Almost to Heaven

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.

Neesa

Dan
Early morning at Durn (Lock 47)
Waiting for CRT to let us out.

Rochdale in the morning.
Mary
Eric
Early morning at the Boat & Horses, Chadderton.
Kevan
Lesley
Niall
Sarah

Down the Locks to Manchester

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.


Tameside Radio Trip, followed by a Recycling Trip

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.

"Lilith" and "Hazel" being winded at Fairfield.

The 3 boats at Fairfield.



Lovely Day on the Ashton Flight

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.

Mary steers into lock 8.

Approaching Clayton Lane.

Crabtree Lane.

Passing the entrance to the Stockport branch.

Droylsden swing bridge.

Water sports adventure centre.

Entering the final lock.

Down the locks to Sport City 8th July 2017

"Hazel" needs to earn some money so that she can do more good work taking people who need their spirits lifting away up the cut. We decided to try taking her to Manchester as we earn more for overnight stays down there. Today Tony, Aaron, me and new volunteer (though he helped dig out the boatyard years ago) Lee, bowhauled her down the locks to the velodrome. On Tuesday she'll carry on to Ancoats.


A Long Weekend Trip on "Hazel"

At the end of March we organised a trip from Ashton to Bugsworth and back over a long weekend, Friday to Monday. Unfortunately only one couple, Mary and David, booked a cabin, but we ran the trip anyway.

The weather was glorious, if a bit chilly at night. The Friday took us to Chadkirk, where lovely gardens run down to the canal and there's a mediaeval chapel, holy well and is handy for access to Romiley. On Saturday we worked up the 16 Marple locks and along the upper Peak Forest canal, turning off up the Bugsworth arm where we tied in the former interchange basins.

Sunday was an easy pootle back as far as Strines, where we tied under magic oak trees, then on Monday, down the locks again and back to Ashton. Our guests have now signed up as crew.

"Hazel" between Hyde and Gee Cross.

Woodley.

A moorhen.

Aaron dozing.

Kim steering at Romiley.

"Hazel" at Strines.

Phil demonstrating where not to stand when steering "Forget me Not".

A tight turn on the upper Peak Forest.

One of the drawbridges.

Peak Forest scenery.

Joan steering "Hazel"

Declan enjoys sitting on the roof.

while granny steers round another turn.

Furnace Vale.

Bugsworth basins.

David tries motor boat steering.

While Mary steers the butty.

Magical oak at Strines.

Brewing up on Monday morning.



Aaron works the drawbridge.


Woodley again.

Woodley railway bridge.

Collecting "Hazel", and saying goodbye to Hazel.

Thursday 9th February. "Hazel" the boat was in Stalybridge but we needed her in Ashton for the Valentines trips (still undersubscribed if you and your lover would like to book a place). Anyway, it was an excuse for a training trip.Tony had invited his friend Joe who found us after a mystery tour of Ashton.  We took "Forget me Not" up the 3 locks to Stayley Wharf, Kim Tranter having his first go at boat steering, which he took to like a duck to water. We then left her in the care of Joan Wainwright while the rest of us walked up to Knowl St Heritage Boatyard to collect "Hazel".

 

Nigel Carpenter shafted the boat down to the winding hole and winded her, before working down lock 7.

Jannice Brown and Barry Atherton joined us Tony Hewitson bowhauled down the locks through Stalybridge town centre. George Hewitt took on her usual role of lockwheeler in chief.

It was a dull cold day with occassional flurries of snow so everyone was well wrapped up but in good spirits.

Back at Stayley Wharf, Joan had been heating up some delicious soup that had been donated by Bev Ackford who was unfortunately unable to join us for the trip. This was shared out and consumed as Joan steered us along the long pound to lock 3.

Then down the two locks and along the next pound to lock 1.

From lock 1 it was a level run through the Asda tunnel to Portland basin, where our crew made an excellent job of breasting up with minimal instruction from me.

It was an excellent trip. Everyone worked well together and enjoyed themselves, mostly just seeing what needed doing and doing it without having to be told.

