Monday 30 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Todmorden

Rochdale 2013
Sowerby Bridge to Todmorden
2 Sept 2013

10 miles - 18 locks - 7 hours

After an e-mail exchange with nb Tacet, and a discussion with the lock keeper at Tuel Lane, we decided on a change of plan.  The opening hours over the summit are limited and our plan to spend a night between the two top locks would result in a couple of days of after dark heroics to get us into Manchester on time.  We therefore sacrificed a day on the Yorkshire side to ease the trip down into Lancashire - and this meant skipping a night in Hebden Bridge and pressing on to Tod instead.

Tuel Lane Tunnel

We took on 100L of diesel at Shire Cruisers to replace that used on the trip north. Not the cheapest fuel by any means, but suppliers over here are few and far between. Whilst filling up a little Springer was poled across the basin, leaving a much tattier twin behind. The odd thing was that it was decorated ready for Christmas, so it really begged the question. It transpired that it forms part of the TV show "Last Tango in Halifax" starring Derek Jacobi. Sadly the filming wouldn't start till 1.00pm and we needed to be on our way, so we will just have to wait till the Christmas Special is televised and we find out how the two boats fit into the story.

Last Tango in Halifax comes to Sowerby Bridge

We were out of the ultra deep Tuel Lane Lock 45 mins later at 11.45, tailing other boats and turning locks all the way. We passed one boat in Hebden Bridge which made life a lot easier and then found our way impeded by a boat across the channel at the "alternative zone". It was nothing more than badly banged in pins, but it took a while to persuade the locals to help re fix their colleagues boat.

Tuel Lane Lock

The journey up from Hebden Bridge takes the canal out of the mills and woods and into open pasture, catching another boat and speeding out passage to Tod which was reached at 6.15pm. 

Rochdale Canal

With little enthusiasm for making a meal on board we checked out the local eateries and were faces with either Weatherspoons (boring) or a strange Thai restaurant known as Humenska or the Three Wise Monkeys. Our apprehension was allayed by some locals who vouched for its quality and whilst it couldn't decide if it is a club or eatery, the food was truly top class and the beer, a stout from the Little Valley Brewery was simple devine.

Hebden Bridge

Perhaps the strangest incident was saved for the close of the day. As the bar manager and a client were viewing and discussing what appeared to be either erotic art on an on line S&M site (its a fine distinction) in walked this chap with Buster his dog. Buster was almost human and when his master left for a natural break he jumped up onto the bar stool and took his place. Buster, it turned out, was Andy Kershaws dog!


Local Ale

Todmorden may be known for its great wall containing 4 million bricks, but it is also known for The Incredible Edible Todmorden initiative, but more about that in my next post.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Castlefields Manchester

Rochdale 2013
Irk Aqueducy to Castlefields, Manchester
6th Sept 2013

9 miles - 29 locks - 10 hours

First up, apologies for the lack of photos. Cameras and rain are not good bedfellows if you know what I mean.

This was always going to be the low point of the trip in terms of effort and quality of canal but add pouring rain / low temperatures into the mix and you have the perfect end to a holiday! There really isnt ant way round the fact that its a long unpleasant slog from the Rose of Lancaster to Picadilly, and having reached Picadilly you may as well grind on through the heart on Manchester on the Rochdale 9.

A dismal Miles Platting

We had some low grade irritation from some teenage lads at the Irk Aqueduct, running onto the boat but the fading light and the first spots of rain saw them disappear into the distance leaving us to our own devices with rain drumming on the roof.

The forecast was for rain all day and for once they were spot on. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy but always wet - very wet! We met the guys from Canals and Rivers at 8.30 as planned but the assisted passage we experienced four years ago is a thing of the past. Assistance consists of unlocking the lock at the top and locking the bottom lock behind us as we leave. The only support is a mobile phone number "in case of trouble" and a muttered prayer for safety. Of course, the rain cloud brings with it a silver lining in the fact that hoodlums (lovely word) dont like getting wet so bankside trouble was kept at bay.

Fialsworth passes without incident as did Newton Heath. The locks are very leaky so getting levels and opening gates is hard work, but we made steady progress - Helen shivering at the tiller and me sweating in my waterproofs. To be honest, the old sink estates are being gradually bulldozed and you can see regeneration coming. The economic downturn has slowed the process to glacial speeds, but it is happening and the Rochdale Canal is the catalyst, just as its neighboring the Ashton was before it.

