Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Peak Forest Canal Whaley Bridge to Furness Vale

After we said an emotional farewell to Frankie & Harry and waved them off on their way back to Bordeaux, we refilled the water tank and boated down to Carr Bridge at Furness Vale. Although there weren’t very many boats there when we came up, we found ourselves having to squeeze into a line of about 14, which means for the next two weeks we’ve got neighbours, whether we like them or not.
We picked the day with the best weather forecast to move, which turned out to be a wise choice; we had a lovely time boating in the sunshine with hardly a breeze. The following day all hell broke loose. While the boat was being rocked from side to side and lashed with rain, Dave had a proper go at the sofa. He re-attached all the springs with much sturdier fixings and shortened the bit that sticks out at the back so that it goes right back to the wall and gives us another 2 ½ inches of floor space. That doesn’t sound a lot but on a narrowboat every inch is precious and it’s made all the difference in the world.

As a way of saying goodbye to all our northern 2CV friends before we head off south down the Macc, we drove over to Bradford for the Aire-Cooled Alley Cats Last Ever Curry Night. Another warm friendly welcome from friends that we’ve known for years and a fantastic curry to boot. They even presented Dave with a birthday cake!

After having our kids take the mickey out of our stool cushions we decided to fashion something a little less primitive than a lump of foam that we hacked off the camper van mattress with a home-made fleece tuffet on top.The comments about them looking like very bad false beards were wearing thin, so, using some material that was left over from making the curtains for our Citroen H van, (how many years have we been carrying that around?) we now have these delightful additions to our furnishings.
A vast improvement.with velcro tabs holding them on so we can still use the stools as occasional tables. Now we just need to replace the cross bars and saw a couple of inches off the legs and we're done.

This autumn, ever since there has been more night than light in 24 hours, we have been having to charge our batteries every day; a sure sign that they are on their way out and an inconvenience that means that we can’t leave the boat for any length of time without the fridge switching itself off. Last year the solar panels could cope with just the fridge for as long as necessary. Because of the rigours boat batteries are put through a life expectancy of 2 – 3 years is about the norm, after that they become increasingly unable to hold a charge. For a vast amount of money you can get super deep-cycle traction batteries that last far longer, but for mere mortals like us a new bank of 110s every now and then is the status quo. We had hoped that looking after them and keeping the periods of discharge to a minimum would extend their life expectancy but that doesn’t seem to be the case. While we were on a visit to Chloe & Shandy’s in Daventry we popped into Midland Chandlers and got a new set. Last time we had 4; this time we’re going to see if 3 will be OK. The hope is that 3 will actually do better; it takes less time to charge fewer batteries properly and we don’t, as a rule, have any power hungry devices, so there should be ample capacity.


While we were down there we got to see Paddy again. Paddy is Chloe & Shandy’s 6 month-old poodle/retriever and Paddy is now big. Not as big as his paws say he’s going to be, but big all the same. And very, very gorgeous. He is coming to stay with us for a week before Christmas while they go to France and we are very excited about this. We’re really looking forward to taking him for long walks around the beautiful bits of Cheshire and Derbyshire that we’re living in at the moment; we’re just not sure how he’s going to fit in the boat.

)Peak Forest Canal. Strines to Whaley Bridge.

We didn’t see Legend in daylight for our first two days at Strines as we were annoying the residents of Bollington and Poynton from dawn till dusk with traffic surveys. The day after that finished we jumped in the car for the long drive to Surrey for a terrific evening with Karen, Andrew and Ben. There was a delicious pie followed by a hilarious game of trivial pursuit, then the next morning we hopped over to Mum and Dads in Fleet for Dad’s 75th birthday celebrations.
We had a lovely meal out followed by tea and cake then we were off again; 200 miles north and back aboard a chilly boat just in time to light the fire and fill the hot water bottles.

