Monday 14 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily
14th August 2006
Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest Canals

14 Miles
27 Locks
11 Hours

We had been strongly advised to stay in Castlefields for the night and given our late arrival we didn't have a choice. The mooring is surprisingly good for such a central location, and we awoke to the rattle of trains bringing commuters into Piccadilly Station on a fine and sunny Monday morning.

One hears dreadful stories of the Ashton Canal, with yobs running amok on and in boats so we decided on the tried and tested approach of sneaking past early in the morning, before they stir their adolescent a***s out of their beds. We were up with the larks and engaged with the first of the Rochdale Nine by six am. I may have been up but I wasn't really awake, and as a result dropped my first (and so far only) windlass into the lock. It slipped off the paddle gear, bounced off the balance beam, was nearly caught as it tumbled to the ground but took an unlucky bounce and slithered over the concrete and polp! straight into the cut.

Surprisingly, we weren't the first boat out. A "stealth" hire boat had beaten us to it was was already three locks ahead. The Ahab team is an awesome sight when we are moving in full flow and in spite of their efforts to keep ahead we kept making ground on them. Realising that our progress was unstoppable they slowed just below Bridgewater Hall and we continued up working the locks as a pair - which was much easier for all concerned.

The towpath around Canal Street is very obscure at times and as I was working the locks it fell to me to run around the streets and finding access points to the cut. Canal Street is interesting in the day but probably not to my taste at night, if the discarded syringes and prophylactics (used) were anything to go by! Jeff and Tilly are innocent little souls so we suggested that they take a break and manage the boat through this section!

After about 2.5 hours of effort we emerged blinking from the subterranean last lock and intro Ducie Wharf. The Rochdale continues on straight ahead, but we took a right under Ducie Street Bridge, which marks the start of the 7 mile Ashton Canal. This stretch parallels the inner city sections of the BCN, with the combined estates of Ancoats, Clayton and Audenshaw representing the danger zone, which until recently demanded a BW escort. But it was still early and as we ended up in front the the other boat, we set the pace , leaving a bottom sluice open behind us to ensure they could keep close astern. The area is clearly undergoing a massive regeneration, with the tower blocks giving way to the Manchester City Stadium and the National Cycling Centre. Posh flats are being built to the north of the canal, complete with a big new basin and repro drawbridge. It was only as we approached Clayton that the deprivation started to make itself felt, but we didn't see a single gathering of kids till Fairfield Junction, by which time it was too late for them to bother us.

The M60 marks a boundary and the inner city Manchester quickly falls away and is replaced by a much more pleasant Aston Under Lyme and Portland Basin. We were in need of supplies so we entered the bottom of the Huddersfield Narrow, passing under ASDA, which spans the canal and forms a long rectangular tunnel. Belle and Tilly were dropped off at the far end whilst Jeff and I carried on the the winding hole just below lock W1. The little used Huddersfield Narrow was enticing and was identified as a future route for a Wand'ring Bark adventure.

The afternoon was completed by the first 4 lockless miles of the Peak Forest Canal, winding along beside the River Tame, often surrounded by trees. It was immediately apparent that this is a narrow and shallow channel, with progress slowed to little over 2mph. We finally moored Romiley, nearly 12 hours after leaving Castlefield and dined on fish and chips purchased from a shop on the High Street. Jeff had another stab at fishing, but this time without success.

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