Monday, September 20, 2010

. . . And Back Up To 500 Feet!

We could have just carried on down the next 9 locks on the Rochdale to Castlefield Basin, which we visited back in August 2008. Very pleasant there (here’s a picture), but then we would either have needed to take the long route to the Trent & Mersey via the Bridgewater Canal, or go back UP the 9 locks to the start of the Ashton Canal, where we already were. We decided to leave out the 9 locks – Dave had already walked that bit from Castlefield – and go on up the Ashton!

Just a few hundred yards up from our mooring, under a busy modern bridge, what could we see? A NARROW lock! You know we always feel that we have come back ‘home’ when we get back on narrow locks, but it had been a long time since we left them – Foxton, back in May!

The Ashton fulfilled the promise of an old narrow canal keeping its old charm as it passes almost untouched through rapidly modernising Manchester suburbs, and the two cultures seemed to harmonise well.

It rained quite a bit as we made our way up, passing under the ‘Camel’s Hump’ bridge just before Fairfield Junction, where we stopped for lunch and filled up our water tank.

Then on up to Ashton-Under-Lyne to stop for the night, with two unusual events: 1) We were going so quietly as we approached a line of anglers that the first one didn’t know we were there until we had snagged his line – which we couldn’t see because he wasn’t holding his rod! He was not happy, but there was nothing we could do. 2) Soon after we arrived at Dukinfield Junction (Ashton), a group of lads decided to throw eggs at us – for no apparent reason. We moved on a little to moor up – no further trouble!

The next day, we just ‘ambled’ for 6½ miles along the Peak Forest Canal, mooring just below the Marple Flight of 16 locks, which would take us back up to 500 feet above sea level. The Marple Aqueduct crosses high above the River Goyt here, alongside the railway viaduct – even higher!

This is a lovely flight, rising up through a wooded hillside to gradually blend into the streets of the town, and the locks all have a characteristically low footbridge immediately below them, so that the beams of the lower gates are at shoulder height as you walk over the bridge. Unique as far as we know.

Sure we will have shown you this before, when we came DOWN this flight in 2008, but Lock 13 has 2 unusual tunnels under the road below it. One is straight and high, ideal to lead a horse through to meet up with the boat below the bridge. The other is a quick ‘nip-through’ for the boatman wanting to get back on board immediately below the lock, but still under the bridge. There is only a very narrow way to get out back onto the towpath!

Adam and Rachel managed to fit in a day’s visit, and they also brought 2 very welcome packages with them – Dave’s cameras, repaired by Canon under special warranty due to a latent defect. We had been sharing Val’s camera since Sheffield!

We took the opportunity to pop up to Bugsworth, look around the historic Basin and have a good meal at the Navigation Inn. Last time we were here, it snowed – in April! Then we turned ‘Zindagi’ around and came back to Marple. Adam & Rachel had to get on their way to the Lake District!

Only 4 weeks behind now – nearly there!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rushing Down To Manchester!

After our enforced dash down from West Summit Lock, it was good to take it slowly for another day – but we knew another marathon was coming soon!

Down through the seemingly forgotten backwaters of Rochdale, through a short stretch of countryside near Slattocks, and we were getting into the Manchester suburbs.
We moored on Monday night just outside Chadderton, but not before we had done battle with a faulty lock! There was either damage to the bottom gates’ sill, or else something was stuck against it – either way, there was so much water getting OUT that we couldn’t completely fill the lock! In the end, we rigged up a rope between one of the top lock gates and a bollard and Val used that leverage while Dave pushed the gate itself. It opened – against about 3" of water! When we emailed BW about it, they said they were due to look at it on the coming Friday – so the canal would be effectively closed for 4 days!

We had a deadline to meet, though. Once again we were required to ‘book our passage’ through some locks – 19 of them, from Failsworth down to Ducie Street in Manchester, and were supposed to be at the top one for 8:30 am! We allowed the recommended hour but were still late. Fortunately our ‘shadow’ had not given up on us and was grabbing a bite of breakfast as we arrived!

Much as we would have preferred to take our time down these locks, we couldn’t have asked for a better ‘shadow’ – Billy was great company, a real enthusiast for his work, and the locks flew by as he and Dave worked them and Val took the boat on through. If anyone at BW is reading this, please make sure that Billy gets a permanent job with you – he is a genuine asset!

We made good time – not surprisingly – and said goodbye to Billy at the last lock before Ducie Street Junction. Just round the corner to the left, under the brick building in this picture, we moored up at the beginning of the Ashton Canal.

We ARE catching up – this was only 4½ weeks ago!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

To The Summit – And Beyond!

