A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Posts Tagged ‘Canal’

NCN Route 66 – The Rochdale Canal

Posted by Alan on November 9, 2012

Due to my procrastination (well work etc probably is more important…) this is a post that has been sat in drafts for such a long time.  The Rochdale Canal gave me one of my first ever cycling memories, cycling the 12 or so miles downhill from Rochdale to Castlefield. This summer I finally made it back to see how what it’s like following the restoration.

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Cycling up the Lee Valley

Posted by Alan on March 12, 2012

Low Low sign
Low bridge is still low, now with added sign!

This weekend I went for an explore of the Sustrans’ route NCN1, north up the Lee Valley. I have a bit of an on/off relationship with Sustrans:  it is nice someone is trying to provide cycling infrastructure but so often the quality is compromised and it always feels like cycling is only a leisure activity, rather than a useful mode of transport.  This is a real shame – large parts of this route could be an excellent transport corridor through the summer months whilst it’s still light after work. I joined NCN1 via the low bridge at Coppermill Lane on Walthamstow Marshes. Most people struggle to walk under the bridge with a headroom of just 5’0″  but recently a sign has appeared telling all of exercise caution. Sigh: I guess someone had some budget to spend before the end of March. (NB I rolled through chin on handlebars!)

Lee Valley may conjure up images of a river lined with nature – it really isn’t, at least not for the first few miles. That’s not to say it isn’t interesting passing through industrial Tottenham and Edmonton, it’s just not all that pretty. A particular highlight was cycling under a row of electricity pylons along the ‘Lee Park Way’. As is my normal experience with Sustrans routes, there is an amount of randomness in it’s direction. Close to Northumberland Park, you’re suddenly directed off the towpath and onto a shared space footpath next to a major road. In fact you have to cross the road to use crossing the road twice in this short section – I reckon maybe 400 meters next to the road. Back on the towpath via a park, the next major problem (apart from the stench of Edmonton’s own Deephams Sewage Works – that was a fun 1/4mile) came at Enfield Island. Again this was on a diversion around the Enfield lock, where I guess a large number of cyclists might pose a traffic issue in a confined and risky space.

End

Dead end

Poor signage meant I followed a path that just ended in a pile of fly tipping and palisade fencing. Fantastic.  Doubling back and guessing, I eventually came through the Gunpower Park and into one of those new estates designed entirely for car use next to the giant Sainsbury’s distribution park on Meridian Way. Again poor signage forced me the wrong way down a wide straight fast road to a major roundabout.  Doubling back (I had a hunch I was getting further away from the river) I found I had missed interpreted one sign and missed a second. You mean I was meant to cycle along the pavement? Oh. Further into Waltham Abbey and the route led into park, next to the actual river Lee rather than the navigation. This section was really pleasant – in fact there were loads of people cycling here but judging by the rack fitted cars in the park car park most had driven there to cycle. To the north of the park at Holyfield Hall Farm I found time to stop and capture the signage standard that had misled me earlier:

Moo

Moo: more poor signage

On first glance I would assume the blue sign was directing me into the road to continue. But no, the red and white (with tiny writing) sign to the right indicates that this is not actually the cycle route – it’s actually the path out of shot on the right. Some proper signs wouldn’t go amiss along much of this route.  A rectangle with a point on it (like a road sign) would be fine, it could even include a way-mark as well as route number for ease of use.

Close to Lower Nazeing and I’d decided I’d gone about far enough, ~20 miles from home, close to Broxbourne station and with plans for the evening. 15 minutes after boarding the train and I was back in Tottenham again! All in all a reasonable ride – but punctuated with frustrating problems. Would I cycle it again? Probably but would I bring R? Good question.

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Crap cycling in East Lancashire

Posted by Alan on May 3, 2011

Having tackled the climb and descent into the Calder Valley, in the nicer weather of Thursday I went over another hill into the Irwell Valley. I started by using part of Sustrans (regional) route 92, though Kingsway Business Park, complete with anti-cycling gates.

