The Rochdale Canal, Manchester and Marple.

  We left Sowerby Bridge on Thursday, 30th September, after I had returned from my trip down south. Although the reason for my travel was a sad one, I must admit I did enjoy the journeys, albeit that they weren’t without drama due to delays and cancellations on both outward and return trips. I passed through many towns and cities that we’d visited on the boat and I passed and crossed over the canals many times during the journey – most interesting to see it from the train’s perspective!

As we left Sowerby Bridge, we worked two locks and then went through the tunnel leading to Tuel Lane Lock – the deepest in the country at 19’ 8½”. We had to book this lock passage as it is manned by CRT staff and we shared the lock with another boat, which was just as well as it prevented too much moving and banging about. If we hadn’t got the booking we probably wouldn’t have moved as it was a very miserable day! On leaving the lock, we only travelled for another couple of miles and stopped as soon as we found a decent mooring. I had thought that the canal was very shallow because it felt very slow and laboured but on mooring up, we found that we had a large wodge of foam round the prop! No wonder!

On Friday, 1st October, we worked 4 locks and cruised for 3 miles and moored in Hebden Bridge – I had a bit of a turn on the way as I had to steer through a tunnel – Tony was walking with Sal and the tunnel wasn’t marked on our map. It technically was only a long bridge but it curved round under the road, so you couldn’t see the other end. It is very disconcerting to be steering the boat seemingly towards a brick wall, with no idea of where it goes and where the end is! I’m not fond of tunnels and certainly don’t like steering in them, so it was a bit of a surprise! Hebden is a very attractive, typical Pennine town. It is well known for its small independent shops (and for being Gay friendly!) The moorings were right beside the town park, which made it lovely and quiet overnight. Saturday, 2nd was rainy again, so we stayed in Hebden and enjoyed looking round the town. 

On Sunday 3rd Oct, we planned for an early start and a “walk-and-go” – we set off and I steer whilst Tony is walking Sal. We needed water, though, which was just over on the non-towpath side about 100m down the canal, so we got ready but just as we were about to set off, we were pipped to the post – by three boats!! It was, therefore, 12.00 before we’d managed to get onto the water point and fill with water and get underway. The forecast was for good weather, but it turned out not to be – we got very wet! We only cruised for 1 ½ miles but worked 5 locks on the way, but in one pound, where the water was a bit low, the engine stalled because we’d got something round the prop! Tony was on the towpath as he was walking between locks as they were so close together, so I had to shimmy along the gunnels, get the barge pole and pole us into the side. Tony jumped on and checked down the weed hatch – a large ring of sheet steel was the problem!  Unfortunately, as he released it, despite trying to hang onto it, it fell to the bottom, so some other poor boater is going to “find” it, I expect! We continued on but the dramas of the day weren’t finished yet! As we approached a lock, just beyond a bridge, there was a long line of moored boats on a very narrow stretch of canal and on a bend; the last boat was moored very close to the bridge. Tony indicated to me that a boat was coming out of the lock, just the other side of the bridge, so I went into reverse to slow the boat even more and to allow room for the other boat to come through. As they came through, I saw that it was a Day Hire boat, so I went as far as possible over to the moored boats to give it maximum room. They were doing really well, though, and we passed each other slowly and carefully. However, one of the moored boats was so loosely tied that it actually swung out and bumped me, causing me to slightly alter course and bump into another of the moored boats. A man was on the towpath running back and forth and filming the hire boat and then me so I asked if he was OK. He said “No, you’ve just hit my boat”. I said, “Sorry, not much I could do about it, though”.  He said “I will need your insurance details” and I was so stunned I said “Are you having a laugh?!!” (It was less of a bump than you would typically experience in a lock!) He confirmed that he was not, so I asked what damage he thought I could possibly have caused with such a small bump and to come and talk to me at the lock so that we could discuss it further. He obviously has a “thing” about the hire boats otherwise why was he already outside taking video of the day hire boat before I arrived on the scene? He must’ve thought he was really lucky to have me appear at the same time to add the extra possibility of having an incident for which he could complain about! Whilst I do sympathise if his boat is constantly getting bumped – none of us like it when our boat is bumped by another, if I were him I wouldn’t moor there if this was a constant problem! We would never moor that close to a bridge, particularly on a bend! I don’t like it when people say boating is a “contact sport”, it certainly is not, but sometimes things happen which are out of your control and, mostly, people accept this. Anyway, once we went through the lock, we moored just beyond the top of the lock with the intention of staying overnight. He didn’t come and speak to us – maybe he thought I was a lone female that he could intimidate until he saw Tony at the lock and realised we were together? (Maybe that’s cynical, but who knows?) Anyway, as I walked Sal in the afternoon, I made sure that he knew that I was taking photos of the area – how close he was moored to the bridge and on a narrow stretch of canal – and on a bend! He then, a short while later, came up to the lock and let so much water out of the pound that we were in that our boat was sitting on the bottom. Now, maybe I’m being cynical again, but I don’t think that the lower pound was that short of water (by evidence of the swinging boat having enough water under it to come out and bump me), so I think he was purely doing it to cause us an inconvenience. Consequently, we decided to move on and with some effort managed to push the boat into deeper water – we really didn’t want to stay too close to someone like that. So, we cruised for another mile, and two locks, and found a very pleasant mooring, but what a day! Days like these, and people like that man, are rare, fortunately, but we were glad that that particular day was over!

