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.
Someone said the Rochdale Canal was heaven one side and hell the other. I chose to charter "Hazel" for my boating holiday and invite some long unseen friends along. The original plan was to go up the Caldon but with various stoppages this became impossible, so I decided on the Rochdale instead. We had to go through the Hell bit to reach heaven. Unfortunately, the water shortages meant that we could only get to the edge of the celestial bit, just above Littleborough. We nearly got stranded there as CRT declared a stoppage at 07.30 (Having assured us that it would be fine to stay where we were for a few days) and immediately started locking up the locks. It took much whingeing on the 'phone from me to get them unlocked. It was great to see old friends Neesa, Dan, Eric, Stuart, Adeline and Eloise as well as some of our regular crew who came along to help work the many locks. Hard work but I enjoyed it. Thanks to Lesley and Mary for many of the pictures as I didn't take a lot.
Green scum on the Ashton Canal.
"Hazel" having her batteries charged.
At New Islington Marina.
A small amount of what we removed from the blade.
As far as we got. Lovely place to spend the weekend.
Me and Tony are having to take turns on "Forget me Not" and "Hazel" because we both have commitments back in Ashton this week. I joined the boats at Anderton Marina where "Hazel" was having her reserve batteries charged up.
She's providing a holiday afloat for retired boatwoman Hannah Hinde with her son and carer Duggie Shaw. Hannah grew up on Claytons oil boats and later worked wooden headers like "Hazel", carrying coal to Runcorn gasworks.
After working down the lift we headed upstream. I enjoyed steering the butty for a change while Aaron Booth took the motor.
The plan was to spend the night at Winsford, but, unfortunately, Vale Royal locks were out of action, so we had to return to Anderton . Tony will be in charge going downriver for the next couple of days, then its back up the lift and on to Runcorn on Friday.
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.
I was worried when I got up this morning. I'd had no response to my request for help on the last day of "Elton"s docking. Though I'd got all the plates on on Saturday there were still a lot of bolts to put in and my drill mounted nut screwer upper had broken. This simple tool was capable of surprising a bolt so that it screwed up without turning. Without it I would have to use spanners, a much slower process, and, without the element of surprise, I would need someone on the outside to hold the bolt head.
About 7.30 AM I got a text from Laird Denis McGee Boyle. He was coming from Nottingham to help. We had an excellent day painting the hull with black sticky stuff, drilling and bolting up plates. The picture above shows Denis painting the last bit at about 5.30. The pictures below show the work done over the last couple of days. Fingers crossed for her floating tomorrow!
The last 2 pictures show the bits that were holed by Community Spirit 2. Now nicely plated over.