Leaving Sowerby Bridge with a crew of four adults early on a Saturday morning we planned to do the South Pennine Ring in a clockwise direction.
Although we knew we could complete the ring in two weeks to take it at a more leisurely pace we decided to take three weeks. The challenge would be 197 locks and 75 miles.
Calder & Hebble Navigation
Apart from learning the trick of using the hand spike at the locks as well as manoeuvring a 56ft boat through the locks which can accommodate 57ft boats maximum we had a smooth journey through this combination of canal and river cruising.
Huddersfield Broad and Narrow Canals
The Huddersfield Broad also needed special attention due to the shortness of their locks whereas the Huddersfield Narrow canal returned to the longer length single lock size we are used to. We did however have to start using the handcuff keys to unlock the paddle mechanisms on some of these locks. When we were taking on water at Aspley Basin we discovered that in order to travel through lock 24E the next day we would need to phone the Canal & River Trust to book a time for their staff to assist with the guillotine lock which is due for repair this summer. We booked a slot for the next day. Empire Brewery was unfortunately closed at the time we passed it.
The excitement of the Huddersfield Canals was then arriving at Marsden on the Tuesday afternoon in time to visit the visitor centre by the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel before it closed at 16.00. The next day we were the first boat through as the takes boats in order of the date the boats were booked to go through the tunnel. The Canal & River Trust provided a guide to navigate us through the tunnel as well as hard hats and life jackets for those steering the boat. The journey through the tunnel took us 2hrs and 10 mins as the steerers were encouraged to steer the boat at the speed at which they were comfortable. We all enjoyed this experience.
The Ashton Canal
This canal starts just before the junction where the Peak Forest Canal joins the Ashton canal in Ashton under Lyne. By the time we had visited Portland marina for a pump out, (£25 for two tanks to be pumped out, 0.5 l bloo in each) and returned to the basin to fill up with water at the museum, no charge, the museum had closed. We had already decided that as we had time we would do a detour up the Peak Forest canal. We moored on our way up at Marple junction where we could fill up with water and leave rubbish at a waterways site. The next day we went to Bugsworth Basin where we moored for the night at no charge and with a water point but no place for rubbish. This venue was an excellent site of historical interest worth exploring at one's leisure. The next day we returned the way we had come and moored for the night in the countryside having shopped in Romiley for provisions.
The next day we were able to visit the Portland Basin Industrial Museum, no charge and well worth seeing their street of local shops dating from a bygone age.
Moored for the night at Droylsden marina in Fairfield Junction, cost £6 for a secure mooring. We paid one of the residents and were given a key which gave us access to the marina which is surrounded by a moat, and use of the rubbish bin. A water tap had been fitted at the end of each pontoon and this was very easy to use. Having decided this was an ideal place from which to explore Manchester we all bought off peak travel cards for the metro the next day and buying them after 09.30 enabled us to buy day travel cards from the ticket machine on the platform at Droylsden for £5 each. We had a great day in the city and extended our stay in the marina to two nights. Although the marina was surrounded by a building site in progress and the facilities were limited we had a comfortable stay there and would recommend it as an ideal site for those wishing secure mooring so close to the city centre. Booking is c/o Portland Basin Marina 01613 330 3133.
Cruising in to the centre of Manchester took most of the day due to someone leaving the lock paddles up further up the Rochdale which meant the boat in front of us was stuck on the bottom lock and couldn’t get out due to a lack of water below lock 1. It took several hours for a very fit member of the Canal & River Trust staff to sort out the problem
running up and down between a number of locks, opening paddles, talking to people in all the boats waiting to go through this lock, updating them on progress until eventually the boat ahead was able to get out of the lock and so we duly followed them out, leaving the Ashton canal and it’s single locks behind us.
We only had the first two locks of the Rochdale to get through that night before we found our way in to the New Islington Marina to moor for the night. Mooring here is free of charge use of the facilities included. This is a semi secure mooring in that the public at the moment can walk through the marina during the day and it is made more secure at night. We moored outside the boater’s hut which was inaccessible to the public at night and made full use of their facilities including a washing machine at £2 a wash, toilets and showers, rubbish disposal, a water point and a self pump out for £8. Tokens for the washing machine, and pump out could be bought from a machine in the boaters hut. After the dog walkers and local residents had stopped their evening walks on the other side of the cut it was a quiet night. Booking can be made by ringing the marina manager Ben Knott on 0782 7951250.
We arranged to share the locks going up the Rochdale with the boat that had been stuck in the lock in front of us the previous day. This reduced the work load for all of us and satisfied the Canal & River Trust staff that we were doing as much as we could to conserve water
by lock sharing. We had a hard days lock wheeling the next day eventually stopping for the night just past the Rose of Lancaster pub in Chadderton, a total of 18 locks. This was the day we cleared the most so far on the trip as the propeller was cleared at least 4 times and removed masses including a lot of plastic bags, clothes and water weed due to the shallowness of the canal.
The day after we continued the lock wheeling in earnest and reached Littleborough having done 16 locks but more distance between them than yesterday. Nigel from Shire Cruisers came out to Littleborough this evening to sort out a leak under the kitchen sink that we had reported. The countryside was getting more frequent with less urbanisation of the canal. The end of the day saw us meet our Canal & River Trust staff member from Manchester again as we struggled over the summit. Due to a lack of water we were helped through these locks and advised to proceed down to moor below Lock 34 where we could be guaranteed sufficient water in the pound the next morning to be able to continue uninterrupted. We had Sunday Lunch today at the Summit Inn. A pleasant enough meal at a reasonable price with an inexpensive wine to go with it. Couldn’t use the water point at the summit as it apparently hasn’t worked for years!
We are nearing the end of our trip as we arrive in Todmorden to moor for the night by the great wall of Tod. In fact an excess of water meant some of the lock gates were over flowing with water as we travel downhill. We awoke to find the boat beached in the shallows but having flushed the pound through with water we floated the boat off. The Guillotine lock at lock 19 was straight forward to use.
Today we booked our passage through Tuel Lane Lock, originally locks 3 & 4, with The Canal & River Trust so that a lock keeper can supervise our passage through on Thursday.
We arrived in Hebden Bridge in the afternoon and stayed in this delightful tourist spot for two nights. The town was preparing for the Tour de France and the bunting and displays helped to add to the festive atmosphere in town. Leaving Hebden Bridge in the morning we were able to travel through the deep lock at Sowerby Bridge early and returned the boat to the marina at midday.