Ever since we had our last MOT we’ve been casually looking for another car. We’ve been very lucky with the Punto, but we knew if we kept it any longer it was going to start getting expensive. So, after we got back from Fleet we stepped up the pace, did a bit of research and found out that if we got a small diesel that could do 60mpg it would save us money in the long run. It also had to fulfil the criteria that the Punto excelled at, ie be invisible. After trawling through Autotrader and visiting some local dealers we found a tidy, low mileage silver Astra; you don’t get much more un-noticeable than that. We’d like to thank David & Kate, Wiltz & Annie and Jono & Nicole for their help, advice, food and accommodation while we made our minds up, and especially Wiltz who drove us around after the Punto went to the scrappy. What would we do without our friends?

Bright and early on Friday morning we went up the cut a bit to Disley to another lovely mooring with more beautiful views out over the Goyt Valley,
then went for a walk to New Mills along the Goyt Way which included the amazing Millenium Walkway.
In the afternoon we drove over to Chesterfield; for our joint birthdays and Christmas presents Anne had bought us tickets to see Bellowhead at the Winding Wheel. They were a bit unusual to start with, but as the evening went on we found ourselves bouncing around along with everyone else. Our Christmas festivities have well and truly started.

After two days at Disley, we found ourselves with this vie out of the swide hatch.
Brian & Ann Marie came along on Alton on their fortnightly run, so we had some more coal off them. It’s very nice knowing there’s going to be supplies coming every couple of weeks till we leave the Macclesfield Canal next year. We’ll be regular customers until then and we’ll fill up with diesel just before we leave their patch.

There are some lovely walks around the Goyt Valley; we’ve been over Whaley Moor, up Cracken Edge and across the New Allotments, which was very steep and a bit scary
but rewarded us with some fantastic views over Kinder.
We’ve had several strolls through the Goytside Meadows country park, which ends up very dramatically in the Millennium Walkway under New Mills, and leaves you with a choice of three ways into the town, all of which include a huffing and puffing climb. We like New Mills. There are a couple of cafes that have taken our fancy and we find ourselves on walks that pass through there quite regularly. There’s also Swizzles, the sweet factory. It backs onto the towpath so when you walk past the extractor fans you can taste Parma Violets and sherbet. It’s quite addictive.

By the time Dave’s birthday came around we were on Whaley Bridge visitor moorings and, to our surprise, the only boat there. We’d thought it would be more popular as there’s a sanitary station, parking and very easy access. While we were using the sanitary station Dave managed to leave our keys in the door. We’d done all our necessities and pulled round the corner by the time he realised, but when he went back they’d gone. As well as the BW key, the bunch held the keys to all the boat padlocks and despite putting a notice on the door and asking around, we’ve heard nothing. We reckon someone had them for the float key-ring and the BW key, the rest are probably at the bottom of the cut. We had a bit of a panic on about the diesel filler lock, which would have been a nightmare to get into (It was designed to be!) but luckily we managed to find the duplicates so all is not lost.

Our visit coincided with Whaley Bridge’s Christmas tree lighting evening. Santa was transported into the basin by a flotilla of six illuminated narrowboats from Furnace Vale.
That was followed by a procession of very excited children up to the grotto, some Morris dancing in the town and some communal carol singing to the accompaniment of Whaley Bridge Brass Band. The bakery was handing out free mulled wine with every bun and we returned to our boat with a warm fuzzy glow.

We took our new car for a serious test run by driving across country to Wisbech for Holly’s 18th birthday party. It was fabulous seeing all our old friends from Pig Dyke and Slapdash and we had a brilliant evening. Despite lots of generous offers to put us up we came home again that night, arriving back at the boat at about 2am. The car was fine, and due to a generous dosage of coal before we left, the boat was still warm.

Frankie and Harry came along to Whaley Bridge for four nights; they were on a UK visit and included Dave’s birthday in their schedule. What lovely people!
Chloe and Shandy came along as well for the first night and we had a delicious lasagne and an even more delicious Black Forest Birthday cake.