When we were tied up, some had to go, but the rest of us went up to the shop as it was Hazel the person's leaving do. After a little mix up we found her in the nearby Station Hotel where she organises a Knitting and Crocheting session on a Thursday afternoon. For the last 2 years Hazel Mayow has been our volunteer organiser but, now that the funding has run out, we'll have to organise ourselves or return to anarchy. Hazel has a liking for cake, so we covered the pub table with extreme ceam cakes from the Polish shop. Poles seem to excel in the art of cake making. Luckily Hazel hasn't completely gone as she wil be coing back as a volunteer. I took my camera with me but clean forgot to take photographs, sorry.

All in all it was an excellent day. Thanks everyone.

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  http://greystones-ashton.org.uk/ 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    http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm   


Andy takes an early morning walk over the aqueduct.

Getting ready to move on to the locks.

Crossing the

aqueduct.

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.  http://www.marple-uk.com/aqueduct.htm

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. http://www.macclesfieldcanal.org.uk/


http://www.happy-valley.org.uk/index.htm


















Caen Hill Beckons.


Go by train, buy your tickets here  https://wcbs.trainsplit.com/main.aspx

I hadn't travelled as far as I intended on Wednesday so I decided to stick mostly to main roads on the Thursday. The road towards Purton was busy with morning commuters as I pedalled along.

I turned off to go through Purton the back way, through an industrial estate, over a level crossing then up a steady hill on a narrow lane past hobby farms of miniature goats, rare breeds and ponies. I came across a horse all done up like it was ready to go jousting. It was busy scratching its bottom on a fence post until it saw me and enquired if I had any carrots.

I waited at the level crossing for a London bound HST to pass.


It was an easy undulating ride along main roads to the next town, Wooton Bassett. Famous for its townsfolks all too frequent spontaneous tributes to dead soldiers returning from Afghanistan, this town has a lovely old wide main street, probably a former market place. I was tempted by the town museum, located in the old Town Hall, but great magnets were drawing me on towards the end of my line.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/3989429.Wootton_Bassett_pays_silent_tribute/


http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/town-hall-museum-royal-wootton-bassett-p1572593

I did stop briefly at the railway bridges for Wooton Bassett junction, to have a drink and look at the junction where the direct route to South Wales via the Severn tunnel diverges from Brunel's original London to Bath and Bristol railway. One way traffic was being imposed on the road as preparations were being made to rebuild the bridges ready to electrify the railway. I took a picture of an HST from Wales, still in front line service after 30+ years but soon to be replaced by Japanese trains which actually go no faster.



http://www.hitachirail-eu.com/super-express-iep_57.html


Up to the 1980s Britain led the world on high speed train technology, then government indifference ( Margaret Thatcher was known to hate railways) and slavish adherance to a free market ideology largely destroyed our train building industry.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2013/01/meeting-our-makers-britain%E2%80%99s-long-industrial-decline


There was nowhere to get away from the parade of growling lorries and impatient motorists so, after quenching my growing thirst, I remounted and went in search of the Wilts & Berks canal, which also ran this way. I found it down a lane, deep in a wooded cutting at the back of someone.s garden.



Lyneham was next on my itinerary, mostly famous for it's RAF base, where the sad cargoes from the Afghan war were landed. The airfield might have been interesting if I could see any aircraft. It turns out that it is no longer an airfield, just a maze of grey buildings and high security fences.  I plodded on towards Calne.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MoD_Lyneham


At a field used for weekend car boot sales there was a huge sculpture of a motorbike made entirely from scaffolding.


http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10571599.Bikers_heading_for_monster_bike_meet_at_Calne/


Calne seemed a nice busy old town. My map showed a branch of the canal terminating near the river bridge, so I went to have a look. The terminal basin has been built on with modern flats called, unsurprisingly,

“The Wharf”. A new gate into a park on the canal route depicts a modern steel pleasure narrow boat. Perhaps one day such craft will be able to navigate to the town.


http://calne-castlefieldspark.co.uk/


nehttp://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/towns-and-villages/cal-p462553


After Calne I had decided to diverge slightly from the main road, partly to move nearer to my line but largely because I wanted a break from the traffic. I turned down a pleasant lane towards the farming settlement of Broads Green, then on through the nicely unpretentious Heddington Wick and on to a place where my only route was along an alleged public footpath. There was no signpost but there was a very overgrown stile to show where the path should go. I lifted my bike over the gate and followed the field edge to an electric fence, near to which a herd of big cows was gathered.


