Thursday, 21 August 2014

A sense of deja vu?

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan & Cath jointly)
Post for Thursday 21st August. 

"Ling" (which has since just gone through Huddlesford in the dark just after ten).
There has been a feeling of going over old ground today. We have been through Great Heywood Junction three times over the last 5 or so weeks. Once, on the way up to Audlem with both boats, a second time with Sickle taking it back to Alvecote, and finally, today, taking Chalice through on our way to Alvecote. It is exactly three weeks to the day since we brought Sickle down the detached portion of the Coventry canal, and we are now doing the same with Chalice. We have covered a huge amount of ground in the last three weeks.

The big event to come is the Boat and Beer festival at Alvecote, but we have a strong sense of being towards the end of our holiday, although it will actually be a while before we can get both boats back to their moorings. We are starting to plan for the things that need to happen once we get back home.

Wood End lock - one of the scenic ones.
The locks are dotted around, apart from a couple at Fradley they are mostly some distance apart – certainly none of the flights that have been a feature of the last few days.  None-the-less our recent experience is that there is often a queue of boats even for the single locks.  We were lucky at Great Heywood, waiting very little, but there was a stack of boats queued to come the other way.  However, exactly as on our last trip, at Colwick lock the queue was mostly the way we were going.  People were not terribly efficient in trying to work quickly, but the entertainment started with a very smoky boat two ahead of ours, where (presumably) husband and wife were not doing very well, and increasingly being openly abusive to each other.  This came to a head at the foot of the locks where "Mrs Smoky Boat's" attempts with thrashing the engine with tiller pointed the wrong way meant "Mr Smoky Boat" couldn't get back on, and she set off without him, as they continued to swear at each other.  Come on the canals, and enjoy a truly relaxing holiday! We were glad we were planning to make a shopping stop in Rugeley, and might not have to witness them at further locks!

Even dogs have to be patient at locks!
Cath took a long look at the state of our clothing and decided that if she could get a big wash done today, then we would probably be OK until we get home – so it became a major washday, despite the fact that the weather over the next couple of days will not be particularly good for drying. We certainly don't want to be doing washing over the Alvecote festival weekend. We've now got washing pegged up and on racks all over the boat. Hopefully this will be mostly dry by the time that our son Michael comes to stay over the bank holiday weekend.

A further similarity to our last passage was that we eventually arrived at Fradley, (a very obvious over-nighting point), much earlier than we really needed to stop.  Last time, with Sickle, we had pressed forward to Huddlesford, and enjoyed a visit to "The Plough Inn" which had been very welcoming.  We now regarded this as a good stopping point, so did the same today.  As a result this post has been jointly written by us both, but as their free wi-fi seems no better than Alan's non-functioning Smart Phone, it may not get actually posted for a while.  

Correction:  Pub wi-fi finally gave a log in - we may have success after all!

Weston on Trent (Trent & Mersey) to Huddlesford Junction (Coventry canal)
Miles:  20.6 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 7

Total Miles: 689.7, Locks: 475

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Sheer weight of traffic", but an excellent meal to end a long day.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Post for Wednesday 20th August.

Queuing for the first lock, with the delightful ex ice-breaker
Finally after our fairly hectic last three weeks we found ourselves in the happy situation of only still needing three longish days to reach Alvecote for the historic boat event this weekend, and actually having three days to do it in.  We had by now successfully negotiated anything that needed a booking, or, like Harecastle tunnel yesterday, requires you to be in time to guarantee a passage that day.

We spent the night at Westport lake, which in my view is easily the top spot anywhere in the area below the tunnel, and onward through to Etruria.  It is often packed out, but overnight there had been unusually few boats there.

A better view of this unusual and immaculate boat.
Our objective now was just to make best possible progress each day, without flogging ourselves to death.  However any hope that we would progress quickly through the first flight of locks commencing at Etruria was quickly dashed when we turned up to find four or five boats already queuing waiting for that lock.  The situation was exacerbated by the fact that it is a deep lock, and we were told one top paddle was out of action, making the re-filling for each new boat to go down very slow.  In fact the steerer of the boat ahead of us chose to check this "fact", and both paddles actually appeared to be in fine fettle.  Once the misinformation was corrected, progress through that lock at least became a lot quicker.

