Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Bandit Country!

I usually have our DAB radio on when cruising and I like to “ride the dial” changing stations frequently.  I especially like the local stations we encounter. When I turned the radio on first thing Saturday morning, Michael Jackson was warbling through the speakers that “You Are Not Alone”, a hit of his from the mid-90s.

This was quite apt for we actually saw a boat on Saturday. The first one we had seen, either moored or moving for nearly two days. Another two followed it, so we are clearly not alone on this waterway, though it certainly seems like it.

If ever there was a “ghost” canal, this is it. The Rochdale has very few facilities, or mooring opportunities and no marinas, unlike its neighbour the Leeds and Liverpool, that runs roughly parallel to it 20 miles to the north. It’s the canal that time and maintenance forgot. There is either no water between the locks, or it is fiercely cascading over the gates. It’s a real shame. I guess that having 83 locks in 32 miles puts a lot of people off cruising it. If you seek solitude and want a work out at the same time this should be your waterway of choice.
Ancoats, Central Manchester. This should be full of water. Be lucky to get a model boat down here at the moment.
We are cruising down it in the morning - probably.
The weather has not helped. The last week has been wet, cool and windy, and up here in the North-West, it was certainly all those three. On Sunday, we stayed put, battened down the hatches and only ventured out for Sunday lunch at the local pub.
Pat enjoys her roast beef at "The Rose Of Lancaster"
Now let’s move on to the subject of Canada Geese. I am pretty sick and tired of wading through their poo everytime I moor up anywhere. They are noisy, aggressive to other wildlife, and evidently they taste awful, so they aren’t even worth eating. They are everywhere. I despise them and wish they would fly back home to Canada (sorry to our Canadian relatives and friends). Right, another rant over.
Where's my shotgun?
The odd boat we have met coming the other way, reported that we were fast approaching “bandit country”. One boat had been stoned by kids on a bridge. When the owner took a photo of the perpetrators, one jumped on the front of the boat and threw a camcorder they had been using to take time-delayed pictures into the canal. Add to this the drug takers, prostitutes, litter and graffiti that one encounters along the way, we were bracing ourselves for our journey into, and then out of Manchester.
Looks like somebody enjoyed a lock-side barbecue recently
Who needs Furnitureland, when you cruise the canal system
Well we have arrived at New Islington moorings, about a half mile from the city centre. This has had a bad reputation for vandalism, but so far all is quiet, and the warden, Ben, is a nice enough chap. He played down any local issues, but a residential boater here suggested we moored on the side of the basin that was cut off at night for pedestrians. There are two other boats here as well, and we all breasted up last night, though tonight we are here on our own.

We took advantage of having a volunteer lock keeper to help us down the last 18 locks and CRT (Canal & River Trust) told us to look out for narrowboat “Mia” that was making the same journey, and would be joining us. When we woke up yesterday morning, it was moored behind us, so we cruised with them into the city.

And yes, there was rubbish, there were some sad-looking youngsters shooting up, and the burned-out bin (above) beside one of the locks, but we have not felt threatened or uneasy. As we approached the lock after where the burned-out bin was, the skipper of Mia, who was slightly ahead of us, saw a young fellow wheel a motorcycle up, throw it in, and coolly walk away. How’s that for cheek. Fabian; yes that was the other boaters’ name, rang the boys in blue, but I doubt if anything will happen. The volunteer lock keeper told us they are always dredging scooters and motorcycles from locks.

Today we have had a day off cruising, and caught a tram into the Trafford Centre, and did some shopping in the city centre as well.

We then have a few days to kill, in and around the city before we moor up and Pat and I go our separate ways.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

