Thursday, May 3, 2012

Holiday horror stories - Rochdale nine

Greenie driving the narrow boat
My maiden voyage on the European canals was when we did the Cheshire Ring in England, 2007. We hired a narrow boat called Ramsdell from -  Heritage narrow boats - and began our journey from Congleton where they were based.

The picturesque and tranqil country canals
Canal boats mostly cruise along the canals through the countryside. You pass through pretty villages and it's all very relaxed and laid back. The only minor effort required is when you move through a lock. Locks are the waterway equivalent of an elevator. To move up, you open a lock, drive the boat in one end and allow the lock to fill with water. The boat rises with the water, and you drive the boat out the other end at a higher level. 


Greenie on an aqueduct
It’s the same process going down, only it works vice versa. Once I got the hang of opening and closing the locks that became my job. Things were going well.

The Cheshire Ring has quite a few locks which you manage yourself. Some countries have lock keepers and fixed times to move through locks. On the Cheshire Ring, you can pass through these locks any time of the day although it is not recommended that you cruise at night. Opening and closing a lock doesn’t require great strength but you do need the British Waterways equipment to be able to lift bridges, access water points and open some of the locks.

Moored up after Manchester
Our guide book gave suggested routes and distances to cover and we followed them. Except we did the trip in double the recommended time. The book strongly advised boaters not to over-night in Manchester as there had been instances of vandalism and hooliganism. That meant we would have to do 27 locks in one day. Significantly more than we were averaging. We moored right outside the intended first lock in Portland Basin. We planned to get going with the first lock of the day at sunrise.

Getting ready to knock in pegs to tie up for the night
We woke to a miserable, wet day. It was the last thing we needed. But by midday with 18 locks under our belts, we were looking forward to finding a mooring spot for the night. We were a great team. Or so we thought. Straight after our lunch stop at Piccadilly Basin we carried on in the pouring rain to the last nine locks – The Rochdale Nine. Our afternoon from hell began.

Somewhere on the Cheshire Ring
The rain had filled the canal to such an extent that the locks were overflowing. The water simply wasn’t draining. Manchester has tamperproof gear on each lock. The extra steps involved in removing the tamper proofing made the process complicated, laborious and time consuming. I suspect the tamper proofing may have been tampered with.

The Rochdale Nine are double-width locks. They have larger heavier gates at each end as opposed to single-width gates. Because the gates are so heavy, they have a complicated chain winding system to move them. I could not get the chain system to work.

A really remote mooring
The canal plunges into a dark and gloomy underground area. Lurking there was a chap who was mentally handicapped. He was hell bent on “helping” me. As fast as I was trying to open the locks, he was closing them. I would run back and re-open the lock and ask him not to close them. He insisted on “helping” me. It was hopeless. 


Macclesfield Canal
One of us had to drive the boat. The other had to figure out how to open the locks and tell this bloke firmly to leave us alone. There were only two of us. I had never driven a boat in my life.

I had let my husband do all the driving, but now, all of a sudden, I had to learn how to drive, steer and manoeuvre this boat. The other option was to spend the night in Manchester, which wasn’t an option.

The last lock before the end of our trip
We battled our way through these locks in relentless rain. Halfway through the Rochdale Nine my husband figured out that we could pass through the locks by only opening one gate. This helped speed up our transit time. My boat handling improved and we eventually passed through all nine locks by nightfall. We tied up in Castlefield Basin. Both of us were physically and emotionally drained, bedraggled and cold. 

The rest of our trip along the Macclesfield Canal which followed from the Rochdale was a pleasure and we took turns driving the boat. I guess had it not been for the Rochdale Nine, I would probably not have tried to steer the boat.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read - (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Taxi in Zanzibar. You can go back to the Travel Archive Page for more on other holidays and trips.

Follow this link for a virtual journey of the Rochdale Nine - virtual jouney through the Rochdale Nine.