Friday, 24 July 2015

... And then there was none - Stranded on the Rochdale canal

Boater and Son statue at Sowerby Bridge

We had been moored in the basin at Sowerby Bridge for nearly 2 weeks while we visited family, but on returning to the boat I was itching to get going again.

Sowerby Bridge is at the start of the Rochdale canal so it was to be a new canal for us to explore.

While refuelling, we discovered that 6 boats from Shire Cruises were about to be going out in our direction so we thought we would go through the Tuel Lane Deep lock and tie up until the flotilla had passed. We spent a pleasant afternoon chatting to Billy, the lock keeper and watching the world - and 6 boats filled with excited holiday makers - go by.

Tuesday morning we had a hearty breakfast in the marketplace before setting off. Two full English breakfasts plus coffee for a total of £5.60 It was almost as good as the price we paid in Spain!

Finally, we set off in good spirits. The first mile and a half was mostly through the edge of industrial land with residential properties clinging precariously to respectability, but soon the countryside started to open up and we were rewarded with lovely views.

We had mapped out an easy day with our first stop being Hebden Bridge and although we had been warned that in places the canal was shallow just before that, we were sure that we had at least three miles and two locks before we came to the shallow pound.

Three miles along the Rochdale canal, we reached lock 5. I noticed one of the hire boats moored between locks 5 and 6 and thought that they hadn't got very far the day before. We soon discovered that there was a good reason for that. Five of the six boats were stuck in the shallow pound and the sixth boat had tied up just short of lock 6.


They were the lucky ones. Staff from Shire Cruises reversed their boat back through lock 5, turned them around at the winding and they were soon on their way back to Sowerby Bridge with the prospect of continuing their holiday in a different direction.

The cill on lock 6 had been badly damaged and was leaking water. This must have been happening for a few days, steadily getting worse which would explain the shallow pound. Finally, the lock failed and the pound above it drained, trapping the 5 boats in the process.

Although we could go no further, we still had water under us (unlike this poor boat pictured here) so we moored on the lock operation and walked the three miles into Hebden Bridge for the afternoon. If nothing else, we had time!

Returning later that afternoon, we discovered that the stretch of the canal (pound) that we were in seemed to loosing water too, so we reversed through lock 5 and moored below the lock. just as well because by the next morning the pound was well down and we would have been hanging on our mooring ropes.

By Wednesday mid-day (22nd July), CRT had filled the stretch above lock 6 to free the stranded hire-boats. All very well for them but we couldn't move because we were the wrong side of the failed lock 6.

Locking up the boat, we took the bus into Hebden Bridge with a rucksack full of laundry. I could at least get that done while we were forced to wait.

Stop Locks being inserted
More bad news awaited us when we returned. CRT indicated that it wouldn't be much before Friday evening before they had repaired the lock. By that time our fresh water tank would be running very low. "Not a problem," said Paul from CRT, "I'll get Billy to bring you fresh water tomorrow." With that problem out of the way, all we had to do was sit tight and wait.

True to his word, Billy arrived the next morning with 8 litres of bottled water. That solved the drinking water problem but we still had to be careful with our domestic water if we were going to be stuck for a while.

Haworth Main Street

On Thursday 23rd July Ian and I set off to enjoy the surrounding countryside. Haworth is Bronte country and a bus ride over the moors took us there.

The parsonage - Inspirational home of the Bronte sisters

We spent a lovely day steeped in the history of Haworth and the famous Bronte family. Beside the Bronte museum, we wandered around the restored Parsonage, the family home of Patrick Bronte (father), Barnwell Bronte (brother)and the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

After a full day, we caught the bus back to Hebden bridge. Expecting to see some progress, we were disappointed to find that the scaffolding was still being erected. Work hadn't even been started on the cill problem.

Oh well, we knew that we would be stranded for another full day at the very least.

