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.      

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