Rest day at Marsden

(Dispatched from Diggle, on Wednesday morning)

Marsden to Standedge Tunnel, 0.6 mile

            Sometimes it’s not what you say – it’s what you can hear… Tuesday was a rest day at Marsden, awaiting Wednesday’s Standedge tunnel passage. When you’re boating, travelling, especially in a heavily locked area, activity dominates. You concentrate on safety, procedure at the locks, the progress of the boat and what you can see around you. The eyes work hard. But on a “rest day” other senses tune in to the different environment.

Take sound, for example. Last night as Boatwif and the Captain sat in the Railway pub waiting for an evening meal to be cooked the sound of church bells drifted in through the doorway. So Monday night is practice night for the local campanologists. The sound of trains is frequent and although they become a background noise the discerning ear can distinguish between the light two coach local trains and the faster, longer intercity expresses. Much less often, about twice a day, you hear the very heavy freight trains trundling past; this morning it was felt too, the vibration, it seemed, juddering the entire boat!

Then there are local voices. The accent has a gentle sing-song quality, lacking the flatness of a Mancunian voice and is nothing like the stereotypically broad “Eee by gum” voice often associated with Yorkshire. But of all the conversations had or overheard it was this phrase, from a man (thirties?) which stuck:

”Well, eating jam roly poly is an emotional experience.”

Hear that and you regret you hadn’t heard what preceded it or had the concentration to listen to what followed! The remark was heard while taking a morning coffee in Marsden. Next stop was Marsden Library (at the Mechanics Institute, open on Tuesdays, 10am-1pm.) A notice board begged reading helpers for the local schools and offered pyjama-wearing opportunities down at Slaithwaite. No bodies were browsing the shelves but over in the far corner of the library were six or eight ladies of a certain age gathered around a table, huge coffee flask in prime position, discussing the underlying themes of a particular book. Ah, a book group.

             Boatwif was there searching for information: how to get to the Stanza Stone. At Slaithwaite a booklet entitled Stanza Stones Poetry Trail Guide had been discovered. Proper planning would be needed of course, but it could have been done – a bus for a couple of miles along the A62 towards Oldham, get off, walk back, then uphill to find the Snow Stone on which one of the six poems is carved, each poem paying respect “to the water that shaped the South Pennine watershed”.  An exciting idea.

            Just very low voices could be heard from behind the door of the Mikron Theatre Company’s headquarters, also at Marsden Library. ” Knock on the door if you want to talk to them,” urged the librarian but we did not dare.  Mikron is widely known around the canal network for their theatre productions performed beside their boat or in village halls. It was some fifteen years ago at the bottom of Foxton Locks when the Cleddau crew spent a happy evening watching a Mikron performance.

Mid afternoon – a towpath walk up to Tunnel End: it’s Tuesday, the Standedge Visitor Centre and the cafe now open! The exhibition clearly traces the history of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Via a video loop local voices explain the part played by investors, engineers, navvies and recent enthusiasts. A tunnel trip was about to start: a 500 metre boat trip in and back, and the boat’s pilot was just back from holiday. Where? the Four Counties Ring and the Caldon Canal (with  a reprimand for travelling too fast through the Harecastle Tunnel!) Then, before moving Cleddau all of 0.6 mile from the Marsden visitor moorings up to the tunnel entrance, Boatwif took a stroll down the top four locks of the Marsden flight. No traffic noise, just the sounds of a cockerel and of water dribbling into a lock through a leaky gate – and the scent from a honeysuckle bush. It was after 4.30pm when fellow boaters from the Monday night moorings who were heading east bade us farewell. They were not at all impressed by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Their voices rang in the ears: “Enjoy the rest of this canal – but if you come back WE WON’T be here.”

No, this canal can never be a rest cure – but it certainly provides lots to look at and plenty to listen to.

Wednesday: through the Standedge Tunnel (on the east) to Diggle (on the west).

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