They were clearly surprised to see me limbo under the wire then drag my bike after me, forming a defensive circle to face me. To say that I was scared of cows would be an exaggeration, but I am uneasy in a field full of them. One nightmare that I still remember from childhood was of being in a field full of cattle that were running about madly and kicking their back legs in the air. Suddenly all went black and I woke up very frightened. As I walked towards the herd it broke it's defensive line and the cattle began to behave just like the ones in my dream before once more forming a circle, this time all round me, shoulder to shoulder. The herd was treating me as a predator. As I walked forward the ones ahead of me shrank back and the ones behind advanced, so the circle moved across the field until, as I approached the far gate they melted away and went back to the serious business of grazing and filling their udders with milk.


Beyond the gate a narrow strip of woodland ran off to the left. Beside the first trees was a pen of young game birds, being raised to be released then shot for expensive fun. To the right was a mayhem of felled and uprooted trees, trunks and wrenched off limbs lying higgledy piggledy like corpses on a battlefield. Ahead was Bromham House Farm, where I could hear tractors manouevering. According to the map the footpath went to the left of the farm buildings, but there was no way through there. I had to pick my way between grey concrete buildings and slurry pits before finding the driveway out on to the A342. The farm workers either studiously ignored me or stared like I had just landed from another planet.


http://bayntun-history.com/BromhamHouse.htm


A turn at the village of Rowde brought me on to a straight fairly level minor road to my destination, Caen Hill Locks. They looked very neat with mown lawns and recently painted balance beams. I had joined the locks at the bottom of the spectacular straight line of locks that is so often photographed. I stopped at the first of these to enjoy the last of my rations, aiming to buy more food in Devizes.


Two steel boats were working down the locks and I fell into conversation with the lockwheeler. She was a woman in her fifties, stylishly dressed with a red hat. She had a grumble about lack of maintenance because the full lock had partly emptied and she had to let some water in so that we could open the gates. I told her she should try the Ashton Canal. She was not happy about the way that the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) run the canals, particularly the office based culture that is ignorant of the waterways and their people and will bully mercilessly those who cannot move on because of illness or other unforseen circumstances. There are some good people working for CRT but unfortunately this is the kind of story I am hearing a lot of and experiencing myself to some extent. There is a disconnect between the lovely being nice to everyone and everything surface gloss and the heartless reality on the ground.


We talked about historic boats. It turned out that her son had just bought an 1890 iron butty. She took a leaflet and we went our ways. My way was uphill on the neat towpath, the, leaving the canal, into the centre of Devizes.


It was market day and the town was busy. I had promised myself a meal in a cafe when I reached Devizes, so I locked my bike on the market place and ordered baked sweet potato and vegetable chilli in a cafe' next to a vegetable stall, I sat outside, watching the people and listening to the, often unintelligible, calls of the stallholders.


http://www.devizes.org.uk/index.php/shopping/markets


One call that I did understand was “Five creamy avocado pears for just one pound”. I thought that wasa good deal so I purchased some. I explored the busy town centre and did some more shopping so that I could cook myself a meal. Feeling the need I followed the signs to the public toilets and though it cost 20p I was amazed to find such clean and pleasant facilities with an attendant. I took the opportunity to have a good wash. Such facilities in towns around my area were closed years ago because of spending cuts, but here there seems to be no austerity. I’d even noticed that some villages have public libraries while we’re struggling to hold on to our main libraries.


It was time to move on. My new line to Banbury I would follow as far as Swindon. The first part would involve gaining altitude by following the bridle paths up Roundway hill. The first part was so straight and even in its slope that I thought it must be an old inclined plane. I can find no record of such though. The chalk quarries on the hill were presumably disused well before the coming of the canal as they were used to bury the dead from the battle of Roundway in 1643. A strong parliamentary force was unfortunately routed by a smaller royalist army. The parliamentary cavalry ran away, many of them perishing as, in their panic, they plunged headlong down an escarpment. The poor bloody infantry got left on the hill. They in turn tried to retreat  but ended up being massacred.



