Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pennine Foothills – Western Side

Sometimes people wonder how we get our letters and the supply of tools that Dave sells over the internet. Ashton-under-Lyne was an example of how it works – and doesn't! We had phoned ahead and asked if we could have a parcel of tools delivered to the boatyard there. That was fine, and it arrived the day after we did. Excellent timing! Shireen had posted our letters in London on the Monday, but by the Thursday they had still not arrived. The Post Office started by claiming that they didn't do Poste Restante there but, even when they had 'discovered' that they did, our letters could still not be found. We couldn't wait any longer, but left our mobile number and moved on up to Stalybridge to be ready to meet David and Julie. As we started out eastwards, we saw the first glimpses of Pennine moorlands rising over our industrial surroundings, before we came to Stalybridge. Before the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was resurrected as a Millenium project, parts of it had been hidden away in culverts under Stalybridge streets. Now the canal forms a welcome focus for the centre of the town as it threads its way through street and square – and past Tesco's! Once David and Julie had safely parked their car (thanks to Mr Whitehead at the Methodist Church) we moved out east and north towards the Pennines. After their first night afloat, we soon came to Scout Tunnel, and David fancied sitting on the front as we went through – certainly a unique experience! The countryside was gradually getting more rugged as the locks took us higher up the Pennine foothills. . . and David & Julie were rapidly getting into canal boating, learning to operate the locks and the boat. As seems to happen with many of our visitors, they came for a holiday and ended up working their socks off! But at least it looks as though they enjoyed the experience – or are those smiles of pleasure really grimaces of panic or overwork? As you can see from the 'wet weather gear', there was quite a bit of rain, though not as much as we had feared from the forecast! With these extra crew members eager to move on, we travelled further than we had expected, just beyond Uppermill in the Saddleworth area of 'Greater Manchester', where many of the locals still reckon that they live in Yorkshire (as they did until the boundaries were changed years ago!) At this point, we had to turn around, for two reasons. Firstly to get David and Julie back to their car in Stalybridge, and secondly as no boats can go further unless they are planning to go through the 3¼ mile Standedge Tunnel. We were booked for passage on the following Friday, and D & J needed to be back in Devon before that. They made up for it by walking up the remaining mile and a half (and nine locks) to see the tunnel mouth, with its gates in the striking design of a boat being 'legged' through the tunnel. Then back down all those 17 locks (but only 6 miles) to Stalybridge, but not without some excitement. The boat went aground very badly in a short 'pound' (section of canal between two locks) and we had to let some more water down to float it off the mud. What we hadn't realised was that the people on the boat in front of us were still filling the lock as we came down the lock above. Then we needed to refill the same lock after they had gone down, and the pound was so short that the level dropped dramatically. Another lesson learned – but we were so busy getting the boat off the mud that no-one took a picture! Just at the lower lock, we saw our first duckling of the year again. He and his Mum had been there the day before, but this time we DID get a photo! No other dramas on the way back down, except that this time it was Julie's turn to ride on the front of the boat through Scout Tunnel, and she got this great picture of the rock formations in it. And, just to finish this episode, here she is as the 'figurehead' on the front of Zindagi. We certainly enjoyed having David & Julie with us, and we get the feeling that they may be back for more – great!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Snow on the Peaks – and Down Again

At Marple Junction, we turned right and started heading south again, as the canal skirted round Marple Ridge towards Whaley Bridge and Bugsworth. Although we had been at the same level (about 500 feet above sea level) since Bosley locks, 16 miles south of here, it was as if we had suddenly climbed higher – we found ourselves looking down valleys and across them to higher hills. We were on the Peak Forest Canal, just on the edges of the Peak District. We came here in 1978, on our second canal holiday, and tackled the whole route from Great Haywood to Whaley Bridge and back in just one week. Ambitious, but we made it – just!

No such punishing schedule for us this time! We left Great Haywood way back at the end of February, though admittedly we have taken many diversions since then. We have not had to battle against the slow speed enforced by the shallowness of the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals, but just relax and enjoy it!

