Thursday, 28 June 2012

Escape from Todmorden

We have had an unexpected six days moored in Todmorden because of the floods and a boat stranded across the canal.  I’m pleased to say that we have now finally escaped and are moored up this evening in Sowerby Bridge all ready to pass the final locks of the Rochdale Canal and move on to the Calder and Hebble Navigation tomorrow.

British Waterways having checked the locks down to lock 12, we set off from Todmorden yesterday mooring up below lock 12 just short of Hebden Bridge and within sight of the stranded boat.  By midnight a huge 350 ton mobile crane had arrived on the main road about 30 yards away from the canal.  At midnight the road was closed to traffic and the fun started.  David was kind enough to wake us when the crane had finished building itself with extra counterweights and the real lift began.  At 2.15 am a sling was lowered from the crane, passed under the front part of the boat and it was very gently lifted from the weir where it was jammed.  At the distance that it was working the crane had a maximum lift of 9 tons so could not lift the whole boat, just the front end.  Having lifted its front, the boat was pulled forward both by the crane and by human muscle power to release the stern which was wedged on rocks on the other side of the canal.  Here are some photos of the rescue:

It seemed that the boat had suffered no damage as the engine started and the boat set off down the canal towards Hebden Bridge – tough machines these narrowboats!
The canal boat rescue featured on BBC Look North as there was a cameraman present.  Local residents and other boaters also turned out for the spectacle.

Following the late night we have been a bit groggy today but managed a few locks and miles down to Sowerby Bridge.  Here we did not know that we had to book the Tuel Lane Lock and so we are moored here until tomorrow morning.  The Tuel Lane lock replaces two previous locks and has a staggering 19 feet 8½ inches difference in level.  That and two following locks will take us down to the Calder and Hebble Navigation.
Moored at Sowerby Bridge

Down to the lock landing below Tuel Lane Lock

Last lock of the Rochdale Canal

The prominent tower in this photo is Wainhouse Tower built in 1875 as a chimney for a dye works but never used as such and converted into a viewing tower, open only on Bank Holidays.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Marooned at Todmorden

Regular readers of this blog, and there are a few, will remember how we became stuck at Wallingford on the Thames by fast and high water.  Well it’s happened again, this time on a canal at Todmorden in Yorkshire which has featured on the national news today and yesterday for the floods which have occurred here.

It all began on Thursday when we spent a very wet morning in pouring rain coming down the 13 locks to Todmorden.  We moored just below the bridge in the centre of town and retired inside to escape the wet.  Friday dawned just as wet so we decided not to press on to Hebden Bridge and it was too miserable to contemplate going for a walk in the hills either.  Helen and I spent a long lunch in the bar near the boats watching the populace fighting the wind and rain as they hurried by under their umbrellas.

There was no let up by the evening and we were sitting down to roast chicken when we heard a siren which went on and on.  We had no idea what this meant until a brown river appeared crossing the patio of the pub opposite and discharging into the canal.  The river had burst its banks and was pouring into the canal straight towards our boats.  The level of water in the canal went up quickly until the towpath was awash.  We decided we would be better not moored to mooring pins hammered into the grass by the canal.  These can easily be torn out in strong currents.  So we moved the boats back onto the lock moorings as it got dark so that we could use the sturdy mooring bollards there and also tie the boats back with a long line to the bridge behind us, so that there was no danger of us being swept downstream.
Floodwaters entering the canal
The manic flow of water continued until late but eventually the water started to go down and the river returned to its normal channel.  The problem with the water going down, as we experienced at Wallingford, is making sure the boat is then in the water rather than stranded on the land.  So we were out at midnight in the lighter rain in water deeper than our wellingtons, holding the boats off the bank.  We retired to bed, but I set the alarm for 3 am to check that all was still well.  Thankfully it was.

