Manchester (an awful day but in retrospect it was brilliant)

   Marsh orchids by a lock outside Manchester City’s football stadium

We set off for Manchester at 9.30 on Saturday morning with the aim of being in Piccadilly early in the afternoon. We would then walk round to M&S to pick up a package Karen had arranged to be delivered there and then set off through the nine locks in the city centre first thing on Sunday morning.  That wasn’t how it turned out

We cruised up to the end of the Peak Forest canal to its junction with the Huddersfield Narrow and the Ashton canals.  As with the rest of the Peak Forest it was pleasant countryside all the way apart  from going under the M67 on the outskirts of Hyde.

 Under the M67 at Hyde 

Right for Huddersfield and left for Manchester 

The junction is called Dukinfield junction and the basin opposite is Portland basin.  We stayed overnight here on the way back from Huddersfield once and paid for an overnight (safe) mooring in the boatyard just before the junction; the only time we have done that.

Dukinfield junction with Portland basin opposite

The short Ashton canal is just over 6 miles long and links up with the Rochdale canal in the centre of Manchester. The first 2 ½ miles are lock-free and then there are 18 locks to drop down to the city.  At the top lock is a large basin where a canal used to head off to the north.  The water point is on the far side of the basin and it took quite a bit of manoeuvring in the strong winds to get over there.  We tied up only to find there was just a trickle of water coming out so decided to wait until the next water point.

We were going down the top lock when a guy came up with a windlass.  He stopped to chat and found that he (Kevin) was on his own and his boat was stuck on top of an earthmover tyre in a swing bridge a couple of locks down.  The pound he was stuck in was low so he had come up to let some water down.  We said we would carry on and wait by his boat so we could always try dragging him off if he couldn’t raise the water level enough.

As usual we checked for large lumps of wood etc. that may impede progress but somehow missed a massive tree trunk that was half submerged.  When we came to move out of the lock we were wedged fast with the trunk between us and one of the walls.  The locks on this flight, although only wide enough one narrowboat, are wider than usual so it showed how big the branch was.  As the walls of this lock tapered slightly we half filled the lock again until I could free the trunk.

Like many of the locks on this flight there was only one paddle working on the next lock and subsequently it took an age to fill.  We finally reached Kevin’s boat and could see that enough water had come down to refloat him.   When he had got to the swing bridge earlier he could see one earthmover tyre blocking the way and when eight lads passed he got them to help him drag it out by using his anchor as a grappling hook.  He hadn't seen the second tyre and that was when he got stuck.

We went through the bridge and let Kevin go past us as he had been in front.  As we were setting off, a CRT guy came up and said that the canal had been drained overnight about 10 locks down, so we may have to wait until it had been refilled.  This is a common occurrence on the Manchester canals and is one reason why all the paddle gear have additional locks on them called anti-vandal locks that can only be opened by a special key (which anyone, including vandals, can buy from CRT).  

It took us three hours to do the first nine locks which shows you how slow the progress was.  At three of the locks we were grounded on the way out so had to open a top paddle to send a burst of water through to push us out.  Kevin waited on the lock landing before the drained pound and we stopped in the previous lock and had lunch whilst waiting for enough water to allow us to continue.

Surprisingly we had only stopped twice to remove stuff from the prop and each time it was just items of clothing and plastic bags so not too difficult to remove and bag up for the next rubbish disposal point.  One of our gripes is when you see posts on social media by boaters who complain about prop fouls and then show a photo of the rubbish left on the lock or bank side ready for the next lout to kick it back in!

Whilst waiting for the pound to fill we did wonder if CRT had sent an email about the stoppage (which they usually do), would we have started down the flight.  We both came to the conclusion that we would still have risked it.  In the end it wasn’t long before CRT said we could carry on. 

  Water back in the previously empty pound

It doesn’t really look it in the picture above but there wasn’t really enough water in the pound.  It was a case of a bit of throttle, then off, and repeat all the way along.  It was also windy and every time the stern got caught (it is lower in the water than the front), the front would swing round in the wind making it even more difficult to reverse of the obstruction.

In the end Karen walked along the towpath holding onto a line to help pull the front round whenever the stern got stuck thus preventing the wind catching the front.

Karen taking the boat for a walk

We got to the lock next to the Manchester City football stadium and it wasn’t possible to moor up at the lock landing because it was so shallow, and the CRT guys said we should keep the nose in to the top gates whilst the lock was set.   When you’re in a lock, going up, you always make sure the front doesn’t get caught under a cross beam of a lock gate as the gate could get lifted up and/or the boat capsize.  The same should apply when waiting outside a lock.  Our bows were just under the top cross member and as the pound was still being filled I suddenly realised we were caught.  It was imperceptible as the pound was filling so slowly but it took an age of rocking the boat until we could reverse off.

 The stadium from the lock

Going into the lock I felt the propeller foul again; this time it was far more serious.  It took about 30 minutes to free the five metres of 4mm garden type wire that had wrapped itself round the prop and the shaft gathering up tee-shorts and plastic as it wound itself up. 

Whilst waiting for the lock I walked back to the tail and saw the orchids in the picture at the top.  Such a strange place to see them and they looked like marsh orchids but, as I didn’t take a close up I couldn’t identify which species of marsh orchid.  Our friend Stephen, who runs naturalist tours from his smallholding in southern Spain, and is an expert ornithologist and botanist, confirmed that they were probably marsh orchids too.  

We still had five locks to go when poor Karen dropped her windlass in a full lock.  It was her favourite long-handled aluminium one too.  We had put a circlip on it for occasions such as this so our sea magnet could retrieve it.  We spent a long time fishing for it but had to give up in the end.  This was the first time we haven’t been able to retrieve something we have dropped over the side (apart from an iPhone and a camera, neither of which were magnetic).

The penultimate lock of the day

After the final lock we stopped for water and then, when we couldn’t find the water tap, remembered that it had  been removed the last time we came down but, stupidly, I hadn’t marked it up in our book.  Still, it was now a short hop into the moorings at Piccadilly Village.

Arriving in Piccadilly Village

When we reached the moorings, there were no other boats; we were expecting Kevin to be moored there.  We moored up anyway and then he rang wondering where we were.  We explained and said he hadn’t stopped there as he thought they were private moorings.  He was moored around the corner next to a drug den and didn’t feel very comfortable so brought his boat back to moor with us.

M&S was closed by the time we moored up so we will have to wait until they open at 11 on Sunday.  This meant we wouldn’t go down the nine locks in the middle of Manchester with Kevin first thing as we had arranged.

Moored for Saturday night

In the end it had taken eight hours to get down 18 locks which was a shame as last time we came down we had had an easy day.

Karen felt that as far as crap days are concerned it ran a close second to the day on the Huddersfield Narrow when we were on a mission to get to Standedge tunnel and it poured all day and the wind was howling from the Pennines.

But in retrospect we both agreed it was a great day because the sun was out, it was all experience and we met some lovely people ūüėä

We may move on on Sunday afternoon or wait until Monday.

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