Friday 8 May 2009

South Pennine Ring, Conclusion

South Pennine Rine, Conclusion
11th April 2009

So, having completed a nine day trip around the South Pennine Ring from Castlefields, packing 214 locks into 73 short miles, what was the verdict?

Well the words “hard work” come to mind, obviously. From the moment we cast off from Castlefields on the Wednesday to the time we returned the following Thursday the locking was incessant and cruising on the flat virtually non-existent. In fact, with an average of three locks per mile, there were very few occasions when a lock was not visible either in front or behind us. But we can't complain, hard work never killed anyone and we knew what we were letting ourselves in for before we started.

Taken as a whole the trip was absolutely fabulous, far exceeding our expectations.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was an absolute delight. It's scenery was spectacular and the self-steer passage through the Standedge Tunnel represented one of the high points (quite literally) of our boating experience. But perhaps the real crowning jewel of this waterway is the people we met along the way. This collective includes the BW staff who were helpful, enthusiastic and friendly; the numerous Huddersfield Canal Society officers who made a point of seeking us out and most importantly; the residents who live near “their” canal. All three groups displayed an immense pride in it's restoration and so desperately wanted the boaters who use it to enjoy the experience.

It is true that the canal is often shallow, its many lock gates leaky, its paddle gear stiff and the stretch into Huddersfield filthy, but it is also sublimely beautiful. Similar in many ways to the nearby Peak Forest Canal, but on steroids.

I fell in love with this waterway before we even reached Stalybridge and my infatuation grew as we completed each hard won mile. In the end we spent three and a half days negotiating its 19 1/2 miles and 74 locks, which included a half day layover at Standedge to walk the moors. This wasn’t really long enough to do the canal justice, but now I am a fully paid up member of the Huddersfield Canal Society I am sure that this is the start of a lasting relationship rather than a quick fling.

The Calder and Hebble Navigation proved an interesting link between the two trans Pennine canals, a days deep water cruising which in itself covered nine miles and 15 locks, many operated with the medieval looking hand spike. It was a refreshing change to follow the course of a canalised river and the journey offered many memorable sights.

Finally, The Rochdale Canal offered a navigation of two halves. The Yorkshire side up from Sowerby Bridge was very lovely, passing through many attractive mill towns which were occupied by friendly folk who came out in great numbers to meet us and wish us well. It's summit and subsequent flight were equally impressive set amid the Pennine moors, in some ways offering a more remote summit experience that the Huddersfield Narrow, albeit at an elevation 65 feet lower. The downside to the Rochdale was its western end. The stretch through Rochdale and into outer Manchester (which comprises most of its western end) was grim, dirty, slow and potentially dangerous.

But it is also a waterway of promise. It is acting as a catalyst for urban regeneration which will intimately see it transformed like the neighbouring Ashton Canal.

The thing is, what comes first? The canal or the regeneration? Answer – the canal. Come back in 20 years and the western side of the Rochdale will be buzzing with boats, with boring old duffers like me banging on about that it was like to cruise it in the bad old the “glory days”.

This is one of the inland waterways hidden treasures. To complete the circuit is an achievement in itself but it will repay your efforts in spades. It's cruising in the raw, a bit like the rest of the system in the 1970’s when you were never quite sure if you could complete the journey. It offers that elusive ingredient which is lacking elsewhere, that edge of uncertainty and excitement which provides a rich source of boating tales for those long winter evenings.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments on the blog. Its nice to know that people read it. At the moment I have some teaching to do around Lincoln and then will be moving across to Chester via Huddersfield so will be following your blog on the route. I have been there before but the canal changes so much these days that it is a new trip every time.

The trip on the Humber will not be repeated. It was scary to say the least. On a calm day it would be fine but the wind is a real problem in whipping up the waves.