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  We passed this huge mill which was where Hovis was originally made.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.

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