Sunday, 30 August 2015

Lock flight where windlass not required

We went to a good service at Holy Trinity, Hurdsfield, this morning; after coffee we left our mooring on the floating pontoons (why floating? This is a canal, and a very long pound) and headed for the Bosley Locks. We had sandwiches on the way, intending to eat out this evening.

At the locks we were astounded to find that every one of the twelve was manned by members of the Macclesfield Canal Society. I had already got my bike out for lockwheeling purposes, but I put it back on board at the second lock down as it was not needed. The HALOS (Have A Lock On Us) scheme is run by the Macclesfield Canal Society every year on the Sunday before the late August Bank Holiday. Today they were busy from 0930 to 1730 with a lull around lunchtime, and the volunteers were pleased that the weather stayed fine.

I was slightly miffed that my windlass wielding, paddle winding arm was redundant. I love doing locks and the Bosley flight is particularly fine. Neverless I enjoyed steering into the locks for a change.

At Buglawton we tied up expecting to go to the Robin Hood pub for a meal, but we ended up at the Church House pub by mistake (misreading of Nicholson on my part) and they had just stopped serving. We asked some drinkers outside where the Robin Hood was and they strongly suggested that we go instead to the Railway Inn in Congleton. As we walked back to the boat we phoned the Railway Inn and booked a table. We moved the boat and tied up at the last space on the piling before Bridge 73, which was just as well because there was nowhere else to moor before the pub. And there's a fine view from here.

The food was very good, not the cheapest, but I'd go back again.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Network Rail's solution to collapsing roof beams in Standedge Tunnel: chuck them in the water

One of the boats involved in the tunnel drama of three days ago caught up with us today; the crew have provided some very interesting update information.


David and Karen on NB Shadow (not our former shared ownership boat) passed us as we were watering up at Marple this morning; we followed and stopped when they did a couple of miles down the Macclesfield Canal. This is what they told us.

NB Cornwall, a Shire Cruisers hire boat, entered Standedge Tunnel about 45 minutes after us and had an uneventful passage until a rendezvous point about half way in. Here they were told to wait, the message from our CRT chaperone having been relayed to the "shadow" team in the adjacent disused railway tunnel. Meanwhile Shadow had entered the canal tunnel and had reached the first rendezvous point adit (a connecting passage between tunnels). Here they too were asked to wait while CRT decided what to do. Twenty minutes later they were instructed to reverse out. Their chaperone remained on the back of their (cruiser stern) boat, David put it into astern and fended off the walls either side with his hands. The only rearward-facing light was the chaperone's miner's lamp; no-one was at the bow. David says that his unconventional exit was actually smoother than his entrance, with the boat taking fewer knocks!

Once Shadow was out the electric tug boat was sent in to get Cornwall. The crew were transferred through the adit to the CRT Landrover and driven out. When Cornwall eventually emerged backwards behind the tug it was rather battered.

Now both boats and their crews were safely out. In the evening Network Rail went in to sort out their walkway which connects the live railway tunnel with a disused one. As the canal tunnel is at a lower level than the railway tunnels the walkway floor forms part of the roof of the canal tunnel as it crosses over. It was the timber beams of this walkway which had been tilting down into the canal tunnel. Work went on during the night; in the morning Network Rail e-mailed CRT to say that all the dangerous timbers had been removed, "but we may have dropped one in." CRT then gave the go-ahead for Cornwall and Shadow to pass through the tunnel. All went well until Cornwall came to a sudden stop. It had found the wooden beam - it was wedged between the boat and the tunnel wall.

But that's not the end of the story. There wasn't just one timber in the water. It appears that Network Rail's solution to the question of what to do with the dangling beams was simply to push them all into the canal. With Cornwall's timber freed they continued, and found more floating in the water. Shadow coming along behind also found floating timbers. These were hauled out using ropes; CRT people in the adjoining tunnel raked some out as well. In all six timber beams were found and removed.