So, on Monday, 4th Oct, we set off, hopeful of a better day. We cruised for just over a mile, working two locks on the way, and stopped right outside a Lidl on the outskirts of Todmorden – more dinners required! We decided to move on a bit into the town centre itself after the shop but on arrival, the moorings were all taken. Bearing in mind we hadn’t seen any of the boats moored there over the previous days (you do tend to leapfrog with the same boats if you’re all going in the same direction) and it was a 24hr mooring, we wondered just how long they’d all been there! We carried on, working another guillotine lock on the way (which was a surprise, not marked in our guide that it was a guillotine) plus two other locks. We weren’t sure about this location for mooring – it was nice enough but was in a short pound between two locks – we didn’t want to end up sitting on the bottom. Sal and I walked up a bit further to scope out any better moorings, but we would have to go through another four locks before we could stop, so that made our minds up to stop where we were – it was already quite late in the day. In fact, there was plenty of water and it was even gushing over the top of the lock gates above us, so we thought we’d be fairly safe. A lady in a cottage backing on to the towpath popped her head out to say hello and told us that a couple of boats had been moored there until a few days before – they had been told to leave the 24 hour moorings in town after they’d been there for  four or five MONTHS!! On a 24 hour mooring!!! They then sat outside her house for another four weeks – and they seemed disgruntled at being told to move, she said. We told her that we would only be there for two nights, so not to worry. It turned out to be a very pleasant mooring, albeit Sal didn’t like the constant sound of the rushing water, so was a little on edge. We stayed there for Tuesday, 5th, too, as the weather was forecast to be, and was, foul. The train line ran near to the canal here and the bridge crossing the canal just above us was absolutely beautiful – I don’t normally notice things like that but you couldn’t fail to notice this bridge!

On Wednesday, 6th Oct, we set off early for another ‘walk and go’. In perfect contrast to the day before, it was a beautiful day! The locks were getting closer together on this part and we worked 9 locks in only 1¼ miles! The scenery on this section started to get more and more beautiful as we went – up until now, we had had glimpses of lovely scenery, but this section was starting to get very scenic. Unlike the scenery on the Leeds and Liverpool, where the canal is quite high up on the hillside so overlooks valleys and rolling hills, this canal runs in a glacial valley, so the hills are steep and towering above, with undulating, rolling sides and rocky outcrops, devoid of much other than grass and the odd tree. We stopped on a beautiful wide part just outside the little town of Walsden on a lovely mooring with some of these hills overlooking us – gorgeous!

On Thursday 7th Oct, we set off to ‘walk and go’ again. This was the last section of locks taking us to the summit of the canal – the town is even called Summit! We worked 7 locks, plus a swing bridge and cruised for 1¾ miles, arriving and mooring above the summit lock in time for lunch. Again, the scenery there was just lovely; on Sal’s walk that afternoon, I heard a voice from afar – a lady was high on the hillside above trying to catch her horse, which was being mischievous! I was marvelling at her (and the horse) as the hillside was exceptionally steep and her footing must have been perilously unsure. When she did catch the horse, they both appeared to be clambering up the hillside to get to the top and safety, hopefully!

