Now it can be told, The True Story of Filming Barging Round Britain. 2015

One Sunday we were passing the Ashton Packet Boat moorings on a recycling trip when someone called over, “Do you want to do some filming with John Sergeant”. “Possibly” I replied. “Ring Brian McGuigan” they said. Brian and Anne Marie McGuigan are the excellent couple who run our local fuel boat, delivering coal and diesel to boats around the Cheshire ring on the big motor Alton. Apparently the TV company had been in touch with them but they weren't interested.

A couple of days later I had a call from Oliver the producer and a long chat about what we could do with “Hazel”. He was a bit nonpluseed when I explained that the boat had to be towed. Knowledge of waterway traditions seemed to be a bit sketchy.

The timing was perfect. They wanted to film at the end of June and it was looking like Hazel would just about be ready to go by then. We were gathering a crew who needed some boating training and the project would need some publicity. A plan was hatched. We were to tow "Hazel" with "Forget me Not" to Bugsworth Basin where Mr Sergeant and the film crew were to join us for a 4 day trip back to Ashton.

A couple of weeks intensive work on Hazel had her just about ready to go and a merry band of volunteers, most of whom had not worked a lock before, bowhauled her through the centre of Stalybridge to join Forget me not, which I'd brought up from Ashton the previous evening, at Staley Wharf.

Working the pair down the next 3 locks with a team of green boaters was interesting. I had to be everywhere at once to make sure that everyone was following my instructions, and the occassional long distance bellow was required when someone was about to draw the wrong paddle. As we worked locks 2 and 3 a walker came over to me and said I should watch out for the following boat as it was in a dreadful hurry and had been ramming gates in their haste. Sure enough the boat appeared and its skipper asked to pass us as we were very slow. When I refused he claimed that it was the law of the cut that we should give way to him. I pointed out that in 45 years on the cut I had never heard of any such statute.

The Huddersfield Canal was unusually busy on this particular day. Usually, even in high summer, you can navigate these locks without meeting a single boat. At Whitelands Tunnel (opened out over 100 years ago but still very narrow) we had to hold back as an Eastbound boat emerged. They said there was another following, so we breasted up to wait. Inevitably our eager follower caught up and tried to pass, but was persuaded to tie up behind us and form an orderly queue. The skipper came along to chat and insist that they were very experienced boaters and the walker must have seen something that happened on the other side of the Pennines where they had to force the gates open with the boat because the leaks were so great that they couldn't get a level. I didn't want them breathing down my neck as I shepherded our trainees through the rather slow and awkward lock 1W, so, when the uphill boat appeared I let them go ahead.

When we were finally clear of this lock, hours later on our trip than anticipated, I sent someone ahead to get ready to strap us round the turn into the Peak Forest Canal. We went through the Asda tunnel and the awkward bit by Cavendish Mill where the retaining wall collapsed in 2002 and they're still arguing about who should pay for it, then into Portland Basin where Martin Gately was busy working on Lilith.

As we approached, someone on the bow threw a line to the person who had gone ahead. He took a turn on the strapping post that thankfully is still there (though the area is often occupied by anglers) and on my instructions tightened it at just the right moment to snatch Forget me Not's bow round into the narrow entrance to the Peak Forest Canal, releasing it again when instructed and passing it back onto the boat. It didn't go quite to plan as Hazel gave the copings a nasty bash, but that was my fault as i'd given her too long a line.

The 8 lock free miles from Aston to Marple allowed people to settle into the simple business of steering the boats. At Well Bridge we encountered a fallen tree, trimmed back but still almost impossible to miss with a full length boat. Forget me Not's engine was labouring as there was something on the blade that would simply not come off. In both Woodley and Hyde Bank tunnels we were accompanied by a following wind blowing at just the same speed as the boats. For some reason somebody always makes up the ranges when approaching tunnels, so we emerged red eyed in a dramatic cloud of smoke.

Its always tricky arriving at the bottom of Marple with a pair but not intending to work up the locks. There's a long low bridgehole with no towpath followed by a right hand turn into a basin that is usually lined with moored boats. Until you emerge from the bridgehole you cannot see if there is a 70 foot gap to slot into. On this occassion there was a suitable gap and our crew did well in breasting  and tying up reasonably neatly.

It was pleasant to wake up early in Forget me Not's cabin and revive the fire which I'd kept in overnight with sawdust. To lie in bed drinking coffee with the doors open to the early morning sunlight, listening to the dawn chorus. Soon people were up and about and bacon and eggs were cooking in Hazel's kitchen. Eventually we were ready to go. Maxine Bailey had her painting work interrupted by this trip so she had come along. She went with Andy  and a chap from one of the moored boats whose name I forget to work the motor boat on ahead while I showed the rest of the crew the techniques of bowhauling up Marple.

All went well except for a slight problem when the motor boat caught on a bottom gate, demonstrating that you have to be constantly alert whilst working through locks. Most lock accidents happen because no-one is watching the boat.

At the top of the 16 locks is the junction with the Macclesfield Canal. We were heading for Bugsworth* so the motor tied against a grassy bank just beyond the junction, having the first experience of the shallow rocky edges of the upper Peak Forest canal.

Working the butty up the locks I had enforced a strict rotation of duties, so everyone had their fair share of turns at drawing paddles, opening gates, steering and, of course, performing horse duty. By the time we reached the top and shafted across to breast up to Forget me Not they were all in need of rest and refreshment. I haven't yet explained to them that on future trips there may only be a couple of them to work the boat through the flight! It gets easier with practice.

