still dark at 6.00am this morning.  However there was sufficient light to move at 6.15am.  By that time I had very quietly tiptoed past three moored boats and set the next two locks.  We slowly and quietly moved up through the locks.  Perhaps not quiet enough, as curtains twitched in two of the boats.

Waiouru was in the lead going to the lock below the empty pound with Firefly NZ following.  As Firefly passed one of the boats a side hatch was opened and the male occupant told Ray we couldn’t go through the lock and Summit Pound without the approval of a CRT lockkeeper.  A lady then appeared at the hatch and told him the same thing.  We managed to get both boats into the lock and I ran some water down from the Summit Lock.  However it wasn’t enough for us to get over the cill.  The man from the boat then appeared at the lock and again advised us that we needed CRT permission to proceed.  The information we had indicated this wasn’t correct and we had a suspicion there might be some “sour grapes” about our early arrival.  Ray phoned CRT whilst I telephoned Paul Balmer (Waterway Routes) as his excellent (and up to date) maps didn’t mention this requirement.  Paul confirmed that CRT had removed the booking requirement last year.  A CRT worker also arrive and, after observing what we were doing, departed without making a comment.  By this time there was sufficient water in the affected pound for us to cross it and enter the last lock below the summit pound.  There is a CRT sign at Longless Lock and I noticed the requirement to book passage had been masked out.  So Paul’s maps are spot on and the Pearson/Nicolson books are out of date <surprise>.

Paul had advised me that whilst the Summit Pound water level might look low the pound was deep.  This proved to be quite correct and we had no problems crossing the pound.

In all the excitement I failed to take any photos of our arrival at the summit.

  On the Summit Pound looking back to Longless Lock.

Summit Pound

Note how the sign at this end implies you need to book your passage

As we arrived at the Lancashire end of the Summit Pound a CRT vehicle arrived with four staff.  Initially they told us to wait in the Summit Pound as they needed to run water down.  Apparently the first five locks below the summit were dry.  I then suggested to them that it would make more sense to let us into the lock rather than wasting yet another lock of water after they had finished running down the water.  Moreover it would ensure we weren’t trapped on the summit if they ran the water level too low.  They accepted my suggestion and we sat in Western Summit lock for almost an hour whilst they ran water from the summit down through the top of the flight.

So there we were sitting in the lock slowly going down after the CRT staff had raised the paddles.  We were almost at the bottom of the lock when I noticed Waiouru was starting to get bounced around.

We hadn’t realized one of the upper ground paddles had been partially raised.  The water was entering the lock chamber under Waiouru’s stern with quite some force.  Rather than attempting to hold Waiouru in the flow I allowed the front fender to rest against the gate.  One positive thing from the strong flow was that it cleaned all the weed off the stern rubbing strake.

Immediately below Western Summit Lock is a property we’d previously seen on TV.  If my memory is correct it was shown in an episode of “Locks & Quays”.  Either the house or garden has the byewash from the lock running through (under) the property?  I might have to go back through our DVD’s to find the relevant episode.

We dropped down another eight locks before deciding to stop for the day.  It might have only been 1.30pm, but we started at 6.00am.  I did notice the original stonemason’s marks in one lock whilst going down.

There are another 38 locks before we reach Ducie Street Junction so we might be taking it easy for the next few days.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Todmorden and beyond

It was time leave Hebden Bridge and continue to climb towards the summit.  The ascent starts to become steeper which means the locks are closer together.  Hebden Bridge looks a little “alternative lifestyle” which is reflected in the long term moored boats.

Really spreading out!

We started to get into a routine leapfrogging our way up through the locks.  Some of the gates and paddles were in good condition and others required two people to move them.

As we gained altitude the terrain started to open out.  No longer did we feel like we were trapped in a narrow valley.

Firefly waits for Jan and Leonie to set the lock

There are still signs of former mills from a bygone era.

As we approached Todmorden it was possible to look back and see Stoodley Pike on the skyline.

Nine locks later we reached Todmorden.  Beyond Shop Lock is a short pound on a bend where the CRT services can be found.

Waiting to enter Shop Lock

As we approached the CRT services mooring I could see a hire boat on them but they didn’t have their hose out.  I asked “Are you taking water?”  They replied “Our hose isn’t long enough!”  Their problem was two unattended boats had been left on the end of the services mooring which meant their bow (and filler point) was too far away from the tap.  I asked if we could breast up against them as I was sure our hose had sufficient length to reach the tap.  They readily agreed and we filled both boats.  The hire crew then decided to stay on the water point and have a look around Todmorden, whilst we wanted to press on.

Rochdale road has obviously been widened since the canal was built because the approach to the next lock (Library Lock) goes under the original stone arch bridge and then an adjacent concrete extension.  The extension restricted the operation of the original lower lock gates and as a consequence they have been replaced by a mechanical/electric guillotine gate.  The raising and lowering of the gate is electric, but the paddles are manual.

It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling cruising under the large guillotine gate and counterweight.

Looking back through the gate it’s possible to see the CRT services mooring and the Shire Cruisers Hire Boat.

The area around the lock was occupied by loud but friendly locals and their dogs steadily drinking their way through numerous cans of cider.  On exiting the lock you are confronted with what I have named “The Great Wall of Todmorden”.  It’s obviously not the correct name but I’m just too lazy to do my research and identify its correct name.  One of the locals told Jan 6 million bricks were used in its construction.

It’s quite a retaining wall.  Must have been an expensive project for the original canal builders, but probably cheaper than constructing a curved tunnel.

We carried on climbing out of the valley steadily transiting locks.

After 20 locks we were all rather “pooped” and decided to stop for the night just above Nip Square Lock.  Jan had purchased a steak pie from a market stall in Hebden Bridge which we had for dinner.  Both of us were impressed.  It was full of solid chunks of tasty steak.  No grizzle, gravy or mince!  The head should hit the pillow hard tonight.