A bridge in the undemanding Meaford lock flight
However it quickly became apparent that we were not going to get anywhere very fast, as two single handed boats were ahead, who were attempting to help each other work each lock twice, before moving on to the next.  Here we deployed our secret weapon, David, getting him not to set locks for us, but for boats ahead of us, and this eased the slow progress considerably.  However at every lock there was still at least one boat waiting as we arrived, so our overall rate of progress remained no more than half what it would have been with nobody else ahead.

Typical of the new estates that line the canal around here.
Whilst we had waited for the first lock, a delightfully unusual boat had emerged from the Caldon, and turned and joined the lock queue immediately behind us.  The hull was clearly that of a horse drawn  ice-breaker, but the top a delightful hardwood construction unrelated to the boat's original use.  Chatting to the owners they belived its build to probably be circa 1900, and that it was used on the Oxford canal, but had no other firm information on its origins.  We loved it, and it clearly moved very well, as each time we joined a new lock queue, it usually arrived fairly proptly behind us, before we had access to the next lock.

The congestion eased by the four Meaford locks, and almost completely by the locks at Stone, where some very enthusiastic CRT volunteers worked us through the first couple of locks.  Cath did a quick shop whilst I failed yet again to buy the oil I'm after in yet another chandlers, and dealt with the toilet and rubbish.  David and I then worked on until Cath rejoined us.

Massive flower display at Weston - bigger and better each time we visit.

Our original hope was that we could get to Weston on Trent, but the slow progress earlier had seemed to make that unlikely.  Now, however, with most people now stopped for the day, we started to move much faster, and realised we could still be at Weston in good time.  A very good recovery, but a longish day to achieve it.

We went to the Saracen's Head for our evening meal, and I'm very glad we did.  Dog friendly, with the bar staff very people friendly, there was a good choice of "veggie" food.  It was probably the best pub meal we have had in the whole six weeks of this trip so far, obviously truly "home made", and no more expensive than the very average "out of the freezer" fodder we have been fed at other pubs.  Well done the Saracen's Head - hopefully non-veggie food equally good, but you would need to find out for yourselves.

Westport Lake to Weston on Trent (Trent & Mersey)
Miles:  18.9 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 16

Total Miles: 669.1, Locks: 468

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A number of things work firmly in our favour.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)
Post for Tuesday 19th August.

Boseley top lock
Our fairly challenging target throughout our big Northern adventure has always been to be back to Alvecote Marina on the Coventry canal in time for the big historic boat event there on the Bank Holiday weekend, (now only a few days away).  This was always going to be tight, and relied heavily on us not "breaking" the boat not breaking, or no relevant parts of the canal infrastructure breaking.

We failed the first test somewhat, initially only slightly, when Cath got sick for a day or so, but rather more so when my tumble from a bike resulted in the need for a hospital visit.

Boseley locks
So far though, the boat has behaved itself, touch wood, (well oak faced plywood actually!).

On the canal infrastructure side we have got lucky.  we missed by a few days closures of the Wigan flight due to inability to keep the pounds filled with water - we also missed a boat sinking incident elsewhere on the Leeds and Liverpool.  Now as we return to the Trent and Mersey, part of that is shut due to a lock problem, but mercifully on a stretch to the North of any part we need to use.

So, as you can see, if you set a reasonably tight timetable for a trip, there is always the possibility that something will stop you being able to achieve it.
The other thing we have had to plan around are anything with opening times, or where a booking is needed.  For example a booking is needed for a mid-week passage through Tuel Lane lock on the Rochdale, but equally something like the far more used Harecastle tunnel on the Trent and Mersey requires that you are there before a certain time to guarantee a passage that day. 

The attractive surroundings at Hall Green stop lock.
Finally, even in "normal operations" if you have to pass through a flight of locks, it is very hard to predict timings, as it heavily depends on who else is using them, and how efficient they are about it.  One person ahead with a "shiny boat" that doesn't want to rub any blacking off the hull, and will hence only part open the paddles can slow everybody else down massively.

Although trying to press on as far as we can do each day has been important, last night I wanted to meet with an old work colleague who lived nearby, and any of the places we might have pressed on to did not yield a decent pub, so we stopped somewhat earlier than usual, leaving us inevitably with some catching up to do today.