Anti-cycling gate

Anti-cycling gate at Kingsway Business Park

Not long and I was onto Route 66 again, this time following the Rochdale Canal to skirt around the edges of town before picking up the A680 main road towards Blackburn and tackling the climb to Owd Betts/Ashworth Moor. It’s a longer and shallower climb so I managed it without pushing (unlike Blackstone Edge) though I did have to stop a couple of times, not least because my chain has developed an annoying habit of jumping off when I gear down…

The Windmills of Ashworth Moor

The Windmills of Ashworth Moor

From up here it was down into the Irwell Valley into Rawtenstall where I stopped for a cup of tea before climbing the valley to Bacup and dropping back towards Rochdale. Just north of Whitworth I picked up route 92 again, but only stuck with it for about 1 mile before returning to the road. Too circuitous and far too many obstructions – I think there were 6 kissing gates in 1 mile! For me this is a footpath, not a cycle path – I certainly didn’t get on wheels to stop every few minutes to lift my bike over an obstacle!

The Whitworth cycle track - route 92

The Whitworth cycle track - route 92 at Shore

After another cup of tea and some advice, I went back to route 92. Thankfully on the other side of Whitworth the trail does improve following more closely the ex-railway line over the stunning Healey Dell viaduct and the much less stunning, glass lined, Syke Tunnel. The signs then disappeared for a while whilst I weaved my way through the one-way streets of Hamer back towards the business park.

Access Denied

Access Denied - route 92 is closed

Here I found my earlier route had been a connecting route, with the main route 92 actually blocked through the business park. Shame as from either end it looked like a reasonable (if a little windy) off road route.

Closed

Closed

Notching up a little over 30 miles in one day, including a reasonable hill I’m getting much closer to being confident enough to cycle the c2c in 4 days.  Next challenges are to push the distance out to 40 miles in a day and to start to cycle every day. This will be hard!

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Bogle Training Part II

Posted by Alan on February 16, 2011

I am still in training for Bogle, Manchester RAG’s infamous 55 mile walk around the Manchester cityscape. I’ve decided to raise money for Lymphoedema Support Network this year after the support mum has received over the last few years.  I hope you can find some spare change to donate though my JustGiving page.

Back to the training…

This weekend I headed out to the Midlands to take in a  30 mile (48 km) training walk. This is a rather more pleasant scenic adventure than Bogle will be, or indeed, the previous training walk of 17 miles through London. From Leamington, we took to the canal and headed vaguely north to Birmingham.  The first real point of note, is Hatton flight -where the canal rises steeply.

Hatton Flight

Hatton Flight

Towards the top lock, in a pond in front of what must have once been the lock keepers cottage sits a rather nice dragonfly sculpture.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Further north-westwards we took a left and ventured onto the Stratford North Canal.  One of the earlier canals to be built in the UK, it shows it. The infrastructure is much more heavy – huge bridges, cuttings, embankments particularly north of Hockley Heath. It’s little wonder – apparently they spanked £300K in 1796 on just 25 miles of canal! This bit of canal is allegedly cycle free, though that didn’t stop the people who passed us … on bikes. It might surprise you to know you actually need a cycle permit! Still, it didn’t bother us too much except for the sections where they had churned up the mud.

A boating

A boating on the North Stratford Canal

Given the basic nature of the towpath, I’d guess that’s actually why cycling is prohibited on the North Stratford. It’s essentially mud. Finally by about half 4 we reached Kings Norton Junction and turned right towards Birmingham. Here the scenery became much more industrial and we realised we had to pick up the pace a little.  Despite being on National Cycle Route 5, the regular floral tributes and fading light wasn’t encouraging – so a couple of miles further up at Selly Oak we came off the canal on to the Bristol Road.

