Uppermill to Marple Aqueduct
11th August 2011
14 miles - 23 locks - 10 hours
That's 24 hours of solid rain we have endured. Not misting rain or showers but a steady drumming on the roof as big juicy raindrops fall from heaven and leave the towpath awash, the rivers running in spate and the by washes a heaving torrent of foam. This isn't the shallow HNC, or the drought stricken canal system we have come to know and love.
We skulked in our beds for a while, hoping that the worst would pass and finally starting at 10.00am when the rain eased off. It was a short lived reprieve and soon we were cowering under brollies as the rain beat down. But we were undeterred and ploughed on. As they say at Outward Bound - its not he wrong sort of weather, its just the wrong sort of clothes. The trouble is that it was just too warm for working locks in over trousers, so we opted for keeping our tops dry and letting our trousers get soaked.
I felt a bit bad at lock 18W - we rounded a corner and found a boat sitting in the chamber with the skipper inside making a brew and getting out of the rain. I would have done the same, have done the same, but we needed to move on so we tooted him out and he good naturedly moved his boat on, whistling a tuneless song to himself, the rain driving into his unprotected fleece. Sorry mate.
Rain enhanced stonework
We passed a further two boats at Woodend, one of the few moorings in the area. This section of the restoration effort was undertaken on the 80's when BW was going through its "hydraulic phase". As a result the paddles and slow and heavy, with at least one paddle not working in every lock. All this rain was weighing down the tree branches, making navigation difficult with everything on the roof being swept off, coolie hat, chimney, boat hook and fishing rods. It was slow progress down to Stalybridge.
Boaters view of the Millbrook Pylon
Knocking Stalybridge is a bit like kicking a dog when its down. However, apart from a very convenient Tesco's I can find very little positive to say about it.
Neglected Lock Surround in Stalybridge
Whereas the restored canal has enhanced Uppermill and Slaithwaite, the fortunes of Stalybridge have not improved since the canal was reopened. Not that it's the canals fault, it's just that the town seems to be in terminal decline and the current economic paralysis isn't helping. The canal lock surrounds are knee deep in weeds, the burned out buildings from two and a half years ago still stand black, charred and gaunt. Even on a Thursday afternoon most of the shop shutters were firmly closed.
Its all burnt or boarded in Stalybridge
A sad sight indeed. Even the doughnuts from Tesco's were stale - a fact which seemed to encapsulate the state of the place.
Even the church is behind steel fences...
Just below Stalybridge Jeff had a near miss. He misguidedly decided to take a short cut across the top gate and slipped, straddling the gate and bruising his knee in the process. It could have been so much worse so it goes down as a lucky escape.
Lock 1W is a complete swine. The bridge configuration meant that the gates and paddles had to be built with a bespoke hydraulic arrangement, which once again is horribly stiff and left me aching and panting for breath - a final twist to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal's tale.
The Wooden Boat Society's latest project
So our crossing of the HNC has been one of two halves - beautiful sunshine on the east but pouring rain on the west. If I am being honest the last couple of days have been far from the most enjoyable boating I have done, even this is my favourite canal. Finally, as we approached Portland Basin the rain eased and we were treated to a glorious overcast sky! Well, it was an improvement!
We turned onto the familiar waters of the Lower Peak Forest Canal and freed of the rain we just kept chugging along, eating up the miles. With no locks to interrupt out progress we pressesed on without even a map, sipping our G&T's and dropping a trail of Pestachio nut shells in our wake. Then, as the clock passed 8.00pm, we saw Marple Aqueduct approaching in the distance so we moored in the wide section to the north of the aqueduct, which was a quiet spot with just the occasional train on the adjacent viaduct to remind us that civilisation was not far away.
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