The thoughts, fantasies and random ramblings of Ashton Boatman Chris Leah, largely, but not exclusively, connected with his work for the Wooden Canal Boat Society, restoring historic wooden canal boats and putting them to work doing good deeds for the community and the planet.
For ages we've had such a poor turnout for weekday evening recycling trips that we've had to do them by road. I was pleased on Monday 4th to find that we had plenty of volunteers.
Aaron took the tiller and we had a pleasant journey down to Fairfield.
On Monday evenings we collect on Fairfield Road and Gorsey Fields. This time most of our crew were youngsters who were shy about knocking on doors, so they did the barrowing back. We had a reasonable haul to take to the charity shop.
On Tuesday afternoon we had a trip on "Hazel" with a really nice couple with an autistic child. The mother seemed interested in the canalside history. As we passed Oxford Mills
As we passed the old mills on the returned trip I noticed a strong smell of burning plastic. I checked in the engine room to make sure that nothing had fallen on to the exhaust manifold, but that was fine.
I went home for my tea. While I was there my friend Bev Ackford rang to tell me there was a fire in a laundry near the canal.
On my return to Portland Basin I found that there was an even better turn out for the Tuesday evening trip. Ominous black smoke was billowing from a big fire close to our intended route. I was unsure if it would be safe to run the trip but Debbie Leach told me that she had just cycled up the towpath to join us and there was no problem.
After a bit of boat shunting we set off, rather later than usual. As we approached the burning area we were enveloped in smoke but I could see that the fire was well back from the canal so we would be able to pass safely.
Fire persons were busy working between the fire and the canal, pumping water out to spray on to the burning buildings. There was some banter with the fire crews about them stealing our water.
Oxford Mill was an E shaped building. One wing had been largely demolished before it was listed. As we passed I saw that the fire had spread from the relatively modern buildings where it started into the upright and middle stroke of the E. The remaining wing remained untouched, though shrouded in smoke, so I hoped that this at least could be saved. I had noted previously that it was used for storing stuff in cardboard boxes.
At Brewery bridge tape had just been put up to close the towpath. A smart young firefighter was just climbing the steps on to the bridge. Debbie, who never misses the opportunity for a bit of banter, asked him if he was touting for business. I chipped in by offering him a lift to Canal St (Canal St is the heart of Manchesters gay village). He took it in the spirit intended.
We had another good collection in the Ashton Hill Road area of Droylsden. By the time we were ready to return it was nearly dark, so I turned on the headlight. At Brewery Bridge, at the South end of Pottinger St, we got a good view of the fire. The brigade's efforts had seemingly been in vain. The whole area was now blazing well, particularly the top of the E, presumably turbocharged by whatever was in all those boxes. The gable end of this wing was close to the canal and it was clear that parts of the building had already collapsed. If the gable were to fall outward as we passed we would be toast.
We backed up into the bridgehole and I managed to get a pin into the tarmacced towpath (grrrr) to tie to.
I left the boat guarded by Aaron and walked rather a long way round to Portland Basin to collect the van. Kids had removed the tape on the towpath and were whizzing up and down on bikes despite the danger. I chose not to go that way.
The streets had a carnival atmosphere, like a huge free bonfire party for the whole community. As I walked I heard a rumble as anothe bit of historic mill tumbled.
Returning with the van I had to take an even longer route as the main Stockport Road was closed. Luckily I know the back streets well. We unloaded the goods from the boat into the van. I parked it up for the night then, after taking a few photos,
I retired to "Forget me Not"s cabin for the night.
In the morning I woke at about 5 AM and made coffee. As i lay in bed enjoying my first brew of the day I could hear intermittent bursts of police radio. I hoped they wouldn't try to stop me returning the boat to her home, as I clearly couldn't leave her there. I felt the boat move as though someone had stepped aboard, then heard a rat tat tat on the cabinside. I stuck me head out and saw a man and a boat. He had made an early start to go to Manchester but "Forget me Not" was blocking the bridgehole. I explained that I wasn't dressed yet. He offered to move the boat. I agreed and, as I dressed, I could feel the hull grinding against the copings as he pulled her backwards.
He tied the boat to the railings of the high level footpath that leads to Guide Bridge Station, at just the right height to decapitate passing cyclists. Luckily there were none and I was soon untied and on my way, kicking up lots of froth, presumably from chemicals washed into the waterway.