The above is what David on Shadow told me today.

These were substantial timbers. I saw them - I estimate their cross section as 6" x 4". All this raises two important issues. First, what on earth did Network Rail think they were doing, just chucking their defective stuff into the canal? Apart from the timbers what other rubbish might now be under the surface of the water? Second, if safety was CRT's primary concern, why did they not send in an inspection boat before allowing members of the public through the tunnel?

We had been chatting to David and Karen on the towpath; now they needed to crack on as they had lost a lot of time through many hold-ups on their cruise, Standedge Tunnel being just the latest one. We waved them good bye.

It would be interesting to hear the hire boaters' story but I'm unlikely to bump into them now.

In order to stop to talk to David and Karen we breasted up to Spring Water; after Shadow had gone we invited Andy and Sue on board Jubilee for lunch. It was great seeing you again, especially as you weren't in when we passed Spring Water in Wigan (that seems a long time ago!)

We stopped for the night in Macclesfield. All the space on the linear pontoon moorings was taken (although there would be room for another boat if people were to shuffle up); as we were going past slowly a man on the first moored boat invited us to breast up to him, which we did, very gratefully.

After tea we walked into the town and witnessed the same sunset that others seem to have seen all over the country.

Friday, 28 August 2015

The price we paid for stopping for lunch

After collecting some train tickets from Stalybridge Station we set off down the last four locks of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. In some ways I was glad to leave the HNC behind - the stiff paddle gear, the low pounds, the shallow water even in "full" pounds, the dodgy bit of Standedge Tunnel - but in other respects I was sorry. The views of hills close at hand, the old mills, the friendly people, the excitement of Standedge Tunnel. We had rushed it; it would have been good to have spent more time savouring the walks and villages. We shall return!

At the bottom lock we just had to pose for the camera.

Some of the locks on this canal have ingeniously cranked balance beams in order to accommodate bridges. Lock 2W (or is it W2?) has bottom gates which, from a glance of the balance beams, look like they are open when in fact they are closed.

The bottom gates of Lock 1W are even stranger: one balance beam is conventional but the other has a double crank.

The highlight of today's cruise was Marple Aqueduct. New steps have been put in to make it easy to look at it from below, but I just set the camera to wide angle and waited for a train to pass by on the viaduct. None came.

Of course, as soon as I had given up waiting, one came along.

What was the price we paid for stopping for lunch? We were overtaken by another boat, Leo, who proceeded up the Marple Locks in front of us. I had to turn every one when we followed half an hour later. We caught them up even though most of the locks were in their favour. (To be fair, though, we overtook them when they stopped after operating the lift bridge; we had managed to nip through after them.)

Leo even got the prime mooring on the junction. The 48 hour moorings on the Macclesfield Canal just the other side of the junction were full so we banged a couple of pins into the steepish bank and put the gangplank out. We had a good meal in the Ring o' Bells pub.

What's this? No locks to do tomorrow? I think it might be the only lock-free cruising day we will have done since setting off in March.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A lock which won't fill, a trip hazard and an impossible-to-use water point

I'm still buzzing from yesterday's subterranean excitement, but I need to move on. Just a quick update, though: many readers will know that Standedge Tunnel has already reopened after Network Rail worked through the night removing the dangerous timbers. The wooden beams had formed the floor of an access walkway across the canal to the live railway tunnel. The delayed boats from yesterday should have gone through the tunnel today and CRT is saying that everything should be back to normal tomorrow.

On to today, then. We continued our descent of the west side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Dobcross to Stalybridge, dropping through locks 23W to 5W via Uppermill and Mossley. We saw just one other moving boat, On Reflection, which we passed right by a moored work flat. On Reflection grounded as we passed; we stopped in a bridge hole and I helped them get off the shallows.

The best views today were those looking back at the hills. The worst lock was 13W: one of the bottom paddles was leaking so badly that the lock wouldn't make a level when we tried to fill it.

