Rawton Walls Bridge to Droylsden Marina
Alarm, an early alarm! After a patchy night of sleep, I think I managed about four hours, we were up and having breakfast, no chance of extra views from our mooring this morning!
Breakfast eaten, we were pushing off at 7:30ish. The top lock at Marple was to open at 8 am and we hoped to be able to get down the locks without too much of a soaking from the forecast rain. Time to wave the views goodbye and go and join the queue.
As Marple Junction came into view there was a boat on the lock landing and all other spaces were full, however there was only one boat facing the locks, the one on the landing. We trod water and a volunteer shouted to ask which way we were heading, we pointed towards the locks. Second in line, marvellous.
From today the Marple flight is open three days a week, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, first boat in at 8am, last boat 12pm, flight locked at 3pm, this is to help conserve water levels on the summit pound for the next couple of months.
We waited and then pulled onto the lock landing as NB Freedom moved on into the lock. Time to have a look at Bridge 1 of the Macc. It is so pleasing to the eye, most probably my favourite bridge on the network.
It was our turn at 8:30 and as Mick closed the top gate I walked down to reset the lock below. NB Freedom had a couple of crew so I hoped we’d not catch them up. Before they left the bottom gates I did call to them to check the paddles were down as I could see one was a few inches up. All sorted and we could start working our way down the fight.
Two people looked out from their top floor, watching boats on the flight again. Others smiled to see the locks in operation again.
By the time we reached the third or fourth lock we’d picked up one volunteer who was going ahead to set the lock in front for us.
It also started to rain, which necessitated adjusting layers and adding waterproofs. Another two volunteers arrived and walked down the flight with the full time lock keeper, it’s their first day back on duty on the flight.
All very chatty, we ended up with two volunteers the first chap now going ahead and setting locks in front of Freedom.
The Lockie imparted updated knowledge to the volunteers as we headed down the flight. One pound is likely to be full on a morning, but two of the locks bottom gates leak like sieves, so best to open and close the gate as quickly as you can to conserve the water level in the pound above.
At Lock 11 you can see where the wall along the side of the towpath has been rebuilt. This lock had serious problems and ended up having to be rebuilt as it got too skinny even for modern slimline boats! The rebuild took sometime and meant the flight was out of action for what felt like an eternity, the wall alongside was demolished to ease access to the site. New stones were quarried at Bollington to replace damaged stones. All looks fine now and you’d hardly be able to tell.
Down eight locks and we were into a good rhythm. Three crew with each boat.
But now we stopped. NB Freedom was tucked in nicely on the offside just before the next lock, no point in joining them in the pound and letting all the water run round the bywash so we sat in the lock above and waited.
Was he stuck or had we started to meet boats coming up? It turned out to be the former. Eventually he managed to get off the bank and reversed quite a long way back across the big pound. The depth a bit of a problem so it seemed.
Lack of boat movements most probably had caused a build up of silt. He revved his engine churning up black from the bottom, a few branches also appeared from the dark depths for good measure. In the end he got into the lock and continued downhill, I waited for the thumbs up from the volunteer before emptying our lock.
A short distance on and we met an uphill boat, a single hander who’d now got the help of the first volunteer.
Help could now be divided between boats, so I thanked the lady volunteer as she would now help going up hill.
Myself and the volunteer now leapfrogged locks, one going ahead to set the next lock and work it.
We almost caught the chaps ahead of us up, except we ran out of locks.
I got back on board and descended in the lock too so as to make an easier get away.
Thank yous again as we waved goodbye to the volunteer. 2 hours top to bottom, 13 or so with light rain, not a bad mornings work, glad my breakfast refuelling kicked in and kept me going.
NB Freedom had stopped to pick up crew so we caught them up very quickly on the approach to Marple Aqueduct.
This is our first time across the aqueduct since the off side railings have been added. This caused a huge hooha in boating circles. But I have to say I quite like them.
They are not trying to look old but are obviously modern, they do the job of stopping people from falling yet you can see through them. I don’t think they distract from the view of the viaduct.
It was very slow going following the chaps in front. Tick over at most, it was damp, getting damper all the time and we still had quite a distance to cover today. In the end they got stuck shortly before Hyde Bank Tunnel, almost right across the cut. The more they revved the engine the more it looked like they had something round their prop. Gradually they managed to get to the side and waved us past. We said it looked like they had something round their prop, but they were certain they had just got stuck on the bottom and got in a flap, they’d be fine.
Tunnel light on and through the shallow tunnel, the going slow. Glances over our shoulders confirmed that the boat behind was still trying to continue without checking their prop. They made it into the tunnel, no light!
Glad we were now ahead we could forge onwards, feeling like pioneers cruising the cut for the first time since it had been cut. The depth was shallow and filled with chunks of trees, branches half submerged that required coasting over, willow trees hanging almost into the water, the lack of boat traffic obvious.
A day boat came towards us, getting grounded on the towpath side. Mick suggested a touch of reverse would help them get off the bottom and warned of the boat behind us, hopefully now through the tunnel! A touch too much reverse had the day boat now stuck on the offside, oh well, it’s all an adventure.
The rain was gradually getting heavier the further north we pootled. A mid morning snack was required, cheese scone and a cuppa as we cruised along, able to go a touch faster than tick over now, but still having to avoid the forest that lay beneath the surface.
A snake bridge, under the M67 all the time staying close to the Tame Valley a green corridor leading to Ashton-under-Lyne.
Dukinfield Lift Bridge took some winding up, but half as much effort as I remembered it being when we first came through on a hire boat. In the past we’ve moored up here or carried on to the junction to moor the night, but today we’d cover some more miles and not have to pick up the mountains of rubbish left around the benches!
Past Portland Basin Marina where we had our first experience of a pooh sucky machine as the portable pump gulped up our offerings into it’s tank. More smiling faces greeted us as we forged our way ahead, the canal now open, the Cheshire Ring now navigable again.
Left please! at Dukinfield Junction, turning to face Junction Mill Chimney which was bought for £1 and saved as a landmark when the mills were demolished in the late 1980s.
We don’t remember much of this stretch. I’ve been along it once, Mick twice, both early in the morning hoping to get through the Ashton Locks early in the day. Today we had chance to look around through the constant rain. The depth now a lot deeper beneath Oleanna we could cruise at normal speed.
Along a stretch of moored boats we spotted an old neighbour of ours. NB Mr G used to be moored at Crick and when we first bought Lillian they were next door neighbours. We’d heard that she’d been sold as the people we knew had split up and their dream of cruising the network disappeared. Good to see her still looking smart and now with a cratch.
Kids ran along side us excited to see a boat, youths smoked their aromatic tobacco under bridges and the amount of plastic floating and sitting in the hedges increased. We are back in a land of many people.
At the top of the Ashton Flight we hung a right and entered Droylsden marina. We’d pre-booked a space for a couple of nights with electric to work the washing machine hard. We slotted in between a couple of boats on a short pontoon, bow end first so Mick can do the fender when hopefully it’ll be dry tomorrow.
Once inside a tin of soup was opened and the stove lit hoping to warm us up. The washing machine could wait a little while.
16 locks, 11.39 miles, 1 right, 1 left, 1 aqueduct, 1 slow boat, 1 prop clogged, 3 volunteers, 1 day boat, 1 hire boat, 1 lift bridge, 40 up, 26 down, 0 shore leave, 1 disappointed cat, 3 afternoon snoozes, 1 load washed and dried, 1 stove, 12 C outside, 2 damp pooped boaters.