The right sort of water in the wrong sort of place…

Marsden to Slaithwaite, 2.75 miles, 21 locks

‘Guess what tomorrow is about? Locks!’  So Boatwif wrote naively last night. If only… this is the tale of two errors, both very elementary.

Prompt at 9am our relief lock wielder in these parts arrived. By foot, tram and train (including a three minute rush through the Standedge Railway Tunnel) he had made his way to Marsden. The station is, well, 50 paces or so from top lock, Lock 42E. Undeterred by Saturday’s downpour at Marple Techno’s Dad reported for duty, prepared for all meteorological  conditions with waterproofs, gloves and sunhat (none of which was needed). A cup of coffee downed and lock action could begin. Soon the rhythm of previous lock flights got under way, the Captain preparing a lock ahead, Techno’s Dad lowering and closing up each lock and Boatwif at the helm.

Down the flight goes, the River Colne never far away, with glimpses caught between the trees of rugged hillsides and mill buildings. Some splendid houses and gardens appeared on the left hand side. Datestones are revealed in some lock walls as the water levels fall and the bridge over the bottom of Lock 36E intrigued:  a stone-built original, without guard rails or low walls. Then there was a dalek at one point, a solar powered water monitor. An oncoming boat (the only one) was guarded by a fierce-looking Caribbean pirate perched on the bow.

Overnight the canal had been fed by water pumped up from the reservoirs – there was plenty of water and as each lock full was emptied a tidal surge would submerge large swathes of towpath below. All was well and by midday the sun was gently warming our backs. By the time Lock 31E was reached Techno’s Dad was at the helm.  Boatwif was equipped with a windlass and the Captain had both a windlass – and the sole anti-vandal key. The routine continued, the Captain disappearing down the puddled towpath and Boatwif emptying the lock. So long it was taking…full marks then to Techno’s Dad who spotted a paddle still raised in the back gate. But consternation, the paddle gear had been locked and the Captain had the only key! A mortal sin, the pound above was being drained of water. BW arrived on the scene – equipped with anti-vandal key but no windlass. Some quick actions by staff and Boatwif averted a tsunami below and a drought above. Off downhill set the lock keeper – and at the next lock the Captain was contrite, “I’m wearing a dunce’s cap,” he admitted. And the irony – the entire mistake caused by a distraction, Australian bystanders asking if long term boaters ever made mistakes – yes!

On Cleddau cruised, ever downhill, lock after lock after lock.  A swap again at the helm, again the Captain locking ahead. Then it was at Lock 27E that the second elementary mistake became apparent. The boat was going down smoothly but there was such a lot of water in the wrong sort of place… from out of the right hand lock wall was spurting, was cascading, a torrent of water, the plume neatly posting itself through the open side hatch doors! Down below Boatwif rushed, the torrent drenching her. The side doors were slammed shut and a lake sloshed below, through bedroom, utility area, bathroom and a little beyond.  ”Lock 27 leaks like a colander,” had been someone’s advice. If Basic Lesson 1 is to close all paddles after use then Basic Lesson 2 is to shut side hatches when passing through locks. Lots of water today – but all in the wrong place!

At the next lock an unscheduled pause was essential and a half hour’s energetic mopping and salvaging took place. The bedroom carpet became a second dunce’s hat spread out on the roof! Thank goodness for a a squeezy mop, a working bilge pump, clean bedding and a spare duvet.

 The locks called again. Though no more huge errors occurred the canal still threw up some difficulties: there was a struggle to find somewhere to moor up for lunch, there was a guillotine gate that took 120 turns to operate, there was a floating tearoom moored right in front of a lock – and there were two potentially head-topping bridges and road tunnels to pass under.  But all is well: at 2.45pm  the moorings at Slaithwaite (locally pronounced Slouwgh-et) were reached,  within easy reach of the railway station. On the opposite bank a factory has started its night shift (pallet-making?) and right beside Cleddau is the fire station. It’s manned, and the practice fire drills and fire engine reversing finished just half an hour ago!

Tomorrow, the final downhill locks to Huddersfield.

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