We were glad to meet a pair of boats rising up at Scotchmans Lock which at least meant that all the locks thereafter were full. This development speeded progress a bit and we emerges into a dismally wet Picadilly at 2.30pm.

An equally dismal Picadilly

With a recovery crew meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning we pressed on down the "9". Those top two locks have to be the most horrible in the country - an underworld haven for rent boys and druggies. I am not sure which is worse - the used condoms, the needles, the stench of urine of the baleful gaze of lads touting for trade. If I need a mental picture of Hell and hopelessness this is the one I use.

The descent picks up as we drop through Manchester but irritatingly someone had decided it would be a really good idea to half draw a paddle on each tail gate. Not draw it all the way mind so I can see it, just half way so you only find out when the lock wont fill, the upper pound is sinking fast and the lower pound is awash. We had a spot of bother at Princes Street Lock - the one where there is no access from the shore. Our comms failed and Helen sailed out of the lock leaving me jumping up and down and hollering for her to come back - much to the amusement of the Canals and Ricers Guys who had come to say farewell.

We emerged from Dukes Lock at 5.00pm, wet and exhausted and with all thoughts of making a hand over at Bollin erased. The hand over will be in Castlefirlds come hell or high water. All we were fit for was to tie up in Castle Quay and eat fish and chips from the excellent shop near the Science Museum.

Bar the drunken revelry of Friday night in downtown Manchester (normal) that's in for the big summer 2013 trip. Martin and Adam will arrive tomorrow morning and we will return home by car. A lovely trip but I suspect that we wont be back in Yorkshire for a few year - there are other places we want to explore (the Chesterfield isn't in Yorkshire is it?).

Saturday 28 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Sowerby Bridge

Rochdale 2013
Cooper Bridge to Sowerby Bridge
1st September 2013

8 miles - 11 locks

We moored two locks above Cooper Bridge, near Kirklees Lock, which was probably a mistake. The mooring is fairly close to a busy road and the drone of the nearby motorway was incessant. On reflection we should have moored just below the Cooper Bridge Flood Lock but we were not to know how few moorings there are hereabouts.

Brighouse Basin

The day started with jam, Helen bottling 27 Jars of Rose Petal Jelly, otherwise known as Turkish Delight on toast, and me off blackberrying beside the  canal. An hour's effort was rewarded with another 3kg's pf glistening black berries.

Brighouse mills

We saw Mulled Wine for a final time at Brighouse and received rave reviews about the Chinese Berry Jam which we had sold them at Castleford - a lovely little used fruit which looks like and orange raspberry but grows on the ground like strawberry - much loved by urban landscapers but rarely eaten. Brighouse is a bit of a desolate place these days - Sagar closed down last year, the elsan point is closed and even the rubbish point is closed - its no fly tipping sign nearly submerged in abandoned waste! BUT - it does have a Sainsburys next to the basin which is a big plus and Helen took advantage of this facility whilst I refilled with water.

 Salterhebble bottom lock

It was wild and gusty as we progressed up the navigation, following a hire boat. I have to say that whilst I like the history associated with the handspikes, the sluices they operate can be a bit wild at times, throwing the boat around in the locks. They lack... how shall I put it.... finesse!

An empty upper basin

Things were more peaceful in the trees after Elland through to Salterhebble. But here we hit a snag.  The first lock with it arthritic guillotine was ok but then the middle pound was empty, as in no water whatsoever. I walked up  to the top and found a couple of widebeams tied up waiting for Canals and Rivers to come and solve the problem. No problem I say - happens all the time on the BCN and proceeded to open all the ground and gate paddles and had the basin brimming full in less than 20 mins. 

 Flooding the basin

Wand'ring Bark is moved into the lock and the gates shut. Well, that was the idea but neither would shut against the cills. We heaved, we flushed, we swung, we dragooned in every passer by we could muster and achieved - absolutely zilch! In the end we retreated to the services and awaited the arrival of the Trust staff almost resigned to a run over the Huddersfield narrow.  In the end the Canals and River guys arrives and pulled, flushed and basically repeated all our efforts to no avail. Something was clearly stuck on the cill so in the end we put WB over the lock gates and the Trust chap fished round with his long rake - and out popped a lorry tyre.