Just as we were about to leave the summit pound on Friday, 8th October, another boat came through the lock behind us, so we paired up with them to go down through the next lot of locks. The first lock is another Silver Propeller Challenge location, so another ticked off the list! We worked 10 locks over 2 ¼ miles and moored in Littleborough, a very pleasant, well-kept town. Some of the locks had suffered from subsidence, so we were only able to take one boat through at a time, but we still shared the locks that we could – water is a valuable resource on the Rochdale and shouldn’t be wasted! We did find a couple of low pounds but then some pounds were overflowing to the point that we were paddling on the lock sides! Whilst chatting on the journey, we discovered that they were travelling to the same timescale as us, so we agreed to continue our journey to Manchester together. NB Little Man Sam, Alison and Paul, and Gabby the dog were now teammates! There was a service point in Littleborough and we had been having a bit of trouble with our loo – not flushing as it should, so we concluded that the tank must be getting full. The CRT pump out facility that we’d used in Castleford can’t have been working properly, as we were well short of when we should have needed a pump out. So, for the first time, we used our manual pump out kit. This entails pumping the contents of the waste tank into containers and depositing said contents into the elsan point (where boaters with a cassette toilet dispose of their waste). It was a bit of an unpleasant task, obviously, made a lot more unpleasant due to the fact that the hose, under pressure, shot out of the container and sprayed Tony, fairly liberally, with the contents of our pooh tank!! It did miss his face and upper body, thankfully! (I am, and was, secretly giggling!🤣😂🤣😂) We pumped out enough to tide us over until we came across the next proper pump out station; Tony stripped off for a hot shower and his clothes were rinsed and put in the machine ready for washing.

On Saturday, 9th, we had a long day ahead – we were cruising through Rochdale. We met a CRT chap who told us that the canal behind us had been closed that morning due to low water at the summit – we’d been lucky to get through! He did say, though, that they didn’t know why the water level had dropped and suspected foul play by a boater draining the water so that they didn’t have to move!! We agreed with Alison and Paul that we would both go separately to start off with – they needed to stop at a retail park on the outskirts of Rochdale and we needed to pop to the Post Office, so we shared the first lock with them, they carried on and we moored for the PO. We caught up with them and had time for a quick bite to eat, then they were ready and we set off in convoy. I had imagined Rochdale to be very built up but it was, in fact, quite a pleasant trip. A little rubbish in the canal and a bit overgrown with shrubs and trees, but it was far better than expected. We arrived at the top of the Slattocks flight of locks after cruising for 7 miles and working 7 locks and two swing bridges. At one lock, some CRT volunteers were working, clearing rubbish and painting, and Tony got white paint over his brand-new-out-of-the-packet trousers! The lady apologised profusely but we said it wasn’t important – they were Aldi trousers and hadn’t cost the earth!

Before we set off on Sunday, Tony filled the jerry can with red diesel from the filling station next to the canal, just to keep us topped up – some filling stations near to canals do stock red diesel, which is very helpful! They are often very reasonably priced, too. This wasn’t such a long day – we still worked 10 locks, though! We moored in Chadderton, near the Rose of Lancaster pub and were delighted that they served a Sunday Roast in the evenings, so we booked a table and enjoyed a very good roast dinner. We met an unusual sight on the way – a group of adults and children dressed as clowns raising money for a children’s charity! The local people were nearly as surprised to see two boats, though – this is not a well used canal, which is a shame!

Monday was the day that we’d all been dreading – the long stretch into Manchester and 18 locks to get there! Tales of marauding locals, rubbish round the prop and low water levels had been promised – boaters folklore! We set off at 8.00 am and soon got into a good rhythm to operate the locks. Some were close enough together that Alison could go ahead and prepare, leaving Tony to open the heavy bottom gates, some were far enough apart that all crew members were on board to cruise to the next one.  We met a CRT guy at one lock  about half way along (we were in the lock having a coffee break!) who warned us of low water levels ahead. He was indeed correct so there was a bit of running backwards and forwards to let water down through the locks so that we could get through the low pound. Eventually, though, we arrived at the last lock (no water shortage here, the towpath was overflowing), relieved to have got to Manchester at last. We had experienced no marauding locals, only one trip down the weedhatch, and had successfully sorted the water levels – result! We turned into New Islington Marina, where we’d hoped to moor overnight, but it was chokka! When we walked round there the previous year, having come up from Castlefields Basin in the other direction, there was hardly a boat moored there! We could have stayed there but it would have meant breasting up, three abreast, which is no good for poor old Sal, so we decided to carry on. Alison and Paul decided to do the same, so we shared another two locks and fortunately, both got onto the moorings at Piccadilly Village, just round the corner on the Ashton Canal, where we’d moored last year. These are great moorings as they are secure and only the residents of Piccadilly Village can get to them. We spent another day on these moorings – a well earned rest day (apart from a supermarket shop). I enjoyed walking with Sal from our moorings, there are lots of new houses being built around the canal and the area has been much improved, even from when we were there last year, which is great to see!