Now that things here have returned to normal we have been out on bikes exploring the canal we need to travel.  Many many homes here are much worse off than we are.  At least our house floats.  So many residents here have been clearing up after basements and ground floors were flooded with mud and water.  There are streets piled with soggy furniture and carpets, pumps running to clear water and fire engines and dustcarts doing what they can to help.

As regards the canal the towpath has been washed away at many of the locks downstream.
Gouged out towpath
Walls demolished by floods

Further down stone walls had been demolished by the water 

and one fibreglass boat was full of water and barely afloat.

Our main problem in moving on to Hebden Bridge is a narrowboat which completely blocks the canal:

I cycled down to look at the boat today and spoke to the owner.  The boat was moored further up the canal when it was swept from its moorings by the flood water, travelled a few hundred yards downstream and was partially swept over a weir as the photo shows.  
Four or five feet at the bow now rest on the weir across the towpath while the stern is aground on the other side of the canal.  So there is no prospect of us moving very far before the boat is rescued.  The owner told me that British Waterways are coming tomorrow to assess how the boat may best be removed so that the canal can be reopened.

We are making the best of our enforced stay at Todmorden.  This afternoon we walked in a rare hour of sunshine to the local park which curiously is also used as a place to dump excess water in times of flood.  We found and patted the lucky dog:
Lucky Dog, Todmorden
This iron statue featured in a Derren Brown TV programme recently where the locals were encouraged to believe the dog really did bring good luck.  Well we patted the dog anyway so here’s hoping that we’ll suffer no more floods and rain on our journey.

As we returned we got another glimpse of Stoodley Pike a memorial on the hills to the South East which we both remember from our walks up the Pennine Way.
Canal with Stoodley Pike in the distance
 The monument was originally erected to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.  If the weather is OK tomorrow we plan to climb up to the monument.  More local walks may follow as it is unlikely we will be moving the boats until mid week at the earliest.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Over the Pennines to Yorkshire

Well we’ve done it.  We’ve crossed the Pennines and are now at Todmorden in Yorkshire.

First we had to find our way through Rochdale.  I’m sure there are nice parts of Rochdale but they are certainly not to be found adjoining the canal.  This was another place where the canal was filled with shopping trolleys, all the locks have anti-vandal devices and you are recommended to lock the boat even when you are using it lest someone slips on at the front when you are at the back or vice versa.  We were stopped for a while by a boat in a lock above ours whose crew were unable to close the bottom gates.  British Waterways were called and extracted a sunken oil drum caught in the gates.

On another occasion I cleared all the assorted rope and plastic bags off the propeller and I was still unable to turn it by hand.  The answer proved to be a fat log caught between the propeller and the skeg (the protective iron keel below the prop.  David kindly volunteered and most of our son disappeared into the weed hatch to reach below the propeller and strain to clear the obstruction.  Here is a picture of what we removed from the prop on that occasion:
Propeller Rubbish
A few miles out of Rochdale we once more breathed fresh country air and here is a picture of where we moored that night:
Clegg Hall Mooring
 Notice the Pennine hills in the background.  From here an easy day took us to one lock short of the summit of the Rochdale Canal.  It is necessary to book the crossing of the summit so we had to stay here till 8.30 the following morning for the lock keeper to let us through.
Below West Summit Lock
From our mooring below the lock we climbed into the hills above for a view of the whole of the summit pound about a mile long:
Rochdale Canal Summit Pound

You can see the canal to the left of the houses.  The hill in the distance is Blackstone Edge on the Pennine Way.

On Wednesday we crossed the summit and here is a photo of us in the West Summit Lock and you will see from the sign that this is the highest broad canal in England.  Broad in the sense that you can get two 7 foot wide boats in each lock, except for a few locks where subsidence has pushed in the walls so that only one boat at a time will fit.
In West Summit Lock

From a lovely country mooring just the other side of the summit we went cycling back a few miles to Hollingworth Lake which is a reservoir built to provide the canal with water.  It is a lovely spot with the fine M62 viaduct crossing above the lake.
Hollingworth Lake
We even met an old chap who had worked as a pile driver in building the motorway bridge in the 1960s.