Up - and away!

We got back into the lock and nearly shut the gates. One was stuck two or three inches open but the Trust guys figured we could get it filled. Sluices were opened and the gates creaked, leaning in to meet maybe 6 feet up and with a huge amount of water pouring out of the bottom end we made a level. The price was 6 inches of water out of the long pound to Sowerby Bridge which made the final run on the twilight a bit of a challenge. The three hour delay meant a 7.30pm arrival and no time to look round the town - so much for an early finish!

Late arrival at Sowerby Bridge

Thursday 26 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Coopers Bridge

Rochdale 2013
Stanley Ferry to Coopers Bridge
30 August 2013

15 miles - 16 locks - 8 hours

Do you find that some days you seem to just lose your mojo? Well, today was a case in point for me. Maybe it was because we had suddenly hit manually operated locks, or maybe because I realised the huge number of locks which lie ahead, but one thing is certain - I wasn't at my happiest!

Stanley Ferry was a quiet spot and we set off at 10.00am, soon finding ourselves at Fall Ings Lock, the first on the Calder and Hebble. These locks are much smaller than those seen on the Aire and Calder, but they are still cavernous.

Wakefield Waterfront

In no time we were in Wakefield, its extensive basin twinkling in the sunshine. 

This section of the Aire and Calder flirts with the river, dipping in and out all the time with locks followed by bits of canal and flood locks. The area has also been heavily mined and you keep seeing the bankside copings dropping under the water and layer upon layer added to the top to keep the water in. In some places the bank must have been built up by 4ft or more.

The wind blew strongly from the north, one of those days when you are shivering in the shade but sweltering in the sun - very hard to dress for. Not that the weather had much to do with the number of boats on the move. At most we saw six or seven, and that is a lot for the area. There are next to no hire bases and few boat clubs - all a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the Midlands canals.

What few boats you see you tend to remember and at Battysford lock we saw Mulled Wine for the third time, this time broken down with a failed throttle cable. We had come down the Trent on the same day and swapped yarns most days since at one point or another. The skipper was a handy sort of a chap and figured he could jury rig something to get him back to his mooring at Brighouse. He did achieve his aim, sort of, as we saw him the next day doing some kangaroo boating. His throttle worked but offered two options - tick over or full revs. He therefore crept along till the time came to maneuver - when the tranquility was shattered by a cloud of smoke and a seething mass of foam at his stern. But hey, it worked and he made it home...

Shepley Bridge Lock

This is a section of contrasts. One moment you are sweeping along a broad deep river section and the next you are creeping along in the intimacy of a canal. All along the line the navigation passes beneath the abandoned remains of railway bridges - reminders of a much busier past when the valley was a hive of industry. Interesting from and industrial heritage perspective, but a little sad as well.

We have been having niggling problems with the engine all season, a position which is gradually deteriorating. The engine shake at low revs is trying and the prop shaft drip is up to about seven mop loads a day - and a needing turn on the stern gland once a week. All that shaking is making the leak worse - time for some professional help if we can just limp home. I am sure there is a snag with the injectors coupled with a failed engine mount.

Jam sales on the move

On the plus side, we sold three pots of tam today, having been hailed by a passing cyclist. This steady demand for jam on the move bodes well for the future. Helen has been busy processing yesterday's pickings - Chinese Bramble Jam, Bramble Jelly and Bramble Chutney.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Stanley Ferry

Rochdale 2013
Ferrybridge to Stanley Ferry
30th September 2013

10 miles – 4 locks – 5 hours

More lazy days – but we are on holiday. We wake, make coffee and then lay there in bed with the back doors open and the sun streams in – isn’t this what boating is all about?

Ferrybridge moorings

Our trip now starts to mix fiver with canal, sweeping past the huge Ferrybridge power station with is mothballed jetties and hoppers, the metalwork rusting and the concrete crumbling. It’s hard to image that just a couple of decades ago millions of tons of local coal was moved to the power station by a succession of boats.

Ferrybridge - abandoned coal hoppers

But is not that the power station does not need coal – it needs loads of the stuff. The fact is that most of the local collieries have closed down and all we are left with are hundreds of flash lakes caused by subsiding mine workings. All the tailings tower over the area but these are being landscaped and the navigation north of Castelford is now reminiscent of the River Severn, with mature trees reaching down to the waters margin. The only clue to the areas heavy industry history is the strata of waste in the river banks and the occasional incongruous pipe sticking out into the river channel.