On Wednesday, we faced another long day – the 18 locks of the Ashton Canal. When we had gone through these last year, I swore to never do them again but we had to do them to go on our planned route. They really weren’t as bad as I’d remembered! We travelled with Alison and Paul again but these are single locks, so our system of working was a bit different. I went ahead, removed the anti-vandal devices, emptied the lock and opened the bottom gates. Tony then steered in, I closed the gates and opened the top paddles. When the boat was high enough in the lock for Tony to get off, I went ahead to prepare the next lock, leaving him to open the top gate, pull the boat through and close the gate behind him, then open the bottom paddles to empty the lock for NB Little Man Sam coming up behind us. They did much the same, but replaced the anti-vandal devices when they’d finished. It worked well! We stopped for coffee after 8 locks then set off again for the next section. The locks are close together on this section and we came across a few problems. In one pound, a boat was sitting on the bottom and listing quite badly, due to low water, (and the owner was a newbie so didn’t really know what to do) so I went ahead even further and let some water down so that we could get him off the bottom and so that we could both get through the pound. A bit of pushing and shoving got him moving and we all managed to get through the low pound. Unfortunately, Paul had an incident with his rope getting wrapped round the prop and hurt his arm in trying to get it off, so Tony tied our boat up and went back to help. Once all that was sorted and we managed the low water levels, too, we got to the top of that flight of 8 locks and carried on. We still had two locks and a swing bridge to operate, but other than getting stuck on the bottom once, we made it to the top without further problems. We picked up something on the prop in the last lock – a stuffed toy – not sure what it was other than it had eyes and arms and legs, but it was certainly a bit mangled by the time it was removed! We cruised for another 2 ½ miles to the junction of the Peak Forest, the Huddersfield Narrow and the Ashton Canals, turning into the Peak Forest and mooring a couple of hundred metres down from the junction. Phew, another long day finished! We stayed there the next day, too, and Tony did an engine service, but Alison and Paul continued on their journey; we bade them farewell and we were all grateful to have helped each other over the last few days!

On Friday, 15th Oct, we set off and cruised to Marple Aqueduct, stopping for lunch on the way. No locks – yay!! We moored right next to the Aqueduct, which was lovely. 

On Saturday, although we could’ve done with another day’s rest, we tackled the 16 locks of the Marple Flight, the weather forecast not being too good for the Sunday. So, we adopted the same approach, me going ahead to prepare, Tony closing the lock he was in. We followed another boat up so every lock was full ahead of us and had to be emptied, this makes it doubly hard work. We got to the top after about 4 ¾ hours to find the top lock padlocked! Due to low water levels, the CRT had restricted passage through the locks, but we were well within the timeframe, so a call to CRT was necessary and a nice lady came and let us out. Whilst we were in the lock waiting to be released, we had asked a cruiser on the moorings opposite the water point round the corner on the Macclesfield Canal to move up a bit so that we could get in, which he had happily done, but another boat came along and nicked the space, even though we’d told him we intended to moor there. It’s fair enough to have a first come, first served policy, but when we were stuck in the lock and had told him we intended to moor there, having just worked 16 locks, too – well, we thought that was a bit mean of him! Anyway, once we were free we went through the junction, stopping at the water point on the way through, (glaring at the man who’d nicked “our” mooring space 🤣😂) then squeeeeezed into the only other available mooring (lots of git gapping going on!! 😤🙄) with about two inches to spare either end! We would have carried on, but we had managed to get an appointment at the vet for Sal to have her annual jabs, so needed to moor there.

We stayed on the same mooring for Sunday, although we did move the boat into a bigger mooring space when one became free,  and had a quiet day, only venturing out for Sal’s walks. I got caught out again – I had identified a nice circular walk using my footpath app but it doesn’t show the elevations of the footpaths, so I was walking down a very long track, getting deeper and deeper into the valley,  thinking “I’ve got to go up this incline again somewhere”. It wasn’t an incline but LOADS of steps – my legs were burning and I was very sweaty and out of breath by the time I got back to the top!! It was a lovely walk, though, and the exercise is very good for me!! 🤣

On Monday, 18th, we had Sal’s vet appointment first thing, so we swapped over and I took Sal for her first walk, incorporating a quick stop off at the vet on the way. Then, after another supermarket stock up, we set off after lunch to turn the boat and cruise just a couple of miles on one of my favourite stretches of canal, with lovely views over the valley on the Upper Peak Forest Canal. We have a couple of days to kill as Jim and Livv are visiting again on Friday for a couple of days, so we thought we’d pop round there for a day or two and enjoy the view! It was so busy, though! After hardly seeing a boat move since we left Leeds, this felt like the M25! Nice to see other life on the canals!