On Thursday we set off on what was to turn into a bit of a nightmare trip. Two boats had already left when Patrick knocked on our door around 9am, and we said we’d really appreciate sharing the days’ travails with him and Shelley (not that we knew their names at that point, but boy we got to know them during the coming day!).
We’d heard the Rochdale is renowned for water shortage issues, been warned we may encounter some rather menacing characters, and told there could be some rubbish around.
We discovered to our dismay that the stories were actually generous – apart from the people. Everyone we met along the way was friendly and happy to chat, and seemed quite embarrassed and ashamed of the problems we were facing.
The Rochdale Canal
The Rochdale Canal runs for 33 miles between Mancheter and Sowerby Bridge, in west Yorkshire. In the 1950s, the canal stopped carrying any traffic – apart from the nine locks out of Manchester onto the Ashton Canal which is part of ‘The Cheshire Ring’. Restoration work in the 1970s meant the stretch from Littleborough to Sowerby Bridge opened in the 1980s.
However, it would be another 20 years before the whole length was navigable. The section from Littleborough to the junction of the Ashton Canal, only re-opened in 2002 after a huge volunteer restoration project. Twenty four locks were refurbished and 12 new road bridges built, as well as massive dredging of the route.
We have no wish to denigrate the waterway, or insult the people who worked so tirelessly to get it to the point that it’s at, but we do feel obliged to share our (not so pleasant) experiences along some of it’s route, in the hope that continuing efforts, by people like CRT, will be able to make improvements where possible and keep the path navigable.
We cannot deny the struggles we encountered travelling from New Islington to Littleborough, but we are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to travel on this canal.
We’d think it was mainly the fact that we sit more deeply than other boats, but others we’ve talked to along the route can relate similar experiences.
Locks 81 to 64 – a series of hurdles
The canal seemed extremely shallow, with an obviously lowered water level. You could tell from the line on the sides how far down it was.
You can see the mud at the sides of the canal in the distance
As I mentioned, AreandAre sits a little lower in the water than other narrowboats. Our draft is already about 30″, and the stock from The Home Brew Boat on board, and a bit of our own beer, cider and wine, may also make some difference.
At lock 75, Slaters Higher Lock, I drove in the entrance and got firmly stuck on something – it turned out to be the cill. As the pound above was already low, our only option was to call CRT to come and rescue us. Shelley walked along her gunnel to throw a rope to the CRT help, and I moved from our boat to theirs as it was moving – at which point AreandAre extricated herself and moved in. Hah! So my weight leaving had tipped the balance. Oh goodness. That’s not a good look!
Sadly neither of us took a photo of the incident.
Following this, there was so little water in the pound above, we were told to sit inside the lock for over an hour while CRT went ahead and ‘found’ extra water for us to enable us to continue. Which we did. For a long while.
Side by side sitting patiently waiting for news of progress
This chap was a sorry sight by the lock
Barry and one of the three CRT rescuers of the day
The balance of us or our companions (NB Spined Loach) getting stuck on the bottom of the canal, was swayed very much in our ‘favour’! We felt rather embarrassed by this, and suspected they’d have made the journey far quicker without us. They very generously stated later in the day they’d enjoyed their toil far more with us, and we’d kept the whole thing lighthearted rather than laborious. Bless them.
One of the few of our companions’ breaches – Barry looks on helplessly as Shelly finds solutions to re-float the boat
Barry lost count of the number of times he found himself down the weed hatch scraping, pulling and cutting all manner of debris from our prop. Once again this was disproportionate to Patrick’s visits, because our derriere was closer to the canal’s bottom. He found various items of clothing, a curtain, shreds of plastic bags, fishing lines, and goodness knows what. Patrick at one point pulled off a duvet complete with cover!
Duvet and cover rescued from Patrick’s prop – seeing is believing
Down into the depths he goes – what will he find?
And again, and again … Around 8 times during the day
The challenge with removing so much stuff from our prop, is that it’s quite awkward to get to – or so Barry tells me! I’ve never been down there, nor do I intend to. He has to lean over the ridge on the rear step to access the hole, then there’s a bar around the hatch. So despite putting a cushion over the step to soften the area, he still ended up with bruises around his upper abdomen by the end of the day.
Having removed said articles, we bagged them up. We don’t see the point of leaving such rubbish anywhere near the cut – all that happens is someone throws it back in again for a future unfortunate soul to get clogged round their prop. Finding piles of similar extrications at the lock side, I got a couple of black bags and gingerly picked it up – with a rubber glove on mind you. It all sat on the roof of our boat until we found the sanitary station a couple of locks above Littleborough.
Piles of discarded crap from other boaters props, left thoughtlessly at the lock-side
If every boater did the same, maybe there’d be less to contend with?
It was unnerving every few yards to feel something solid in the dark murkiness below, as the boat lurched up and down. Just imagining what the hurdle could be each time was quite fascinating – a bike maybe? A shopping trolley? Possibly a fridge freezer – someone had tweeted to watch out for them a few days before we began this epic journey. They kidded me not!
Actually, if truth be known, I felt my stomach churn at every bump and bang. I have this possibly irrational fear of the boat tipping over when it leans so much. Barry reassures me this is highly unlikely. I do my best to believe him.
Barry’s shots of the day
The scenery surrounding our journey on Thursday wasn’t the most salubrious, but Barry’s still managed to find a few choice shots …
Shelley locking, while Patrick and I do our best to keep the boats ship shape in the depths below – they both got rather bruised and battered too
Another low pound, trying to stay afloat and avoid the sides and relentless rubbish lurking beneath the surface
Remnants of the cotton mills of times gone by
Still smiling – that’s a deep one to fill! You can make out some of the rubbish behind Shelley
It’s all a matter of perspective
Finally mooring up at ‘The Rose of Lancaster‘, at the end of a very long day, Patrick asked me on a scale of 1 to 10, how much had I enjoyed the day? I said ’20’! He was rather taken aback at this. I explained that although there’d been many times of despair and despondency, it all made for a lot of interesting memories and tales to tell.
There’s a great YouTube movie called ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change‘, featuring Wayne Dyer. And that’s basically what it’s all about – perspective. If you can learn to see things differently, it’s possible to control your happiness to a far greater extent than allowing the vagaries of life to get you down.
We’d gone through, albeit slowly and surely, 18 locks. The distance travelled was a mere 6 miles. It took us almost 12 hours! Crikey! This canal may go down in my book as even worse than our experience of Blackburn in August 2009 – and that’s saying something!