I had to walk back from Portland Basin to collect the van. On my way I took some pictures of the smouldering remains being damped down.
I took a lot of photos of a short trip we did a fortnight ago. I'd decided to let our crew run it themselves and just hover about taking photographs. I did put the photos on here, then my internet went down (Windows 10) and I couldn't save it. So, here they are again.
"Southam" and "Lilith" tied out of the way for the day.
"Forget me Not" and "Hazel" on the wharf to load our guests.
The pair winding.
The butty steerer struggled a bit to get through the gap.
"Still Waters" backed out to begin a trip through the Asda tunnel as our pair did their best to get round the bend into Walk Bridge. Meanwhile the hireboat crew attempt to drag their boat into the bank at the visitor moorings. These moorings used to be deep but after the contractors repaired the bank boats can no longer get in close. Presumably they dropped their surplus stone etc in the water.
After a shaky start the boats were on their way.
That was when my camera batteries ran out.
Our guests on "Hazel" that weekend were a couple who were visiting Ashton so that one of them could do a yoga teaching assessment. They said they'd like to be somewhere nice and peaceful so I took the boat up to Dukinfield drawbridge, away from the sometimes raucus atmosphere on hot days at the basin. Here's some pictures.
The following weekend was the recycling trip. I didn't take any pictures on the Sunday or Monday trips, but on Tuesday evening I let Aaron take charge. He did very well.
Winding at Ashton.
The flats are on the site of the old Junction Mill. Now only the chimney survives.
Fliss and Steve chatting on "Forget me Not"s deck.
Aaron in charge.
Winding at Fairfield Junction.
2008 flats clearly modelled on 1970s Soviet architecture. These also are on the site of a mill.
The trip started a bit late because we found some Kittens aboard "Lilith" and had to move them. Good turnout and a lot to collect. Tameside Radio came along and did some interviews. Here's some pictures.
I ordered a couple of fruit trees from the Henry Doubleday Research Association ages ago but they've only just turned up. don't know what took them so long. Anyway, I thought I'd better get them in quick before they start bearing fruit. At short notice I set up a tree planting trip to add them to the guerrilla orchard in Droylsden.
In the morning I pottered about on "Forget me Not" and found some important pieces of paper that I thought I'd lost (never give me important pieces of paper). The swan pair from Fairfield have been hanging around the basin a lot lately, probably because it's a good source of scrumptious but unhealthy white bread. I thought their last years cygnets had left home but one was in the basin today. Dad was not happy to see his prodigal and kept raising his wings to see the young whippersnapper off.
Cob and Pen swans.
Luke arrived and we set off. As we went through brewery bridge the rudder was lifted out of its socket by an underwater obstruction. We got to Droylsden and planted the trees, then on to Fairfield to wind.
The swans nest from last year is still there amongst the detritus. I expect they'll be using it again soon.
We headed back towards Ashton but stopped at Guide Bridge to load up some sycamore that me and Tony cut down last year to protect the oaks. They're now bone dry and will make good firewood. The level was about 6" down and the boat would go nowhere near the towpath. I had to use a plank. to get off. when we wanted to leave the boat was well stemmed and I had to unload a substantial sycamore to lever her back into the channel.
on the move again, we got back to brewery bridge and stopped to clear it. A bit of work with the keb brought out 3 shopping trolleys and a bike.
At Oxford Mill we passed a piece of floating furniture.
Back at the basin another cygnet had arrived and daddy swan was looking seriously displeased. These youngsters are supposed to clear off and start their own families and leave their parents alone. Swans are not alone in this problem, I know humans with the same predicament.
As the boat approached the cygnets didn't know what to do. One decided, shortly after the photo was taken, to try dodging round the bow, only to crash into the coping stones.
We winded ready for the next move on Tuesday and tied up, then moved "Hazel" over from the towpath, winding her too before breasting her up to "Forget me Not". A good enjoyable day.
September 30th was the 10th birthday of Tameside Radio and they chose to celebrate it by having a ride on our boats. On Friday 29th we got the boats ready and took "Forget me Not", "Hazel" and "Lilith" down to Fairfield. Some people from the radio station joined us in the morning and we set off. This went a bit embarrassingly. I put "Forget me Not" into gear and turned the speedwheel, but it stayed on tickover. A nut had dropped off the linkage and disappeared into the bilge. I rigged up a length of string to control the engine. The boats were now all over the place but I tried to start off again. Immediately she picked up something big on the blade. After a lot of struggling I got it off, it was a big thick onesy. We got going at last with the 3 boats in a train. "Forget me Not" pulled well. I connected the bit of string to the cabin slide so if you pull the slide back t speeded up and push it forward to slow down. It worked well.