The upper Peak Forest is narrow and shallow with rocky edges as already noted. It's also a lot busier than any of the canals around Ashton. When we were at last ready to set off we had to wait for ages for a suitable gap in passing traffic, then we had a struggle to get Forget me Not free from the shallow water.

The upper peak tested everyone's steering skills, especially on the deeper draughted motor boat. The slightest deviation from the channel would result in the motor stemming up and inevitably being caught up with by the butty. There are also numerous drawbridges, so a couple of our crew had some good exercise walking ahead to prepare these.

The previous night one of Hazel's two sets of gas bottles had run out, so I had hoped to replace them at New Mills marina. Unfortunately we could find nowhere to tie up reasonably near the marina, so we carried on. Eventually we reached the turn into the Bugsworth arm and plodded carefully up the narrow shallow waterway to tie, breasted, in the first of the extensive basins.

The next day was a Saturday and we spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon cleaning, tidying and waiting while filming took place elsewhere. We had been sworn to secrecy about the filming. A series of steel boats were taking water. I wanted to fill Hazel's tank but every time I prepared to move her, another boat nipped in. I went over to the water point to arrange a slot with the other boats. “Are you here to film with John Sergeant “ asked the man. “It's supposed to be a secret” I replied. “Oh, everybody knows, that's why we're all leaving”!

With the tank full it was time to wind. We started to do this at the entrance basin but were advised that most pairs couldn't get round there and we should go up to the wide a little further up. There was plenty of room to wind with Forget me Not powering the boats round nicely, then chugging back and backing into the lower basin to wait some more. I dropped Forget me Not astern of Hazel to facilitate our celebrity guest getting aboard, and carried on waiting.

At last they arrived, and instantly looked worried. "Who are all these people?" Asked Clive the director. I explained that they were our volunteers and not only were they interesting people but we were combining this fiming trip with crew training and they would be essential for working the boats down the locks and anyway we needed someone to steer the butty. They weren't happy but conceded that someone would have to steer Hazel, everyone else would have to stay inside with the curtains shut. Personally I think they'd have ended up with a much more interesting programme by including our volunteers, but what do I know.

We began filming with me introducing John to the boats and explaining why there were 2 of them. We got the cameraman and sound man on board then set off with Andy steering Hazel. Almost immediately we picked up something on the blade which made the engine smoke, much to my embarrassment. Regular applications of sterngear failed to throw it off.

John didn't seem too happy about perching on the gunwale and soon he was wanting to steer. We exchanged positions and carried on with our conversation, interspersed with constant reminders from me to stay in the middle. Inevitably, before long, we experienced the first of many stemmings up.

Secret crew members were surrepticiously unloaded every now and then to run ahead to drawbridges which magically opened ahead of us. We travelled on, with John acting a character that lay somewhere between the Queen and Paddington Bear. Behind us Andy was working hard to keep Hazel in a straight line while the motor boat zig zagged along the cut. “You know” said John “we've bumped into a few boats along here but I don't think they mind do they”?

The target for the evening was the Swizzels Matlow sweet factory at New Mills where they were planning to film on the next day. We dropped John off for the camera opposite the marina, then immediately filmed him getting back on again before continuing past the sweet factory to tie up in an elfin glade just beyond. We said goodbye to the TV crew and enjoyed the rest of the day making a meal and chatting.

Next morning Pauline cooked us all bacon and eggs as we waited for the film crew to arrive. They were a little late and there was some concern about keeping to the schedule. We soon resumed our leisurely progress, impeded by frequent encounters with the rocky bottom of the canal as John struggled to get used to steering a deep draughted boat. He seemed to be enjoying being treated like royalty by passers by on land and water.

At Disley some modern bungalows back on to the canal. John struck up a conversation with a man in the back garden of one of these. He turned out to be a chef who had just got home from his shift in an hotel. “Would you like some capuchinos?” he asked, so we waited and waved past a series of pleasure craft as he prepared the coffees. All grist to the mill for a lighthearted documentary.

The Peak Forest is not a canal that you can hurry. The director, hiding in Forget me Not's cabin, glanced at his watch with increased frequency and anxiety, for they had a busy schedule for the rest of the day.

John spotted some girls on horses and asked to stop. Being unable to get near the towpath, the only possible stopping point was in the bridgehole that the horses and their mounts were crossing. I held the motor in the narrows and hoped that no boats would wish to pass as the interview with the girls continued. When they were finished with, there developed a conference between director, producer and star. Sure enough, the top lock training boat came along and had to wait. Eventually I persuaded the film people that other people wanted to use the canal and we'd better get moving.

It had been agreed that we would tie up for the night at Brick Bridge, the last one before Marple top lock. Because the canal is fairly narrow there my plan was to tie up singly rather than breasting to make it easier for boats to pass. When we got there I struggled to find anywhere that I could get Forget me Not anywhere near the towpath because of all the rocks lying in the bottom of the canal. Eventually I found a spot, but Hazel, drawing about 2 feet along her length, would not come near. We had to pull her alongside the motor and hope that boats could get by.

Our TV friends went off to film at some nearby locations before John returned with the cameraman to stay aboard Hazel. Clive explained to us that for all kinds of complicated reasons the only people to stay on board were to be John and the cameraman. I had hoped that One of us could sleep in Hazel's back cabin, but the director said no. For “all kinds of reasons”, the only one that he specified was insurance, none of us could stay on the same boat as our celebrity guest. That left room for 2 in Forget me Not (none of us fancied sharing the cross bed or sleeping on the floor) but there were 3 of us. Luckily Tom and Pauline had brought a tent. The problem was, where to pitch it.