Chloe and Shandy were the first to arrive; just after they’d phoned to say they were about half an hour away Dave sat down on the sofa and one of the springs twoinged out of the bottom. We’d have put up with it but for the fact that for the next four days it was going to be our bed. There was half an hour of frantic sofa wrestling which didn’t quite get finished in time, so that when C&S turned up they had to climb over both Dave and the upside-down sofa to get in.

The following day was his birthday proper; so he got up first and cooked us all a Full English. Don’t go feeling sorry for him, he wouldn’t have it any other way. In the evening Wiltz and Annie came over with their son John and together with Dave’s sister Anne and Frankie & Harry we invaded the local Indian Restaurant. Fab Birthday.

The next night we were joined by another of Dave’s sisters; Judith, and Vince, her partner. They came to see us when we were on the Stratford Canal for Judith’s birthday, and it was lovely to have them over again. We had a proper chippy tea followed by Ann-Marie’s amazing Banoffee Muffins. Birthdays were never like this when we were kids.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Peak Forest Canal. Dukenfield to Strines.

After such a fabulously long summer it came as a bit of a shock to us, and no doubt most other people, when autumn turned up. One day it was warm and sunny, the next it wasn’t. Simple as that.
Having said that, the day we boated from bridge 4 to the bottom of the Marple flight we had beautiful weather and some glorious autumn scenery.
Along the way the canal passes through two tunnels at Woodley and Hyde Bank, then over the Marple Aqueduct. The roof is a bit on the low side in the Woodley tunnel
and it’s not helped by having a towpath running through it. Half way through we found, or rather our chimney found, the extra low bit. Judging by the gouges on the wall we weren’t the first and we got away fairly lightly. Luckily we’d not yet fitted our new, taller chimney, so the old with the reshaped top is now our traveling chimney.
William Jessop’s aqueduct at the bottom of Marple locks is very impressive. We know this because we read all about it. We also read that it’s over 100 ft. tall and has pierced stanchions and is made of Gritstone and yada yada yada because we read all about that too. What we actually didn’t actually do is actually get to look at it. Not through lack of trying though; as well as drifting very slowly over it and taking photos of the equally (we imagine) railway viaduct next door,
we went down the footpath that goes under it and up the field on the other side. No doubt when Mr Jessop first unveiled his masterpiece to a hushed and awestruck public, the views from where we were standing at the top of the field were of a gleaming stone edifice carrying a shining ribbon of water over the abyss of the Goyt Valley. All we could see were the railway viaduct and lots of trees. If you stand on a wall and strain your neck you get the fleetest glimpse of the top of it under one of the arches.
Now we’re not for one minute suggesting that anyone should come along and de-forest the entire area just so we can get a butcher’s at a bridge, but it would be nice if you could at least see the odd piercing without having to resort to hiring a helicopter.
We left Legend for a couple of nights and went to Chesterfield to pick up post and be marshals at a firework evening at Stavely. Anne used to work for the council and was involved with it, so we went along to help out. At the moment our lives seem to be dominated by hi-vis clothing.  A very pleasant evening with, thanks to Mark, a very yummy fish supper afterwards. On the Sunday we got back to the boat to find that the front pin had pulled out; it had drifted away from the bank and was now at 90˚ right out in the basin. Don’t know how long it had been like that. Luckily the back end was tied to a mooring ring, so we didn’t have to resort to wading out for it and it was an easy job to get it sorted. 
Our five days at the bottom of the Marple flight included Halloween which is our 1st meeting anniversary. Over the years we've acquired one or two traditions.
On a Monday morning with a sunny forecast we thought it was about time we made the effort and went up.
Marple is a lovely place to be; for a start there are the locks which begin in woodland and climb up to the junction with the Macclesfield in the town. It’s a beautiful flight with lots of little quirks and memorable features that make going up a real pleasure.
There also a country park off to one side with lots of walks and the town is itself is just big enough to be useful. We had a fabulous day; the weather was glorious and there were lots of gongozlers taking photos and chatting to us. When we first started boating we felt very self-conscious about being watched working locks, but now we’re a bit more confident and, hopefully, a bit better at it and we don’t mind so much. Few people can resist watching a boat coming up or going down a lock - we were just the same when we were house dwellers and went to Foxton for a day out – and we always try and engage with them if we can. If they’ve got kids Ann-Marie will get them pushing gates. To see the pretty boats is one of the main reasons people come to the canals; keeping a tidy boat and being as nice to our visitors as we can be isn’t just something we see as our duty, but something we enjoy doing. A boat that looks like a derelict shed with a pair of grumpy old gits on board doesn’t do anyone any favours.
One thing we do find amusing is how stereotypical people are; it’s always the men explaining to the women how the locks work. Mind you we’re completely stereotypical boaters; Dave steers the boat while Ann-Marie does all the hard work with the windlass and the balance beams.
Just above the 16th and final lock there is a beautiful snake bridge on the right under which is the beginning of the Macclesfield Canal. For the first 100ft or so it goes through what was once a stop lock, installed in the days of competing canal owners, to prevent water from the Peak Forest going down the Maccesfield.
Now the gates are gone but the lock walls remain, as does the warehouse and covered loading dock alongside it. We went through and onto the services, then moored up on the visitor moorings on the other side.
After our 48hrs were up we went on to the next winding hole and turned round to come back to the Peak Forest. With hindsight, even though the winding hole wasn’t that far away, it would have been easier to back out through the stop lock to the junction then turn there; more space, deeper water.
We went about a mile and a half up the cut to a lovely spot overlooking the valley that we’d recced the day before.
(When it's not misty like this the view is beautiful, we just liked this photo.)
A lot of places are quite shallow near the edge, so we tend to take a dip-stick with us when we go for walks to check where we can get in. It makes us seem really fussy; is it deep enough? Is there somewhere to park the car? Is there phone signal? It’s the little things that make all the difference.
We had visitors at the weekend; David & Kate came for the afternoon and brought Roger and Mary with them so we went back down to Marple to pick them up. While we were there Brian and Ann Marie came along on Alton so we bought some coal and a couple of bottles of gas. We’d been holding off until we caught up with them rather than getting it from somewhere else and our second bottle had run out the night before. How’s that for timing?
Our guests arrived in the afternoon, so with a crew of six, two full gas bottles, a roof full of solid fuel and more baked goods than you could shake a Mary Berry at, we set forth once more for a little pleasure cruise up and down the Upper Peak Forest. Naturally we were in stereotype mode; the boys at the back discussing dwell angles and ballast distribution
and the girlies up front taking about knitting and scones. David had a go at steering and got signed off on blind bridge ‘oles, and the female crew members restrained themselves and managed not to eat any cake until we’d backed through the stop lock again. All in all a decidedly successful afternoon.

