Telford Basin to half a mile west of the M60, Bridgewater Canal
Another yawny morning with the alarm going off, time to tackle the Rochdale 9. First time we did this we had 6 crew, although one of them just wanted to sit in the bow and be seen in her white fluffy coat! Second time was last year with Graeme and Clare on NB Mr Blue Sky along with an old college friend of mine Doug. This trip involved avoiding needles and torrential rain.
Last night a boat had pulled up on the otherside of the canal, managing to tuck themselves into a very short arm on the towpath. We’d tried to get their attention to see which way they were heading, to see if we could team up, but no one was to be seen last night. This morning we got a wave from the galley as we turned out of the basin, a very tight fit for a 58 ft 6″ boat. Nobody came dashing to see which way we were heading so we carried on on our own.
We made sure we turned down the Rochdale, as this is where six years ago Derek made the mistake of turning right and ending up teaming up with us to go across the Rochdale, giving himself a longer route back to his mooring than planned!
Dale Street Lock 84 is the first, currently with scaffolding giving a bit of shade from rain on the southern side. Here as at most of the locks the water was way above the level of the top gates. Some extra leg power was needed to get the top gate open, then I could empty the chamber. The walk way across the top has two hand rails, which with my camera bum bag and the extra inch around my waist from Lockdown made it quite a squeeze to cross over the lock gates.
Both paddles needed to be lifted otherwise the incoming water would have overtaken the outgoing, keeping the lock at a level too high to be able to push open a bottom gate. I waited, and waited, had the level equalised? Were the gates stuck? Was I a weakling after yesterday? I swapped sides. Tried and tried again. Waited some more, then tried and tried again. Blimey!!! It felt like we’d be stuck here forever, Mick being deafened by the waterfall behind him.
In the end extra body weight was needed. Oleanna was pulled over to beside a ladder and Mick climbed out, his and my combined weight got the gate moving at last. By this point in the rain I had just about decided that this would be the last time we’d come this way, would things improve the further down the locks we got, or just stay such hard work?
From here we’d only have to deal with the amount of water in the pound above the lock, a far shorter pound of high water than at the first lock, so hopefully patience would work rather than brute force.
The next lock was decidedly quiet, yes it was only a little after 8am, but last time there had been lots of activity at Piccadilly Lock, two chaps having just scored and preparing to make the most of their investment.
The lock took a bit of time to open, only one paddle seemed to be needed at the bottom end. I couldn’t see in the dark if the level had equalised so had to ask Mick for a closer observation down in the lock. The bottom gates on Piccadilly Lock are worked with your windlass and chains around a drum. I pulled up the slack on the chain and then lent on the windlass the gate flexed a touch, water still cascaded over the top gate. Re-adusting the windlass for more leverage worked and a chink between the gates allowed the excess water to pass through, job done.
Lock 86 has no towpath access from either end, so a lift was needed. This lock needed topping up a touch and the last boat through hadn’t quite closed the paddles at the far end. With this all settled we could carry on downhill.
Back onboard to reach 87 where a boat was handily moored on the lock landing. Only one thing for it but to walk through Oleanna to her bow then walk across their stern. The back doors were open and a slight sign of life within. Maybe it’s a good place to moor, maybe they were broken down and awaiting an engineer, who knows, we managed.
On Canal Street proper now, bunting and rainbows to be seen everywhere along with the odd giant bumble bee.
It rained, it stopped, my poor hood was getting confused. Each lock was descended then a wait for the moment when that little bit of an extra push would get the gate moving and we could be back on our way again. Tilly sat in the window and watched as I made the outside go up. She does it quite well, glad she kept moving the outside as there were no trees to be seen!
At Tib Lock 89 two police constables walked up, had a little chat with Mick just after I’d opened the bottom gate. They seemed a touch disappointed in not being able to help, so I suggested they could close the gate for me. One pulled at the gate not allowing the other to help, he said he was being Gentlemanly, but a woman’s touch was needed to finish closing the gate. I think we made their day.
The building alongside Albion Mills Lock 90 is now almost complete, this was a building site last year. I wondered what was behind the shaded glass on the ground floor as I squeezed past the lock beams, hopefully those inside can only see as much as I could see in.
The bars below Deansgate/Castlefield Metro Link looked like they were setting up for the day, masked people on the trams and top decks of buses waved to us, I think they were smiling as we waved back.
The amount of water coming down Tunnel Lock 91 had already brought the water below the lock up to the same height as the towpath through the tunnel, all I could do was add to it. I took my time opening the paddles hoping not to swamp a runner on her way through.
A short walk now to Lock 92 Dukes Lock. I timed my walk alongside Oleanna, keeping level with her meant she sucked the water from the towpath as I walked along, keeping my feet relatively dry.
Our first time through Dukes Lock the sun was out, drunk gongoozlers at the pub made daft comments and the fluffy coat sat in the bow as Mark and I struggled to get the bottom gates open, two of us on one windlass pulling at the chain and Anne trying to do the same on the other side of the lock. I now know at such places two windlasses are far better than one for extra leverage. Today however there was just me and one windlass.