Today has not been quite as idyllic as yesterday in that it has poured all morning as we came down 13 locks to Todmorden.  In past years the Rochdale Canal has suffered from a water shortage.  Not this year: the water poured over the lock gates and emptying one lock flooded the towpath because the bywashes around the locks just had too much water already to cope with.
Niagara (Lock) Falls!
On the final bend into Todmorden is one of the wonders of the railway or canal world – the Great Wall of Tod.  This holds up the railway and prevents it falling in the canal.  Apparently 4 million bricks were used in its construction.
Great Wall of Tod
From here our way follows the valley of the River Calder on the Calder and Hebble Navigation before we turn up the river Aire towards Leeds.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Into Manchester and out the other side

We’ve followed the canals through Manchester and we can now see the Pennines from where we’re moored this evening.  The next few days we will spend climbing up and over to the East side of England.

Our route to Manchester took us through Macclesfield on the canal of the same name.  We passed this huge mill which was where Hovis was originally made.  The building, which had its own entrance from the canal, has now been converted into flats. 
Hovis Building, Macclesfield
The Macclesfield Canal comes to an end at the top of the Marple flight of locks heading down to Manchester, but before we tackled these we followed the Peak Forest Canal to its terminus near Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire.  We actually spent the night at Bugsworth Basin, which sounds terrible but was in fact a wonderful example of industrial archaeology – like mooring in a museum.  The basin was where limestone brought down from the hills by tramway was loaded into canal boats for transport all over the North West.  There are several basins for loading stone and lime and all these are now open for mooring pleasure boats.  Here is where we spent the night:
Bugsworth Basin
 That afternoon we climbed a nearby hill a thousand feet above the canal which itself is at over 500 feet above sea level.  We enjoyed fine views of the Kinder Scout plateau, despite the drizzly weather.  We timed our return from the walk so that we were able to meet Sue (Victoria’s Mum) at Whaley Bridge station.  Sue stayed with us for a couple of days into Manchester and had great fun helping to operate the locks.  We enjoyed a meal that night at the Navigation pub at Bugsworth which was having a beer sale with some ales at £2 a pint.

On Thursday we retraced our outward journey along the Peak Forest Canal which hugs the side of the steep Goyt valley with fine views across to Kinder:
Kinder plateau from Peak Forest Canal
A passing duck paid us a visit

and left a few deposits on the roof as mementos of her visit!

We then dropped down the 16 very deep locks of the Marple flight.  These were amongst the most difficult locks we’ve found so far.  The paddle gear was very stiff, the gates difficult to operate and the bywashes (these take the excess water around each lock) below the locks were fierce enough to throw the boat all over the place.  This flight of locks took us to the outskirts of Manchester.

From there we’ve had two very hard days into and out of Manchester.  The problem is that the Ashton Canal into the city and the Rochdale Canal out of it pass through some very deprived areas where passing boaters have had problems in the past from some of the local residents.  The advice is to start early in the morning, to get through the lock flights by midday or soon after and not to moor overnight in these areas.

So on Friday we set off boating at 5 am and descended the Ashton flight into the centre of Manchester, arriving about 12:30pm.  And on Saturday we set off soon after 7 am to ascend the Rochdale flight of locks heading out of the city, arriving at a safe mooring by around 4 pm.  The Rochdale locks are pretty difficult with the canal full of rubbish, gates that don’t all open properly and a multiplicity of mechanisms for opening gates.  Normally a long beam provides the leverage to open the lock gates, but the Rochdale Canal has been restored after years of disuse and there was not always space to replace the balance beams.  Here is an example of one lock using a cog and gear wheel to open the gate. 
Cog driven gate opening mechanism
Others used chains which were wound with the windlass normally used to open the paddles on the locks.  And all the locks have anti-vandal devices which must be locked and unlocked each time.  The rubbish in the canal gets sucked into the propeller housing and we had to continually duck down into the weed hatch, not an experience for the faint hearted.  We pulled out much of a child’s bicycle which was wrapped around Leo’s propeller and later also a bath towel, not to mention a whole bag full of supermarket plastic carrier bags.  Later and more seriously David and Victoria’s propeller hit something very hard coming into a lock and now has a chip bent out of it the size of a 10p piece.  Not surprisingly there is more vibration and the boat does not go as well as it did.  David is investigating whether this is covered by his insurance policy.