Friday 24th July, 3 days after having been stopped at Lock 6 on the Rochdale canal, we decided to enjoy a 'Steam Adventure' along the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

Taking the bus again over the south Pennine hills which gave us glorious views over the moors, we headed for the town of Oxenhope. In the 1800's Oxenhope along with Haworth was a working village with the main industry being the production of Worsted yarn and cloth (Worsteds were fine cloths using long-fibre wool). Today the typical long, narrow window structure of the handloom weavers cottages is still evident and even more modern houses are being built with the old architectural feature.

Ian bought two 'Rovers' tickets which gave us a full day of hop-on hop-off activity on the steam train as well as access to the vintage bus and entrance to the museums at Ingrow. We had a fabulous day.

On returning to Hebden bridge we were delighted to find that the lock 6 cill had finally been repaired and the scaffolding was being removed. Billy phoned us later in the evening to tell us that the canal would be opened on Saturday morning - four days after the problem was found with the cill on lock 6.

With our heads full of Bronte history, steam trains and railway museums, we look forward to continuing on our way along the Rochdale Canal.

I am pleased that we were forced to slow down even further and look around us. We may not have discovered as much as we did if we had sailed right on past Hebden Bridge.

A huge  'Thank You' to Billy, CRT lock keeper at Tuel Lane Deep Lock who looked after our welfare!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Calder & Hebble to Sowerby Bridge

After the shallow conditions of the Huddersfield canals, it was with a sigh of relief that we felt some water beneath us on the Calder & Hebble navigation. Almost half of the navigation follows the course of the River Calder with short man-made stretches of locks and by-weirs, providing the depth of water that we enjoyed.

The locks (as they were on the Huddersfield broad Canal) are short - just 57ft long while our boat is 60ft - and it would take us all our concentration to diagonally lock through them. Ian had removed the bow and stern fenders and still we only had mere inches to spare.

The Calder & Hebble canal is almost unique in that it requires the use of  a hand spike as a way of operating the ground, and gate paddles on the locks. Ian elected to operate the 15 locks while I took the helm. A few days earlier, we had met John and Shirley Winton who had come from this navigation and since they had no further use for their hand spike, they gave it to us to save us purchasing our own. Thank you John and Shirley!

Following the river valley, the rural outlook was unspoiled and it was only the distant rumble of the motorway with an occasional aqueduct and viaduct hidden alongside stone bridges that made one realise that we were actually never far from urbanisation.

We had been notified of a problem with the Guillotine Lock at Salterhebble so we tied up on the lock operation mooring and Ian went to investigate wile I made some coffee. The CRT fellows had a similar idea and asked if we wouldn't mind if they finished their 'brew' before helping us through the lock. Well we were in no hurry and I took the opportunity to ask questions about the area, the unusual lock and the problems associated with it. I was even asked if I would like a job at CRT  since I showed such interest. Um... 'Job' verses boating in the summer?? I think not - but thanks for asking!

Following the notes in the Nicholson Guide, we headed for Elland Basin to moor for the night. with an expectation of "tasetfully restored buildings and gardens" that were "worth more than a fleeting glance" we thought we were in for a treat. However, the visitor mooring was alongside a pub - convenient but also not too busy - and the basin was crammed with long term mooring boats so there was little to see. We enjoyed a drink at the pub while chatting to the friendly landlady before returning to our boat and cooking supper.
Note to self - although the Nicolson's guide is updated regularly, you cannot always believe what they say!

Ian had found a marina in Sowerby Bridge that offered overnight and visitor mooring and having decided to take a few days to visit family, we headed for the basin. It was in the restored basin that we found this delightful 'Boatman and Son' statue. The mooring was not bad and with a charge of just £25.00 per week, we booked two weeks. To put this into context, we have paid anything from £10.00 to £18.00 per night for visitor mooring in the past. We also had the option of an electrical hook-up so decided to leave the boat's service batteries on charge while we were away.

We hired a car through Enterprise hire car company since we are guaranteed of being collected wherever we are. At the appointed time, the car arrived and we locked up the boat, loaded up the car and set off for Brough to visit my Aunt and Uncle.

