Saturday, 24 October 2009

Oh Yes, the Ashton Canal

The Ashton Canal links the Rochdale Canal in the heart of Manchester with the Peak Forest and Huddersfield Narrow Canal to the east and is an integral part of the Cheshire Ring. It has the unenviable reputation of being a no-go area. British Waterways advice is to start early and just keep going, lock everything up, don't offer lifts to anyone and don't moor up. So with this in mind we set off at 7.50am in a state of some trepidation - some were more 'trepped' than others you understand but whatever, it was going to be a dirty dash, eyes front, no fraternising with the locals...

Here is Caxton slipping out of our overnight mooring at Ducie Street Basin and wending our way through the newly developed Piccadilly Village - very nice too. Lots of private moorings in little basins along here - no boats moored on them though which was a bit of a waste because opening the moorings to visitors would encourage more usage.

Here we are at the first lock, Nb Matilda Rose had already gone through and I was getting calls from Graham to tell the BW guys that the next couple of pounds were very low on water and there was an obstruction at the next lock entrance. I sorted the lock for Caxton and hared off down the tow path to relay the message - then I hared back again.
BW got on the phone and Caxton slipped carefully onward - the water levels were very low over the next couple of pounds but Joe brought Caxton through OK. Leaving the new development of Piccadilly Village we were soon into a mix of building sites, derelict or semi-derelict buildings and housing.

We were amidst industry or at least the remains of some industries and that after all was what brought about the investment and development of canals - and I was enjoying the variety.
However, things were going so well for Matilda Rose. Graham spent a goodly part of the cruise with a lot of his bodily parts down the weed hatch. Five times MR had to stop to clear, carpets, wire, tyres and assorted debris from around the propeller. Caxton following, picked up so many carrier bags we could have started a recycling business.
At the final lock, 18, we had to bow haul Matilda Rose into the lock - the propeller was jammed yet again. Joe removed the bicycle frame below from the entrance to the lock whilst I flushed more water down into the pound to stop MR going aground.

MR on the move again.
But not for long....more carpet Vicar?
With the locks behind us we head off to safe moorings a 45min cruise away at Portland Basin.

Lovely tree lined cuttings
Above a preserved Mill chimney adjacent to new housing development at Ashton.
Portland Basin with its renovated Warehouse which is now an interesting industrial and social museum - well worth a visit.
Turning onto the Peak Forest Canal.
Looking back at the entrance to the PF and the Portland warehouse. We had expected the 'dash' up the Ashton to take four and a half hours or thereabouts - it took eight and a half. The locks were in good repair but the amount of rubbish in the canal is no joke. As a lock-wheeler on a glorious autumn day I was enjoying the Ashton but five times down a weed hatch and going aground because of lack of water and underwater obstacles was extremely tiresome for the helmsmen.
The BW men I spoke to tell me that where there were once seven men responsible for the Ashton there are now only two and to make matters worse those two men now also have to spend half their day tending the Huddersfield Narrow.
I feel an email may be winging its way to BW quite soon. As for no-go areas we experienced no issues at all but we have met other boaters who have. I don't see why anywhere in the UK should be a no-go area, its not Baghdad or Beirut, but perhaps I am being naive..


Adam said...

That was slow going. We did the Rochdale 9 and the Ashton in one day, the R9 taking 2.5 hours and the Ashton 4 hours. Some of the pounds were low then, and there wasn't enough water to get into one lock. Our major weedhatch incident was at the top lock on the Ashton, where we had the almost compulsory pair of jeans to extract - I'm surprised a pair of jeans wasn't among your haul! We actually found the Marple flight much harder work, but it's pretty too which offsets the pain.

Martin Clark said...

The Ashton Canal, as you found out, is NOT a "no-go area". It might have been twenty years ago but the only reason for that reputation continuing today is that people keep repeating what they have heard, often from people who have not been there in recent years!

The biggest problem, as you also found out, is with rubbish in the canal.

If fewer people spread alarm about the canal, then maybe more boaters would use it and, with more people around, maybe there would be less rubbish being thrown in. Increased boat use might also encourage BW to have more people on the ground in the area.

These days, the Ashton Canal is quite attractive along much of its length with the areas of industrial dereliction adding interest, helping to give the Cheshire Ring such an interesting range of scenery.

Please - let's hear it for the Ashton Canal without mentioning "no-go areas" - you are no more likely to have trouble there than on any other urban canal!

Nb Caxton said...

I think perhaps BW does it share of 'scare mongering'as well as the towpath telegraph. The latest Nicholsons guide includes BW advice paraphrased by me. As you noted I enjoyed the trip but for the rubbish. I would encourage boaters to use the canal but regular dredging and a joint approach from Community leaders, Police and BW would not go amiss.

Nb Caxton said...

Gluttons for punishment! I think you had extra hands on board did you not? I though the Ashton rather interesting but sadly not getting the care it needs.

Adam said...

We had one extra pair of hands -- who having done the Rochdale 9 and the 18 locks on the Ashton, wondered if she was ever going to get a ride on the boat! To back up what Martin says, we had no trouble at all, and found the locals very friendly. But we couldn't help but notice that the Strawberry Duck pub even had its CCTV cameras in protective cages!