Midsummer monsoon

Huddersfield to Linthwaite, 3.7 miles, 15 locks

Back to the good ship Cleddau yesterday to ready her for a Thursday morning departure: as the crew peered over the wall from the car park to the canal below something looked strangely amiss: there was the boat, yes, but she was pointing east not west as she had been left, her stern drifting away from the canal bank and her canvas cratch flapping in the breeze. A deep breath – and then the picture began to make sense. Aspley Marina staff had undertaken to clean out the water system: front deck access to the water tank had been gained and the entire system flushed through three times… Fantastic – just as requested… however, to prepare for Cleddau’s westbound return she would need to be turned back round! And so for about an hour the Captain wrestled with a long reverse steer back past seven moored boats to Aspley Basin, turned around watched by spectators on the pedestrian bridge, then made the long steer back, his efforts hindered by an erratic breeze and a jink in the channel.  Narrow boaters, Dutch barge boaters, broadbeam boaters leaned out of their craft to watch Cleddau’s watery weave back to her mooring.  

Departure day dawned grey and wet, fulfilling every aspect of the Met Office forecast. Two boats left early so time was given for them to make some progress ahead. Eventually at 11am Lock 1E was entered. The tortuous uphill journey had begun. Was knowing what to expect as bad as coming across the unexpected? Past the University Sports Hall, past the red-fronted Business School, back past the Computer and Engineering Department:  the stiff paddle gearing, the heavy gates, the low bridges, the tunnel, the lack of towpath access to the first few locks. This canal certainly is a challenge.  At the new college building site (lock 3E) one worker was desperate for conversation: meanwhile the boat needed to be steered past the moored up boat clearing debris from the prop, into the new narrow straight which replaced the old tunnel  – and the rain was in full force. This is Midsummer’s Day so underneath the waterproof over-trousers and gaiters, in an act of meteorological defiance, Boatwif wore the comfy summer weight boating trousers , for only the second time this season!

It was an odd cruise, in many places there was plentiful vertical water (rain) but insufficient horizontal water in the canal. The channel between two locks is called a pound: several times water from the lock above had to be released to provide water ahead. Mud banks were exposed to the left and to the right, and once the tide was going out as fast as Cleddau could sludge across to the safety of the next lock! Past mills and apartments (“Halloooo, goodbyyyye!” shouted the little girls, as they had done last Friday),a pole job to get round the silt bar into the lock below the viaduct, on through the long reeds section until eventually, five hours on, a mooring was possible just above Lock 15E, the huge Titanic Mill in sight. Today is publication date for Terry Darlington’s new book Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier.  A glance back at an extract, printed in last month’s Waterways World magazine, when he described the uphill trip from Huddersfield:

The boat “dragged herself along the mud like a wounded snake…this was a new sort of boating  – navigating a small pond in the middle of the cut, with mud banks around you, trying to guess where the deepest inches lay under the muddy water.

Somehow this crew knows what he means!

          It’s Midsummer’s  Day –on an idyllic mooring with wide interesting views, but outside a towpath too deeply puddled to contemplate setting up a table for an outdoor dinner. Some contrast from this date, one year ago, when Cleddau was perched prettily on the River Avon at Stratford just across from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

            So what of Huddersfield? For the Captain a trip is about creating a plan, the journey and arriving at a destination. For Boatwif the destination itself deserves some exploration. A quiet walk, aided by a heritage leaflet (free with lots of advice from a star Waterstones staff member) provided a flavour of the wealth of Huddersfield’s past. An impressive Town Hall (performance venue of the famous Choral Society), a theatre, a 1930s library, several churches… there is much to see but St George’s Square was quite simply breathtaking. Apart from the ornamental wall of water, the huge rooftop white lion, the solid decorated Victorian buildings and a vast open space the real (first) surprise came at the sight of the totally recognisable statue of Huddersfield “boy”, Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Behind him is the Grade 1 listed railway station, much loved by John Betjeman. A second surprise came inside: the railway entrance hall is a great white space, its walls given over to displays of artefacts, prints and paintings!

From here on daily cruise hours will be shorter, since passage back through Standedge Tunnel is booked for next Wednesday. Tomorrow, onward a mile (and a few locks) to Slaithwaite. Puzzled by the pile of rubbish picture?  Just the amount the Captain cleared off the prop tonight!

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