While we were there, we spoiled Aunt Shiela - and us - with an 'Afternoon Tea' at an hotel alongside the Humber River (it was her 86th birthday within the week and she certainly doesn't look it)...

... and the following day, Saturday, cousin Tony and his lovely other half, Jo arranged for us all to meet for lunch.

We had a wonderful time and all too soon it was time to hit the road again!

Next stop was Caversham, Reading to visit daughter Jo and family. I have missed the children - Hollie, now 3 1/2 and Elliott, 18 months - so it was an enjoyable (if somewhat exhausting) visit. We enjoyed a walk along the River Thames and spent time in the play park before an afternoon at the 'Soft Play. Here the children get their revenge on parents - and grandparents -as they have us running in and out of their purpose-built play area. I did sleep well after all that exercise and I hope that I burned off some of the extra calories from the week before.

Returning to the boat, we had a few days in the basin while we waited for the boat safety examiner. It gave us time to get some maintenance jobs done (Ian had to put the bow and stern fenders back on while I caught up the washing and cleaning) as well as explore Sowerby Bridge before we once again hit the waterways - this time the Rochdale Navigation.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Beauty and the Beast

The Huddersfield Canal is divided into two separate sections, the Huddersfield Broad - 3 1/2 miles and nine locks which was the original section, and the Huddersfield Narrow - 20 miles and 74 locks - which runs over the Pennines and includes the mighty Standedge Tunnel; Each has its own set of challenges for the modern boater.

The Huddersfield Broad runs from the Calder & Hebble navigation at Cooper bridge to the centre of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire and was originally known as the Cooper Canal. Opened in 1776 it proved to be a lifeline for the rapidly developing textile industry in Huddersfield, bringing coal in and shipping completed textiles out.
The Huddersfield Narrow, fully opened in 1811 linked the southern end of the broad canal to the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals on the Lancashire side of the Pennines, at Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester. The canal was designed to take advantage of the valleys of the Rivers Tame and Colne but it would still require a tunnel under the Pennines at Standedge. Its 20 mile length would have 74 locks, 32 West of the tunnel and 42 east of the tunnel. This was to provide a more direct link between Leeds and Manchester than the existing Rochdale Canal.

Intended to be a 'cut above the rest' the daring plan of the Huddersfield Canal almost failed to become reality. Although the canal itself was completed in a reasonable amount of time, the tunnel was beset with problems right from the beginning and the whole project bankrupted many of its investors before Thomas Telford was invited to take control. Rather than the planned 5 years to construct, It would be 17 years before the tunnel and thus the canal was finally opened.
Due to spending cuts (sounds familiar doesn't it) the intended towpath through the tunnel wasn't built so boatman had to 'leg' the boat through the tunnel by lying on boards across the front of the boat and walking along the roof of the tunnel. This would take up to four hours. After the canal fell into decline it lay as a 'muddy ditch' and was in some places built over until it was restored and re-opened in 2001.

We turned onto the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Ashton- Under-Lyne, traveling east out of Portland Basin towards Stalybridge. Passing through 'Asda Tunnel' the short underpass that brings you almost directly under the supermarket, we were surprised to note that there was no mooring, oh well, Tesco is a only a mile away with plenty of mooring so we decided to stop there. Asda, you have really missed a trick!

An interesting tale is that it was in the Newmarket Tavern in Stalybridge that composer Jack Judge wrote and first sang the song 'Its a long way too Tipperary' that became popular among soldiers in the First World War.

We had originally thought that we would moor in Stalybridge, but we were warned against that as boats have had stones thrown at them and although mooring was plentiful, we noticed that even the 'continuous moorers' don't stop there and that is a bad sign!

As we navigated through the town, we got stuck under a road bridge where a supermarket trolley had been dumped into the canal. We had to drag it out from underneath the boat before we could pass. I noticed that the £1 coin used to secure the trolley was still in its slot so I took great pleasure in liberating it for my trouble, and didn't even bother to move the trolley from the towpath - I was so angry!