Dead boat

Forlorn, sadly unloved boat

From the canal though you do get a sense of the vast machine that is the Cadbury Bournville factory. It’s much less purple than I remember.  Perhaps the Kraft influence has kicked in already.  Some parts of the factory are still very 1930s – such as this building on the Birmingham side.

Cadbury

Corporate pride 1930s style - Cadbury, Bourneville

The last few miles up the Bristol Road were a stark contrast.  As long as I can remember I’ve known Brum to be a car city, probably reinforced by watching Brum as a small child. The Bristol Road is a fairly angry dual carriageway with lots of traffic. Thinking back to University, Manchester’s Oxford Road is also very busy – but the majority of the traffic is made up of buses, it’s much slower and seems somewhat more friendly. The relaxed studenty feel only really seemed to stretch from Selly Oak to the campus gates unlike Manchester’s curry mile and student village.  Anyway, long digression!  Final destination was The Wellington on Bennetts Hill. We even got seats, which was nice after 29.5 miles and of course the beer was excellent. A short amble towards the train home took us over the 30 mile mark. A most excellent way to spend a Saturday.

To round off – just a quick reminder. I really do plan to get all the way around this time. If you’d like to sponsor me, please do so at http://www.justgiving.com/AlanP-Bogle2011

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Narrowboat Log – Day 7

Posted by Alan on August 22, 2010

First off we moved the few hundred metres through Wheelock to fill up the boat.  Having not reached Hassall Green, the last day would be longer than planned.  From here we were rushed through locks 66 and 65 buy a really unhelpful boat called ‘Stonewall’ who seemed to think everything was far to slow! So we moored up an ate the sausages bought in Middlewich the day before as brunch and let them steam by.  The rest of the Wheelock flight plus the two locks at Hassall Green were finished in time to have a pint at the Romping Donkey.

Happy Ruth locking up

Happy Ruth locking up

And then the sun came out! And after a quick pint we carried on up the final locks to Kidsgrove finding the Red Bull next to Lock 43.  Excellent food and rather good beer.  By now the light was starting to fall as we hit the last stretch back to the boatyard.  Given our tendency not to rise early, it seemed wise to be as close to the marina as possible.  The last lock, the Hall Green stop lock with just at 6″ rise put us back on the Macclesfield canal and within 15 mins we were moored inside the marina.

Mum working the boat

Mum working the boat

And so that was it – Sunday morning we had to hand back the boat at 9AM, so after some tidying we slept with alarms on for the first time in a week. It was my first boating trip in around 9 years – very enjoyable and Ruth is now hooked.  Apparently if I get rich, I have to buy a narrowboat! 🙂

And so I sign off this series of posts with a very helpful sign on one of the locks: Keep boat forward of cill marker.

Keep boat forward...

Keep boat forward...

Summary

Weather: fair with sunny outbursts

Destination: Heritage boatyard, Scholar Green

Locks: 25 (I think)

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Narrowboat Log – Day 6

Posted by Alan on August 21, 2010

Another late start (oh yeah, love the boating timetable!) we cruised down the Dane Valley to Middlewich where we stopped for some supplies and a chance to walk about. Middlewich is a traditional town featuring a few local shops – we picked up more great sausages from a friendly butchers. However, the 00s disease was not far away – a giant Tesco looming over the town centre plus the additional Tesco Metro about 400 metres further down the road.

The Alhambra, Middlewich

The Alhambra, Middlewich - currently a Chinese restaurant

As well as the plethora of Tesco, the town also has the very modern/60s affliction –  an addiction to motor cars.  Much of the High St was devoted to parking leaving little space for footpaths.  In fact as we wandered down the street a queue built up to the point where people got out of their cars and started chatting to each other!  Never mind, the pork & wild mushroom sausages were well worth it. After the 7 or so Middlewich locks we were back in salt country.

Salt factory

Salt mountain!