So what did we think of Manchester?  Well we had decided not to stay more than one night, so perhaps we didn’t do the city justice.  We did visit the Museum of Science and Industry (known as MOSI) which was brilliant.  It is built on the site of the oldest railway station in the world serving the Liverpool and Manchester railway that started the railway boom.  I think we need to stay longer to appreciate the city and we were very tired after our 5 am start, but good secure moorings are in very short supply. Birmingham has made a great commercial success of its canals: Manchester sadly has not.  Here is a picture of a tram taken as we walked through the city.
Manchester Tram
Coming out of Manchester we operated this vertical lift bridge, stopping the traffic and even a bus in the process:
Vertical Lifting Bridge
We passed a number of cotton and other mills, now either derelict or used for other purposes:

 And here finally is a picture of the delightful cottage at the top of the Slattocks flight of locks above which we are moored tonight.  The owner is also a narrowboater and we think that we saw their narrowboat (there is a picture by the house) at Ellesmere, but can’t be sure.
Cottage at Slattocks Top Lock
The next few days will be more relaxed as we climb gradually over the Pennines and start to drop down towards Halifax and Wakefield.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Heading North towards Manchester

Since our last blog we have moved in a zig-zag fashion across the map to find the Macclesfield Canal which is our chosen route North to Manchester.  Having retraced our steps down the Llangollen Canal finishing with the four Hurleston Locks in the pouring rain, we went North, first on the mainline of the Shropshire Union and then following its branch to Middlewich.  We arrived there at lunchtime and foolishly decided to walk into the town.  We got thoroughly drenched, spending some time under a large café umbrella with a strange gentleman who told us all the delights of the neighbourhood.

Having been wet once our enthusiasm for standing at the tiller getting soaked again was reduced so we stayed the night there.  On Saturday morning David and Victoria had to deal with an exploded Mozzarella cheese (the hazards of boating are surprising) so we set off first.  At Middlewich the Shropshire Union branch meets the Trent and Mersey Canal, so you first drop down a huge lock onto the T&M and turn right straight into the King’s Lock which starts the climb Southwards.back towards the Potteries and the Midlands.  It might seem illogical to go South when you mean to go North, but that is how things go on the canals where there are few routes.

The locks round here are very deep – mostly around 10 feet each:

 We climbed what is called Heartbreak Hill with endless locks over several miles.  We did not find this difficult, indeed with pairs of narrow locks we sometimes had the two boats going up side by side.
Leo in left hand lock and Pas Mèche in the right hand one
Once into Kidsgrove, at Harding’s Wood Junction there is the most amazing canal junction where we needed to turn left onto the Macclesfield Canal to go North.  However, like a motorway junction we went under an underpass (they call them aqueducts for canals!), carrying the Macclesfield, then up 2 more locks and turned right to swing round and back over the aqueduct to set off in the right direction.
Top of Aqueduct - see the other canal below

