Plastic ducks and the pink fishing net

Sunday 10th June, 2012

“What’s missing?” said the Captain just after dawn this morning. “What can’t you hear?” True, the Webasto was busy hissing as it heated the water and the birds were busy singing… but there was a total absence of the sound of rain lashing on windowpanes and metal roof.  Could the rain stay away…? To prepare for boating without laying out thermals and gaiters, or waterproof tops and bottoms – what joy!

 Cleddau’s crew had, perhaps wrongly, regarded the Manchester approaches and outskirts as potential bandit country. True, we were boarded yesterday by two giggly girls and one awestruck would-be male boater but today, folk were helpful (“Pull in here if you’re short of water, we’ll pass you our hose,” said the man beside a wooden boat outside the Postland Basin Museum) or curious (“How long is your boat? Have you come all the way from Wales?) and even excitable (“We’ll race you on our bikes,” plotted the 5 ten year old boys near Heyrod.)  

The first stretch of a few hundred metres took us to Dukinfield Junction, home of a museum due a visit perhaps on the return trip; then there’s a sharp right for the eastern end of the Ashton Canal which joins the Huddersfield Narrow. It is amazing that this canal was ever restored to navigation – much of it was buried underground and built over, hence the wide modern tunnel finished in 1989 that takes the canal under an  ASDA superstore. The eyes don’t deceive: there is a fair amount of barbed wire on top of fences and walls; plastic bottles and polystyrene food packaging float in the water. But the anglers were out fishing (“Oh, loads of stuff, perch, pike, bream, roach, carp …”).  There was no time to form firm opinions as lock action soon starts. Each of the locks is numbered and lettered, either with W when on the west side or E when on the east side of the Standedge Tunnel. “Canaloraks” might find the lock gear interesting: Lock 1W uses manually wound hydraulic gates and paddles; at subsequent locks boaters meet bent arm gates, straight gates, ground paddle gear that is encased in a round cylinder (like the Stockton and Hatton locks?), anti-vandal posts that need unlocking in one of two different ways, very heavy top gates, odd apparatus at the water’s edge (rollers?) and strange black tower type boxes at some of the locks… Many locks have a fierce discharge of water just below although within the chamber there is no turbulence whatsoever.  Strangest experience of all was the lock 8W approach right underneath the legs of a pylon.

Is this waterway busy? No, not on the water: in eight hours we met only one narrow boat travelling towards us. That was at Stalybridge, a veritable centre of activity – the lock occupied by a descending narrow boat, a monthly Farmers’ Market in full swing either side of the lock,  some junior canoeists practising in the pound beyond and the last few yellow ducks appearing after the earlier charity duck race. But it being Sunday – and dry – the tow path was being well used by pram pushers, dog walkers, runners et al.

Upwards the canal climbs, past housing, industrial units, factories, mill buildings and chimneys; then the route becomes more rural, fringed by trees and woodland paths, allowing glimpses of terraces of houses on ridge lines and of the hills themselves. Somewhere in Micklehurst there was a shout from the left: “Help! Can you get my ball please?” Floating ahead of us was a much-loved football. The boat was slowed, a rescue mission under way.

Boatwif grabbed Cheshire One’s fishing net from the bow. “Sorry it’s a PINK net ..!” And with a stretch and a kayak paddling action the football was recovered and chucked back towards Footballer’s Dad.

“I don’t think he minds it being pink,” was the grateful response.

So, mid-afternoon, in Mossley, just below Lock 15W Cleddau was moored up. Yesterday’s route was patiently explained by Techno’s Dad: from Cheshire East, into Stockport Metropolitan Borough, then into Tameside.  But this afternoon’s mooring place was described by an onlooker in pre-1974 terms: here is where Cheshire, Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire met. It’s a small stone-built village, with the swift River Tame racing downhill from Saddleworth Moor. In this quiet mooring spot what could possibly disturb the crew – other than the now returned heavy showers of rain!

7.92 miles, 14 locks.


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