Monday, 3 May 2010

Manchester to Marple

Manchester to Marple
Sunday 11th April 2010
Easter 2010 - part 16

14 Miles - 27 locks - 10 hours

Today was something of a "day after the day" before for us.

Manchester is a vibrant city and it's inhabitants enthusiastically grasped the potential of the first warm Saturday night of the season. All the resulting revelry made for a boisterous night at Castlefields.

Packet-boat boathouse at Fairfield Junction

Party goers were hard at it till dawn, finally staggering back to their, or sometimes someone else's, bed at about 4.30am. We encountered a new game this year, which involved a goup of friends starting somewhere near Canal St and half going north and half going south. An innocent enough game you might say but the twist is the they then start to shout to each other at intervals and see how far apart they can get before they can no longer hear each other. Part of me was amused to hear the southern contingent bellowing in the next door car park and the an ever so fait reply coming back from somewhere near Piccadilly, and the other part of me was annoyed to have been disturbed from my slumber.

Ashton Canal

So, soon after this DIY Mythbuster audie experiment, we were wide awake and making a start up the Rochdale 9 by 6.30am. Normally I quite enjoy this strenous trip up through the now sleeping heart of Manchester, but not so today. The combination of a broken nights sleep, aching legs from the long cycle ride and a sore bum from an unfamiliar saddle, I struggled to keep motivated. But it says in the Good Book that "all things come to pass" and so it is with the slow and heavy Rochdale canal. We plugged away, passing a solitary boat descending near the Bridgewater Hall,  finally emerging into a bright crisp morning in Piccadilly about 2.5 hours later.

Portland Basin

The Ashton Canal was once one of the most feared sections of inland waterway in the country, presided over by gangs of uncontrolled kids and negotiated only by the brave or the ignorant. Oh how things have changed. Sure we prudently opted for the early start approach, but all the council estates, high rise blocks and slum back to backs have either been flattened or emptied and about half the canal's length is now lined with swanky new apartments, or vacant lots awaiting redevelopment when the economic conditions improve. The amazing "Chips" building is complete, but sparcely occupied and the new marina basin behind it stands empty and forlorn, awaiting if not a New Jerusalem then at least a "New Islington". One day this will be spectacular, with a larger basin full of boats and entered via a grand lift bridge. As it is it all looks very sad with about 20 ft of towpath standing as a resolute barrier to progress.

As for the rest of the canal, the towpath has been claimed by walkers, joggers, cyclists and families out for a stroll, with all trace of the mob culture wiped away. I am almost getting to like the Ashton Canal, apart form the fact that it is dirty, litter filled and boring!

Portland Aqueduct
Hey ho, whatever you think of it, the Ashton is a very handy link to the canals which lie beyond, namely the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Peak Porest Canal. We would have loved to enter the romtically named W1 - the first lock on the western end of the Huddersfield Canal but it wasn't to be. Instead we settled for winding outside ATC centre and then replenishing our dwindling stocks from the Asda which straddles the cut.  My purchases included some new jeans for Jeff to replace the ones he split earlier. I got the leg length way too long but no problem - I knew the Duck Tape would come in handy for something.

Marple bottom lock

The day was fine so we pressed op up the Peak Forest Canal, a narrow and shallow waterway which offers little scope for rapid progress, but why hurry along such a pretty route. We ended up mooring in the pool at the very foot of the Marple Locks which offered spectacular views back along the Marple Aqueduct, and a very good spot to stop for the nght.

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