The following morning we did another trip down to our mooring at Strines, put the bird table up and resigned ourselves to looking at the view for a couple of weeks.
  

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Rochdale Canal, Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal. Castleton to Dukinfield.

In case, Dear Reader, you were wondering what had happened to us in the last month - whether we were still alive, still afloat, still had our freedom and all our limbs - then fear not. Despite paying scant heed to the warnings on other watery blogs about Rochdale, Manchester and the notorious Ashton Canal we went, we saw and we left completely unscathed.

So why have there been no updates then? Sadly it’s due to our time being consumed by the unsavoury quest for coin of the realm. Do you remember interest rates? Well, until they come back into fashion we have to find some other way to fund our lifestyle. This means a few weeks toil each year to top up our coffers. Last year, while Dave stayed home and looked after the boat, Ann-Marie was on nights for Yodel in Wigan, telling truckers where to go and de-briefing them when they came back. All very well but a bit one sided.
This year we thought we’d divide the load between us and we’ve been doing traffic surveys. This has taken up lots of time over the last three weeks - there have been twelve hour shifts and some very early starts – but the nice thing is that we’ve both been working the same sites, which halves the petrol costs and means we get to spend all our breaks together.
So, sorry about the lack of posts, most of our non-working time has been taken up with sleeping or moving the boat, but it’s all done now (until something else turns up) and here’s what we’ve been doing since we left you in Castleton.