Friday was the wettest day, so we didn’t reach our intended destination – Hassall Green, instead mooring at Wheelock and visiting “Liz’s Plaice” for fish and chips where were very tasty (and proper – non of this silly southern skin on fish rubbish!).  More cards and scrabble saw us through to bed time!

Ruth, windswept at the tiller

Ruth, windswept at the tiller

Summary

Weather: Fair to drizzle to miserable rain

Destination: Wheelock

Locks: 9

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Narrowboat Log – Day 4

Posted by Alan on August 10, 2010

Today’s crusing started very gently with the short move back towards town bridge and a walk around Northwich centre to pick up breakfast and dinner.  The town is very much more alive during the day time!  Quality save and M&S brought forth various goodies inc. continental breakfast and anti-pasti for lunch.  Moving on we headed back to Anderton to ascend back to the Trent and Mersey canal and head northwards towards Preston Brook.


Speed is just an illusion

Speed is an Illusion - Barnton Tunnel, Trent & Mersey Canal

This section is the canal winds along the contours and in places is virtually ‘single file’ as a result of the reed growth. There scenery is pretty serene and there’s lots of wildlife – we spent a good few minutes trying to creep up on a heron. Sadly I don’t have a zoom lens yet so it was quite challenging for Ruth to get a photo (I was on the tiller at this point).  Then for some reason there’s an enormous light spot on all of them – not sure how she managed to do that!

Ruth's heron picture

Ruth's heron picture

Once through Dutton Stop lock we were officially on the Bridgewater canal and we travelled through the Preston Brook tunnel to the junction with the ‘Runcorn branch’.   Having a walk around (hoping for a half pint in a pub and Ruth hoping for land based facilities!) we found a spar sitting on a pub sized plot of land and a quiet sleepy village.  Luckily there was a boat yard where Ruth found some facilities (albeit dreadful!) and Dad bought an Anderson lift plaque to add to the collection marking the places Endevour has been.

Dutton Stop Lock

Ruth get stuck into Dutton stop lock - a drop of less than 1' (30 cm)

Giving up on the heady delights of Runcorn, we turn around and it’s now my turn and I take control through the tunnel. It’s hard work – Preston Brook tunnel is around 1mile (1.6km) long so around 20 mins sailing at 3mph. Because it isn’t straight you can’t see the other end, traffic is controlled by entry times – you can enter heading southbound between xx:30 and xx:40 meaning that the northbound traffic should be able to enter at xx:00. You can’t faff about going slowly!

At the tiller

Me at the tiller - not in the tunnel!

We headed south to close to bridge 211, within walking distance of Bartlington and Little Leigh, eventually ending up for a pint in the Leigh Arms.

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Narrowboat Log – Day 3

Posted by Alan on August 8, 2010

Mostly gentle cruising today, swapping skipper once in a while.  This stretch of the canal winds around country estates as well as some heavy industry.  It’s a slow and indirect passage.  In many parts the salt mining industry has caused the surrounding fields to collapse leading to the formation of vast ‘salt lagoons’.  It’s like taking the boat through a lake, except that aside from the actual canal cut the water is hardly deep enough to allow the boat’s passage.  Not that you can tell that from the surface!

Cows drinking from the canal

Cows!

Grey industry

Grey industry - Salt mining can be found over much of this part of Cheshire

Passing boats on the canal (monochrome)

Traffic!

After arrival at the Anderton boat lift, we decided to see how much it would cost to take our boat down to the Weaver Navigation. Just how cool would it be to take our boat down instead of the trip boat? Err… with a cost of £0 for our boat or £7 per person on the trip boat well, the Yorkshire in us won out – decision made!

Anderton boat lift

Anderton boat lift - the view from the Weaver

(I have a ton of boat lift pictures so I will save picking out the best for a future entry…)

Once on the Weaver Navigation (allegedly a river – pretty much a large canal without a towpath) we headed up to Northwich in search of somewhere to moor for the night and some tea.  Our first stop was near Town Bridge – a swing bridge in the town centre, providing easy access to the town centre and The Penny Black.