Taken from Leo sitting on the bridge with Pas Meche below
Sunday evening we walked from a remote spot on the Macclesfield Canal across the fields to Little Moreton Hall which is the best example of ‘black and white’ Cheshire architecture, now owned by the National Trust.  Unfortunately it had closed for the day but we were able to admire the outside of the building sitting in a very square moat:
Little Moreton Hall
Early on Monday we met a fuel boat and filled up with diesel.  This is a splendid experience.  You simply hail the boat as it goes past, tie up alongside and get your tank filled.
Fuel Boat alongside
Filling Pas Meche
 The Macclesfield has some splendid ‘roving bridges’.  These take the towpath from one side of the canal to the other and are designed so that you do not have to unhitch the horse as the horse does not go under the bridge until it has crossed the canal (think about it).
Roving Bridge on Macclesfield Canal
That afternoon we climbed a flight of 12 deep locks to reach the highest navigable canal in England at over 500 feet above sea level.  Views from here approaching Macclesfield were excellent.  You really feel you are in the hills.  And, as I add this posting we have come off the top end of the Macclesfield Canal and joined the Peak Forest Canal, travelling to its basin at Bugsworth nestling in the Peak District Hills.  This afternoon as a change we have been walking, climbing up the nearest hill a thousand feet above the canal.  This is called Chinley Churn and gave us good views of Kinder Scout just across the Hayfield valley from us.
'The Cloud' from Bosney Locks
And here to finish is a fun picture of Leo in a lock coming up the Bosley flight.  The heavy rain recently has caused a lot of run off from the fields and it is this, we were told, that has caused all the bubbles when the water is disturbed.  It was like having a boat in a bubble bath!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Llangollen Canal Thrills

It is more than a week since we updated our blog principally because internet access on the Welsh borders has been patchy and a visit by Lucy for the Bank Holiday weekend meant we were chatting rather than ‘blogging’.

We’ve travelled up the Shropshire Union Canal before turning onto the Llangollen Canal towards Wales.  The Shropshire Union was built by Thomas Telford and has huge cuttings and embankments to allow the canal to follow a straight line across the map.  Locks and tunnels are cut through solid rock, like this tunnel:

Audlem was delightful as was Nantwich
The 'Shroppie Fly' pub at Audlem Wharf


We loved this sign for a “secret” Nuclear Bunker which is now a tourist attraction:

 We visited markets, Market Drayton on Wednesday, Nantwich on Thursday and we were too late for the market in Whitchurch on Friday.  Ian bought a new waterproof hat, which gives a clue as to the state of the weather lately:

 Soon after Nantwich we turned left and climbed the Hurleston locks at the start of the Llangollen Canal:
Hurleston Locks

 The famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was the highlight of the last few days.  From a boat only a few inches separate the trough full of water from a drop of 126 feet into the River Dee.  Astonishingly this Aqueduct built in 1805 has remained watertight with no further maintenance.  It is lined with a mixture of Welsh flannel and lead dipped in boiling sugar.  We walked underneath at one end and there were only a few drips of water leaking.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct from below

The view from the boat down to the River Dee

The nearest thing to flying in a narrowboat!
The crew crossing the Aqueduct - guess what the weather was like.

We moored at Llangollen and walked the last mile and a half of narrow and shallow canal (too much so for narrowboats and nowhere to turn round) to the Horseshoe Falls on the River Dee which provides the flow of water down the canal to the Shropshire Union, so this canal has a definite flow, more like a river.
Horseshoe Falls

As well as the huge aqueduct there is a shorter one at Chirk and a couple of tunnels.  Since all these features are one way and there were a lot of boats, progress was pretty slow.
Leaving Chirk Tunnel and venturing onto Chirk Aqueduct
We are now heading back to the Shropshire Union pausing at Ellesmere to shop at Tesco.  It is an odd fact that Tesco seems to have more canalside supermarkets than the other big four.  The basin at Ellesmere is delightful and popular with boaters.
Ellesmere - note this is not Ellesmere Port which is better known
As a boat you can also hold up the traffic as at this lifting bridge:
Wrenbury Lift Bridge
We came across this boat today which was presumably going rather too fast round a bend and finished up in a field:

 Tomorrow we will return to the Shropshire Union and we'll be heading East to pick up the Macclesfield Canal as our chosen route towards Manchester.