They said they would be back at about 6 pm, so we busied ourselves cleaning and tidying inside Hazel and making up beds for our guests. After much discussion we decided to try pitching the tent on Forget me Not's temporary deck. This worked very well, so we had our tea and waited, and waited, and waited. At one point our TV people showed up on the nearby road in a vintage car, then they went again. It got dark, and we carried on waiting. Eventually I decided that they weren't coming, so I went to bed on the motor boat's sidebed. As morpheus began to creep up on me I was suddenly brought back into the land of wakefulness by voices and lights outside. They had arrived. I got up and showed them into Hazel. John then acted out a rather Paddington Bear like scene of confusion and difficulty of dragging his suitcase through the boat.

The three of us crawled into our sleeping bags and spent the night aboard Forget me Not . I discovered that Forget meNot's gunwale still leaks. Andy discovered that I snore and John slept like baby in his tent. Aboard Hazel, celebrity and cameraman found their berths very comfortable..

In the morning I was expecting that we would enjoy breakfast with our guests, but instead they filmed Mr Sergeant making a big show of finding the cupboards bare (not true) and going off for breakfast in a greasy spoon. I was beginning to get concerned about the way that the film might portray Hazel and our society. Every time I had tried to talk about the boats on camera John had changed the subject. I pointed out to the director that we agreed to this trip on the understanding that the film would give good publicity to our project, reminding him of my lifelong hatred for Griff Rhys-Jones since he totally failed to mention the Wooden Canal Boat Society when he filmed a trip on Forget me Not. He told me not to worry, we would get a good plug in a voice over.

They said that they'd be back to film our descent of Marple locks in the early afternoon, so I decided to pop back to Ashton check on the other boats. Before I left a motorised River class boat, belonging to A &R Rothen, came along heading towards Whaley Bridge. The Rivers were some of the last working narrow boats built, made of welded steel they are rather like slimmed down Thames lighters. Only two motors were built, of a rather unusual and unsuccessful design. This one is a former butty that has been given a conventional motor stern and is now used for canal maintenance work. It was steered by our friend Fred who ran a recycling trip for us a few months ago when I was unable to be present. I was pleased and surprised to see that it got past our pair without difficulty. As I'd heard that the fuel boat Alton was heading our way I walked round on to the Macclesfield canal to warn them about the potential difficulty before heading for Marple station.

The railway from Marple to Guide Bridge (change at Romiley) is a very pleasant ride parallel to the canal. It's a surprising survival as most of the minor railways of the area disappeared in the days of Dr Beeching. With unstaffed stations and “nodding donkey” trains (Leyland buses mounted on wagon chassis) the line provides a good service to Woodley and Hyde and is quite well used.

Back at Ashton the boats were all floating happily and I had time to pop into the shop and call at home before getting the train back to Marple. When I got there our editor had arrived in the hope of having a trip down Marple locks.  Colin Scrivener had arrived to enjoy the trip down the locks, but it was not to be. We spent a pleasant afternoon chatting and drinking tea, but by the time that Colin had to leave there was still no sign of the celebrity and his retinue.

Their eventual arrival co-incided with a sudden deterioration in the weather as squally gusts of wind whipped up wavelets on the waterway and dark clouds threatened more than the few droplets of rain that actually fell. A plan was decided on and cameras set up accordingly. Celebrity John was now steering Hazel with me on the roof trying to direct operations. Andy was steering the motor boat. A couple of people had gone ahead to prepare the lock, my plan being for Forget me Not to go straight into the lock. John's straw hat blew off, much to his overacted distress (he had a spare in case of such an eventuality). As we a approached the lock I realised that I hadn't explained my plan clearly enough. Not only was the top gate not open ready but the paddles were not yet drawn to fill the lock. I gesticulated wildly to our lock team to prepare the lock whilst formulating a revised plan. This involved much use of the long shaft to control the boat in the vicious gusty wind and bring her reasonably gently alongside the copings above the lock. Butties have no brakes and so sudden changes of plan can be difficult.

Quite how all that will appear on TV I'm not sure. Mr Celebrity was mainly concerned that the cameraman should rush back up the towpath to get a shot of his still floating hat. The secret crew had emerged from Hazel and were now plainly visible as they started working the motor, then the butty, down the 16 lock flight. Andy got told off for smoking as he steered Forget me Not as tobacco use cannot be shown on TV nowadays lest it be seen as a cool thing to do

After a few locks the TV people met up with representatives from the Marple Locks Heritage Trust. They fitted the motor boat with Go Pro cameras, little video cameras that can be clipped on wherever you want them and will record until the battery runs out, and sent us on our way while they went off to film something else. I re-organised our crew, electing to work the motor myself whilst everyone else was to work Hazel down. I stayed one lock ahead to keep ane eye on things and ran back occassionally to give advice. All went well.

Because we had started so late on the locks it was a close thing whether or not we would be finished before dark. At lock 5 it was getting dusk when Oliver came to reclaim the Go Pros. By the time we reached lock 1 the last glimmers of light were fading. We roughly breasted up below the lock and those of us who were staying fell into bed, while others faced a drive home.

The main job for us on the final day of filming was to capture the crossing of Marple aqueduct. This was to be filmed by a drone. We crossed the aqueduct slowly with the drone whizzing about above our heads while John and I discussed the splendour of the scene. We then had to do it again, so I took a line from one of “Hazel”s stern end timberheads and dragged the two boats backwards ready to repeat the procedure.

Ashton under Lyne is an interesting town. It was a boomtown of the mid nineteenth century growing rapidly as the cotton trade expanded, the burgeoning mills being fired by local coal dug from local pits and in many cases delivered by boat. At one time it even had its own religious cult, the Christian Israelites, who believed that it would be the site of the second coming of Jesus Christ and at the height of their influence planned to build a city wall to join up their four gatehouses. It is also the Northern terminus of the Peak Forest Canal.

