Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd May
We aimed for an early start because of all the horror stories you hear about the Rochdale and Ashton, but apart from one slightly weird incident it was all absolutely fine.
By 8, Dave had reversed off our berth and was manoeuvring towards the first of the infamous Rochdale 9 Locks.
We weren't exactly full of trepidation but were prepared for a day’s hard work. The challenges were not only physical; my first task, having emptied the lock, was to work out which way to wind the windlass to open the gates, which are operated by chains as there isn’t enough room for full-length beams.
The gates are so heavy that angled lock beams wouldn't work. You see these sometimes on narrow canals, as at Star Lock in Stone, where space is restricted. Luckily for me most of the gates aren’t chain operated - you’d have thought I’d have had no trouble having managed it once, but no, I got muddled at the start of them all. Anyway, up we went!
More delays ensued. On most of the top gates the paddle gear was protected by a cover which could only be opened by unscrewing its lock with the anti-vandal key. This was time-consuming even once I’d got the hang of it. The previous user had done them up pretty tightly, which didn’t help. It took us half an hour to get through the first lock and our hearts were sinking!
But we soon got into the swing of it. As we were going up rather than down it was easy for Dave to get off and help with the top gates, although in the end only one gate, near the top of the Nine, was so heavy I couldn’t do it on my own. We had glimpses of the sun as we travelled the canyon between the high buildings on each side. There were some wonderful Victorian buildings as well as modern offices and flats.
The canal was filthy. I removed a length of bubble wrap but most of the rubbish was small and/or out of reach. We would have been there all day if I’d tried to collect it all. The small bits in the water and caught on the lock were actually cherry blossom petals! we caught a brief glimpse of the tree above one of the bridges. The pink colour hasn’t come out well unfortunately.
In spite of the mess (and so much broken glass that Meg had to remain on board all the time) there were signs that some people do care about the surroundings – below one building were those planting arrangements we’ve sometimes seen in cities and the marsh marigolds (kingcups) were in full bloom.
We had to turn most of the locks; as there is water cascading over most of the top gates they are kept well topped up! In one of them there was an obstruction behind a gate. This is the only advantage of double locks if you don’t have company! As I opened the other gate, I noticed a CRT lorry on the bridge above so it was a simple matter to report the obstruction. They came down with their super-long rake and grappling hook, and could feel the obstruction, but luckily told us to carry on and fill the lock. They caught up with us at Chorlton Street lock. This is on one of the stretches without a continuous towpath, so one of them had to climb over the wall to collect a heap of rubbish they had netted earlier. They hadn’t managed to recover the obstruction, and he said he‘d be going down there with a wetsuit later on …. rather him than me! He also promised to grease the top paddles of that lock which were very stiff. Parts of the canal pass under buildings – these long covered stretches stink of p***, and although the longer ones are lit, they are not pleasant to go through.
Near the top of the Nine, we saw this little duck house, one of several we’ve seen this trip. Pretty, but empty. Behind the bridge support was a Canada goose on her nest. By the time I saw her it was too late to take a better photo. I don’t think she is putting the ducks off – there aren’t any round here.
It took us three and a quarter hours to climb the Rochdale 9, which isn’t bad considering the reputation of the flight. Now for bandit country! As we cruised the lock-free stretch of the Ashton canal before the first of the Ancoats flight, we were accompanied by a young man riding his bike – at 3mph – making no eye contact whatever. I went and locked the front doors. As I filled the first lock (thankfully narrow locks now) he sat leaning on a lamp-post, again not looking at us. I was quite worried and took a photo of him just in case with the camera concealed behind the paddle gear! He cycled off with a wave and a smile so I’ve used the other photo I took! Don’t want to malign the poor chap!
Dave hadn’t been concerned; he was pretty sure the guy had been taking something recreational and was just very chilled. There would have been lots of witnesses to any incident, as there were plenty of customers in the coffee shop in the background!
Soon we approached the Chips development of New Islington. It’s supposed to have been inspired by three fat chips on top of one another http://www.e-architect.co.uk/manchester/chips-manchester.
On we went. I’d bought snacks in the little shop under the Castlefield arches and made some rolls, so we had lunch on the move and refuelled as necessary with squash and cake. At the Beswick locks the canal passes through Sport City, the home of the Etihad stadium and the Olympic-standard velodrome of the National Cycling Centre. Harry Garner’s lock on this flight is 13’ 3” deep (1” more than Etruria top lock on the Caldon), and Vinegar lock on the Clayton flight is 13’ 10”, now the deepest narrow lock in Britain http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/locks.htm.
Along the way we saw two broods of goslings – the second was bigger and more photogenic -
and a smelly chemical works.
One of the upper locks of the Clayton flight was very leaky. I took this photo before raising the paddles – look at the top of the picture and you can probably predict what happened next!
It didn’t take long to empty the next lock, which released enough water for Dave to get Chuffed over the lock sill, and then I ran more water down so he could creep along the middle of the canal.
We were soon through the Copperas swing bridge (the one at Yew Tree was already open) and ascended our final two locks at Fairfield. In spite of most of the paddle gear (on both top and bottom gates) having to be unlocked, then relocked (and me having to go back when one or other of us locked the paddle gear with the paddles still up – we both did this twice, doh!) - as we shared the top gate work as we usually do, and I locked ahead when possible, we made it into Droylsden marina just after 4.
The lovely Jane, Tom and another moorer whose name I can’t remember soon got us moored and made us very welcome. The two resident dogs, Oscar and Dexter, greeted us enthusiastically and investigated us thoroughly before taking Meg off to run up and down the pontoons. No pictures – I’ll have to take some when we return. Meg didn’t need a walk fortunately, having come along with me on the towpath for most of the Ashton.
Today we travelled 5 miles, with 27 locks (9 broad, 18 narrow), 1 swing bridge, in 8 hours. We didn’t see a single boat on the move today.
Stats for the trip (according to Canal Planner);
|Miles||74 miles 6 and a half furlongs|
|69 narrow, 9 broad, total 78|
|2 (one open)|
|Five. Harecastle (2919 yds), Barnton (572 yds), Saltersford (424 yds), Preston Brook (1239 yds), Deansgate (78 yds according to Nicholson’s, but we didn’t actually notice it!)|
|somewhere between 36 and 40|
On Saturday morning, Dave left before 9 to catch a succession of trains and a replacement bus back to Stone to fetch the car, and by the time he returned, having had a tedious journey up the M6, I’d finished cleaning and packing up. We packed the car in intermittent drizzle before the journey home. Meg had been running around with Oscar and readily settled down to sleep. We made it home in four and a half hours.
All being well, we plan to cruise the South Pennine Ring on our next trip.