River Calder

We stopped at Castleford, a place we missed on out trip to the Huddersfield Canal a couple of years ago.  The moorings are both good and plentiful with water, waste and pump out available – not that we need the pump out these days. Beware – the pump out only runs for 7 mins which meant that the widebeam we had been shadowing needed two cards to empty its tank.

Castleford Flood Lock

We moored by the flood lock and were advised to follow the footpath round by the river to the footbridge into town.  This was a pleasant walk, but be warned that it is at least 15 to 20 mins walk to reach the shops. Castleford is no great shakes if the truth be told – there are a couple of supermarkets but they are at the far end of town and this meant that I refused to carry more than 10kg’s of sugar on my rucksack – it seems reasonable to me! The big positive about the place is the Millennium footbridge which crosses the weir and carries you to one of the few operational flour mills in the area.  The weir comes complete with an abandoned barge which has seemingly gone over the top and become embedded itself in the masonry. To my eye it’s all a bit Disney and contrived, but no doubt I will be advised that it is entirely genuine and happened during a huge flood in such and such year.


What the town lacked in quality it made up for in blackberries. The hedgerows by the allotments were heavy with them and we returned clutching carrier bags containing another 4kg’s of fruit destined for the jam jar.

Stanley Ferry flood lock 

We could have stayed at Castleford for the night, but we decided we wanted a pub meal so set off for Stanley Ferry this time avoiding the gravel bar at Fairies Lock (we got stuck last time). The pub at Stanley Ferry is big and a bland family eatery but the food was good, hot and reasonable and whilst the choice of beer was not wide, they did offer Old Speckled Hen which was most acceptable.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Ferrybridge

Rochdale 2013
South Bramwith to Ferrybridge
29th August 2013

17 miles – 3 locks – 7 hours

Another lazy start at 11.00am, delaying departure as we completed a long lists of jobs which needing attending to around the boat, including a sign for the front of the boat advertising the sale of our preserves.

Bramwith Lock

Foraging opportunities came thick and fast, with a big crop of blackberries available on the junction with the New Junction Canal – that relatively new cut with it’s dead straight line punctuated only by a succession of lift bridges and one huge lock.

Previous travel along this canal had led us to a particularly productive abandoned orchard which we revisited and picked kilos and kilos of apples supplemented by three kilos of blackberries. Fortunately this spot was free of wasps, insects which plagued us all the way down the canal and saw the executioner in regular use in spite of the closed windows and doors. They were everywhere!  Unusually, the area was also riddled with mint, too old to use but presumably left over from someone’s garden. The mint gave off lovely waves of fragrance as I bashed my way through the brambles to reach the best blackberries.

Don Aqueduct - New Junction Canal

After picking for an hour or so a little convoy of boats came past with a bloke on a bike riding down the towpath setting all the bridges. These bridges are a real pain so we cast off in undignified haste and caught the procession up sailing majestically through all the obstructions whilst Helen made jam in the galley.

The Aire and Calder is the big daddy of the waterways hereabouts – built for huge commercial craft but sadly all the trade has gone with the last aggregate contract running out this year. We are left with a jumbo sized network which has an air of melancholy about it – more so that the Midlands canals which have been reclaimed as the preserve of the leisure boater. We tailed a couple of local boater to Pollington Lock where we hit a snag. The electronics failed and we couldn’t operate the lock. We tried everything but it was dead, so we resorted to calling Canals and Rivers who sent a guy out and he overrode the boater operation panels and managed us through from the control room.

Convoy down the New Junction Canal

Pears had been on Helen's daily want list and I finally found a tree, just outside Killingley Colliery. They were as hard as bullets and not that many of them but one does not look a gift horse in the mouth...

We now needed to moor but Knottingley offered few attractive options, so instead we moved on to Ferrybridge and its visitor moorings which are unpleasantly close to the A1, but are at least secure.

Friday 20 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - South Bramwith

Rochdale 2013
Keadby to South Bramwith
Wed 8th August 2013

14 miles - 1 lock - 3.5 hours

After a mad dash down to Keadby it is time to slow the pace a bit, explore our surroundings and maybe find some fruits to preserve.

