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.
There's been so much happening I've not had time to take many pictures or post anything. Here's a few anyway, starting with theLymm Historic Transport Festival, which, as usual, was wonderful.
The view from "Hazel" with my old boat "Parbella" over on the left.
A good turnout of traction engines etc again.
Early morning, the engines wait for their fires to be lit.
I particularly liked this little steam lorry.
Joseph Garside engine, used for hauling sand at Leighton Buzzard. I used to work on the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge railway, originally constructed for the same purpose.
Our display panel with "Parbella" in the background.
I didn't take any pictures on the very hot trip back to Ashton or the Sunday recycling trip when we were joined by our great great nephew Marcus Kirby. However, Marcus drew a picture of "Hazel" with me in the hat perched on top celebrating the participation of the England football team in the World Cup.
The next time I got my camera out was on the Tuesday night recycling trip. I left the boating to Aaron Booth. We were also joined by Fliss Johnson, Lorrainne Howlett, Norman Lee and Geraldine Buckley. It was a lovely sunny evening for a trip in good friendly company.
Fliss, Lorrainne (with Missy) and Geraldine (with Snitch).
Norman perched at the bow, looking for wildlife to photograph. Note the parched grass in the background.
There was an anxious moment whenn I thought Aaron was going to put the stem through the window of the moored boat whilst winding at Fairfield. All was well though, missed by inches!
We were seriously mob handed working down from lock 16 on the Ashton Canal to Lock 92 of the Rochdale, near Deansgate Manchester. Some were experienced, some were new to working a pair through a flight of locks, but it all went pretty well and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I'm back home now but the boats travel on to Middlewich for the Folk and Boat Festival.
When we reached Dale St lock, the first on the Rochdale, we were held up by a steel wide beam boat working down ahead of us. They were having trouble undoing the anti vandal lock on one of the bottom paddles and couldn't get the lock fully empty on one paddle. Our volunteers sorted it out and continued to help and advise as we followed them down the flight. We referred to them as the clown boat as all they lacked were red noses.
The clown boat, demonstrating where not to stand whilst steering.
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.
"Hazel" had 2 airbnb bookings in Manchester on consecutive weekends, both with groups of Germans. We took her down the locks on Thursday with a guest on board, then got her tidied up for our guests on Friday. I stayed to look after things and we had a problem with the macerator toilet. It turned out a turnbutton off one of the cupboards had gone down it and caused a very unpleasant internal blockage. We also had engine problems, largely my fault as I made a cock up of a minor repair which necessitated a more major repair ( Volunteer chief engineer needed, any offers?)
On Tuesday, loaded with well being guests, we moved again, down the Rochdale 9 and onward to Sale Cruising Club moorings in proper Perter Kay rain. The helpful people at Sale filled us up with water and electricity. We planned to move on Wednesday morning but another engine problem blew up (as it were). This necessitated two return cycle trips to Stockport to get parts repaired. Our guests seemed to enjoy their sojourn in Sale. On Thursday morning we went on as far as the next winding hole, winded, then headed back into Manchester, getting pumped out at the very friendly Stretford Marina.
We tied below the locks at Castlefield, then Aaron, Shaun and Phil helped with the ascent of the 9. We tied among the steampunk building sites at Picadilly basin.
Today we took some Airbnb guests for a trip up the 3 locks to Staley Wharf. We all patronised the excellent chip shop there, then worked back down to Portland Basin. A nice day and a chance for our trainee crew to get used to working the pair through locks.
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.
The media dubbed it "The Beast from the East", snow and freezing winds coming at us from Siberia. By the time it reached Ashton it was more of a pussycat. Despite this, Claire, our marketing person, had to drive her disabled son to school because the bus company had cancelled its services.
I woke in "Forget me Not"s back cabin at about 5.30 AM. I revived the fire to warm the cabin up. Outside was uniformly white. I had a lot to do as the boats were a bit messy after the tree planting trip and there was lots of stuff in the van that needed unloading before it went to do deliveries for the shop.