New mates, broken gates and a hundred-year-old man

We are here!
Regular readers of our aquatic adventures will be familiar with my ramblings. I often find the minutia of life in the towns and villages we pass along the canals, equal to the pleasures of actually cruising. Take Monday for example: we were travelling between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden and fell into conversation with a boater who lived in Todmorden, and told us the best place to moor, drink, etc. Nothing unusual about that. Then he told us it was where Harold Shipman first practiced medicine and that he was one of his patients. “Evidently he dispatched a couple of elderly patients before moving on to Manchester,” he said.  “Nice chap,” and walked off.
Looking back on last week’s blog we were both getting pretty paranoid about getting off the Calder and Hebble as the locks were getting shorter and shorter. When we reached the last flight of three, some CRT (Canal & River Trust) workmen were doing some routine servicing there. We got through the first OK, and the second was a real squeeze, (about an inch in it). How we got in the last one I don’t know. It took three goes. I drove hard against the cill, and with one of the workman on our front rope got in. Then the top bracket on the gate broke. It just snapped, so I had to take the boat out. There followed a lot of head scratching before they lashed up the gate with straps and we tried again. It was a huge relief when they opened those gates and we turned left into canal country again and Sowerby Bridge.
Our third attempt at getting into the top lock at Salterhebble. The CRT men ponder on whether the gate will close. I'm just worried if I will get in.
A bit of a lash up, but it got us through
Since then we have been cruising with Ivor and Diane on “Paramour” and their beautiful border collie, Mick. He recognised me from the Caldon Canal, where they live, (not Mick stupid, Ivor) when we were there in May. It was Diane’s birthday while we were in Hebden Bridge and we had them on board for a spot of bubbly and some chocolate cake.
Looks like Mick wants a bit of Diane's birthday cake as well
There were more gate problems to come as we dropped into Hebden Bridge. The gates would not shut on lock 7 due to an obstacle under the water and the CRT man who turned up with a grappling iron used “Paramour” to “swing his hook”. He couldn’t shift the obstacle and called for his mate Bob, who did. After a pleasant two-hour wait in the sunshine, it was resolved.

We use "Paramour" as a launching platform for the CRT to throw his grappling hook.
Mick the collie looks on.
I am a big fan of Hebden Bridge, though it was nothing like I remembered it, when we visited last in 2008. Towns always look very different from the water and HB was no exception. I met up with a pal who always comes to our beer festival in St Albans and sells all sorts of Brewiana, but otherwise we just enjoyed the weekend and the surroundings. Pat went to the spiritualist church on Sunday night and I trawled round a few of the better pubs. We even popped into the Hebden Bridge Picture House on Saturday night to watch “The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window” with Diane and Ivor. There were a lot of subtitles but it was very watchable and very funny. I think it helps if you have read the book though.

The Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge. We're the second boat up on the right.
Hebden Bridge has become quite “New Age”, and has a large gay population. In “pink” circles it is known as the “Lesbian capital of the UK”. It is a charming place of alleyways, turrets, bijou shops and restaurants, surrounded by the dales. Evidently, a recent on-line campaign to make Hebden Bridge Britain’s capital city, attracted thousands of supporters! No, I didn’t quite understand that either, but it was in the Telegraph last year. We got a good mooring and stayed throughout the weekend, braving the remnants of Hurricane Bertha on Sunday evening.
On Saturday I caught a bus into Huddersfield and sought out a little music shop in a village to the south of the city, that sold “Mainland” ukuleles. This is the only place in the UK you can get this American brand and I had a great hour or so, playing all sorts of shapes and sizes. I think I will wait until we are in the US in December to treat myself to one. They sound great and look superb.
A very groovy "Mainland" Mahogany Tenor Ukulele
Then there was the slow climb over the Pennines again. The guide books all say this is a challenging waterway and they are not joking. It’s very slow going and there are many pounds between locks with no water in them.  And the weather has turned with lots of wind and showers to contend with over the last three days. But we have the summit yesterday and are back in Lancashire again. Tomorrow we start our descent into Rochdale and on, into Manchester next week.
Crossing the border, high up in the Pennines
Toodaloo chums