We tied a rope from the bow of Jubilee to the gate post and even with Jan giving it full astern and me heaving on the balance beam still the gate wouldn't budge. Eventually two people from a nearby garden came to give assistance; with the three of us and with the boat pulling the gate started to open allowing the remaining few inches of water in.

One more lock of note is Lock 10W. There is no grip surface for the feet (there's a word for this, I feel) when opening or closing the top gate; all there is is the slippery grass/mud. To make matters worse there is a badly placed bollard over which I tripped when opening the gate AND when closing it.

The photo indicates that the bollard is just outside the arc of the balance beam, but I doubt I'm the only one who finds it in the way.

We stopped at the services by Grove Road Bridge 96 for water. This was entirely unsuccessful as we couldn't attach the hose to the tap.

It looks as though the screws fixing the tap in its original position had come loose; the tap has been repositioned lower such that there is now no room for the hose connector.

I think I'll just send CRT a link to this blog!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

"We need to get out as fast as possible", said the CRT man on our boat in Standedge Tunnel

Today started well. We were up and almost breakfasted before CRT started measuring up Jubilee to make sure it would fit in the tunnel. It passed the test, and I realised that I could have left most of the roof furniture in place. I had taken the precaution of putting the gangplank and cabin shafts inside.

One thing it would have been handy to know in advance was that CRT ask you to remove side fenders. Ours tie to small metal loops on the edge of the gunwales - to remove the offside ones I had to push the boat across to the other side.

Back on the right side our CRT chaperone, Josh, introduced himself to us and issued me with a life jacket, hi-vis jacket and hard hat. I chose to wear my own life jacket which passed muster. Jan would be staying inside for the passage.

At 0830 we were ready for the off.

Things proceeded according to plan to start with. There were some tight sections which I navigated through successfully; we waved to the "shadow", the CRT team tracking our progress in the adjacent disused railway tunnel; the rubbing strake lived up to its name once or twice.

The tunnel keeps one on one's toes with narrow but high spray concreted sections, low brick arches, rough-hewn rock and so on. Jan says it was like caving from the comfort of your own home. It was amazing! And much better motoring through rather than our last passage of ten years ago, when the boats were joined together in a train following us boaters in an electric passenger module.

The end of the tunnel came into sight.

And then ... a look of horror on Josh's face as we came across something which was definitely not as it should have been. Several concrete* timber beams had become dislodged; the ends were hanging down in a decidedly falling down manner. "Stop!" called Josh.

We paused long enough only for Josh to take a couple of photos; I took the opportunity to fire off some as well.

The lowest ends of the beams were about a foot higher than the cabin top and to the right of the centre line. The photo shows that at least seven beams were out of position; hanging on horizontally on the lowest pair were what looked like the remains of a metal girder. The bright spot on the right is the beam from Josh's miner's lamp.

Then Josh said, in a calm voice, "We need to get out of here as fast as possible".

I eased the boat into gear, we crouched down and gently accelerated past the danger zone.

We were all right, but Josh was concerned for the safety of the two following boats. The only way of warning them about the danger was to phone the tunnel office and get the message through to the "shadow" team who could then stop the boats at the rendezvous points.

But with five sixths of the passage completed we had passed the last rendezvous point so for fifteen minutes we three were the only people who knew about the problem. Josh was in full "this is where the training kicks in" mode as he went through the options for the tunnel. At first he thought that the beams were under the live railway line - if they were, then Network Rail would probably have to close the line. This turned out not to be the case; I understand that they were below an access passage between the live rail tunnel and a disused one.

And what should be done about the other boats in the tunnel? They would either creep past and hope nothing falls on them or they would have to be pulled out backwards. Before we reached the exit Josh had pretty much decided the latter was what would have to happen.

As soon as we got out, 1 hour 30 minutes after entering, Josh leapt off and phoned the office. The line was engaged! For what seemed like several long minutes - but was probably only two - Josh couldn't get through. Then contact was made and there was a period when we couldn't do anything but put the kettle on. Josh gladly accepted the offer of coffee; when I gave it to him he said it was very good, but he doesn't usually drink coffee!

At this stage we were asked not to tell anyone what had happened as there were still families on boats in the tunnel and there was no point spreading alarm.

As predicted CRT immediately closed the tunnel and set about sending in a rescue tug to pull out the two boats inside. We felt sad for the people on the boats having to come out the wrong way, as well as for those waiting at Diggle for their turn to go in. It was to these boaters that Josh had to walk to break the bad news that their passage was going to be delayed.

And so we scraped through Standedge Tunnel, the last boat to transit for what might be some time.

The rest of the day would have been newsworthy for a struggle to get to Dobcross owing to low pounds, but you've had enough excitement for one blog post!

*Jan remembers Josh saying they were concrete; I thought he described them as timber

edited to update: they were timber beams

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

First in the queue for Standedge Tunnel

We both woke up at 0640 so we decided to make an early getaway from Slaithwaite. We were in the first of today's 21 locks at 0730 and saw no other moving boats until almost at Marsden. I'd cycled ahead to get the next lock ready and was surprised to see a boat coming down. Jan was even more surprised when a boat popped out of the lock she was expecting to go straight into.

We had excellent weather for the final ascent to the summit pound with plenty of sunshine and no rain. At last we seemed to be getting nearer the Pennine hills.

This is looking back to Slaithwaite from Lock 23E.

And here are the hills!

Many of the locks have marvellous stone tail bridges such as here by Sparth Reservoir.

Looking back at photos it's easy to see where you were as every balance beam has the lock number in huge stencilled characters.

We tied up immediately beyond the top lock, 42E, having arrived at about 1230. We had had no delays, there was enough water in all the pounds - the slow going was on account of the slowish filling locks. Every lock was a deep lock. Nicholson doesn't give the fall, but each one must have been 10' plus.

1600 was the earliest we were allowed to move to the tunnel portal, so I got ready to go five minutes beforehand. As I set off for the five minute cruise a Shire Cruisers hire boat followed. We are now in position to be the first boat through in the morning - yet another early up for us! I have a feeling we might allow ourselves a lie-in the day after.

After watering up we walked round Marsden church and village; back at the boat we had tea and walked up the hill over the tunnel. I should say "tunnels" as there are at least two rail tunnels as well as the canal tunnel. I seem to remember there are actually four bores - no doubt I'll find out tomorrow from the CRT "pilot" who will accompany us at the helm.

Thinking about this, I wonder where he or she will actually stand. Jubilee has a traditional-style stern with room for one steerer in the "safe" position forward of the tiller arc. Another thing I'll discover tomorrow.

Our boat "inspection" is at 0800. I'm hoping I won't have to remove the solar panels or the pigeon boxes.

One thing about our location here at the tunnel mouth: the trains. We are right next to the railway line with passenger trains thundering past every few minutes. I expect they'll stop overnight and be our alarm call in the morning.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Why can't all paddle gear be like this?

After realising yesterday that I might have been slightly too ambitious to get up all 42 locks from Huddersfield to Marsden in one day we set off earlier than normal (0800) and cracked on with it.

We paused briefly at the canalside Lidl at Mirfield for essentials (bread, milk and maple pecans) and soon we were turning sharp left and then right to enter the Huddersfield Broad Canal.

Phew! Back to good old canals, where the weirs are very tame and you don't have to worry about floods. At the first lock - and many of the Broad Canal's locks - the paddle gear is interesting. There's no pawl to fiddle with; when you wind the paddle up there's a tinkling sort of ratchet sound and the spindle and connected parts stay put when you stop turning. To lower the paddle you simply overcome a slight resistance and wind the gear down again. At first glance it looks like a Fenner system, common on the Leeds and Liverpool and the Rochdale canals, but some of the inscription on the cast iron casing reads "INTOGEAR" and "INTOVALVE". It was nice to use (but there was at least one broken one). Of course, this can't be installed everywhere. One of the joys of the inland waterways is the variety of paddle gear - this morning I was enjoying using a handspike at Cooper Bridge Lock on the Calder and Hebble.

It was a real shame we had no time to stop in Huddersfield. I wanted to do as much of the eastern side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal as possible today to be certain of making our booked passage through Standedge Tunnel on Wednesday. The Locomotive Lift Bridge was fun, but then we passed through Aspley Basin and onto the HNC.

After the first lock we were a bit surprised to encounter a boat coming towards us out of the tunnel. They said there was another boat behind them but that they would keep the lock set for us, which they did. The following boat turned out to be Lillyanne; we were moored very near them at Crick earlier this year.

It was good to meet you, Pip and Mick, albeit all too briefly. As we were ascending in Lock 2E the water running out of the pound above, where Lillyanne was waiting, caused Lillyanne to tilt over alarmingly. I shut the paddles and helped Mick push the boat out towards the middle of the channel. When it was properly afloat again I finished filling the lock and we passed in the pound.

This wasn't the lowest pound by any means. That honour goes to that above Lock 10E. I had to run a little water down from the pound above, fortunately a longish one, before we could gingerly make our way down the middle. I say "we" - it was actually Jan as I was wielding the windlass. As she came into the lock the boat reared up as it went over the bottom gates' cill.

There was one incident later where we went aground. I must have strayed too near the edge. A bit of a push with the cabin shaft did the trick and there were no further problems, although Jan reported scraping along the bottom at one point.

Now we are in Slaithwaite and replete from a good curry at the Monsoon Indian Restaurant.

edited to correct spelling and add a link

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Racking up the locks

A leisurely Sunday morning saw us in St. Catherine's church down Doncaster Road in Wakefield where the rural dean gave a good sermon. The church building was quite unlike a "conventional" mediaeval or Victorian pile. It burnt down a couple of decades ago and an excellent modern church was erected in its place. The church does a large amount of work to support the needy in the community with a café and a food bank supplied from local businesses (top marks to, among others, Sainsbury's and Greggs).

It was about 1230 when we untied. Our first job was to deliver an empty aluminium beer cask across the cut to the Ruddy Duck pub opposite whence, no doubt, it had come. It had been nestling up to the back end of Jubilee.

About a mile before Horbury Bridge Andrew and Bekka joined us, having walked along the towpath from Brewery Bridge. We called in to the services at Horbury Bridge, watering up in the disused lock which used to connect to the river through the basin. The rain started after we left there, getting quite heavy at times.

It must be many years since Andrew last did some locks. The paddle gear at the Figure of Three Locks looks heavy.

We called in at the Nelson pub at Brewery Bridge hoping for a Sunday roast meal, but they did little more than bar snacks. I was tempted by the beef in a Yorkshire pud but it wouldn't have been quite the meal I was hoping for. We ended up at the Ship Inn by Shepley Bridge, a Hungry Horse pub advertising two Sunday roasts for £10. Unfortunately, by the time we'd got drinks and decided what food we wanted, they had run out of roast meals. Ho hum. We settled for something from the grills menu instead.

Andrew and Bekka (with Caspar the dog - how could I forget him?) drove back to Sheffield from the pub. I was interested to learn that Andrew had done a man-with-a-van job for Sarah of Chertsey. Perhaps Sarah will blog about the cabinet (or whatever it was) destined for her boat at some stage.

Looking back at today's photos I was amused to see Jan apparently caught between two paddle racks.

It really needs someone wittier than I to come up with a caption. Anyone?

Tomorrow's destination is Huddersfield. On Tuesday we have to get to Marsden for our booked passage through Standedge Tunnel the next morning. That's 41 locks in one day - eek! That really will be racking 'em up. Perhaps we'll overshoot Huddersfield tomorrow to make Tuesday a little easier. At least it might not rain tomorrow.