It was with some difficulty that I persuaded the TV people that they should actually bother with the lower Peak Forest canal rather than terminating their journey at Marple. There seems to still be a view widely held in the South that “dirty Northern towns” have nothing of interest. With the aqueduct filming over, the plan was for the TV entourage to go off to Hyde and film at boxer Ricky Hatton's gym. The boats were fitted with go pro's again and set off for a pleasant journey along the winding wooded water route, to tie up, as arranged, just before Dukinfield lift bridge.

Another long wait began as, it turned out, a conference took place in a nearby pub. Eventually the star and retinue returned to the boats, but continued their conference for some time. At this point I witnessed the downside of celebrity status as some people tried to but in to the private conversation that was going on, calling on John to pose for their cameras. He deliberately turned his back on them in a way that could be seen as rude, but if this sort of thing happens frequently it's difficult to see how one could deal with it politely without disrupting ones working day. He was, after all, at work.

With the filming soon to finish we had a group photo taken, all sitting on Hazel's roof with our feet on Forget me Not. With this done the drawbridge was lifted, the engine fired up and we carried on the last quarter mile, stemming up only once. A dogwalker on the towpath asked john if Forget me Nots decked over hold was for him to practice for Strictly Come Dancing. “Thank you” said John as he turned his head away from the towpath joker. Apparently references to his star performance on that programme don't go down too well.

Arrival at portland Basin from the Peak Forest is quite a tricky manouvre with a pair. You have to give a burst of power as you leave the narrow Tame aqueduct to give the butty some speed, then immediately go astern to avoid crashing into the moored boats and allow the butty to slip alongside. The boats have to be tied abreast quickly and neatly, again, to avoid collisions, then, if you're quick, the buttys momentum is used to help the pair to swing round more than 90 degrees to tie up alongside the wharf. All went beautifully until I pulled back the gear rod to reverse the stern ends alongside the wharf. It came right back and the boat carried on in forward gear. The linkage had come apart and I had to rush through into the engine 'ole to pull back the gear lever.

With the boats alongside the wharf a final piece to camera was fimed, there were lots of thank yous and handshaking and a promise from the director to arrange for a donation to be sent to us.

It had been an enjoyable few days and I looked forward to seeing the finished product on the television. It was eventually screened in May 2016, which would have been an excellent time to tell the nation about “Hazel” and her mission to help people with mental health issues by taking them into the waterway environment. I had, however, an uneasy feeling that, a verbal promise from a TV director might not be worth the paper it was written on.

My fears were confirmed when I saw the programme. The only mention of the Wooden Canal Boat Society was in the credits at the end. There was nothing to explain that our star was travelling on important historic wooden boats, in fact, to the uninitiated the boats must have seemed a bit of a mystery.

Far be it from me to tell an established TV director how to make a programme, but actually these boats are very interesting to most people. Whenever we travel anywhere with them we see people aiming their cameras and 'phones as we pass and people with only a passing interest in waterways come over to as about them. When I mention their project to give time in the waterway environment for people who are mentally unwell, this often strikes a chord, for even if the person I am talking to has not themselves suffered mental illness, they will almost certainly have a friend or relative who has. By reneging on our agreement the director not only made me very angry but he actually made a much less interesting programme.

Unsurprisingly, the promised donation did not immediately turn up, however, shortly after the screening someone from the TV company rang up to ask if it was OK to pass my number on to someone who was interested in the history of the boat. I said that was fine, then went on to explain how disappointed I was at the lack of integrity that had been displayed. He was very apologetic and said that he would pursue the matter of a donation.

After a little while a generous donation of £100 appeared in the society's bank account. That's £25 for each day of filming!  Shortly afterwards Beth and Arnold Allen, who have been great "Hazel" supporters, visited. Arnold said he would contact the company. He did so, resulting in a further £400 personal donation from the boss.

*The village referred to was the transhipment point between the Peak Forrest Tramway, which brought limestone down from quarries around Dove Holes, and the Peak Forest Canal. For centuries it was called Bugsworth but, during Queen Victoria's reign, the residents decided that they wished to expunge any suggestion that they may be troubled by small bitey creatures, so they changed the name to Buxworth. I prefer to use the original spelling.

Busy with the Boats

I've had a tiring couple of weeks.

On Monday 23rd October we started our canal clean ups. We were expecting two groups to join us and I was a bit concerned that there would be more people than I could find jobs and equipment for. It was drizzling. Phil Smith from CRT arrived with lots of litter pickers, grappling irons etc. Luke arrived and we decided to hang on to wait for others. No-one showed up, so me and Luke set off for lock 1W. We hauled out a few shopping trolleys then went up the lock.

Aaron and Kim joined us and we looked for the obstruction in Whitelands tunnel. I think it's mostly stone, which we're unable to get out, but Aaron and Kim pulled out a huge lorry tyre which couldn't have been helping things.

(This series of photos by Luke Clarke)


At lock 2 we used the boat to access an area covered in rubbish that had been annoying me for ages and cleaned it up. Kim had to leave above lock 3 and time was pressing so we moved on to Stayley Wharf.

 It had been a bit disappointing but we had a respectable haul. I cycled down to Portland Basin to get the van and, as dusk fell, me and Aaron loaded the van with scrap iron, piled cut foliage in a neat heap and piled non recyclables on the bank.