The hill was steep and I had to push my bike most of the way up, stopping on the seat above the Millennium White Horse to enjoy the view and use the last of my flask with its foul tasting water for cocoa. I ate the first of the avacados. Camper vans were discreetly parked beside the wooded old quarries. I set off along a white chalk road through arable fields, travelling mostly down a gentle hill with the site of the slaughter to my left. A combine harvester trailing dust rose gradually above the hilltop like a ship breasting the horizon in a dry sea of wheat.

After crossing a main road my route lay along a bridle path through a golf course. I’m wary of golfers. I know a place where golfers (who pay a lot of money to be there you know) regularly attempt to intimidate walkers on the public footpath across their course. I was pleased to see a clear sign for the path, skirting the edge of the course. I followed it up the hill and searched for a gate. The golfers were not hostile, but not helpful either. I eventually found a stile, bridle paths should have gates for horses to go through, and carried my possessions over in several vourneys.


The field I had entered was one of unkempt rough grass which I will not dignify with the title of hay. The only way out seemed to be through a gate to my right into a sheep field. From this I had to scale a steel gate into a wheatfield atop Morgans Hill. I crossed this, keeping to the tramlines left by tractors to avoid damaging the crop, then lifted my bike over a fence and a gate in quick succession to find myself at the ancient Wansdyke which follows the contours of the hills.




http://www.wansdyke21.org.uk/wansdykehomepage.htm

I consulted the map to regain my bearings. To my left were two pylons, to my right Furze Knoll, toped by trees and grazed by black beefy cattle. I should have gone the other side of the pylons but it didnt matter, I was on a footpath again and if I follwed ot I would hit the old Roman road that I needed to traverse. All around me was history and prehistory etched into the landscape.


http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3102173

The Roman road was nicely surfaced in fine chalk.


I rode confidently along it for about a mile, then turned off up another bridleway towards Cherhill Down, topped by a great needle of a monument. A combine harvester was making the most of of the dry weather to work late into the evening gathering the grain.


I began to push my laden cycle up the steep path on to Cherhill Down. This is a National trust site and the grass is varied and speckled with wild flowers. The monument was passed some distance to my left and I headed for woodland where my map marks Tumulus in gothic script. A family were out enjoying he hills, calling to a daughter who wanted to go a different way.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/24/cherhill_down_and_oldbury.html


https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/calstone-and-cherhill-downs/features/the-lansdowne-monument?awc=3795_1471467793_48d9652c7ec96a37fd98256df63ab483&campid=Affiliates_Central_Mem_AWIN_Standard&aff=78888



Evening was drawing on and I wanted to eat, but fires were to be “avoided” on this land and there were lots of walkers and runners about who I thought might grass me up. I found a nice spot between two mounds, which I think were ancient burial mounds, parked my bike against a tree and sat looking out at the amazing view. I soon went to get my coat as, despite the sunshine, there was a constant cold North westerly wind. I ate a couple more avacados as I was getting peckish, then the cold wind forced me to take shelter behind a mound and did some typing.


When I got bored with typing I climbed the fence into the wood and collected dry sticks. In the middle of the wood was a concrete surface that could have been the top of a water tank. I carefully laid out the things that I would need to cook a meal. By about 7 PM the hill was devoid of people, so I scrumpled up some paper, covered it with sticks and set light to it. In order to do minimum environmental damage I positioned the fire on a small area anready trodden bare by animals.


Soon I had a good blaze going and I began cooking. When my meal was ready I braved the wind to go and sit looking at the wonderful view. A whistling roar to my right drew my attention and I watched in amazement as the RAF Red Arrows aerial display team flew past in formation, barely higher than my hilltop perch.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DE-A4rLyWW8


By the time I had tidied up and put things away it was getting dark, so I laid my tarpaulin in the gap between the mounds, rolled out my sleeping bag, rolled up my coat as a pillow and wriggled my way into the warm soft envelope of my sleeping bag.

I didn’t know it was the night for the Perseids meteor shower. I woke in the middle of the night and opened my eyes to a wonderful panorama of stars, then one moved. As I watched, pinpricks of light would flash across the fly, the heavens putting on a free firework display for me. I watched for a while then dozed off again.


http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower