Tomasz Schafernaker mentioned making the most of the blue skies before they turn grey and wet. First mission… de-energise The Murkster, this location has it all in terms of low human output, high dog burn: sticks in the river, balls down the bank, vast fields and woodland – a gruelling work out for any canine.
With just days left on the National Trust membership we ticked another property off the list. Not ten minutes from the boat, we were in the grounds of Dunham Massey Hall, a Georgian House, earlier versions date back to the 1600s, the whole place is steeped in almost Royal history, brilliantly topped off with the scandalous 7th Earl of Stamford who married bareback circus rider, local ladies turned their parasols on Catharine Cocks so the couple fled in 1855, the Earl didn’t return until his wife’s death in 1905. Enormous rooms with furnishings to match, pacing it out Nick reckoned we could moor in the saloon. Delighted to see the family once read Country Life and most probably longed for the simplicity of a boat (ha ha) and they too endured a pretty chilly looking bathroom.
Finished the tour with a lesson in Edwardian dining from the resident butler, I remembered to dress down in my pearls when we ate from our trays in front of the TV tonight, diamonds would have been so vulgar for a Sunday.
The anticipated Sunday night return to marina clear out hasn’t happened, we have neighbours.
Today began way too early thanks to a boat roaring to the bottom of Castlefield basin at 4.40am with beats banging on and on and on. It was past 7 by the time police arrived reminding the shouters there were people trying to sleep. Daylight revealed a gungy boat, partiers laid out on the concrete and a VW pulled alongside with a mob of swaggering topless blokes parading their entirely tattooed backs.
Not the time for a long drawn out boat lock up, we chose our moment and hopped into the Saturday morning action hoping to leave the illusion of a boat with someone home. A final Manchester walk about amongst the weekend crowd and endless layers of street entertainment. Happy to find the noisy neighbours gone and the boat was how we’d left it. Untied and moved along under the sweeping bridges to the waterpoint, five days of washing machine, hair washing and showers was pretty good going.
Turned right onto the very wide, very easy, lock free Bridgewater canal. With plenty of space and concrete sides the stretch was the perfect place to give the engine a blow out – even more so when we saw the ghastly 5am crew enjoying some down time, they got the full force of 45hp.
Passed Old Trafford’s giddying stands where fans headed in happier than they probably came out. Not long before industry faded and trees took over. Moored on the Bollin aqueduct where the air smells of cows and the land is mainly green. Murk loving freedom to run although he’ll miss his city breakfasts…this morning’s streets didn’t disappoint, delivering chow main and a McFlurry.
A whole day and night plus another day of Manchester, the pieces are finally beginning to fit together. The free shuttle bus is proving a fantastic lazy way to explore, just get on and stay there – until the bus is parked up at the depot and the driver turfs you off, that happened yesterday. A crazy amount of things to see and do, even people watching takes on a whole new level. Out in the shadows and starry lights last night, a mini-night life dot to dot finishing off in The Alchemist – swearing not to drink today, by mid-morning we’d found ourselves in Manchester Food and Drink 2013, with free Ginger Grouse and grabbing handfuls of toothpaste samples. A wonder world of freebies, even Tweeted4aTable in Co-ops pop up restaurant…sadly no table won so they’re now most definitely unfollowed, but a great deal for the lucky winning diners.
A late afternoon wander down colourful Canal Street and along to China town before a tram ride back to Castlefield. Having never had a tram ticket checked, dodge on/off temptation almost got the better of us, relieved to proudly hold our tickets out when the inspectors swept through the carriages and station – phew. Another city, another hair cut, this once defined attention to detail and took FOREVER.
Back down on the water a couple of new boats have rolled in for the weekend, the bars are heaving and police are popping up all over the place.
Just back from the Food and Drink Festival where we fell under the spell of yet more freebies, this time involving drinking four pints of Ginger Grouse then walking back through Manchester wearing two very obviously free hats – happy days. This woeful lack of boat movement should be rectified tomorrow, mainly due to our dwindling water supply.
Up and over the M57 , Murk led the way above the streaming traffic and down into the park where the first Rolls Royce was built. It’s green, fairly big and probably best visited in daylight. A quick walk into Manchester before buzzing our way into Castle Quay and winging our way to the very top floor for lunch with an interesting guy we met moored at Bugsworth Basin, fantastic food and wine with views to match.
Back down at ground level we went in search of dog food…our heaftiest ByBox ask so far and, after a couple of ‘guess the locker’ rounds, we entered the code, 15kg of Technical sat inside waiting to be carried back across Manchester. A very pretty place by night, a warm orange glow along the water surrounded by towers of dazzling blue and white.
Man about Manchester stood waiting under the arrivals board as the 11.40 rolled into the station. Despite spending the weekend on the Bollin aqueduct, a couple of city centre exploration days have transformed Nick into a Manchester guru. A whirlwind route of short cuts, pass overs and tunnels, we were both back onboard in no time. Boat in good shape: DIY engine service, diesel, water and hoovered. Almost a complete change of neighbours plus one partial sinkage.
Soon out up into the bustle, as if the tram isn’t cheap enough, the guru had discovered the free hop on/off bus that works on a continual loop linking the stations and NCP car parks with the city centre. Quietly watching the world go by when Man about Manchester struck up conversation with a guy way down the aisle. Flummoxed, shocked and intrigued I watched it all unfold…soon the whole bus was chipping in, chucking in a bit of banter, generally having a laugh. And it didn’t stop there. Back down at Castlefield there was boaty chat to be had with a neighbour opposite only interrupted when poodle lost it’s ball in the murky water – washing up, I gazed out the kitchen window, just seconds later Nick legged it over the bridge, pole in hand and completed a tennis ball rescue mission. Phrases like community spirit and loving the city vibe are coming from his mouth. Five days away and things have changed.
Privy to plenty of terrifying hearsay about the final Rochdale 9, we were ready for it, them, whatever. Straight into Urban, but the good variety: proper old buildings, interesting redevelopments, life, a general feeling of sharpness on a good level. Water levels were high, meaning gates required strong man pushing at best and in some cases double setting. Grand Manchester began to unfold around us, before diving down under a bridge leading to Canal Street – a gloopy, sticky underfoot experience to put it nicely. In the dull glow we met a boat full of Dutch, the underworld took on a freaky Mr Ben twist when they told us they were doing the Four Counties Ring…really?!
Finally down through the very last of the Rochdale locks – a physically demanding run but eye-opening on many levels. Into Castlefield where we were lucky enough to find the last mooring. A quick walk for Murk, bought some real cider from boaters pressing apples on the tow path – bottles of all shapes and sizes were handed over with a rough guesstimate at alcohol content.
Did Manchester on speed, Arndale Centre, Piccadilly, China Town, Deansgate, Castlefield and bits in between. It was all going down up there, a sensory explosion enough to rock any mellow boater. About to embark on a few days of super fast train tripping, leaving blogging in the very capable hands of Nick – hmmm, it might happen but probably not.
The alarm call had us both staring at the ceiling for while before we realised it meant a chilly, early start. Murk’s brown balls were chucked into his bowl, he happily hopped out for his morning wander, with thoughts of a cozy bed session of tea and toast, only this time the bed was following him.
First part of mission Rochdale 18 involved holding up Manchester rush hour while we inched under a toe curling lift bridge. Taking turns to shower, make the fire up etc we arrived at lock 65. Twenty minutes later a lovely Canal and River Trust guy unlocked the top gate, we waited for the second booked boat to join us for the trip down. And waited, and waited and waited. By 10.15, three phone calls to the boater who’d claimed he was half and hour away almost an hour ago, the Canal and River Trust crew decided there was no helping some people, so we set off.
Amazed when we realised help was on hand the whole way down, we began storming through the flight, literally running between locks opening gates, winding paddles, checking water levels…despite alarming reports going into stretch we found ourselves in Rochdale 18 heaven – for a while.
About six locks on Richard ran back, some numpty had dropped a paddle, causing it to smash through the metal guard designed to prevent it dropping to the bottom of the lock, which only had one paddle working in the first place. The two boats making their way up the flight endured over an hour of what must have been frustrating waiting consdiering they could have let water in and passed on up – only problem being it wouldn’t have emptied it again. Stuck at the bottom of the lock, Canal and River Trust back up arrived and everyone set about hauling the paddle up into the mechaism…everyone apart from Nick who, working on the ‘too many cooks etc’ theory, spent most of the time in the Greggs selecting snacks for throughout the day.
Just beginning to fear a night next to a pub that played a Cliff Richard song over the tannoy each time someone bought a pint (quite a regular occurrence by midday) when the paddles finally wound. Hearing the clunking Nick appeared, flushed by the heat of the fire, clutching a cheese and bacon puff, ‘About time too.’ The hireboats came up and we went down.