At about 7, after enjoying coffee and muesli for breakfast, I went out and started lighting fires. Both the squirrel stove and the back cabin range feed into the central heating on ""Hazel". Our guest for the day hailed from hot places like Sudan, so I wanted the boat to be nicely warmed up. The van was unloaded, it was mostly firewood from Knowl St, then I started rooting about in the snow on "Forget me Not"s deck for bits of scrap we'd pulled out of the cut.
At about 9.20 I started to panic. No crew had arrived yet and the first guests had showed up whilst I was moving "Southam" out of the way. The guests went off to Asda and Aaron and Tony arrived about 10.30 and started clearing snow from "Hazel"s roof and salting the steps to make them safe.
In fact our guests, a group called Refugee Action, didn't arrive until well past 10. The safety talk was translated into Arabic and Sudanese then, with everyone aboard, we set off. I steered the motor, Aaron steered the butty and Tony dealt with the lines. The floating snow had coagulated into thin ice which we cut through easily.
It was a shame I couldn't take photographs as many picturesque Christmas cardy shots presented theselves as we went along. Just after Walk Bridge a couple on the towpath photographed our passing. I invited them to come on Sundays recycling trip.
Though only thin, the ice made winding at Lumb Lane difficult. On the outward trip the low sun shone brightly, but, as we winded, the sky greyed over and snow began to fall. Tony took over steering. As we headed into the East wind I began to regret not putting on even more layers.
As we passed the railway sidings at Guide Bridge Tony pointed out a group of orange clad workers sitting in a minibus. He told me he had a friend who worked on railway maintenance but in bad weather they weren't allowed to do anything (elfin safety) but would just sit around chatting for their entire shift. The world's gone mad!
Our guests spent most of the trip indoors, not surprising really, but they came out all smiles saying they'd enjoyed it. After a short break we welcomed another dozen refugees on board. This time Aaron and Tony took the motor and I enjoyed a lovely quiet ride on the back of "Hazel", feeling the warmth from the back cabin range. We headed off into a snowstorm, then the sun came out again.
We finished the second trip at about 2.45. Our guests departed and we sat down in "Hazel"s warm fore end to have a brew, before shafting "Southam" back into the basin then going our various ways home. A good day.
Today Tony and me got a few more trees planted, near the motorway in Audenshaw. I also cut back some sycamores that were threatening trees planted in previous years. We pulled out some shopping trolleys and a bike. Back at Portland Basin we tried to breast up to Southam but "Forget me Not" stemmed up in mid basin. The level is about 9" down but the water should be deep here. I poked around with a keb and managed to move something big but couldn't get it out of the water. It felt like a submerged tree trunk. Here's some pictures of "Forget me Not" around Guide bridge.
Today was supposed to be a canal clean up but CRT hit us with a load of paperwork that I haven't got round to completing yet, so I thought I'd get a few trees planted. All unofficial guerrilla planting. I only invited a couple of people as I'm not very sociable at the moment. Niether of them showed up as both were feeling ill, the winter lurgi that keeps coming back I think.
After waiting a bit and having trouble starting "Forget me Not"s cold engine I set off up the Peak Forest on my own. The level was down and almost immediately I stemmed up in mid channel. When I eventually got away a wheelie bin rose to the surface then sank again.
I got up to the site of our Solstice fire that wouldn't burn, removed the remnants of the bonfire then planted an oak in the ashes. From there I carried on to Hyde where I winded the boat and started heading back. Joe Hodgson, tree surgeon par excellence rang. He had just arrived at Portland Basin. He walked up the towpath and met me at Well Bridge.
At Globe bridge I got off and walked on to work the lift bridge. Joe successfully got the boat through the Great Central railway bridge and the lift bridge, both sources of trouble, then stemmed up un the same wheelie bin back near Portland Basin.
When we eventually got off this we turned left towards Guide Bridge and I got off to take these pictures. We planted more trees on spare land at Guide Bridge, winded at Lumb Lane and got back to Portland basin at dusk. A nice day.