So how did all this map out in terms of progress today?  The answer is "it has been a good day", (other than the intermittent heavy rain showers we have regularly had to endure!).  We made good progress to the only significant locks of the day, the twelve downhill locks at Boseley.  These proved somewhat unusual compared to our recent lock experience in that every single gate and paddle worked exactly as it should.  They are a relative delight to work through and the scenery is stunning.

Waiting for a passage - North end of Harecastle tunnel.
What else went well?  Well a boat that pulled out in front of us, and then moved very slowly, soon spotted us behind, and waved us past, so no real delay there either.

What really mattered was would we reach the Northern end of Harecastle Tunnel in time to be allowed a passage through today.  It is a most uninviting place to spend a night, (indeed it is recommended not to do so), but we arrived there in plenty of time, well ahead of rough estimates I had made at the start of the day.

Further good news proved to be the passage though.  We were boat two out of a total of three, and I always hate a slow passage following other boats, as it is much easier to be in full control with a bit of speed on.  Fortunately the boat in front understood this, and held us up not at all, but I estimate the one following was going so slowly that by the time we left the South end, he was no more than half way through.  It's a bit of a nightmare to be behind someone like this!

Westport lake.
And the day yielded yet one further good result.  "Sickle" is still at Grendon dock, some miles past Alvecote, where the event will be held this weekend.  We thought we had to travel down to Grendon, and collect "Sickle".  However, I have been contacted - they are short of mooring space at Grendon - do I mind if they bring "Sickle" up to Alvecote?  Well of course I don't - its ideal, and saves us quite a few hours of travelling.

We moored at Westport Lake, North of Stoke on Trent.  Odin got a half decent walk around it, but although he might have liked to take his first swim since his brush with death, we didn't at all like the look of the green stuff floating in the water, and ruled it a "bad idea".  If it was the rather horrible "blue green algae" there were no warning signs to that effect, but either way, we were not risking it.

Gurnett Aqueduct (Macclesfield canal) to Westport Lake (Trent & Mersey)
Miles:  18.9 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 652.0, Locks: 452

Monday, 18 August 2014

From one aqueduct to another

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)
Post for Monday 18th August.

Marple aqueduct with railway viaduct beyond.
We had heard through Facebook that Brian on narrow boat Alton was coming down the flight early in the morning. Alton is a 'coal boat', supplying fuel to boats on the canal, and we needed diesel. We set off fairly early, hoping to both refuel, and benefit from the empty locks that Alton had left behind it.

The Marple locks are all deep ones.

"In Flight Refuelling" (Photo: Brian McGuigan - operator of Alton)
The plan worked well, we refueled 'in flight', and almost all the locks were empty for us.


Attractive former warehouse, (and the lock where we had just had a scare).
We did have a nasty moment, a bit scary, but not one that could have caused much damage. This was at lock 9 in a flight of 16. I wasn't there, having gone on to open the gates on the next lock, but I suddenly saw David rushing down to the bottom gate paddles and opening them. There is a protruding coping stone at the top of the lock, which had caught on Chalice's gunwale (properly 'top bend' but almost everyone refers to this as the 'gunnals'), and as the lock continued to fill the side of the boat was being held down. A few things left lying around after breakfast fell on the floor, and some saucepans fell out of a cupboard. Because the lock was very nearly full it wasn't dangerous, but it's a reminder that we all need to be vigilant at all times when going through locks.

Serious lack of water at top of Marple locks.
After that it was a day of lots of miles through fabulous scenery. We moored at Gurnett Aqueduct, as advised by Brian, but also because we wanted to meet with one of Alan's former colleagues who lives not far from there.

Did someone forget to reset the scales before weighing?

Alan did an oil change, had a shower, and I redressed the stickers on his face (a little bit mucky, a good thing he's on antibiotics), and we spent an interesting evening in the pub.

Marple Aqueduct to Gurnett Aqueduct
Miles:  14.2 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 16
Total Miles: 631.3, Locks: 439

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Leaving Manchester, (and back to narrow locks).

(Boat Chalice- posted by Cath)
Post for Sunday 17th August.