Richard and Nick showcased some superfast relay lock work, a few nasties in the linear dumping ground, the boat rolled over one well disgused shopping trolley, but not one prop clearing session required – a huge improvement on the Rochdale experience. No kids jumping on the boat, no needles, no drugs and no bodies, not the prettiest stretch by a long way but hardly a horror story either, just grot here and there.
Through the last lock, locals had made a pathetic attempt to set light to the gate – they must try better with that, perhaps some tyres would help their cause. Swung left into New Islington Marina, the centre piece of massive rejuvenation. An almost gated complex with water, a nordic style boaters’ hut that smells amazing and the find of the year…a £2 pump out facility!
Just settled in for the night when a late arrival pulled up, with a ‘Welcome to moor alongside’ sticker in his window, sure enough there was a tap in the roof, now we have a very close neighbour. Nick is still in shock.
Had it not been for the visibly shaken woman who turned the second lock against us, the drop down into Manchester would have seemed as though it was going to be a breeze. Looking as though she hadn’t slept for week, she hurriedly apologised for the lock fumble, explaining she ‘just had to get out of there’ and if we had any choice we should ‘turn back now’. With tales of used needles, kids jumping on their boat, drug deals by their window and waiting while the police drained a pound in search of a body her husband was equally traumatised. Booked for a 8.30 passage down the Rochdale 18 tomorrow morning, no way were we turning back, so we listened with raised eyebrows and waved them on their way, ‘Don’t under estimate what it’s like down there,’ the guy called over his shoulder, disappearing up the locks. Guess it’s how your luck goes but tackling the stretch over the weekend probably didn’t help them much.
Ten locks today were a doddle, paddles working and water levels good, a dream compared to yesterday. Done by lunch time we enjoyed half a day away from the howling wind and rain. Moored only five miles outside the city centre, considering the state of people rising up the locks everything seems remarkably calm and quiet. Tomorrow will tell.
After studying the rain radar to discover a deluge was heading our way we set off. Ordinarily we might have stayed put for the day but waking up nowhere in particular and with target Manchester in mind we braved the wind and rain. Without so much as a lump of coal onboard the first mission was to stop in Littleboroough while Nick ran off carting the trolley in search of fuel. A short while later we were victorious, two bags from the garage and half a sack from the very lovely guy on the boat in front.
The rain soon set in, with hoods up and water beginning to trickle down our backs and legs the waterproofs got a thorough testing and failed. Not too much chat going on, felt like hireboaters way off schedule on the four counties ring with only a couple to days to go. The surroundings didn’t help and neither did the relentless flow of rubbish jamming itself in the prop. Hauled our greatest catch to date, a pair of motorbike trousers – disturbing as they resembled a body emerging through the weed hatch and even more so as the locals were genuinely surprised when it wasn’t. Dodging the dog shite and used condoms I asked Nick to grab the camera, his answer was mainly lost to the wind but went something along the lines of ‘Sod off, I’m just existing here.’ Rochdale seemed to last a very long time.
Passing through a section of newly constructed canal, built to patch up the break when the M62 was slapped over the original waterway, the boat continued to bump and grind over all sorts of obstacles. Despite the weather a few hoodies on bikes still lurked, calling out the usual ‘Can we get on? Gis a ride… blar de blar’, not up for any banter today, they just got drenched boater blank stares.
Eventually, without seeing another boat on the move, we let the wind blow us somewhere close to a bank, did some poop flicking, found the weed hatch had flooded the engine bay and shut up shop for the day.
Word on the street trickled down from the summit – apparently a pound had been drained leaving boats sat on rocks. Almost a year in we’ve learnt two things about canal drama: firstly, chinese whispers morph at a ferocious pace; secondly, narrowboating is so slow, if you head for the chaos it’s usually cleared by the time you arrive. So we pressed on. Sure enough the pounds were pretty low, not a trip for a newly blacked bottom.
Reaching the summit we crossed into Lancashire before enjoying a whole half mile of lock free cruising on the top of the world. Stopped for lunch before beginning our decent, despite what should have been an easier ride going down, this afternoon proved tricky. More boats on the move than we’ve seen for over a week, plenty of waiting about in aid of water conservation – not just being good boaters, a genuine necessity this time.
Found ourselves behind the two slowest moving boats on the water and stayed there for the rest of a very slow drop before finally blowing them away about 7pm. Sadly they mentioned being early starters, more of the same tomorrow then.
Tranquil when we tied up on the outskirts of Littleborough, as darkness arrived so did Saturday night for Greater Manchester, music pumping down the valley from all directions.