Stainforth and Keadby Canal (or is it a lawn?)

We we had a lazy start, casting off our ropes long after the other boats had forced a path through the thick weed which coats this end of the Stainforth and Keadby. The passing of the boat creating a temporary opening in the weed, which closed up a few hundred metres astern. This is a feature of the area and continues unabated to Thorm. OK for the keel cooled boats but a nightmare for those using raw water systems.

All night we had heard a succession of heavy haul trains passing over the sliding bridge just up the canal, their wheels drumming out a sonorous rhythm which soon lodged itself into our brains in the same way that "Its a small world" is a song which once heard stays with you forever. These slow coal trains ply back and forth on the tracks which run parallel to the canal, and its good to see the railways still busy.

Wind turbine construction

Along the way a new form of industry is evident - wind farms are sprouting up across the flat landscape and clearly late summer is the time for their erection. After the crops have been harvested but before the ground softens and prevents the movement of heavy plant. These things are huge when seen on the ground.

We paused at Thorne and visited Sainsburys, restocking the fridge. From there fruit trees were plentiful allowing us to full huge carrier bags with perfect specimen cooking apples and kilograms of big fat blackberries. Foragers heaven. 

Moorings at South Bramwith

We settled on South Bramwith services as a destination for the night, the first watering point since Nottingham and a welcomed opportunity to empty cassettes etc. We like these slow lazy days, although it has to be said that the canal is broad, straight and largely featureless. Its redeeming feature is that it is slightly elevated and offers good views over the surrounding fields. 

Don Aqueduct on New Junction Canal from Bramwith Services

And, of course, there is the isolation - we saw three other boats today!

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Rochdale 2013 - Keadby

Rochdale 2013
North Muskham to Keadby
27th August 2013

45 Miles - 2 Locks - 8 Hours

 This was the the big day of the trip, the day we venture out onto the tideway and make the big jump north into the South Yorkshire Navigations.

The Muskham Ferry inn

We have undertaken this trip before, but its never something we undertake lightly. Narrowboats are a bit out of their environment on the tideway and beyond Torksey the places of safety in the event of a mechanical breakdown are few and far between.

Tideway Cormorants

We were up at 7.00am at which time the fog hung heavy on the river, so thick you coundn't see the far bank from our mooring at the pub and North Muskham. This all cleared by 8.00am and so we set off for Cromwell lock a mile or so downstream. The gates opened as we approached and we were in the first pen of the day, leading three narrowboats, which staked line astern all the way to Torksey.

Negotiating the "icebergs" at Cromwell Lock

We had to pause at Torksey, waiting for the incoming flood tide during which time I had a look at the engine "just in case". In some ways I wish I hasn't - there was a pool of oil under the gearbox which i cleared up and added some oil just in case. I was then condemnes to the next five hours of running the engine hard and wondering if the leak had repeated / got worse. Not the sort of discovery you want to make as you follow the bottom 35 miles of the Trent through Gainsborough.

Gainsborough Bridge

We set off on the second leg at 12.45 following 2 narrowboats and a widebeam, punching the tide for 2 hours. We therefore made slow progress till the tide turned at Knaith, just before Gainsborough after which we picked up the pace. We pressed on steadily at 1800 pm, our effective max running speed before the engine starts to overheat. We were not alone, on the VHF we heard that one of the boats astern was running hot. Wand'ring Bark has a good little Beta 38 engine with loads of grunt at low speeds, but her bluff bows don't lend themselves for fast river running.

Stockwith Lock

Its a nervy time, pushing the engine beyond its normal levels of activity. I stand on the stern listening to every rattle, hum and vibration - has anything changed - is all still ok? are the engine mounts holding up? how is that dodgey stern gland, are the injectors getting worse - its a paranoids paradise... And if the boats mechanics hols out, what about the shifting sand bars and the masses of debris which surges up and and down these lower sections - every log a potential hazard for the unwary.

Keadby - end of the line on the Tidal Trent

But all things come to en end and by 6.00pm the big ships of Keadby came into view and by 6.30pm we were safely out of Keadby Lock and moored on the visitor moorings surrounded in a sea of duckweed which make you feel like you are moored in the middle of a pea green lawn.

Keadby and Stainforth Canal - a sea of green

Phew, the risky bit of the trip is over.