Deluge day

Linthwaite to Slaithwaite: 1 mile, 6 locks. Friday 22nd June.

There had been a moment yesterday when the Cleddau crew contemplated delaying departure from Huddersfield on account of the rainy conditions, but a weather forecast check predicted an even wetter day today – how absolutely right it was!  Moored up safely now since before midday in Slaithwaite (remember, pronounced Slouwgh –et) this truly has been the wettest day ever in Cleddau’s cruising history. The Relief Crew  were with us on the Kennet and Avon a decade or more back and torrential conditions then gave rise to the term  “a Hungerford”. If on a scale of 1-5 Hungerford became 5 then the scale must now be extended to 8 for “a Huddersfield”.

For those readers less interested in the boaty details of today’s journey hop on a few paragraphs to read an impression of Slaithwaite.

Last night’s mooring had been in an area where our greatest anxiety was that the pound would become shallow and the boat would either sit at an angle or that it would be difficult to move off the notorious “Huddersfield shelf”. Not so – this morning saw the water level rising fast and about to top the tow path. “River conditions,” pronounced the Captain. Lock 16E was not far ahead. One down, five to go. The next stretch, in front of Titanic Mill, had been shallow last week, now the water was plentiful.  Boatwif hastened to lock 17E, struggled to cross the road in front of the lock, there to find a British Waterways team digging out the blocked bywash channel, but the water from the upper pound was finding its own way to the bywash outlet!  “Lots of water below lock 16,” said Boatwif.

“Yeah, we’ve been sending it down so we can unblock this,” one said, striding off to close the top paddle.

In sailed the Captain: “This is almost a Woolhampton moment,” he yelled.  At least four readers will understand the Woolhampton (K& A) reference… The Captain’s words later: “The bywash was a torrent rising 2 inches above the canal from the right. It then bounced off the towpath stone wall and sent a current hard in the opposite direction. First the bow swung uncontrollably to the right, the steerer corrected with hard left and full power, then with full left control on the bow hit the bywash, further driving it hard left. Repeat for the stern as the 60ft boat navigated this swirling set of cross currents. Full rudder in opposite directions 4 times and max power with the lock walls 20ft away!”

Kind BW man helped with the lock. Onto the back deck got Boatwif, the Captain walking alongside. But of course the pound between 17E and 16E had been lowered because of the blocked bywash. Shallow moments; more shallow moments. “Keep the power on,” bellowed the Captain, from under his large umbrella. The boat staggered fitfully towards Lock 18E, there to discover a boat coming down. Backwards, a long reverse, tree branches obliterating what little visibility there was. Somehow, somehow, the boat was held off and kept afloat… the gates opened, somehow these two boats must pass, despite the narrow channel, despite the spuming bywash, despite the shallow edges… But pass they did, with not a touch, Cleddau grateful for sanctuary inside Lock 18, though the other boat struggled to move away down the pound, its bow thruster not helpful, the Captain lending all his weight to shove out the stern.

The remaining 3 locks provided less challenge – A BW lengthsman did the work at Lock 20, and apart from the small cruiser here at Slaithwaite last week the mooring area was empty. A little further along is the Fire Station, the practice victim drowned in the rain! Wetter than ever before the crew tied up – and below decks stripped off the wet layers!

Slaithwaite is a village, sporting a couple of hardware shops , a couple of cafes, a small Co-op, a florist, a combined local churches charity shop, a small bridal shop, a sort of outfitters’ – and a (sort of) bookshop. It sits at the bottom of a valley, the River Colne racing through it, a railway line paralleling the canal at some height on the north side, the A62 Huddersfield  – Oldham road on the south.  Road traffic seems heavy as there is a busy bridge over canal and river, across which traffic races.  Apparently the canal restoration project involved reconstructing 656 yards (600 metres) of new canal along the old line that was infilled in 1956. “Slathwaite now has a unique waterfront as the only village in Britain with a canal along its main street.” (Geo map) Boatwif yearns to get out and photograph the area but the camera truly doesn’t deserve a drenching. (Would you believe, a grand total of 5 photos all day!) Back to Slaithwaite: after mooring up and changing into dry clothing, Boatwif and the Captain sallied forth, in spare waterproofs and boots, under umbrellas, resigned to their second soaking of the day. After observing what there was to be observed refuge was taken in a cafe, where the friendliest woman ever served home made beef and tomato soup with crusty roll for £2.45. The range of food was wide and we were bemused to witness the difference between “take-out” and “sit-in” prices. Wasn’t there a row about Cornish pasty prices recently…?

After soup and a coffee we scuttled along the street to the now open bookshop. Chaotic – barely foot space – jigsaws piled roof high – boxes and boxes of stuff – too much musty printed matter to find anything! Boatwif began a backward retreat, then in steamed the Captain, jolly in tone.  From behind a window space something moved and a voice spoke. There sat a lady, making noises about her stock, her cellar, some mention of her landrover, a haybale, some carrots and her pigs… If a desirable read had been spotted high up only she could have reached (regulations) but she “isn’t good on a ladder” (and anyway, there was no space for a ladder). The Captain found a map, Boatwif found a book for her and one for Cal Guy Jnr… more casual conversation, then a backward exit made, the lady never moving from her seat.

The afternoon was spent battened down on the boat, a newspaper to read and comfort drawn from the fact that despite the Met Office Amber Warning  of rain we are warm and dry!

AMBER WARNING of RAIN – Northwest England

Spells of heavy rain are expected to move north across the area during Thursday and Friday, with some large totals likely to build up by later on Friday. There is increasing concern that some of the more populated parts. NW England could well experience some exceptionally wet conditions on Friday with winds gusting to over 50 MPH. The public should be prepared for the risk of flooding.

Valid 0005 Friday to 2359 Friday.

Tomorrow’s plans? Depends on the weather…

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