Back in Todmorden after Shireen & Thor had left us, we turned 'Zindagi' around, did some shopping and waited for our next visitors – Jeremy and Laura. Meanwhile, time to get some more nearly aerial pictures from the steep valley sides. This is the wharf, with the green guillotine gate of Library Lock at the top of the picture, and 'Zindagi' at the bottom right.

And here is 'The Great Wall of Tod' from the top!

No sooner had J and Laura arrived, than we started up the locks out of Todmorden again. This was not going to be another 'there-and-back' journey, though. They had opted to move the car on as we travelled up to the summit and began the journey down the western side. An ideal stretch of canal for this tactic, really, as the actual distances covered each day are not great as more time is taken up with lock working.

With more 'hands on deck', and especially without so many other boats on the canal, we made rapid progress as far as the chippy in Walsden – just nicely in time for tea! We had phoned British Waterways to book our passage over the summit for the Sunday morning, so that left Saturday for us to travel the remaining 8 locks and 1½ miles.

That should have been easy, but we had quite a delay as part of the canal was nearly dry! We had to let some water down to fill the curving wide section where we had moored with Shireen and Thor a few days before, and needed to let more down from higher above that as well. All good practice and quite interesting – if time-consuming!

In the end, thanks to dedicated lock work by J & Laura (more than the pictures show!), we approached the summit lock by lunchtime, crossing the county boundary just after the previous lock.

. . . but surely it should be 'Greater Manchester' now? No, don't go and change it, 'Lancashire' is just fine!

For the first time in miles, we could see the hills on the skyline getting lower! We had reached the 'pass' through the Pennines which the canal surveyors and engineers had identified as their way through seemingly impossible terrain.
After lunch, clear skies tempted us all out for a walk up the hillside. Two of us walked up, sat for a bit and walked back down. Two others just walked and walked . . . What a view, though! You can see the short summit level and 'Zindagi' is just hiding behind the trees below the lock at the bottom right of the picture.

We had been warned to be ready for 8:30 the next morning and, sure enough, the lock-keeper appeared, emptied the lock for us, saw us through and said "See you at the West Summit Lock". So off we went, chugging along at 600 feet above sea level . . .

. . . only about half a mile before we reached West Summit. This must be one of the shortest summit pounds on the system – no wonder they have sometimes had water shortages. In fact, the 'lockie' said they had been OK for water through the summer, despite the earlier fears, and he was surprised how few boats had been coming through the summit.

As the Leeds and Liverpool Canal had closed from early August, we thought more people might have diverted to the Rochdale. Perhaps some boaters were put off by false rumours of the Rochdale closing too? We had been told once or twice that it was closed, but had the reassurance of the British Waterways email updates to know that it was definitely staying open!

The only 'down' side to the western side of the Rochdale is the need to keep moving. Due to water supply problems and maybe lock conditions, no boats can stop from the East Summit (Longlees Lock, No.36) all the way over and down to Sladen Lock (No. 44). That's 9 locks (but only 1½ miles!), where it would have been nice to dawdle a bit. Having taken our time UP the Yorkshire side, dashing down the 'Lancashire' side came as a bit of a shock!

We had known about that in advance, so J and Laura had moved the car on to Littleborough, where we hoped to find an overnight mooring. A good quiet spot, just below Lock 48, the last lock for 3½ miles. Time to moor up and find a nice place for Sunday lunch together, before they had to drive back to London. Just 3 days from Todmorden, but we had been through some stunning country and really enjoyed our time together.
We ARE catching up with the blog story! We crossed the summit on 15th August.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Getting Near The Top!

From Hebden Bridge, the Rochdale seems to engage a lower gear as the 'lock density' increases. In the 5½ miles from Sowerby Bridge, we had come up 7 locks. In the next 4 miles up to Todmorden, we faced 10 more, but it really isn't a problem if you're not in a hurry! And, as the saying goes, if you're in a hurry and on the waterways, then you're in the wrong place!

Of course, lots of locks means just one thing:– big changes in ground levels. And gradients like these go with the stunning scenery through which the canal passes. Again, it seemed incredible that canal boats, perhaps more often thought of on placid canals, should be up here in steep-sided rocky Pennine valleys. Well done those canal pioneers in the 1790s!

We were dawdling again as we reached Todmorden. Shireen and Thor were coming to stay for a few days and meeting us there. Once again, we had arrived early, so we stayed a couple of days outside town before moving in and mooring up at the wharf, right in the centre of this bustling community.