Being a Monday I was fasting, so I enjoyed a bit of solitude aboard “Forget me Not”, reading a book. I went to sleep early but was up again well before dawn. I drove to the boatyard to pick up batteries and more scrap, then to Portland Basin to pick up even more scrap and change batteries on various bilge pumps. From here I went to Mullaneys scrapyard up near Hartshead Pike, unloaded the scrap, then back to Portland Basin where the van was to be collected for shop deliveries. I cycled up the towpath to get back to the boat about 9.30 in time for Phil to pick up the rubbish.

Tuesdays team were mostly volunteers organised by Peter Hawley, the Stalybridge Town centre Manager. About half a dozen arrived. I suggested backing up to clear the narrows near the aqueduct as this is a favourite place for getting stuck if the level is down a bit. Trainee skipper Alan took the controls as I steered the reversing boat with a shaft from the bow. We got plenty of road signs, bikes and trolleys out of the narrows. Some of the trolleys were so embedded in mud that we had to drag the grappling irons with the boat to get them out. One raised concerns that the iron might be caught on a plug to drain the canal, but it was only a trolley.

Some of the volunteers preferred litter picking, and there was plenty to find. They dragged bulk bags along the towpath to contain it all. Above lock 4 Phil met us with the CRT pickup to take away the rubbish. As I pulled away with the boat I noticed that the grappling iron that I was towing was causing much disturbance and globs of oil. I'd hooked on to a motor scooter which, with much effort, we dragged on to the bank, then pushed to above lock 5 to load it. I informed the police of our find.

The mess on the counter after landing muddy stuff with the grappling iron.

The narrows below Armentierres Square is a happy hunting ground for shopping trolleys. “Forget me Not” stuck on one, but we soon had it out.

With the deck well loaded with soggy smelly scrap again everyone left at lock 6 and I travelled on alone through 7,


then winded and backed up to the boatyard. This wasn't easy as a wind had sprung up and there was stuff on the blade. A passer by helped me remove some clothing from the propeller and I told him about recycling trips which he says he'll join us on. With the boat tied at Knowl St I was off home for the night.

Wednesday was a sorting out and repositioning day. Tony and Aaron arrived to help unload the boat, filling the boatyard with dripping smelly bikes and trolleys. We loaded on to the boat foliage from the boatyard trimming of the previous week then set off back down the locks, collecting the brash that we'd left at Staley Wharf. At the railway bridge behind Asda there was a stack of trolleys that someone had previously fished out, rusting in the undergrowth, so we stopped and loaded these up, then ferried them to the inaccessible space under Cavendish St Bridge, where they were exchanged for more foliage which someone had left there and some bags of rubbish.

At Portland Basin we turned left into the Peak Forest canal and unloaded the brushwood at the intended site for the Samhain fire, a patch of himalayan balsam next to the Great Central railway bridge.

We haven't used the winding hole at Jet Amber Fields for a few years, since a huge raft of american pennywort prevented us from winding. However, this seems to have subsided, so we decided to try it, rather than carry on to Hyde to wind. “Forget me Not” just managed to get round, though I doubt if we would succeed with “Hazel” as she is deeper at the bow.

We tied the boat at Portland Basin to await the next days adventure.

Thursday was the day for dibbling for rubbish in the Peak Forest canal. As well as the usual suspects we had Albert and Adam from the shop and a couple of new volunteers who had seen it advertised. We started right at the exit from the basin, looking for whatever the boat had bounced over there the previous day. We found nothing, it must have moved. Slowly we worked our way through Dukinfield to the lift bridge. Our new volunteers tended to hang back, constantly and mostly fruitlessly casting their grappling irons in the same spot as the boat left them behind.

I managed to gather everyone together at the lift bridge, a known trouble spot, and do some intensive grappling. The results were disappointing, though we did pull out some tyres. I found a clue to the problem here when I pulled out a brick with the keb. I think someone has tipped a load of rubble in here, which will need one of those rare and fabulous beasts, a dredger, to remove it.

I was eager to get to more problem areas further up the canal. The Great Central railway bridge was the next one. Some homeless people were camped on the old pit loading wharf there. It had been adopted as park land but appears to have been abandoned by the council as a result of funding cuts.

“Forget me Not” frequently touches the bottom along here but my hunch was that the problem was mostly railway ballast, carelessly cast into the canal by the railway authorities. This turned out to be the case, though we found quite a lot more debris in the water which we were able to remove. This included quite a lot of scaffolding, I suspect lost by contractors painting the bridge girders, and several more tyres.

I had an idea about the source of the tyres. Some time ago I had noticed a load of tyres dumped near Dunkirk bridge. These had now disappeared. My hunch was that they had found their way into the canal, which would explain the difficulty sometimes experienced in traversing this narrow bridgehole.

Tempus was busily fugiting so we hurried on to the afformentioned Dunkirk bridge, which “Forget me Not” frequently struggles to get through. Here, as anticipated, we pulled out lots of discarded tyres as well as the usual bikes, trolleys and what looked like the remnants of a pottery kiln.

A grappling iron got hooked on something that all the huffing and puffing of volunteers couldn't shift. I followed my usual procedure of attaching the line to the dollies and towing it out, but this time the line parted, so, we were one grappling iron down.

At the M67 motorway bridge there was a line of items that someone had clearly pulled out before us leaning against the concrete (there's a You Tube video of someone fishing them out with a powerful magnet) They included a large number of wheelclamps! We went through the bridge and winded. I would have liked to have backed up to Manchester Road bridge, another trouble spot, but time was pressing and volunteers were ebbing away. Returning through the motorway bridge we picked up the wheelclamps etc and enjoyed the trip back to Ashton in the fading light.

Friday was spent clearing away the spoils of the week and preparing “Hazel” for some overnight guests.