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Robin & Rhubarb

Pat tries out her new "Hebble Stick". Shame it's upside down.
I think it’s fair to say that the last few days have not only been very demanding, but quite stressful for us both. From the day we slipped out of Mercia Marina at the end of April, we have both been worried about The Calder & Hebble Waterway, a mixture of river and canal navigation that has 27 locks, 57ft 6in long. The ones on the Leeds and Liverpool were a bit of faff, but here we are really “pushing the envelope” with a boat that is an inch short of 60ft.  We also soon found out that some of these locks are shorter than others and our fear still is that we will get to the end of the waterway and find we cannot get any further and have to turn around and backtrack on the Leeds and Liverpool, a distance around 90 miles. Also coming back down the locks would  be more hazardous than going up. There is only one other usuable route over the Penines, that we can take. The Huddersfield is too short at its northern end, so we would have to go back to Leeds.
To cruise this waterway you need a “Hebble Stick”, see picture. Our boating pals Dave and Ang on “Lady Esther” donated a bit of wood they insisted would do the job for opening the paddles on some of the locks, but Pat splashed out £14 and bought a proper one, when she saw one for sale in Leeds.
Ahhh. Not that's better
Everyone we have met along the way that has cruised this waterway, has had a different opinion of how we should cope with it. Most of them have had boats shorter than ours, and most said we would have no problem. Well they were partly right and partly wrong We have squeezed into some pretty tight spaces over the last few days, and along the way I have had to take my rear fender off or we would have never got in one of them. On some there is ample room to shut the gates behind us, on some there is about a fingertip in it. OK, enough self-pity. We knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we planned our northern excursion.
This waterway takes us meandering in and around the “Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle”. I knew something about this, but its real big business in West Yorkshire - a nine-mile triangle, stretching between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, that has international recognition and standing. The early forced rhubarb is grown indoors, and when I was having a drink in a pub near Wakefield, a chap leaning on the bar told me that the rhubarb liked to be picked in candlelight. “Yeah, all right”, I thought, but I checked with Wikipedia and they confirmed it’s true. So its sort of right.
Rhubarb statue in Wakefield
You don’t see much evidence of this rhubarb mountain from the waterways, but we came across this statue in Wakefield and they make a big noise about it in the spring with Rhubarb festivals and the like in all the towns.
Growing by candlelight
We have also discovered why there are so many pubs called “The Robin Hood” around here. Just down the road at Kirklees Priory is supposed to be where Robin is buried along with his mate Little John. You can just about see it from the waterway through the trees. Records show that Robin of Huntingdon was bled to death by the Abbess there. Some welcome! The graves date from the late 12 hundreds. I always thought Robin was a made-up character, part Richard Green, part Errol Flynn and a little bit Kevin Cosner - now I’m not so sure.
Robin Hood's grave down the road
We spent the weekend in the little town of Mirfield, a few miles from Huddersfield. It’s the birthplace of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and three people thought I should know this fact as we shopped and went about our business there.
On Saturday we caught a bus into Huddersfield and met up with Ian and Irene, on “Free Spririt”, who had come up the Huddersfield Canal (their boat is only 57 feet) and were moored in the basin there. Good to see them again and Ian looking so well. We had a good old catch-up in one of the Wetherspoons in the city centre and went back to the boat later for tea. I suspect we will cruise with them for a while when we get on the Rochdale Canal towards the end of this week.

Another day, another Wetherspoons
Mirfield was a nice little place but we had big problems getting a wi-fi signal there, so I could not research any of the pubs in the area to see how they fared in offering Sunday lunches. We took a punt and really came up trumps. The White Stag on the High Street did us proud. Here’s a shot of our deserts.

Pat's creme brule
Every night, since we have had the boat, I have put up a traditional TV aerial. Up goes two poles and the top bit. I then get the compass out, and find the local transmitter. It’s a lot of messing around. I’ve seen the squat digital ones but heard they were not that good. In a lock last week the boat we were sharing with was raving about his little roof top aerial and leant it to us. Blow me down we got a fabulous reception. So we found the nearest Maplins and bought one. Fourteen quid well spent, and so far it has been far better than our traditional aerial, and it doesn’t blow around.
Our new TV aerial
Our next overnight stop was Brighouse, pronounced round her Brigass. Nice town, though I was half expecting brass band music to be pumping out of the pub jukeboxes, such is the fame of their town band. Remember “The Floral Dance”. At Elland on Tuesday night we moored outside “The Barge & Barrel”, which has its own brewery. Possibly the best beer I have had since in Yorkshire. It was superb.
All being well (fingers crossed) we will be off this waterway by Thursday and enter the Rochdale Canal at Sowerby Bridge. Before then we have a flight of locks, close to Halifax, which we know are going to be very tight. Might have to get a tub of margarine out. Somebody even suggested we made the journey first thing in the morning as the boat might expand by a few centimetres in the summer sun. What we can expect is a lot of rain over the next few days, which would be far more typical of Yorkshire than the warm, sunny days we have mostly had over the past few weeks.
I may be glad when we get off the C& H, but it's still very attractive. This is just past Brighouse.

Toodaloo chums