Secure overnight mooring at the Telford Basin, Picadilly Village.
Another early start, because the Ashton Locks out of Manchester are notorious. Nicholson's guide says 'do not do this flight in school holidays', and 'begin it before 10 am'.

So we got up early, ate breakfast, said goodbye to Richard and Kathy who have been so helpful over the last couple of days, and set off before 8:30. The day started fairly dry, but quickly degenerated into dry patches, interspersed with cold, very windy squalls - probably the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha that is due to hit the UK today.

Setting off up the Ashton - Our first narrow locks for many days.
At the second lock we met with the local lock keeper, who said that it isn't nearly as bad as it used to be. There is a lot of prestigious new housing, and 'they have moved a lot of the troublemakers away' - where to wasn't clear. We saw loads of joggers in brightly coloured clothing, and a few dog walkers, but no trouble of any kind. The lockie said that he 'lives on the Ashton Canal', but spent 13 years working on the Rochdale. He seemed pleased to be working back on the Ashton, and talked about 'getting it working right'. He told us to leave top gates open, and anti-vandal (AV) locks off, as there were boats coming down the flight - that made our lives a lot easier.

One of the stgriking new developments
Despite that it was slow going, although we didn't meet up with any of the downward boats until midway in the flight of 18. Unlocking every AV, even if we weren't re-locking them, takes time, and the locks fill quite slowly. At one point we had a problem with a very low pound, but we took some water from the pound above the next lock to float the boat through. It took us the best part of 5 hours to do the whole flight.

Lock 10 failed and closed the canal recently - the new gates need more work!
Near the end we came across a young couple coming down - even if the flight isn't as prone to vandals as previously, this was a very late start to finish the flight by a reasonable time. I asked where they were mooring overnight. Central Manchester said the young woman.

Not obvious, but Alan is stuck solid here, waiting for water to be let down.
Did she know that to get to Castlefields she would also have to do the Rochdale 9? No, she didn't, but she didn't intend to go that way, they were heading up the Rochdale, the way that we had come down last night. Had she got a map? No, there was supposed to be one waiting for them in Manchester - someone had posted it to the wrong place.


Does this seriously look like a tunnel where 2-way traffic is possible?
I showed her our map, pointing out that the locks are very close together, and she wouldn't be able to moor between them. Also, she really didn't want to be mooring just anywhere in Manchester. I told her how to get the Thomas Telford Basin, where we moored last night, and told her that would be a good starting point for the Rochdale Canal tomorrow. I also said that she needed to get quite a long way up the Rochdale to find a safe mooring. She seemed a little bemused, it really didn't seem to have occurred to them that some cities need to be treated a bit more carefully than others. I don't know where they had come from.

The sign says it is!
I suppose that I am just extra careful, I can't imagine going boating without a map of where I'm going, well, not into unknown territory, anyway.

At the top we saw our friendly lock keeper again. I told him about the young couple and he said he'd go and find them, he had a few more boats coming up anyway, which would make life a bit easier for them.

Afterwards we boated through windy squalls, until we got to Hyde, where we spent ages trying to moor up - the towpath was mostly concrete, even under the grass - and I went to Aldi. Isn't Aldi a weird supermarket? Ladies cycling gear next to tree loppers and jam. I have a real difficulty telling myself that, no, I really don't need a collection of multi-coloured mixing melamine bowls in a variety of sizes.

Marple railway viaduct, with the canal aqueduct largely hidden behind.
There are several short tunnels, all of which are quite narrow, but are described as 'two way working' on the boards immediately before the tunnel entrance. I suppose that this means that boats are able to go in either direction, however, most 'two way working' means two boats going in opposite directions, at the same time - I certainly wouldn't want to try that on any of these.

We took Odin for a walk under Marple aqueduct and went to get a proper look at the railway viaduct.  Although both are impressive, the aqueduict, both lower and shorter, can only be seen in small parts through the railway viaduct arches.  Even much of that is obscured by some exceedingly tall trees.

Afterwards we didn't eat curry.

Footnote by Alan, by way of explanation.

Cath was planning to cook a curry, and was convinced she had appropriate sauces bought and ready in the cupboard.  She didn't so the curry will have to be another time.