Early on Saturday morning I started getting “Forget me Not” ready for the trip. Our guests were a family from the North East, though coming originally from Chelmsford and all round the world. One of them was celebrating a milestone birthday and his wife had booked the stay on the boat and a trip to Roaches lock and back as a surprise.

Some were dubious about our ability to get to Roaches in a day. Though it's only about 5 miles and 14 locks it's on the difficult and unreliable Huddersfield Narrow Canal. As well as the usual suspects, myself, Tony and Aaron, Luke joined us again and I had recruited tree surgeon Joe and leaflet deliverer Andy.

We started at 9 and were soon starting to work up the locks towards Stalybridge. The weather was dull and drizzling. Things went smoothly at first, though I was a little concerned that, though the water levels were OK, there was no water running over the weirs. This made me think that there may be trouble ahead.

Trouble presented itself in the pound above lock 8, Grove Road. The pound was well down. This was a surprise as several substantial streams feed this pound. I've no idea where the water was going but it wasn't feeding down the canal.

I walked on to set the next lock, but, before I reached it, I got a call from Tony to say that the boats were stemmed in mid channel.

The affected pound is long by Huddersfield canal standards. The next one up is short. I virtually emptied it supplying enough water to bring the boats up to the lock. This meant I had to run down water from the pound above to get through this pound, thus lowering the next pound up. Going uphill, if you get a low pound you are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul in this way.

Between 11 and 12, through Scout tunnel, the pound is slightly longer and I hoped to get through without robbing any water from further up. Sludging carefully along the middle it looked like we would succeed, until the boats firmly stuck just a few yards from lock 12. This meant stealing more water to get into the lock.

The next pound up runs through Mossley and was the longest that we would pass through. Despite this, getting the boats those last few yards took enough water to drop it a few inches below weir level.

Still, things looked good and we made steady progress until the second bridgehole, where “Forget me Not” got firmly stuck. It was only after much hard work that we got her moving again.

By the time we got into lock 14, Woodbank lock, it was dark. Some of our crew were getting anxious about getting home and our guests were expressing anxiety about their 6.30 booking at the Roaches Lock pub. There was only a short distance of winding canal to traverse and Tony made a good job of steering the pair through the pitch black.

As we reached the wide below Roaches we breasted up and, as a moored fibreglass cruiser loomed up ahead of us, tied rather clumsily just short of it. Our guests hurried up the bepuddled towpath to the pub whilst our crew trudged off down the road towards Mossley station, where the trains turned out to be buses, so they got a bus instead.

With the boats secured I went out in search of food, which I found in an Indian takeaway. I sat on the balance beam of lock 16 in the continuing rain, eating my meal and listening to the water running over the weir.

That night, the clocks changed. I used the extra hour to tidy up and organise firewood. I wondered if the crew would arrive on time. It was important to get moving early to avoid running on into the night. I walked down to the lock and got it ready so that, if necessary, I could start the boats moving with just a little help from our guests.

Today the usual suspects were to be augmented by Keith and Elsa Williamson, who gave some people lifts from Ashton. I'd just got the engine started when they began to arrive. A towpath walker warned of a low pound in Mossley.

Soon we were winded and on our way, working smoothly through Woodbank lock. A short pound brought us to lock 13, where we saw with dismay that the walker had not been exaggerating. The longest pound of our trip, through the centre of Mossley, was nearly empty.

We ran the motor down the lock and she sat, with her counter well out of the water, on rubbish in the bottom. We drew the top paddles then rushed to jump aboard at the tail of the lock as the boat, carried by the rush of water, shot out like an express train, only to stem up and sit awkwardly across the canal.

I walked to the next lock to see if I could find the reason for the problem. Elsa was ahead of me. We found that a top paddle was up and the bottom gates were leaking badly. I was worried that it could be our fault, did we leave a paddle up? Thinking back to the previous day I recalled that, at that particular lock, I had repeatedly asked one of our crew to shut the paddle until he eventually did, so clearly the problem wasn't our fault. This is why I try to drum into new crew members to shut the paddles as soon as the gates are open, otherwise its so easy to forget.

Later we heard that , the previous night, a dog walker had chased off some kids who were messing with the lock machinery. On this particular paddle the anti vandal lock was broken.

Our crew began running water down, but the short pound above the lock would soon be depleted so I walked up to Woodbank lock to steal some water from the longer pound up to Roaches. Eventually, Tony rang me to say that “Forget me Not” was afloat again. I shut the paddles and, after working the butty down, the pair set off, carefully, slowly, sludging along the muddy middle of the canal. Aaron stayed at lock 13, alternately filling and emptying the lock to send waves of water along the canal to lift the boats over any obstructions.The boats stuck solid in the same bridgehole that we had had problems with on the way up.

I ran down more water from Woodbank to help the now nearly empty short pound then, when I dare take no more, returned to the stuck boats. Elsa, who had stayed at lock 12 asked if she could bring an uphill boat up the lock, then we could use the same water to take our boat down. I asked her to hold the boat below the lock. Taking a lockfull off the pound would delay getting our boats unstuck, we wouldn't be able to pass each other and the leaky gates would soon empty the full lock anyway.

Eventually, with the pound nearly full and the ballast tanks emptied, we got moving again. Elsa rang again. The Eastbound boater was getting impatient. I explained that we were nearly there, as we stemmed up again. This time it just needed a bit of work with the shaft to get the boats moving . We reached the lock, worked the motor through, the impatient boat came up then the butty followed down and we carried on through Scout tunnel.

We were now on a waterway well supplied with water. Things went smoothly for a while but it was already well into the afternoon. At lock 7, near the boatyard in Stalybridge, some of our guests had to leave to catch a train. They thanked us profusely for the trip and said they would be back.

