Irk Aqueduct Moorings to Thomas Telford Basin, Ashton Canal
Houdini spoke and we were out of bed, dressed, breakfasted, covers rolled back with tea in our thermos mugs ready to go a little before 8am. We had a rendez vous to keep a few miles away at Lock 65. The morning was a touch damp and water proofs were required for some of the time as we pootled our way to the first lock of twenty for the day.
After Lock 64 came Grimshaw Lane Lift Bridge, Graeme walked on to operate it with his key of power. Going through here at 8:30 meant we were guaranteed to stop a lot off cars, but they all sat and waited patiently for the two boats to pass under. Grimshaw Lane is not your average lift bridge that pivots up to let you through, oh no. This bridge lifts on four rams, one in each corner, as if it was in the opening sequence of Thunderbirds.
At Lock 65 we worked our way down. This was where we were to meet Ian a C&RT volunteer who would help us down the next 16 locks. We’d arranged this before we’d met up with Clare and Graeme, knowing that today would be a hard day for the two of us. At 9:30 we moved on towards the next lock, no sign of Ian, so Mick sent him a text message to let him know we were carrying on.
A few minutes later the sight of a blue sweatshirt and life jacket appeared on a bicycle on the towpath, ‘Are you Ian?’ ‘I most certainly am’. He headed on to the next lock and made it ready for us.
With three of us on the ground locking was easy. At times Ian would go ahead, lift a paddle on the next lock or more, return and help with gates. Who ever was a spare part would walk down and wait at the next lock.
Between Locks 68 and 69 we were told to get back on our boats. Along the next pound the canal changes from being in Oldham to Manchester, this is shown by the change in lamp posts on the towpath. With the change from black to grey also comes where the canal was blocked off when it was abandoned. Here the channel was filled with concrete. When it was reopened a narrow channel was dug just off centre, you can see the concrete shelf lying just under the surface on both sides. Ian said to stay in tick over all the way, this would mean we’d get to the next lock, slowly but without having to clear the prop or getting stuck on obstructions below the water.
Newton Heath Lock 69 (the one with the pub alongside that has a cage around it’s outside seating area), I drew the short straw of the day, the bottom paddle, the only bottom paddle. I thought I heard Ian say it would take 32 turns to wind it. But it was far more than that, my arms felt like jelly afterwards. I counted as I wound it down, I’d missed him saying 100 before the 32!
On we worked, low water never an issue. Most locks below were full which meant that we were taking a lot of water down with us, a lot! The bywashes were torrents, even Mr Happy seemed a bit dazed as he span round in an eddie current on one.
Goslings with their Mum and Dad didn’t know where to go as we approached, first throwing themselves off a wall onto the towpath then being swept over lock gates by the overflowing water.
Ian headed down the locks to try to avert the possibility of flooding up ahead. But on reaching Lock 80 the towpath below the lock was decidedly wet and as the lock emptied no dry route was possible without taking a detour. The lock paddles have inhibitors on them, reducing the amount of water that can leave, but when there had been so much water coming down the bywashes this didn’t really help. According to Ian the bywashes here are council ones, narrow and without enough fall to be able to cope with the amount of water coming towards them.
Five years ago, Lock 80 was where we caught up with Derek a singlehander. It being a Saturday and a bit later than we’d intended we ended up having hassle from a group of lads who’d just finished football practice. That was the start to a very long day working our way up the locks. The full story is here. Today we had no such hassles, just too much water!
Ian had lifted a paddle on Lock 82 already to help move some of the water down. Both boats had to avoid bumping into the submerged towpath and a duck island on their way there. Here Ian told us to get back onboard and he’d let us down. This was where he’d leave us, just two more locks to do before we could call it a day.
We passed New Islington Marina where work is on going and visitor moorings suspended at the moment.
Lock 82 was surrounded by builders all having their lunch, Graeme and I bent double to work the paddles. At 83 more builders watched on from behind a fence like inmates as we emptied the last lock of the day.
Mick took the lead. We’d decided to pull into Telford Basin which meant negotiating some very tight bends to get onto the Ashton Canal, tomorrows Rochdale 9 locks just in view.
The turn into the basin itself was very very tight, but doable. We then winded and pulled in onto one side of the basin. NB Mr BS pulled in, winded and tied up on the other side. Within five minutes we were joined by NB Lottie Jane who had just come down the Ashton locks. Sue and Tony had shared the Calder Hebble locks with Clare and Graeme a week or so ago, so knew they were on their way down today.
NB Lottie Jane seemed familiar, one of those boats we’ve seen about. It could be that we were both on the Gloucester Sharpness last year at the same time. After introductions we all retired inside our boats for lunch only to reconvene later for a few glasses of wine and much conversation on NB Lottie Jane to mark the end of a long day for all of us.
20 locks, 7.36 miles, 4 miles walked (a better ratio), 1 lift bridge, 1 great volunteer, 1 bike, 3 goslings, 187 ft 3 inches down, 101 ft 3 inches lower than Sowerby Bridge, 1 spare rib, 3 C’s, 1 peddle car, 1 Mr Happy, 132 turns both ways! 2 flooded pounds, 6 hours, 0 stops for the weed hatch, 0 guns, 0 kids, 1 rather nice, if hard work, day down into Manchester, 1 gate code, 3 boats, 1 yarn parcel returned, 2 glasses wine, 2 hours of conversation, 1 plank.