Manchester Picadilly to near Marple Aqueduct 
Miles:  13.6 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks:18

Total Miles: 617.1, Locks: 423

Saturday, 16 August 2014

In to Manchester (which really doesn't seem to love its canal)

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)
Post for Saturday 16th August

Grimshaw Lane vertical lift bridge - it really does lift vertically on pistons.
We had moored near to both a fairly busy road, and a railway line, but it was a fairly remote spot, with only the occasional dog walker or jogger. Despite the nearness of the railway we slept well until woken by the alarm at 7:00 am, as agreed with Richard and Kathy, our partners for the descent into Manchester.

That bridge again - and Alan showiung battle scars
We got going soon after 8:00, and found it easy to set ahead of the boats, the first 10 locks being completed before 10:30. We got into a routine, with two experienced crews working there was no need to explain what was needed, someone was already handling it.

Daft sign, as there are massive underwater obstructions both sides!
Fairly early on we met up with 5 boys on bicycles by a lock.  One suggested that his friend was going to jump on our boat, but I said I couldn't believe that, he wouldn't want me to come and stand in his house, would he? Actually, the kids were OK, they just wanted to know about the boats. We talked to them a bit, asked them what they were doing (going to a mountain biking centre), and they cycled off.

This really is fairly horrible.
We had few problems, the occasional anti-vandal lock that we couldn't undo, a couple of prop fouls, but not a lot of difficulty. We saw few people, just the occasional dog walker, however, as we approached Manchester there was increasing detritus and rubbish, and the environment became less welcoming. A burned out waste bin next to the lock, vast amounts of floating junk, lots of evidence of alcohol, and also IV drug use.

And this really is no better.
There were some places where there were signs to keep left, away from underwater obstructions, but there were also concrete lumps on that side, so boats need to stick to the centre here.

Needing a flush over the cill.
We stopped for a quick lunch break by the big Tesco Extra at Failsworth, and did a quick restock on a few essentials, then headed for the long flight over the last couple of miles. I went ahead, setting the locks, but although I saw almost no one I was reassured by the fact that the boats were always only a lock behind. I could look back and see them entering the lock, or see the water being emptied. I have no doubt that after dark this flight is not somewhere that I would want to be.


Attractive former factory.
We only had one place where the water levels caused any significant problems, when we found neither boat would move out of an emptied lock - they were either sitting on the lock bottom, or whatever debris was on top of that. By letting down more water the boats were able to move forward, although neither could still initially clear the bottom cill, and further water was needed to flush them over this.  It was all a bit odd, because once we had enough water to float out of the lock, levels were not significantly down in that pound at all - there seems to be little available margin, and a deep draughted boat like "Sickle" would doubtless struggle far more.

One of the more attractive urban bits.

Thirty locks, all completed by soon after 5:00 pm - including a supermarket visit. Many people are reluctant to attempt this canal, but with another crew it wasn't bad. Talking to Kathy she said that the large number of locks without a 'safe haven' in the middle must put a lot of people off, and that the canal needs somewhere where people feel that they can safely moor up. We moored at Slattocks without any problems, but 30 locks into Manchester for a single crew may be too much. C & RT could improve things considerably by having some safe, locked, offside moorings at a variety of distances from the centre of Manchester.

Not the best place for a paddle - the raised bar actually impacts the bridge.
Richard and Kathy are heading the other way to us, but came into the basin at Piccadilly for the night. It's a secure mooring inside a private housing development, just what is needed in other parts of the canal system locally.

Slattocks to Manchester
Miles:  (Chalice), 10.8 (Sickle), Locks: 30

Total Miles: 603.5, Locks: 405

Starting a good recovery after yesterday's set-back.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan/Cath)
Post for Friday 15th August

The lock where I got stopped in my tracks yesterday.
So, throughout the last couple of weeks, we have been pursuing a fairly optimistic "plan", (I use that term loosely!), that would enable us to do a whistle-stop tour of much of the Northern canal system we have never seen.

Typical of the final ascent to the summit.
The "plan" was indeed optimistic, and very much relied on nothing going wrong, either with us, the boat, or CRT;s infrastructure.  Now  yours truly had broken the plan, (and to some degree himself), by falling off a bike and curtailing a boating day well early of expectations - though if you had seen the weather at the time, you could be excused for thinking that no more boating that day was a blessing in disguise.