On the outskirts of Stalybridge we met up with working boat 'Hazel'. We had been trailing behind her since we had left Bugsworth basin, so when we found her moored at her heritage site, we stopped to have a chat. John Sargent, the TV journalist and presenter had used narrowboat Hazel while he was filming a new episode of 'Barging around Britain' however the hard working crew had only scathing comments to make about the celebrity and his shameful treatment of them. Oh well - that showbiz!

On the western side of the Pennines, close to Stalybridge, at Hartshead Power Station, the canal runs through the legs of an Electricity Pylon. The pylon was erected before the canal was restored and the only route for the restoration was through its legs.

It was the right decision to continue on through Stalybridge as the mooring before Lock 15W in Mossley was delightful. Although a little shallow and therefore we were not able to moor snugly alongside the bank, we had a lovely view over the canal with a backdrop of the majestic Pennines -reminding us of the hard work to come. We stayed an extra day in order to explore and appreciate the Lancashire countryside.

With the Pennines rearing up ahead, we followed the navigation through its beautiful if somewhat tortuous path towards Uppermill where once again, we stopped to explore and visit the museum. Sadly the museum was undergoing renovation so the majority of displays had been dismantled.

Beyond Uppermill, the Saddleworth Viaduct that carries the Manchester - Huddersfield railway crosses over the canal between locks 22W and 23W before the waterway, still climbing relentlessly, emerges alongside the railway line. Together they pick their way across stunning moorland as we ascend the last few miles to the summit.

Tired and aching from the operation of the stiff lock paddles, we arrived at Lock 31W. Thinking that we only had one more lock to go before we could stop for the night, we were pleasantly surprised to hear the proprietor of the Ice cream shop advise that it was a better mooring before the last lock. We didn't need a second invitation. we moored up and went back for a delicious ice-cream and even had lunch - It turned out that Grandpa Green's Ice Creams is more than just an ice cream shop!

Moored between Geoffrey Dickens Lock and Summit Lock

Arriving ahead of schedule, we had to wait for Monday before we could go through the Standedge tunnel. Passage is by appointment only and CRT provide a pilot to take you through. I can think of worse places to stay!

With beautiful moorland all around, an ice cream shop in shouting distance and beautiful sunshine, what more could you ask for?

The Standedge tunnel has its limitations with regard to the dimension of craft going through. We knew that we would have to dismantle the cratch and take down the roof box, so while I cooked a traditional Sunday Lunch, Ian got to work emptying the roof box, stowing the bicycles in the back cabin and taking down the cratch By the time we were scheduled to go through the tunnel, we were more than ready.

The railway shares the tunnel, albeit through a separate section. It would take us more than two hours to go through while the train pictured here would only take two minutes.

The CRT guides were very friendly and knowledgeable. once they had gone through all the health and safety procedures and checked the boat dimensions against their gauges, we were all set to go, however we had to wait for a boat coming the other way before we set off.

The tunnel was amazing. the colours of the different types of rock, the natural rock against brick built sections and the tool marks where the navvies dug the tunnel by hand all contributed to the magnificence.

Well we had climbed the mountain -at least the Pennines anyway - and conquered the tunnel, so it was almost an anti-climax as we started the long steady descent towards Huddersfield. The lock operation was no less arduous as the navigation drops rapidly through 42 locks over 8 miles.

At lock 37E, Smudgees Lock, the Blue Peter logo is emblazoned on the balance beam. - that is not something you see every day. It turned out that the TV presenter of the longest-running children's magazine program 'Blue Peter' had rolled up his sleeves  and got stuck into making a new lock gate and then fitting it with the help of the CRT staff.

At lock 31 the beautiful gardens that were tended right alongside the lock was a pleasure to look at. I have to say that besides the beautifully tended gardens, I noticed that the friendly people along the towpath were more than happy to chat. Something you certainly don't experience in a town. People stopped to tell us about a pub that served good food, a bakery renowned for its outstanding bread and even a pie shop that has the best pork pies. It really is uplifting!

