In May 2002 the W.C.B.S. was asked by the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale to transport beer from micro breweries around Marsden to supply the beer tent at the Pennine Link canal festival in Stalybridge.
Earlier in the year a plan to deliver several tons of recyled scrap iron to a scrapyard, was foiled by unplanned canal stoppages. We decided to combine the two, by delivering the iron to an outlet at Milnsbridge, then delivering the beer.
This is an account of the latter part of that trip by Chris Leah:
As “Lilith” was unable to negotiate some of the extremely narrow locks on the Yorkshire side,the load was transferred to “Forget me Not”
“Forget me Not”, despite having been slimmed down to 6’10” beam when she was rebuilt, struggled to get through some of these locks. She successfully delivered the iron to Milnsbridge then carried on, empty, down to the centre of Huddersfield before working back up to Marsden to load with beer. This was delivered to the excellent festival in Stalybridge.
As the evening drew on Forget me Not climbed steadily towards Slaithwaite. How far are we going tonight was the question being asked. Lock 32 was my reply. That is as far as we could get without help from B.W. and, co-incidentally, the place where Lilith got stuck last year. Mobile phones were drawn from pockets and arrangements made for Barbara Bennett to meet us at Slaithwaite to drive home those who did not wish to carry on boating into the night.
Most of the pleasure boats travelling up or down the canal were tied up for the night in the centre of Slaithwaite. We travelled on to lock 22 where a gaggle of bored youths were hanging about on the tail bridge. The boat jammed in the tail of the lock and I backed her out again with the help of a flush from the top paddles. I then tried storming into the lock on full power against a flush. This got her a bit further and we carried on opening and closing the top paddles with the propeller churning the water to a froth and people pulling on lines. I stood at the tiller willing her to move forward and receiving intermittent facefulls of gravel from the lads on the bridge who were just above me.
Suddenly, as the paddles slammed shut once again, Forget me Not leaped forward into the trough of a wave. Despite a very quick gear change the stem iron struck the sill with a shower of powdered concrete, leaving the first mark on the pristine new structure.
Having it in my mind that dinglers should not get the idea that they can harass boaters with impunity, I jumped up on to the lock side and did my best imitation of a raving psychopath to clear the youths from the bridge. In a neat pincer movement Andy approached from the other side of the lock, barking like an enraged alsatian. The youths retreated in some disarray, complaining bitterly about the injustice of having the tables turned on them.
With a depleted crew of myself, Andy, Karen and Nathaniel the boat carried on past the floating café and up to the guillotine lock. I was eager to put some distance between the boat and the disgruntled youths in case of reprisals against the boat. Andy left to fetch his car. With Karen and Nathaniel lockwheeling in the fading light we were soon having problems with low pounds. Each one seemed to be worse than the last until, at lock 29, we found that the boat would not get over the sill. Karen went ahead and sent down a lock full of water. As the surge approached I nosed the boat forward and she must have lifted just enough to get the front of the skeg on to the sill. Gradually she edged into the near empty pound, then ground to a halt as one side lifted on some stones. Another flush came down and the boat edged forward again. Slowly and painfully, flush by flush, the boat ground her way towards lock 30. It was like navigating a mountain stream.
A few yards from the lock she stuck fast and I was on the verge of giving up when Andy returned in the gathering dusk. He took the bow line and hauled on it as Karen drew the paddles once more. The boat moved. He shut the gate, tied the line to the strapping post, then used the leverage of the balance beam to drag the boat forward a little more. Once the bows were into the chamber Forget me Not was able to ride the flushes and punch her way into the lock.
Soon we were up the lock and knocking mooring pins in in the darkness, but then the water level seemed to magically rise. We decided to plod on and worked through lock 31 in the pitch black. Above the lock the boat was forced into the towpath side and tied up. It was 11P.M. and we were weary as we trudged to Andy’s car parked by a canalside mill. We had worked 39 locks in the day.