Self explanatory!
I spent a not too uncomfortable night, but woke up looking a bit of a mess.  Bruising was travelling out from my damaged cheek, right up to my eye.  Also the wound had leaked through the dressing, which now didn't look to attractive, but as the firm advice was that both the steri-strips and the protective dressing should remain undisturbed for as long as possible, it would have to stay as it is.

Add caption
More of a worry was that I had at least badly sprained a thumb, and I wasn't sure to what extent I could now wield a windlass or climb lock ladders, although I felt I would be OK to steer.

End of the climb - summit 600 feet above sea level.
A look at the canal planner showed we were about a quarter of a day down, but that two longish days could still see us complete the climb to the Rochdale canal summit, and fully downhill again into Manchester.  However the number of these heavy locks involved looked fairly daunting.


The summit.
Then we got some really good news.  The couple on the boat we had caught up with yesterday, and who had helpfully waited for us, only to see me put myself out of action shortly after, were still very keen to partner another boat. They seemed up for going for a long boating day, so we willingly agreed to go together, pointing out that I might not be 100% useful.

the summit, again.
In fact Richard and Kathy, as we found out they were called, proved to be a very experienced crew, not at all afraid of hard work, and able to move their boat along most efficiently.  Despite all the locks remaining as not in our favour, we had no difficulty permanently having one person ahead setting them, as the remaining four worked the boats through each lock, and closed everything up as they left.  We very quickly settled into a largely very good rhythm, and I think it would have been hard to go along much better.  If trusted with a windlass, I found I could wind most paddles OK, largely using just my good hand, although I felt rather less confident about climbing lock ladders in what are mostly very deep locks.

Floral display
Everything about the passage over the summit itself is truly stunning.  At 600 feet above sea level, it is the highest on any broad canal in England, (although trumped by that on the nearby Huddersfield Narrow canal.  It is a remarkably short summit level, being well under a mile between uphill and downhill locks).  It is perhaps neither better, nor worse than the best bits we saw of the Leeds and Liverpool, but despite being surrounded by similar big hills, is different in character.  Cath described it as "more intimate", in as much as the interesting features are often significantly less distant, (but no less impressive for that).

Cath promised these helpful locals a picture in the blog.
We had calculated where we needed to be to roughly split the journey to Manchester into two manageable days, and in the end stopped where that calculation indicated.  It actually meant significantly more locks to do tomorrow than today, but this was offset by less miles to cover.  Fortunately Richard and Kathy were happy to spend the whole day in tandem with us, and looked like they might do so again tomorrow, which would be a real result.

I couldn't walk under the M62 culvert, as the towpath was moored elsewhere.
Richard and I did an exploratory walk to the nearest pub, (which was further than we thought it would be).  It would have fed us, but in the end we all elected to eat on our boats, and maybe go for a drink or two later.  In the end Cath, Richard and I went, but by then the pub was playing loud music, allegedly for an organised party, although there wasn't a lot of evidence of the party itself.  Converstaion was still possible, but not as easy as it might have been, and in the end we decided to go and get some rest for the even greater exertion expected tomorrow.

But we had had a very good day, and the lock total doesn't really tell the whole story.  Quite a few of the locks are marked as being narrower than will safely accommodate two boats, due to subsidence.  So at each of these, the lock has to be worked twice, once for each boat.  We hoped we would not encounter too many more of these tomorrow!

Walsden to Slattocks
Miles: 11.0 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 23

Total Miles: 592.7, Locks: 375

Progressing well until a visit to an Urgent Care Centre.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)
Post for Thursday 14th August 

Hebden Bridge
We headed up through Hebden Bridge. It looks interesting, although a bit 'alternative', and I would have liked time to explore, but that must wait for another visit, as we still have a deadline to meet.

Almost at the first lock we met with a hire boater who told us horror stories of other boaters stranded in shallow pounds without water for more than two hours, boaters who had turned back from going over the summit because of lack of water. However, for us, it's too late to turn back, so we kept going.