Jono and Nicole came along and gave us a hand for a lovely day’s boating down Slattocks to the Rose of Lancaster at Chadderton.
This was as far as we could go down the Rochdale canal without booking a passage to the end. After our crew went home we thought it would be prudent to get an early night; we’d booked our passage for the following day and it consisted of 18 locks, had to be done in one go and we had to be at the first lock (which was 1 ½ hours away) by 9:00.
We got to Failsworth with about 2 minutes to spare and had just got tied up when the lock keeper arrived to remove the huge padlocked pins that secure the gates. He gave us a few pointers on things to look out for and cheered us up no end when he asked us to leave all the bottom gates open as there was another boat on its way up.  So, without further ado we were off into what other boaters have referred to as, amongst other things, “The Bad-lands” and “Gun Alley”. All we can say is, don’t believe everything you hear.
At Newton Heath lock our lock keeper was waiting for us, along with a volunteer locky called Richard who was to stay with us for the next 13 locks to the bottom at Butler Lane.
With Richard setting ahead, Ann-Marie working gates and bottom gates being left, our descent towards Manchester was rather rapid to say the least. Once we’d passed the other boat and the locks were set in our favour it got even better; so good in fact that we found ourselves having to slow down so as not to flood everything below us. Even with care we still managed to get water everywhere at Coalpit locks,
but Richard said that that always happens. He was a splendid chap, very helpful and informative and a credit to the army of CRT volunteers who are helping keep the waterways running smoothly. And he fished our Nicholson Guide out of the canal when it got blown in. What a hero!  We thanked him profusely and left him to lock up at Butler Lane before we turned under the stainless steel footbridge just above lock 82 into New Islington Marina. This new marina is in the middle of a re-development site and is another case of don’t believe everything you hear. Yes, it looks like a stalled building site at the moment, and it probably is, but it won’t always look like that. And yes, there is a public right of way through the whole complex, and yes, anyone can buy a BW key off Ebay for tuppence and access the secure areas. But we moor on the towpath every other night without concern, so a dry, smooth pavement next to the boat with a sanitary block, floodlights and cctv, for us is luxury.
Add to that the ability to park the car within sight, and an Aldi a stone’s throw away and, well, we could have happily doubled our allotted 5 days.

With Manchester city centre a short stroll away we managed to get to finish our tour of the Museum of Science and Industry that we had to cut short last time we were there. We also walked down the “Rochdale 9”; the bottom flight of locks into Castlefield Basin, so although we didn’t take Legend right to the end of the Rochdale Canal at least we did the whole thing ourselves. In a few years when we come back to do our Huddersfield Canal/River Trent circuit of the north we’ll include it;  it’ll be interesting to see how the area has changed and whether Urban Splash has managed to develop the marina like everyone hopes it will.
We started our surveys while we were still in the marina. The first ones were at Trafford Park on the other side of the city,
so when our 5 days were up and it was time for us to tackle the Ashton Canal we had to juggle boat moving with going to work at some ungodly hour and not coming home till dark.
The perceived wisdom, when it comes to the Ashton Canal, is to start early on a weekday, avoid school holidays and don’t stop until you’re past Portland Basin and onto the Peak Forest. We normally take this sort of advice with a pinch of salt, but as it came from so many sources – Nicholson’s, CRT, Pennine Waterways and several blogs - and it fitted in with our plans anyway it seemed silly not to heed it.

We planned it for a Friday between jobs. When we got up we very nearly changed our minds as it was very windy in the marina, but it calmed down as soon as we were out of the open space. Once  we’d gone down to Ducie Street junction and turned under the arch onto the first narrow navigation we’ve been on in well over a year, we were in the shelter of the old warehouses and mills that line the Ashton and there was hardly any wind at all.
One of the locks on the last bit of the Rochdale is squeezed under a bridge and we found a homeless guy wrapped up in a sleeping bag right under the off-side balance beam. The contrast in lifestyles was stark; us living the dream, him in his own personal nightmare. We were as quiet as it is possible to be with a 17 ton boat in a lock under a bridge, wished him well and apologised for waking him up. He gave us the thumbs up and waved goodbye, which had Ann-Marie in tears and left us feeling privileged and guilty.