Thor, now 2½, soon settled back into life on board, and was very happy with the life-jacket we had borrowed for him. Shireen, of course, is an old hand! We set off on a 'there-and-back-again' trip for the next couple of days, which would take us further up the valley towards the summit level.

On our way out of Todmorden, we passed below 'The Great Wall of Tod', a massive wall of blue engineering bricks which supports the railway line high on the hill above the canal.

Sometimes it looked like we were coming to a dead end as the hills rose like walls around us. These locks at Gauxholme (just outside Todmorden) sit right below steep rocky outcrops, but of course there IS a way through!

The view DOWN from these precipices gives you a better idea. No camera trickery here, just a telephoto lens! The railway bridge in the photo carries the line on from the 'Great Wall' (to the left), and the lock nearest to it is where the boat was in the last picture.

On our way up, we met a traditional horse-drawn boat on its way down. One of only five left in the country, we were told. So as not to get in the way of the rope, we passed the boat on the 'wrong' side, i.e. on the left instead of right. That must have been quite a skill in the days when ALL boats were horse-drawn – making sure that boats and horses passed in such a way that ropes never tangled!

After a good day's cruising and lock-working, we stopped in a lovely wide section, 7 locks and just over a mile below the summit level. Shireen and Thor needed to get back, so we couldn't go any further – this time!

The next morning, we all walked further up the canal in the morning, took the boat back down 2 locks near to an excellent chip shop (for lunch!) and then headed back down to Todmorden. Here's Thor outside the chippy, having a drink while he waits for his lunch!

Yes, it had rained quite a bit, but we had all enjoyed our time together – and it had gone too quickly. Shireen told us that Thor was a bit sad on the train back home. We all look forward to their next visit!

Yes, we are still ahead of the blog, but it's gradually catching up. Shireen and Thor visited us in early August.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

First steps up the Rochdale

Our blog is STILL rather behind our travels - sorry! We arrived in Hebden Bridge in early August. We are catching up slowly. CLICK ON 'Where Zindagi Is Now' to find our latest location.

The character of the Calder & Hebble was already changing as we made our way up to Salterhebble, just 2 miles from Halifax and where the little Hebble Brook joins the Calder. A railway bridge spanned the canal as the hills gathered closer either side and we made our way up the valley, still alongside the now much smaller River Calder.

Not much further to Sowerby Bridge, where the C & H comes to a graceful stop in the Canal Basin and the Rochdale Canal begins the serious climb! A brilliant sculpture near the basin shows us how to work a lock gate – clothes from an earlier time, but the technique is unchanged!

These mileposts were now to become part of our daily scenery, but the figures leave out one important fact: It may be only 13 miles from Sowerby Bridge to the summit level, but there is also the little matter of 36 locks on the way! No worries, we were going to dawdle and enjoy the magnificent countryside along the way.

But first we had to pass what had been a blockage for many years. When the Rochdale was derelict, the connection to the Calder & Hebble had been cut off by infilling under a busy road junction, losing 2 locks in the process. The imaginative restorers not only managed to tunnel UNDER the road junction, but also built a double-depth lock immediately after it, completed in 1996.

Rob the lock-keeper told us that, when excavations under the old bridges started, they found that, although the old locks and canal bed had supposedly been 'filled' so as to support the road structure completely, only the outside edges were concreted and the loose rubble inside had sunk, giving no support to the road above for all those years! Well, at least it's all been done properly now!

As we shared the 19'8½" vertical journey with another boat, Rob told us that we were in the deepest canal lock in the country, and we had to agree, although the 19'5" double-depth lock at Bath is only just shallower. He also told us about some delicious wild raspberries next to the lock, so we helped ourselves!

About 3 miles and a couple of locks later, we decided to stop and moor up. We were near the little hamlet of Brearley, on the side of a widening valley, with hills ahead and either side. Val's knees are so much better now that we were able to go for a walk up the southern side.

After a couple of nights at Brearley, we chugged on a mile to Mytholmroyd, visited the Methodists there, had a nice lunch and moved on to Hebden Bridge. Only two locks in those 2 miles, and we found ourselves in this attractive town. It somehow seemed impossible that a canal should have reached up here, where the town sits in the valley surrounded by rocky walls, with moors above.

Hebden has plenty of delightful aspects, like these canalside cottages, but we also took the opportunity of a local bus service (and our bus passes!) to go to Haworth and visit the Brontë family museum.

Up the steep main street (this would have been impossible for Val a year ago!) and then an interesting tour of the former vicarage (no photography!)

Then (more walking) we took the footpath over the hills to Oxenhope, which brought us out right by a bus stop – and back to Hebden and the boat.