The procedure for working the pair down a narrow lock is as follows:- First the motor is worked down while the butty lies against the top gate. The lock is then refilled and the motor backs up, tiller removed, to sit with her fenders against the bottom gates, ticking over in reverse gear. It's very important that the boat is in contact with the bottom gates. When the bottom paddles are drawn to bring the butty down a powerful eddy holds the motor in place. The steerer can do nothing so they can go into the cabin and attend to the range. If the motor is not against the gates it will be brought back and crash into them with tremendous force. When the lock is empty the reversing boat simply pushes the gates open, the steerer picks up the towline and attaches it to the dollies and the pair steam on along the next pound.

As we approached lock 7 I had been preparing 6 bacon and egg butties for the crew. 6 rounds of bread were buttered on the table and the fillings were cooking on the range. I asked the motor steerer to back up to the gates and finish making the butties (sandwiches). We worked the butty (boat) down, but when I went to see about distributing the butties (sandwiches) I was told we had a problem. The swans neck was pointing in completely the wrong direction. The rudder had got turned far beyond its normal arc of operation and was now jammed under the counter, where it had hit the propeller and stalled the engine.

Clearly the boat had not been against the gates when the paddles were drawn and the rudder had caught on something as the power of the eddying water hammered the boat backwards. Our attempts to untangle the ironwork only resulted in bending the tiller. As I tied up the motor to allow the butty through the butties (sandwiches) were distributed. I was rather miffed not to get one.

There was nothing for it but to bowhaul the butty for the rest of the trip and leave the disabled motor where she was. Me and Aaron took turns at bowhauling, Tony was suffering from a bruised leg as a result of being hit by a flying pallett during the cleanup, so he steered. Luke lockwheeled without a bicycle.

The remaining locks were dealt with quickly and efficiently in the gathering dark. At the Asda tunnel some of us lay on the roof and stretched our legs up to walk upside down along the smooth concrete, then we shafted the boat along the towpathless stretch past Cavendish Mill to tie up at Portland Basin at about 6 PM.

I had been a little concerned that our guests may have been disappointed with their experience. They had spent most of the trip inside the cabin and didn't seem to be taking much interest in the boating activity. As they left, however, it was quite clear that “Hazel” had worked her magic on them. They told us they had really enjoyed the trip. They had rather stressful jobs and had appreciated the relaxation afforded by their time on the boat.

Once everyone had left I headed back up to Stalybridge. There had been some young scallywags hanging around the town centre as we passed through so I wanted to make sure that “Forget me Not” was safe. After spending a pleasant night in the back cabin I started shafting the boat down the locks. Near the Tame aqueduct she stemmed up in mid channel. A little work with the keb brought out a tyre, one that we missed during the cleanup. At the Clarence St moorings the boat stemmed up again, this time on a submerged tree trunk. It took the efforts of myself and several of the residents to dislodge the boat then recover the offending log. One of the moorers caught me up at lock 3 offering to help, but I turned him down, partly because you can't really have 2 people shafting and partly because I was just enjoying doing it on my own.

As I neared my destination I got a 'phone call from Janet, our neighbour at Knowl St. She thought that someone had climbed into the boatyard. As soon as I got the boat tied abreast of “Lilith” I cycled post haste to Stalybridge. There had indeed been an intruder as I could see that things had been disturbed, but I couldn't identify anything as missing. I collected the van and drove home for a good rest.

Tuesday night should have been the night of the Samhain fire, but I was too busy to organise it so the brushwood will have to wait until the Winter Solstice before it is ignited.

I had arranged to meet a police officer on Friday morning to hand over the motor scooter. When she arrived at the boatyard I led her to the place where we had unloaded it. There was nothing there! Perhaps this was the target of our Monday intruders.

On Friday evening I shafted “Forget me Not” to Ashton Packet Boats boatyard in Guide Bridge. On Saturday morning they pulled her out on the slip and we found that the damage was nothing that a few good blows with a sledgehammer wouldn't put right. With the rudder untangled “Forget me Not” was ready for action again, just in time for the November recycling trips, which were excellent.

A Busy Weekend

"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

Passing Guide Bridge Station. Lisa and dog.

Kevin on "Lilith".

Click on the link for a video.

Into the M60 bridge. Under the M60 Waving to the old folks flats. Past the site of Robertsons Jam Works. Nearly there. "Forget me Not" on the way up the Peak Forest to Marple at Dunkirk Bridge. Manchester Road, Hyde. Emerging from the M67 tunnel. The wharf on the right once served a coal pit. Now it's silted up and clogged with American Pennywort. Approaching Adamsons, Hyde. Passing Captain Jacks. Adamsons turn. Captain Clarks Bridge.

Here's another video link to click.

BoringTrain Pictures

While we were away at the Bollington Historic Boat Gathering I had to keep popping home to check on the boats as we had no volunteers able to look after the pumps. this involved various train journeys. I like trains, even modern ones. Here's a picture of a Cross Country Voyager set rushing through Adlington as I waited for the local train to Manchester on 16th September 2016.

On the morning of the 19th I got a train from Hyde North to rose Hill then cycled along the Middlewood way to Bollington. As I waited for the train a couple of nodding donkeys (class 142) arrived on a Manchester working.

Immediately out of the station they clatter over the pointwork to join the route from Hadfield (formerly the Great Central Woodhead route)

I was surprised by a class 66 with a train of stone empties heading for the Peak District, carrying on with the kind of work that the Peak forest canal was built for.

Eventually my train arrived.