Cruising up the beginning of the Ashton Canal we went between the posh looking converted warehouses of Piccadilly, where there are some very secure looking 24hr visitor moorings on the off-side,
then started up the 3 Ancoats Locks. We were surprised to see a boat already in the second lock, and even more surprised when it turned out to be skippered by a friend of our friend Nikki (who now owns our Citroen van). Miranda was just as surprised to see us, none of us had expected to see another moving boat, so she quickly finished her breakfast and we followed her up the cut.
Between locks 2 and 3 there is the entrance to the other end of the marina, it looks as if it should cut the corner between the Rochdale and the Ashton, but with a difference in water levels and a main road in the way we don't suppose that's going to happen anytime soon.
You can see this building in the background of the previous picture of the marina.

Narrow locks feel really strange when you haven’t been in one for a while; the last time we were in one was on the Middlewich Branch in June last year, but after 17 of them we were back in the routine. 
Although it is very urban and industrial, the Ashton does have its own charm and we quite liked it.
At Fairfield junction we stopped for a well-deserved cup of tea while we filled the water tank at the Only Tap Between Manchester and Marple, then cracked on to Portland Basin.
This is a fabulous looking place with several wooden boats in various states of renovation and a wonderfully restored warehouse, now a museum of working life. Opposite the basin we turned under the very impressive towpath bridge onto the aqueduct over the River Tame; heralding the rather grand beginning of the Lower Peak Forest Canal.
The aqueduct is followed by a marina/boat yard and a railway bridge then, just before you get to the lift bridge, there is a lovely open space surrounded by trees with some convenient mooring rings. It’s supplemented, on the other side, by an equally convenient car park. The surrounding area is just our kind of place so we pitched up for a fortnight.
As a base for going to work it was perfect; there was no-one else moored near us so we could go to bed at 9 knowing it was going to be quiet, then get up and drive off first thing in the morning and run the gennie when we got home without disturbing anyone. It was also well visited by dog walkers and joggers so we had no qualms about leaving the boat all day. During our stay there we managed to get to visit the museum; the Portland Basin Social and Industrial History Museum, which is free to enter and very good indeed.

Chloe and Shandy came to see us for the day on one of our days off and brought Paddy with them. He’s 4 months old now and absolutely gorgeous; legs all over the place and either boinging around or fast asleep. We all went for a dog-walk up the towpath and after inspecting every puddle and falling over his feet every time he turned round Paddy came back with mud everywhere,
so we gave him a bath in the bucket in the well deck.
He was really good about it.

It was lovely spending the day with them they told us they’re going skiing in January so we’ve volunteered to dog-sit for a week, which we’re really looking forward to.

We also found time for a couple of other walks; to start with we went up the first mile or so of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and promised ourselves that we’ll explore a bit more up towards the summit before we take Legend down to Marple. Next we went in the opposite direction, following the Tame Valley Way along the river bank to the Haughton Dale Nature Reserve, then crossed back to the canal just before Romiley and walked back from bridge 11 along the towpath. That one turned out to be around 10 miles and rather more than we were really capable of on a day when we were supposed to be recovering. Hey ho.
   