We had read in our old edition of Nicholson's Guide that Bugsworth (aka Buxworth) Basin was closed, but a quick check told us that it was now open again. Worth a look, we thought. It certainly is a massive project which has been undertaken by a faithful group of volunteers over 30 years. We have some pictures here, but for more (fascinating) information have a look at their website. Apparently it was one of the largest inland ports on the whole canal system, handling vast amounts of stone and lime, which were then transported by canal all over the country.

The weather forecast over the weekend was for snow in northern England, so it was no real surprise to find a white landscape as we woke on Sunday. It certainly emphasised the fact that we were surrounded by higher hills! We stayed put and enjoyed lunch at the Navigation Inn. Some beautiful canal scenes, crying out to be photographed! More snow fell later in the day, when most of the first layer had melted, so the next morning still presented us with snow-capped hills, before we set out to return to Marple Junction and start down the 214 feet drop in level through 16 locks in just one mile. We normally reckon to cover about 3¾ locks or miles per hour, so potentially this step down could have taken us nearly 4 hours. In the event, it only took us just over 2, as the locks are close enough together that Dave could walk ahead and start the next lock filling while the lock was still emptying where Val was on board Zindagi. A very pleasant flight of locks, in mixed surroundings, with town and country and busy road and rail bridges. We also had some help on the last few, from a friendly cyclist who filled the locks ahead of us, using a large spanner instead of a windlass!

After coming down this flight, we started looking for somewhere to moor for the night, but had to travel on a bit first, crossing the Marple Aqueduct, itself nearly 100 feet above the river Goyt, next to a railway viaduct a little higher. We eventually moored only a few hundred yards from a housing estate, yet in what seemed like a remote piece of countryside.

Dave's morning walk revealed that we were also very close to a local nature reserve, with plenty more rural gaps before we came right into Manchester suburbs. Butterbur plants here are coming into flower, too.

A short run for 1½ hours this afternoon (with two more turnover bridges!) brought us here to Dukinfield Junction, where the Peak Forest Canal joins the Ashton Canal going down into Manchester itself and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal going up into the Pennines. Despite the fact that we are right into the Manchester conurbation, it seems quiet enough, apart from the persistent honking of the Canada geese! We need to stay here for a couple of days to get some 'chores' done, then on up towards Huddersfield, meeting Dave & Julie in Stalybridge on Saturday.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Back on the Macc! – Aqueducts and Embankments

The more observant among you may have noticed last time that, although our narrative left us moored on the edge of Stoke on Trent, the 'Where Zindagi is Now' link showed you that we were in fact already back on the Macclesfield Canal and moored up at Congleton Wharf. You may remember that we were there with Shireen at the end of February, before we made our trip down onto the River Weaver and back.

One of the characteristics of this canal is that it seems to follow the contours like some of the earliest canals and then suddenly 'leap' across a valley on a massive embankment and/or an aqueduct over a road, railway or river. Right there at Congleton Wharf, the canal crosses a busy road on a fine aqueduct and then, about a mile later, crosses a river valley on an enormous embankment, echoed by the railway viaduct (just a few feet higher) a little further down the valley.

One result of this way of building the canal (nearly 200 years ago) is that all the locks are concentrated into one flight of 12, raising the level by 118 feet just as the Pennine foothills draw closer. Here is Zindagi just a few hundred yards from the foot of the locks and you can just see the railings of another aqueduct (over the River Dane) on the left. Here it is from river level!

That climb took us up to about 500 feet above sea level, and the canal stays at this level for the rest of its length, all the time getting closer to the hills, and still with those 'trade mark' turnover bridges (here's another one!) and an increasing number of enormous red-brick mills, mostly converted into use for light industry. This former textile mill is just outside Bollington, and it is interesting to see how very industrial this whole area once was, largely based on the canal.

Just near Macclesfield, we saw a dramatic reminder of the engineering involved in building and maintaining canals. This vast landslip didn't block the canal, but it easily could have done, and the tow path was obviously out of action!

And so, on to Marple Junction, where we joined the Peak Forest Canal just after Marple Wharf, complete with old buildings, seen framed here by yet another turnover bridge.