Chasing trains…

Uppermill to Diggle, 2.62 miles, 11 locks

Diggle is the top, so to speak, of the western side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.  Two hundred metres ahead of this overnight mooring the waterway dives behind a pair of gates, deep into the hillside below Marston Moor. Here, at 645 feet (197 metres) above sea level, Cleddau is at her highest altitude yet! Bugsworth Basin at the Whaley Bridge end of the Peak Forest Canal (a place way up in the Derbyshire hills) is a mere 518 feet (158 metres). By contrast last June Cleddau was only a few feet above sea level at Sharpness and at Easter-time she was only one lock above the Manchester Ship Canal.

On  any boating trip boaters exchange information – mostly it is useful, it’s always intended to be helpful and it certainly raises awareness of what has happened – or might happen.  A boat sunk in Lock 1W (the Ashton end) in April we heard today, that’s a lock we’ve already passed through. The grandfather of the Colorado gal (see yesterday’s post) told of his first trip through the Standedge Tunnel four years ago. Then narrow boats were lashed together in a train, the boat crews transferred to an electric tug and the entire chain towed through.  The transit arrangements are different now:  for the last couple of years boaters have had to book a passage and then an escort pilot accompanies the boater to advise of hazards etc…  So this afternoon, having arrived safely at Diggle, both crew members have walked on to spy out the tunnel entrance and the Captain has dedicated time to creating as clean a profile on the cabin top as possible. Do all readers know what the “fairleads” are?  Well, they have been unscrewed (and hopefully stored somewhere safely).

It is indeed desirable that narrow boat crew members are compatible in their wishes and habits…  (Apologies for the Jane Austen type style). The Captain is a “Get up and get boating” sort of fellow whereas Boatwif is more inclined to weigh up the day’s opportunities. There was a slight tension this morning when the good boat was readied for departure but the Uppermill bookshop still hadn’t opened and wasn’t due to until 11am.  However much Boatwif dawdled it became impossible to delay further.  So the boat was watered and serviced after the first two locks of the day; then the last nine locks lay ahead. There are more curious features here for the enthusiast to relish: at each lock there is just a single bottom gate and a pair of bottom ground paddles mounted on the offside by the gate and similarly a pair of ground paddles at the top end beyond the single gate.  When the top paddles are used to fill a lock there is a most impressive whirlpool effect and a deep long plughole type sound! Despite the fast fill of these locks the boat remains stable.  

In cool but dry weather Cleddau climbed to the top.  Alongside the canal, on an embankment, runs the railway line, the line too taking a course under the Moor through the last of three railway  tunnels at Standedge. The camera was at the ready this morning once the viaduct hove into view – oh for a view of a train on the viaduct above the canal. C&RT (British Waterways staff) were painting the lock beam ends. At Lock 23W patiently while the boat rose Boatwif pointed the camera upwards. The sound of a train! But no sight of it from that angle, the viaduct wall was too high.  Again a train – again no sight of it. Then, with Cleddau fully up in the lock, the camera tucked away a large, highly visible train soared overhead. Laughter from the painters, the watching family and the crew! On an investigative walk later Boatwif came across the portal for the railway tunnel. A much older Jenny Agutter, this spectator waited for a train to hurl itself into or out of the tunnel. The trains become almost companions, so regularly do they pass, the local ones deemed “sheds” by the painters but the bigger, faster ones heading east for Scarborough and Newcastle.

On a clear day views have been expansive, birdsong frequent – and, also a delight, has been the sweet scent from wild flowers and newly cut grass.

One has a suspicion that the sights, smells and sounds from within the Standedge Tunnel will be rather different tomorrow!

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