Tuesday 9th June; Slaithwaite to Marsden
We set the alarm so we’d be sure of getting to Marsden in time to go to the Visitor Centre and town before everything shut, as there won’t be a chance tomorrow. Soon after 8 we were on our way through the village, where the road runs alongside the canal.
Nicholson’s goes into raptures about this, but the water levels were a bit low so we couldn’t see much! The road was busy last night and again this morning, as it’s rush hour, but the drivers are amazingly on the ball when it comes to pedestrian crossings; if you look even vaguely as though you are going to cross they screech to a halt. The champion pie shop had already closed last night and wasn’t yet open this morning, which was a shame as we’d fancied pies for lunch. The locks, though technically not the deepest on the system, certainly look that way when the water level is so low. I think this one is 23E.
I had read on Free Spirit's account of their trip last year that the guillotine gate on 24E was tough. Blimey! They weren't wrong! I thought Irene just meant it was hard to turn the windlass, which it wasn’t really. Lulled into a false sense of security by the relative ease of opening the paddles, I merrily started to wind the guillotine up. The sun carried on shining ….. I had a rest as a man on his way to work made some jocular comment about the division of labour …. I looked down and could see the paddles had appeared … I carried on winding … the bottom of the guillotine crept into view …. eventually the gap was big enough for Chuffed to get underneath.
After I got my breath back I remembered to count the turns as I lowered the guillotine. 120! I thought the Rochdale gear was bad enough, where the hydraulically assisted systems take between 30 and 42 turns, but this…. words failed me and not just from lack of breath! I won’t grumble next time we’re on the Grand Union, that’s for sure – 21 turns is nothing compared to this.
Anyway, it was a glorious day and the water levels didn’t cause too many problems. The canal just got more and more beautiful.
The River Colne still ran peaty brown the other side of the towpath.
We’ve seen many friendly walkers in the last couple of days, and three have said how lovely it is to see boats using the canal. With only 3 boats allowed through the tunnel in each direction, and on only 3 days a week, they won’t get many as the moorings are really not good enough for a lot of traffic. A local boater we chatted to in Slaithwaite said that when the canal was dredged the spoil wasn’t taken out, just shifted to the sides, so it’s hardly surprising that you can’t get to the edge for a wild mooring. Even the lock landing areas are dodgy. There are also places where the water vegetation is creeping across – on one longish stretch the channel narrowed between large stands of a plant I think was Water Horsetail, and there was so much build-up of silt that we could hear the hull sliding along the mud all the way.
In the Booth Bank area we were surprised to see this Torbay Palm thriving in a cottage garden up on the hillside. In East Devon where we live, the palms on the sea front at Exmouth were all knocked right back in the harsh winter a few of years ago, yet this is thriving in Yorkshire, 200 miles north and over 700 feet above sea level! Earlier on a walker had told us that a boat was coming down; they came round the bend as we were rising up lock 31E. This was the best possible place to meet them – there is water from the Sparth reservoir, so no water supply problems, and also a winding hole above the lock so plenty of space to pass. They had come through the tunnel yesterday, the only boat coming in this direction, so we knew we would be able to choose our mooring at Marsden.
We had been really worried about the last 10 locks, because Nicholson’s warns that if water levels are low you mustn’t let water down without calling CRT first, but in the event we had no trouble at all. The hillsides are well wooded and in the sunshine it was beautiful. At one point I thought I heard a turtle dove calling in the trees, but couldn’t see it. At lock 37E the Blue Peter logo is emblazoned on the balance beams. A notice explained that one of the presenters had helped make the gate earlier this year, and then I spotted an article in Towpath Talk about it. The staff involved (from CRT, the Manchester and Pennine Waterways team) got their Blue Peter badges!
We made it to the moorings near the station at Marsden at one o’clock. Under five hours for 21 deep locks we felt was good going, though to be fair most were in our favour! Better than yesterday anyway. We have seen these fancy bollards in a couple of places. Think I’d rather see the money spent on dredging though.
We had lunch then walked into the town for a look around and some shopping, and then took Meg and walked along to the tunnel mouth and the Visitor Centre. They ask you not to moor there till after 4pm, as the trip boat needs the space; we met a couple of ladies who had just been on a trip and they were thrilled with the whole experience. The visitor centre was opened in 2001 by the daughter of the fastest legger through the tunnel.
We just had time to go around the fascinating visitor centre before it closed, then checked out the tunnel moorings, walked back and moved the boat. We had been close to the station – now we were opposite the railway tunnel entrance. No problem, we don’t mind trains. (The white dot in the tunnel mouth is not the other end – it’s a notice on the barrier!)
The trip boats were moored outside the Visitor Centre behind us as we stood on the footbridge to take this photo – a few hours later we and the other two boats booked for tomorrow were all moored here and getting ready for tomorrow. We knew we would have to take the cratch cover off to avoid damage, and it needed repair anyway, so I got on with that before we went back to town to eat at the Riverhead Brewery Tap, which had been highly recommended. Excellent beer, good food and cheerful service upstairs in the restaurant.
21 locks, 3 miles, 5 hours. One boat passed us going downhill, and two came up behind and will be going through the tunnel tomorrow.
A postscript on pronunciation; ‘Slaithwaite’ is supposed to be pronounced ‘Slough-it’. We did our best to get it right, and then we heard an announcement at the station where it was rendered ’Slaythe-waite’ in an extremely refined BBC-type voice. I suppose visitors from outside Yorkshire wouldn’t know what ‘Slough-it ‘ was.