Two days before our fortnight was up we took Legend through the lift bridge,
down to the next windy ‘ole, turned round and came back. Then we retraced our steps down the Ashton all the way back to Fairfield Junction to the Only Tap Between Manchester and Marple. Yes, we are going to Marple but not yet and after a fortnight we needed to fill up. Bridge 21 between Portland Basin and Fairfield Junction is very low; the first time we came under it we’d just put 200 gallons of water in the bow we were brushing our flowers on the bridge. When we went back the tank was nearly empty; as we crept through you couldn’t have got a fag paper between the top of the chimney and the rivets on the beams.
After our last day asking the driving masses of Manchester where they’re going, where they’ve been and whether they can tell Stork from Butter (not really), we left Dukenfield and moved down to Bridge 4 about 1 ½ miles away. The reason for this short move is that Dave spotted some very tasty looking ash and blackthorn dead-fall that he wants to scavenge. Yes it’s that time of year again.
It’s been very interesting doing the surveys, and quite good fun most of the time. We’ve made friends with Alan, Linda and Helen; the other members of our little team who come from Liverpool and have been doing stuff like this for quite a while. We gave them a jar of Ann-Marie’s hedgerow jelly and they gave us a gorgeous looking bottle of elderberry wine, which we reckon is about 70% proof and tastes like ten year-old Pineau. Wow! It’s half gone already.
Between us, over the last three weeks, we’ve talked to thousands of people and most of them have been pleasant and helpful. It’s taken us right out of our comfort zone of just having each other to talk to and was quite daunting to start with, but in the end we really enjoyed it. Some of the sites we were at were spectacular with views over the moors
and the weather wasn’t that bad either; we spent most of the only awful day in the car with the heater on watching bedraggled sheep in the field opposite.
We’ll be here at bridge 4 for a few days then carry on to either Romiley or the Marple Aqueduct before ascending Marple locks in a week or two. Both of those places were recommended to us by Brian and Ann Marie who operate the coal boat Alton and are old friends of ours from the 2CV club. They’re based at Oak Grove on the Macclesfield Canal and their regular run takes them through Marple between the Upper Peak Forest and the Mac. We’re trying to eke out our fuel supplies till we catch up with them.      


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Rochdale Canal. Todmorden to Castleford.

Apart from one minor hiccup (more about this later), our carefully worked out strategy smoothly unfolded exactly as planned. We set off through two locks to Todmorden and stopped at the sanitary station, where we emptied out ready for going away. That was followed by the unique guillotine lock and another stop opposite the “Great Wall of Tod” railway embankment, where the car was parked, in order to tranship all our camping gear.
So far, as slick as a greasy piglet. After that we skipped up the rest of the twelve locks towards Walsden with Ann-Marie setting ahead if they were close enough or hopping on the stern as it passed the wing wall if they weren’t. A choreographed ballet of mechanical fluidity.  At lunch time, just before getting to our mooring spot in Walsden, we found ourselves outside Grandma Pollards Fish & Chip Shop, an added bonus that meant we arrived at our previously chosen destination, not only watered and bang on time, but also full of chips. All in all, a tribute to precise timing, initiative and teamwork.
Well almost. Back to the aforementioned hiccup. It happened, of all places, here, amidst some of the most photographed canal scenery in the country.
No, we didn’t crash the boat, or break some 200 year-old artefact, or lose all the water or anything trivial like that.  This was far, far worse. One of us (who shall remain nameless) dropped her favourite bestest windlass off the bridge.  The really nice smooth one with the grey plastic twizzley handle that comes off spindles easily – yeah, that one.
There were tears. There was a half hour spent fishing with the magnet. We did contemplate draining the pound but in the end thought better of it. So, if you want a really nice windlass, there’s one under the bridge at lock 21 on the Todmorden flight.

Paul and Steve’s party in Wainfleet was a resounding success. Of course, being yet another piss-up in a brewery with a weekend’s camping thrown in for good measure meant the odds were always in its favour, but the added bonus was the fantastic weather. We had wall to wall sunshine on both days; unbelievable for late September and such a contrast from last year. It was the first time we’d seen Frankie & Harry since they moved to France so it was all a bit emotional to start with but it was soon like they’d never been away. In reality we’re going to see them about as often as if they still lived over here. We had such a good time that we stopped on another night along with Paul & Janice, Frankie & Harry, Norm & Jude and Steve & Ellie. As Paul & Janice had hired a cottage to stay in we all had a meal together on the Sunday night which was really lovely.