Mick could have climbed up a ladder to help, but he was concerned about the water cascading over the gates and would rather stay on the boat to keep it well away from being submerged. I waited and waited, hoping the amount of water coming down would ease soon.
It rained and rained. No gongoozlers today. No one around to offer an extra pair of hands. This lock was not going to beat me.
First I took up the slack on the starboard gate chain, adjusted it’s position for maximum movement should the bloody thing move. I tried bouncing it. I tried waiting some more.
Then I tried the port side. Adjusted the windlass again, bounced it, bounced it some more all the time the water still flowing over the top gates a good four inches thick. If only I could just get it open enough to release the pressure on the gates and get the level to equalise.
The next bounce felt different. I re positioned myself and tried again a chink between the gates appeared, was it enough. Another go and it moved just a touch more, water rushed out between the gates. Thank f***k for that! I had beaten Dukes Lock 92! Mission Manchester was complete.
A week ago we’d planned on staying in Castlefield for the night, tomorrow I’d be joining a demonstration at St Anns Square in front of the Royal Exchange Theatre to raise awareness of the sectors plight, at the time nobody thought the government would come up with a rescue package.
The demonstration was to be socially distanced and one thing that all theatre people know and understand is how to find ones mark. With enough Stage Managers and LX tape we would all have a mark to stand on 2m away from everyone else, masks were also to be worn. I was willing to make a stand amongst strangers from my theatre family, if at any point I felt unsafe then I would leave.
But last Sunday the package from the government changed all that. Feeling was that we should see how the package was to be distributed and what guidance came out before coming together to stand.
So there was no need to find a mooring for the night. We did however take a little jaunt up to Grocer’s Wharf. Frank and Helen’s boats were socially distancing themselves at opposite ends of the arm. A chap in a widebeam warned us of how shallow the end was so we took great care not to get stuck, winded and came back. All just for a bit of filming I wanted to do.
Now we could have a cuppa and a cheese scone each as we left Manchester, well Tilly had to have one didn’t she!
With deep water beneath us Oleanna could cruise along at speed.
As Waters Meeting came into view so did a narrowboat with it’s pram hood up, going the same way as us. We both hoped that it wouldn’t be a slow boat, we’ve followed them along here before. Fortunately the slow boat soon pulled over to let a friend hop off, Mick took the opportunity and cranked Oleanna’s engine up to overtake. The chap at the helm had no idea we were there, not surprising with his pram cover up! But his mate soon shouted to him as we sailed past.
What was the rush? Well we had trees to find, as soon as possible!
Barton Swing Aqueduct was in our favour and we sailed straight across, a large ship moored a short distance upstream. Then slow going past the moored boats until we reached the M602 where we slowed right down. An old work colleague was stood at her gate chatting to her neighbour, she’d not seen a message I’d sent. We’ve tried to wave hello whenever we’ve passed and today at last we succeeded. It was lovely to see Cat, maybe one day we’ll get chance to stop and have a proper chat, maybe even a drink.
The lighthouse is still there, today surrounded by the aroma of steak and chips from the pub opposite. No stopping yet.
Onwards the water gradually turning orange. This stretch has changed through the years we’ve been passing. A new line of houses now look older next to the even newer ones. The semi detached houses must have come with the option of a chandelier above the staircases as we could see them through each first floor window above the front doors.
The other thing we are noticing more and more is the number of cars parked outside peoples homes on week days. Are these people working from home? Are they furloughed? Are they going to still be able to afford the repayments on their red Porsche parked on their drive in a couple of months time?
Two Leeds Liverpool Short boats sat outside Worsley Dry Dock as a big wide beam approached us. Mick pulled us in to one side allowing them to pass.
The amount of water they sucked out from beneath us created a five drawer moment inside. I wondered if I should have put all the pots and pans away and hoped that Tilly was managing to cling on to the sofa as we tilted right over.
Obligatory photo at Worsley, the orange water contrasting with the white and black.
We then ducked under the M60 and it’s slip roads and headed out into green countryside. Once we were far enough away from the road noise we pulled over to find a suitable spot with sun and trees. We’d have power whilst Tilly had trees.
Freedom at last! After negotiating her way across the towpath between the speeding cyclists and runners she shot straight up a tree.
I suspect over the next five hours she conquered most of the trees in the near vicinity.
9 locks, 9.81 miles, 2 winds, 1 very tight turn, 2 much water, 0 druggies, 0 Graeme and Clare, 1 fluffy white coat required for next time (there will be a next time as it wasn’t that bad), 2 lefts, 1 right, 1 rainy day, 1 slow boat, 2 motorways, 1 canal highway, so many boats all of a sudden, 3 scones, 1 cheery wave, 5 drawers, 1 happy cat, 42 trees!
Don’t forget that from Tuesday 14th July The Garden Lockdown Edition will be available to watch on line. Get your tickets now! Link here