Tuesday, 15 August 2017

New Islington

Today's Canal - Rochdale

We always knew that today would involve a lot of locks. Although many parts of this stretch have the appearance that would suggest that we would normally be content to moor overnight, a lot of the towpath has no green edges for a mooring spike but, more importantly, there are few places where a boat can get anywhere near the bank. For the person steering, it is a constant battle to keep the boat in the centre of the channel and any deviation can have unfortunate consequences. As a result, where we moored is about the only sensible stopping point before the centre of Manchester. (We did meet one boat coming up that had moored near the centre of Failsworth but that was out of necessity as they had a rather badly fouled prop)

So, we set the alarm for seven and made ready in double quick time, ready to start drawing pins at five minutes to eight! As we cast off, so did the other boat that had moored at the Irk Aqueduct and they clearly expected to share locks going down.

Jess and Mike set the first lock and all was going well until both boats attempted to exit the lock in parallel. The other boat opted to make speed ahead with the result that Christine was left stuck on the mud.

However, by this time Mike had walked on the short distance to the Grimshaw Lane Lift Bridge. He had it open ready for our lock companions to pass through but there was no sight of Alchemy. Jess arrived report the problem and so Mike decided that the longs queues of traffic either side of the bridge meant that he would have to close it before sorting out the boat problem. Down came the bridge deck but the barriers solidly refused to raise. He tried three times and eventually they opened - no doubt the 'bridge closed' sensor is a little unawake at this time of day!

Once the road was opened, Mike returned to the previous lock and found that the boat was well and truly stuck. The boat pole may no impact and ropes pulled from each and every direction were equally unsuccessful until three suited men on their way to their office kindly offered to assist and the combined strength eventually shifted Alchemy sufficiently that it could free itself.

Back now to the bridge which again happily opened to let Christine through but once more failed to close and created long lines of rather unhappy motorists. So, Christine rang through to CaRT emergency number and was reporting the problem when, at yet another attempt of raising and lowering, the barriers suddenly lifted. Hooray! Overall we probably lost 45 minutes through this sequence of events . . .

There was now a long level pound as the canal threaded its way through several road crossings including a motorway. This short tunnel may not look much but it is the result of a lot of negotiation and skilled planning and ingenuity that made it eventually possible - the motorways of course grew up whilst the canal was closed to traffic and there seemed no prospect of it ever opening again.

The long pound came to an end underneath an old railway bridge, now taken lover by the new tram system.

Although the day had started grey, with a short time when it looked as if rain was heading our way, it soon became very pleasant which lasted for the rest of the day.

By now the other boat was well ahead of us and so we went through the next few on our own. However, Jess was now well into the swing of things and we made good time.

A couple of pounds had signs warning of  under water obstructions - the sign was clear enough but the line of poles after were barely above the water and perhaps cannot even be spotted in this picture.

We eventually caught up with the other boat which had itself had to stop to clear wire from around its prop.

Lock 69 at Newton Heath had this mechanism for just one of the bottom gates, meaning that there was only room for one gate paddle on the opposite side. However, it was a double gearing and took 117 full turns of the windlass to lower.

Newton Heath once had a swing bridge whose remains can be seen just before this new footbridge.

Several locks now had a different bottom gate mechanism. Some were hard and some were easy.

There was a lot of water coming down the bywashes - at a couple of points this resulted in the towpath being inundated; at the first, much to the disgust of a boat coming up - not sure what they expected us to do about it as one lock-ful had already been used to fill the lock.

The locks are often located in what seem quite rural - or at least very green - situations.

For the second half of the locks we were joined by an unofficial volunteer who proved very useful - at least he did not try to tell us what we should be doing. He seems to travel around various canals and plans to be on the Wigan flight tomorrow. Alas, we never did get his name.

Anthony's Lock 77 is especially deep - it appears that it was raised considerably during the restoration and, we understand, combined the job of two locks.

In the view behind Lock 80 is one of the many splendid mills that have been converted to other uses. Not only do they give cause to think about the hard work that went on inside the mills - with very young children joining with their elders in difficult conditions - but also the large number of bricks that were made in order to build them.

By now we were really motoring but it was with some relief that our final lock at Butler Lane came into sight.

The only time we have navigated the Rochdale before was in 2013 and our memory was of bow difficult this first day's section was. However, there was little to complain about this time although perhaps the amount of water coming down the bywashes and the benefit of previous experience helped. Several boaters we met earlier were very caustic about it - there are plenty of other places at least as difficult and they do not all have the benefit of the scenery. There is little industrial dereliction or urban deprivation close to the canal.

The canal then narrowed and was hemmed in by increasingly tall buildings. However we soon arrived at the turn into New Islington Marina and we felt fortunate that there was a visitor mooring available. The other boat, having left the last lock saying that they were carrying on ahead, turned in ahead of us and went straight to the service bay. After completing a pump out they opted to moor behind us - the closest anyone has ever moored to us and they enjoyed the sunshine sitting on their front deck looking straight into our back door!

By now it was shortly after 2 o'clock and Mike was famished - Jess had managed her lunch on the go and Christine had snacked. It was a while later that we got around to the rubbish and elsan - going back across to the water tap can wait! The caretaker of the site proved an interesting mine of information - he has worked here for nine years, ever since worked started on the Urban Splash regeneration and well before the marina itself opened.

Christine amused herself by entertaining a group of three young students from Denmark who are training to be Urban Planners and are doing a case study of New Islington - they were interested in life aboard a narrow boat. But the also wanted to hear about boat communities and asp they were pointed towards one of the residential boats that has been temporarily re-located whilst remedial works are done of their mooring arm. At least this gave them a different view on boating things. A lot of work needs to be done on the whole site and one story is that the original architects failed to take into account of the effect of water coming down the locks as boats arrive. This can raise the water level several inches which then seeps down behind the coping stones which were never meant to be waterproof! As a result a lot of the ground under the edges has been eroded.

6.8 Miles - 18 Locks

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