We got back to Legend on Monday afternoon and had a look on the internet for some casual work before Christmas. We need to do a bit each year to keep us afloat. Last year Ann-Marie did nearly four months on nights for Yodel, which was great money-wise but a lot more than we’d planned. This year we’ve both applied for Royal Mail temporary jobs, which should finish on Christmas Eve. Ann-Marie has gone for a Data Entry position while Dave’s applied for mail sorting. Both jobs are in Stockport, which at the moment is 15 miles away, but will be closer when we start. 

Tuesday was another nice day so we took the boat up through eight rather stubborn locks to Longlees, just below the summit pound.
In the afternoon we put our walking boots on and climbed up, and up, and then some more up to the reservoirs that feed the canal. The views from the top were great, and would have been even greater without the haze.
When we got back Dave decided to see if he could do anything about the gas water heater. We’ve been putting up with the pilot light not staying lit for ages as we thought it would either be a £30 thermocouple or a service by a qualified engineer or both. After a trawl through google we found that it could be just a bunged up pilot jet. Ten minutes of fettling had a nice blue flame perfectly aimed at the thermocouple and that was that. It now lights with the first click and stays on till you turn it off - neither of which it has done for about a year. One of those “why didn’t we do that ages ago?” things.

So, first thing on Wednesday 25th September we went up one of the two highest locks in the country, across the highest canal pound in the country, down the other highest lock in the country - the first time we’ve gone down a lock since York - and found ourselves back in Lancashire.
Only a mile or so but quite significant. The water in the summit pound was rather on the low side, but still navigable. It’s probably kept that way on purpose, especially now all the summer cruisers and hire boats have gone. We’re at that time of year again when we can spend all day cruising and never meet another boat. In the afternoon we went to a garden centre and bought some winter pansies and some alpines to give the pots on the roof a bit of colour over winter. We also got some more bulbs so next spring should be even better.

Almost as soon as we set off down the Littleborough flight the following day, in fact at the second lock down, we met a Shire Cruisers hire boat on its way up. During the usual chit-chat that occurs at such meetings the happy holiday-makers happened to mention that they thought the locks rather slow to fill, to the extent that they’d had to “assist” one set with the boat. We didn’t think much of it at the time, we’ve had to do the same on occasion, but three locks further down we discovered what had happened to them. They’d gone into an empty lock, shut the gates and opened the paddles at the top. What they’d failed to do was check that the both the bottom paddles were closed, which they weren’t – one was slightly open. How long they were sitting there with water flowing through both ends before they rammed the gates isn’t clear, suffice to say that the pound above them so low it was barely navigable, and at least two pounds below them were over-full. That in itself isn’t a complete disaster, but then of course we made it all a lot worse by dropping down the flight and taking all the excess water with us to Littleborough. It was only ankle deep on the towpath for a little while.

We went to Jono and Nicole’s on Friday night and stayed over, then on Saturday they came for a spot of boating from Littleborough to Rochdale.
This is Jono on the tiller; notice how worried he looks. It was shortly after this that we ran aground - big style. We tried poling off, but even with the help of a couple of passers by it wasn't moving. We ended up with the block and tackle pulling backwards which worked a treat, so it was all ok and quite exciting in the end. For the record it wasn't Jono's fault. If Dave had been steering it still would have happened; God knows what we were stuck on but it was right under the skeg. The canal through Rochdale isn’t as picturesque as other towns – in fact it’s a bit grim. There’s no way we were stopping in the middle of the town; between the locks and Well i’th’lane Bridge was definitely bandit country, but a couple of hundred yards the other side was a world away. We still wouldn’t have left the boat on its own, especially after a local yoof on a bike embarked on our standard FAQs. After the usual half dozen he added a new one; “Do you get attacked often?” It wasn’t so much the assumption that it might happen, for which we blame television, but that it was a common occurrence. Despite that we figured it was ok for an overnight stop.  After dinner Jono and Nicole went home, but not without leaving us with a list of emergency phone numbers and detailed instructions on how to camouflage the boat, erect machine gun installations, and other ways of warding off the inevitable forthcoming attacks. After a very quiet night during which nothing at all happened we set off down three locks to a lovely mooring at Castleton.

Very nice; no sign of attackers yet.