I was aware that arriving at Portland Basin with 3 boats would be tricky and there would be a lot of eyes on us. It turned out to be busier than I anticipated as it was also the official launch of "Community Spirit 2" so there were lots of civic dignitaries about. As we came into the basin I signalled to Tom, steering "Hazel" to throw off "Lilith"s towline. Aaron shafted "Lilith" across the basin to breast up to "Southam" while we breasted "Forget me Not" and "Hazel" and tied on the towpath side. As soon as we were stopped "Community Spirit 2" came through, loaded with dignitaries.
Terry the Lion appeared to present us with a cheque for Marple and Romiley Lions Club's annual sponsorship. along with a plaque celebrating their long term support. We were interviewed on radio, photographed, then spent a bit of time meeting different people and showing them round the boat, before setting off with just "Hazel" in tow to work up the 3 locks to Stayley Wharf.
It's rare to work up these locks with adequate water. This time all the weirs were running hard and we didn't even stem up in Whitelands Tunnel. At Stayley Wharf we winded the pair and tied up. Our guests left and we stopped for a brew before setting off back down to Portland Basin. The trip went very smoothly with everyone working co-operatively with little need for advice.
We had had some problems getting "Lilith" out of the arm ready for this trip. The water level had dropped, leaving her sitting on something solid. I didn't want to put her back in the arm so we dropped "Hazel" alongside "Lilith" and I put "Forget me Not in the arm alongside "Still Waters", the trip boat.
Sunday 1st October was recycling day. I was concerned that we might not get enough people as the weather forecast was bad. In fact the weather was mostly OK and we had a good team, including several new people. Everything went smoothly and we got quite a good haul. A couple of good days.
I didn't take many photos but these are they.
The 3 boats waiting at Portland Basin to set of for Droylsden.
The 18 locks of the Ashton Canal between Manchester and Droylsden are not the best loved locks on the system. Many are the tales that go around of boats fouled up by rubbish, faulty locks, empty pounds and occassional ambushes. We've certainly had some difficult passages in the past. Not the kind of place you'd think to go bowhauling a butty for fun, but that's exactly what we did today.
"Hazel" had to be moved from Ducie St up to Ashton. We had an excellent good natured team of Tony Hewitson, Aaron Booth, David Basnett, Mary Francis and myself. We set off at about 10 AM and steadily worked up the locks with no fuss. Everyone worked as part of the team and needed next to no direction. The weather was dry and sunny but not too hot. We stopped above lock 7 to eat some excellent vegetable chilli supplied by the wonderful Em. At the summit we were met by our friend Fred who towed us the last couple of miles with his steel boat.
Aaron shafting the boat back towards the winding hole. We discovered that you can't wind a full length boat in the entrance to the private basin in Picadilly Village, but you can in the silly litlle arm on the towpath side.
David Hauls "Hazel" towards lock 8 under Ashton New Road.
After being unable to do recycling trips by boat for a couple of months because Lumb Lane bridge was being repainted it was great to get out on the boats again for the first Sunday in April. Here are some photos I took on the trip.
"Hazel" was booked for a birthday trip on Saturday 1st October so we loaded up our guests at Portland Basin and towed her with "Forget me Not" to tie near Marple aqueduct. The weather was sunny and the water up to weir level so it was a really good trip with good company. Our guests really enjoyed it. We left them there as some of them were staying overnight, running back to Portland Basin with "Forget me Not" ready for the recycling trip on Sunday morning. Once again this was in wonderful autumn sunshine, we had a great bunch of volunteers and a good haul of saleable stuff to go to the charity shop.
After the trip me, Tony and Aaron took "Forget me Not" back up to Marple ready to bring "Hazel" back on Monday. For the return trip our only guest was Bridget, who was testing the boat for wheelchair friendliness. She's suggested a few modifications but thoroughly enjoyed the trip and I hope she'll be back as a volunteer. Here's a few pictures of the recycling trip and the Sunday evening trip up to Marple