1st April 2009 (part one)
Castlefields may be safe, but it isn't a location which engenders an easy nights sleep. We moored in the main basin alongside the YHA and associated "Y" health club and whilst we had no trouble, a mix of fans humming, a generator rumbling, trains clanking and geese honking in the arches meant that sleep came only fitfully.
Dukes Lock at first light (92)
The Rochdale was its usual self, redeveloped and swanky at the lower end, moving through the waterfront bar and club land before hitting the gay village on Canal Street. Jeff was particularly taken with the work of the cunning linguist who had removed the "C" from the street name to better describe the nature of the area... Part way along we passed a stub of canal which leads to the Bridgewater Hall, forever associated with a magnificent gig by the Blind Boys of Alabama, who played there three years ago. The arm is technically navigable but is boomed off so it was only explored on foot.
The locks are stiff and heavy culminating in a subterranean pair at Dale / Ducie Street, complete with the pathetic figure of a teenage rent boy plying his sad trade at 8.30am. All around there was evidence of nocturnal activity and one takes care to avoid the prophylactics and needles.
We stopped at Merchants Wharf after a very creditable two hours, walking Belle to the nearby Piccadilly Station for her return to the Midlands, leaving the captain and Jeff to tackle the South Pennine ring as a twosome for 10 days. It's the first time we have enjoyed each others undiluted company for such a long period and therefore represented a rather special opportunity for some serious father / son bonding.
The Ashton locks are dominated by the Manchester City Stadium, built as the centrepiece for the Commonwealth Games. At the time of our visit a large group of Greater Manchester Firemen were undertaking a canal side exercise. I am not sure who was more interested in the other - them or us. The locks are leaky and stiff, many clogged with rubbish but not another boat moving.
Regeneration has reached the old Chemical Works with vacant site bulldozed to the ground to absolve the owners from the fiscal liability of the recently introduced "empty buildings rates" - an action euphemistically known as constructive vandalism. Only the top end of the canal retains its poorer housing, home to the young boys which gave the entire waterway its terrible reputation for so many years. We passed through on a school day and the terror squad was reduced to a solitary hooded truant at the top lock who managed little more than a few expletives.
With the canal being used as the catalyst for urban regeneration its a shame that no one organises a self help weekend "crud clearing" event to remove the ever present film of plastic filth. The city centre Rochdale section has managed it - why not the Ashton? That said, BW were much in evidence, painting the balance beams and lock gear ready for a new season.
We emerged into Portland Basin and hour or so later, effectively the end of the Ashton Canal and the start of Peak Forest and Huddersfield Narrow canals. No booms were in evidence, just an oily film on the water, testament to the recent oil spill which has closed the canal for the last month. Whilst we passed a number of moored boats at Guide Bridge and again in Portland Basin, we saw nothing moving all day.
For me this is where the real journey starts, virgin canal over which I have never previously passed. Given the amount of observations and photos I have divided todays blog into two sections and will cover the first stretch of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal tomorrow. In total it was a 6 hour climb from Castlefields to Fairfield. Not a bad run on a fine spring morning and only one weed hatch visit to remove a light dusting of poly bags.