Bollington Trip

We decided to take "Hazel" to Bollington near Macclesfield for a gathering of historic boats. I tried to get some paying guests to help subsidise the trip, but without success. We had the usual problem of concessionary guests dropping out (to be expected when people have depression and similar conditions but very frustrating when you're offering something wonderful for free). At the last minute we got a couple of guests from Greystones who seem to have benefitted from the trip enormously. It was a lovely sunny trip up the Peak Forest canal. At Hyde we were stopped briefly by a shopping trolley which can be seen in some of the pictures being carried on "Forget me Not". We spent the first night tied near Marple Aqueduct   

Andy takes an early morning walk over the aqueduct.

Getting ready to move on to the locks.

Crossing the


after a really pleasant trip from Portland Basin up the Peak Forest canal. We had a really good group of volunteers to get us up Marple locks where "Hazel", being a butty, has to be bowhauled (pulled by human power) up the 16 locks.

Andy in a lock. Waiting for the lock to fill. Hazel (the person) bowhauling "Hazel" (the boat) Mick bowhauling, Andy steering.

At the top of the locks we turned into the Macclesfield canal and, unusually, there was plenty of room on the visitor moorings, so we tied up there.

Tony steers through the old stop lock.

Breasted at Marple.

Next day we had a very pleasant, if windy, run along the Macclesfield Canal to Bollington.

A Hazel Sponsors Trip

2009-09-27 @ 20:56:54 by ashtonboatman

Sponsors trip

On Saturday afternoon we took "Southam", "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" for a trip to the bottom of the Marple flight to be in position for today's trip for "Hazel" sponsors. We took all 3 functioning boats partly because we didn't know how many guests might turn up on Sunday, partly to provide extra cabin space for volunteers staying overnight and partly because I like towing trains of boats. On the trip out we had a lot of trouble with rubbish on the blades and this contributed to the overheating problems that we've been having with "Southam"s engine.

Bex, whose birthday it happened to be, brought a big pan of chicken stew, and a smaller pan of veggie stew for any veggies- much appreciated by Ike who eschews the eating of flesh. We stopped near Hyde to eat this. It was followed by birthday cake made by Emuna, who was too ill to come ( she has M E )

"Southam" only just fits through Woodley tunnel (she was once stuck in it for 7 hours) so we went through very gingerly. All was well and we reached Marple about 7 PM. The winding hole was full of BW boats and Ike had to shaft some of them out of the way so that we could wind the 3 boats. As we were doing this Neil Goodier's hireboat "Border Rose" arrived. We tied "Southam" and "Forget me Not" breasted, stem to stem with "Border Rose", with "Lilith" behind under the railway viaduct.

With the boats secure we walked up the locks to Marple in the dark and found a pub called, I think, The Bulls Head. I'm sure it was some part of a bull. I very rarely drink and had more than is good for me. Some very good discussions took place and Bex did much networking around the bar. I expect everyone there to turn up for the recycling trip next Sunday.

The return walk to the boats became a little tiresome, not least because of the amount of flavoured petrol, or something very like it, that some people had consumed! In an outbreak of religious fervour Bex tried full immersion baptism in the canal. Fiona bent my ear about formulating an alcohol policy for the society, probably a good idea, though I'm not sure how you get people to adhere to it when reason fails and it's too late or too far to send them home.

Sunday morning I awoke in "Lilith"s wonderful little forecabin, built last year by Tony Forward, and drank coffee to ease the dull ache in my brain. I dressed in my boatman costume and gave Bex my work clothes as hers were still drying over "Forget me Not"s range. Ike had been involved in discussions with nocturnal ramblers interested in the boats and had not slept for a second successive night. I don't know how he does it. Jim and Daniel Cocker made bacon butties and we busied ourselves cleaning and tidying the boats ready for our guests.

Lester and Janet Mayo arrived with Alan Crompton, the Lancashire coracle man. It was good to see him as he's been unwell for a while and unable to come on recycling trips. Pans of food were loaded on and "Southam"s range stoked up. Soon the Marple Lions arrived en-mass, a total of 19 "Hazel" sponsors in all.

With everyone arranged on the boats and numbers carefully checked, we set off, trying, and failing, to avoid nudging "Border Rose". Soon the convoy was snaking around the bends on the wooded approach to Hyde Bank Tunnel. Of course, someone fuelled up the range as we approached the tunnel and my eyes were stinging by the time we emerged from the low Northern portal.

We tied up for lunch at Gee Cross, oposite a luxurious house built with reclaimed bricks on the site of an old mill. Lester and Janet served up an excellent meal of meat and pasta. The sun had come out so we were able to dine al fresco on "Forget me Not"s temporary deck.

We had some difficulty getting going again as "Forget me Not" was well and truly stemmed. I pushed her off from the bank and had to walk to Captain Clarkes bridge while Lester steered "Southam" I enjoyed the sound of her chuntering engine and the sight of the train swinging round the tortuous curves of the canal. From Captain Clarkes I concentrated on washing up, boiling water in the big old copper kettle on "Southam"s huge ex army range. Chores done, I enjoyed chatting with our guests in the fore end.

At Portland Basin we stopped on the Tame Aqueduct to unload everyone. We couldn't hang about as a boat wanted to turn into the Peak Forest and we were blocking their way. Lester took "Southam round the turn and I used a long line from the T stud to strap her off the junction strapping post. I then started shafting "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" across to the wharf, only to find that I was in the way of the Huddersfield Canal Society trip boat which wanted to back out of the Warehouse arm. Soon the boats were in place and the trip boat away, pans loaded into vehicles and everyone on theirways home, except Chris and Kath who were boatsitting.

If you would like to become a "Hazel" Sponsor please click this link