Town Bridge, Northwich

Town Bridge, Northwich

After enjoying the ‘spoons Tuesday steak club we decided to move a bit further up, just outside of Northwich beside Hunts Lock to escape the ‘bustle’ (traffic noise) of the town centre.

Hunts Lock and Railway Viaduct

Hunts Lock and Railway Viaduct

Despite the incredibly secluded look in the picture above (our boat is just visible in the dusk light – down from the second bridge arch) we were only a few minutes from a large housing estate containing the Blue Barrel where me and Ruth escaped to for cheeky pint!

Summary

Weather: Drizzle/Cloudy morning, clearing to fine by dusk

Destination: Hunts Lock, Northwich

Locks: 0

More photos

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Narrowboat Log – Day 2

Posted by Alan on August 6, 2010

Stobart vs barge - the M6 seen from Lock 58, Hassall Green

Stobart vs barge - the M6 seen from Lock 58, Hassall Green

AM: Awoke to drizzle, so slept in a bit. Carried on down the Cheshire locks through Hassall Green, mooring for lunch in the small village of Wheelock. Found a good pub for some lunch – the Nag’s Head. Not too long after we had finished eating, someone arrived into the pub… “Is your boat called Endevour? In that case I have some bad news…!” We rushed back to the boat to find the stern (rear) adrift – due to inconsiderate traffic roaring past at 4mph (ish – you should really drop your engine into tickover whilst passing moored boats). Luckily we were still attached at the bow (front) and could rescue the situation without any canal wild swimming!

Canal lock gate, with paddle open indicated by a raised winding mechanism

Lock - Paddle open

PM: Weather still mixed as we carried on north-westwards towards the Middlewich flight. A bit of a queue in the other direction caused some confusion – lots of boats heading towards Chester and Llangollen, though it didn’t affect our progress too much.  The final lock at Middlewich known as ‘big lock’ to its broadbeam (14′ ish wide) size rather than the narrowbeam (7′ ish wide) that feature along much of the Trent and Mersey canal. This gives name to the pub we will later grab tea from! We moor just around the corner next to a lagoon caused by salt mine subsidence – a fairly picturesque spot given the semi-urban environment the canal passes through here.

Sunset over the fields near Middlewich

Sunset over the fields near Middlewich

Summary

Weather:         Drizzle

Destination:   Middlewich

Locks:               21

See more photos from Monday

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Narrowboat Log – Day 1

Posted by Alan on August 3, 2010

Arrived at the boat yard around 11.45, close to Mow Cop just north of Kidsgrove, Staffs. The boat (Endevour) belongs to a boat club my dad joined through work. Endevour hasn’t been out for 3 weeks so everything needs checking thoroughly and the fridge needs a proper clean out.

Around 1pm ish Ruth’s parents arrive to join us for the first few miles, first lock and a short diversion to the entrance of the Harecastle Tunnel, one of England’s longest canal tunnels. Apparently our boat is too long to ‘wind’ (turn) in front of the tunnel at 52′ long (c. 16m) so we have to manually walk the boat back to Hardings Wood Junction where we can safely wind and head north west.

Ruth gets a driving lesson on the narrowboat

Ruth gets a driving lesson from my dad as Ruth's dad looks on, worriedly!

From Hardings Wood to our final mooring site that night, it is down most of ‘Heartbreak Hill’ (aka the Cheshire Locks) – 15 locks in total on the first day and we are already well ahead of schedule. This is a great opportunity for Ruth to learn to lock! We finished the day tired from the fresh air and small amount of manual effort… long way to go yet!

Double Lock on the Trent and Mersey Canal

Double Lock - typical on Heartbreak Hill

Summary

Weather:             Fair but cloudy
Destination:       Somewhere between bridge 141 and “Chell’s Aqueduct”
Locks:                  15

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