Lock 24E is an unusual guillotine lock. As I was winding the bridge's hydraulic system a lady asked if she could have a go. I happily gave her my windlass and while she endlessly wound that windlass to raise the guillotine she told me how she had always wanted to hire a narrowboat and take a trip. Well we all have a similar story about 'always wanting to do...' something and I say 'Just Do It' life is too short not to.

After an exhausting day, we stopped at Slathwaite but not before we had navigated some very low bridges. The roof box only just slipped beneath them as the box cover grazed the underside. I found that I was holding my breath as I steered 'Winedown' through them.

We found suitable mooring opposite a pallet manufacturing company and although they worked late shifts, we slept too well to hear the work noise. A few hours after we moored, narrowboat Horace owned by John and Shirley Winton drew up in front of us having come up the navigation from the opposite direction. All any of us could manage in the draining heat was a brief conversation as we were all exhausted but we made up for it the following evening. We dined together on the front deck of our boat and it was nearly midnight and a few bottles of wine later before we parted company.

Thursday morning (2nd July) we bid John and Shirley farewell and set off on the last leg towards Huddersfield , they meanwhile set off heading for the summit. Despite all the horror stories that we had heard about getting stuck due to lack of water, we made it to lock 2 without incident. mind you, we were taking our water with us as we descended through the last 20 locks.

In some places, the water was so plentiful that water was coming over the lock gates.

When we reached lock 11 a fella was sitting in a deckchair on the towpath, sunning himself. as we approached, he got up and opened the lock gate in front of us, he then went on to set and open the next two locks. All that just for the chance to chat. How great some people can be.

Our luck didn't hold, however.Between lock 2and 1 (the last of the day and the last of the Huddersfield Narrow canal) we stuck fast in an old lock chamber and to make matters worse, the straight lock sides rose 10ft above the boat so we couldn't even get off the boat. We were well and truly stuck. We had to call out Canal and River Trust (CRT) to rescue us. As most Englishmen do, when in difficulty, make a pot of tea! I made tea while waiting for CRT to flush more water down from the lock above to re-float us.

Just as we started to slowly inch forward again, the heavens opened and we got drenched, but our story didn't end there. A man (Alan was his name) sheltering from the pouring rain below a bridge had witnessed our plight and as we slowly thrust our way through the clinging clay lined canal he opened the lock gates in front of us to ensure that we didn't have to stop and thereby get stuck again. He too was soaked to the skin, but he said that he knew if we had lost momentum, we would have struggled to get going again, so he ignored his own comfort in order to help us. Talk about the milk of human kindness.

And so it was exhausted and soaked that we thankfully tied up in Aspley Basin, the end of the Huddersfield narrow and the start of the Huddersfield Broad canal.

We met up with Ian's cousins at the pub in Aspley. it has been years since we last saw them so despite our exhaustion, we soon got our second wind and had a lovely evening.

I have to admit that I was very pleased to see the end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and hope that we don't have to go back over it again.

Monday 6th July, after having spent the weekend in Huddersfield, we set off down the Huddersfield broad canal. The first bridge that we came to was an unusual lift bridge dating back to 1865.

The locks on this broad stretch of the canal system are short (57.5ft and Winedown is 60ft). We knew that we could get through by putting the boat into the lock diagonally, but we still faced our new challenge with a little trepidation.However, once we had passed through the first of the nine short locks and worked out the technique, the rest was plain sailing.

The last three and a half miles of the Huddersfield canal passes through a mix of industrial buildings with a few green sports fields to break the urbanisation. The canal itself was full of litter and therefore didn't present its best profile so it was with some relief that we turned onto the Calder & Hebble navigation at Cooper Bridge and said farewell to the Huddersfield Canal. It has been a good experience and a lot of hard work but I can't say that I would be in a hurry to return.