Hebden Bridge
We didn't actually have very many problems until we got to Todmorden, with the famous wall, described to me as a 50 foot wall - but reputed to contain more than 4 million bricks. Then we managed to let down enough water to keep going, with few real limitations. Having said that, the locks seem to empty slowly, and the ground paddles are quite vicious. Going uphill the paddles need to go up fairly slowly to prevent the boat being flung forward at the lock gates at speed. Because of this the locks seemed to fill more slowly than we are used to on our home territory.

Odin was dressed in his buoyancy aid, so that he could be on the back of the boat with me, while Alan went ahead and David worked the lock for me.  The weather was fine, and David even put sun block on - which always seems to be a signal for the heavens to open. Which did eventually happen, of course.

Canoe centre below Lobb Mill lock.
As we approached the summit of the Rochdale, still some half dozen or so locks down, we caught up with another boat working singly up the locks, they waited for us in lock 30. Alan went ahead with the bike to set the next lock, then radioed back that he had broken the head off one of our 'long throw' windlasses. The gates required a windlass to open then, and he had broken one of the aluminium windlasses while trying to open the gates. Almost immediately afterwards we got another radio message, which was garbled and difficult to understand, but it seemed that Alan had had an accident.

Lobb Mill lock
David ran through the rain along the towpath, I gunned the boat up the pound and brought it to a halt ready for mooring. Alan appeared through the rain, pushing the bike, with blood pouring from his cheek, and soaking the front of his clothing. He had been returning to the boat for another windlass, the bike had slipped sideways in the mud, and Alan had gone over the handlebars.

Another guillotine gated lock - in Todmorden, this time.
David took charge of the boat, mooring it, locking the bike up, explaining to the other boat crew what had happened, etc. while I looked at Alan's face. Not life threatening, but a mess, a very deep cut about an inch or so long an inch or so beneath his eye on his cheek. It was also filled with towpath grit.  I irrigated it with wound wash solution, and got Alan to apply pressure to sterile gauze to try to stop it bleeding. Then we got going on the Internet. The nearest Urgent Care centre was in Rochdale, some 7 or 8 miles away. A taxi firm was identified, and rung. They were very helpful, trying to work out exactly where we were, and helping us to find somewhere we could get to quickly. Then, dressing pressed to Alan's face, we set off down the muddy towpath towards our agreed meeting place with the taxi firm.

The "Great Wall of Todmorden" allegedly contains over 4 million bricks.
They found us quickly, and we were at Urgent Care within about 15 minutes. I registered Alan who went to sit down. Date of birth? Name? So you live in Berkhamsted then. Any other injuries? Within the last hour? Religion? and so on...

After an hour he was seen by the Triage nurse, who said that he would have to wait another hour and a half or so to be stitched. Meantime we sat in the waiting room with a large number of people, none of whom seemed to have any visible injuries.

The locks are more attractive than Rochdale Urgent Care Centre!
The nurse who called Alan in for treatment was an experienced and very helpful person - quite honestly, just the sort of thing the NHS needs. She tried first to steristrip the wound, and because it went together so well she decided not to stitch. She called me in and showed me how well it had joined, and pointed to the skin below Alan's eye, which was now red and purple. She explained that as the skin was very tender, stitching it would be difficult, and it would be likely to tear, so she felt that in the circumstances it would be better to put a dressing over the steristrips. She then provided me with plenty of steristrips, dressings, etc. in case it needed re-dressing. She also put Alan on a course of anti-biotics, to prevent any bugs that he had picked up with the grit on the towpath. We were finished soon after 9 pm, about 3 hours after arrival. We got a taxi from the hospital back to Walsden where we had moored, and were back at the boat before 10 pm.

20 years ago if we had been in this situation we would have had to walk to the nearest payphone, to ring the hospital, and to ring the taxi firm. We would have been operating in the dark, with no idea of local services. As it was we could identify where we were - from Google Maps - and then work out from that to what we needed to know. A matter of a few minutes on the Internet.

The couple on the boat that we had shared only one lock with had decided to moor up because of the rain - or perhaps because we seemed to be a bit accident prone. We hoped that they would decide that they wanted to share locks with us in the morning.

Hebden Bridge to Walsden
Miles: 7.0 (Chalice), 0 (Sickle), Locks: 22

Total Miles: 581.7, Locks: 352