Though the tunnel booking was for Wednesday I had arranged with British Waterways that Forget me Not would be assisted up the Marsden flight on Monday 27th. I got the early train to Marsden and walked down the locks, observing various low pounds that were likely to cause us problems later. Forget me Not was floating in a full pound, her lines rather slack because the water level had risen since we left her. As I was getting her ready to go a local resident came by, walking his dog. “You’re lucky” he said, “any boats left here usually get broken into”. “What, here”? I asked, incredulous that there were vandals in such an idyllic location. “Oh yes” he replied, “there’s a family who live just over there and if the kids see a boat left here they come down at night and ransack it”
I started the engine, untied and headed up the shallow pound, past the tall mill and row of cottages towards the infamous lock 32e. The boat entered the lock with no trouble but the top gates were still padlocked, so I stopped the engine and shut the bottom gates to stop her drifting out.Soon people started to arrive. Andy, Karen, Nathaniel, David Lloyd and Philip Dixon. We made tea. The British Waterways team appeared and told us that we’d have to wait for boats to come up from Slaithwaite. There were to be 7 boats working up to Marsden in all. More tea was brewed and I went off to explore the Sparth reservoirs and surrounding area. It was an excellent place to have an enforced wait. Lilith Pictures_20
Eventually boats started to arrive below the lock. With each lockfull drawn off the pound it got more difficult to navigate so that the later boats had some real difficulty. One boat, a nominally 6’10” steel pleasure boat, was unable to get through lock 22E and so had to turn back.
At last we got the order to move. The chain was removed from the top gates and the lock filled. Forget me Not moved on to lock 33E and promptly got stuck as she tried to enter the chamber.
There is often tension when two groups of experienced people coming from different backgrounds find that they have to co-operate on a task. Both our crew and the B.W. team knew a lot about getting boats through locks. We tried a range of approaches, including at one point using the winch on British Waterways Land Rover. Eventually we negotiated our way back to the familiar method of forcing the boat in against short flushes from the top paddles. This worked and we were soon working up into the next pound. However, as we left the lock, the foreman asked us to tie up and wait for the rest of the boats to pass. It was barely possible to get the bow close enough to the bank for people to climb on and off. More boats worked up the lock and struggled past Forget me Not’s counter, which it was not possible to drag out of the channel.
We brewed up again and ate butties. Some of us helped boats up the lock. Eventually we were able to tack on to the tail of the procession. Lock 36 was the next concern as this is the one where the bottom gates leak so badly that boats have found themselves stuck on the top sill, then slipping back to sit on their skegs in the bottom of the lock as the whole lot drains off. Boats ahead of us got into difficulties here as a piece of wood jammed into the top gates caused the pound above to drain off, making it difficult for the boats ahead of them to get into lock 37.
Our progress was steady and fairly uneventful except for the standard difficulty with low pounds. Lock 41 caused some width problems but then we reached the summit at 42. We tied up near the railway bridge locked up and went home.
Tuesday night I spent aboard the boat and about 7A.M. in the morning moved her on to the tunnel entrance. I re-organised the planks to make a ramp to roll barrels on board and waited for people to arrive and things to happen. Waterway men appeared and tugs began to whirr and beep. A van then appeared with people from CAMRA in the front and barrels of beer in the back . The barrels were transferred into Forget me Not’s hold and the people either moved the barrels or took photographs. A tarpaulin was draped over our little load and the man with the measuring sticks turned up.
I was a little worried about this as one of the remarks of the Waterway Supervisor when the boat struggled down the Marsden flight had been “I’ll make sure that boat gets measured properly on the way back”. What, I wondered, would happen if she was found to be slightly over width.
The width gauge was clamped across the boat. “6′ 10″ dead” said the man. The depth gauge was hooked under the bottom near the stern end. “2′ 8” said the man. The dimensions were exactly as I had stated.
I had planned to walk over the top on this tunnel trip so that someone else could have my place in the passenger pod. As it happened there were only four of us and, as the boats were prepared for their subterranean trip, it began to rain torrentially. I opted for the tunnel.
This time the boat did not jam but as we neared the Diggle end the tug suddenly listed sharply then returned again to an even keel. “What was that” I asked the steerer. “Oh, just a rockbolt” he replied.
At Diggle we cleaned up the boat and were soon working with the B.W. gang down towards Uppermill. The weather had cleared up and it was a pleasant trip. On arrival we breasted up to Lilith near the museum. I hung on for Tom Lord and Ralph Warrington to arrive. These two CAMRA organisers had arranged to stay on board to guard the beer. They arrived in a small van carrying an extra small barrel from The Church pub near Uppermill (an excellent destination for any real ale connoisseurs, though a bit of a long walk from the canal)
Thursday is usually my working for money day, but the need to work the boats as a pair meant that I had to do without that week. Lilith was winded and the pair worked fairly easily through the sometimes troublesome Wade Lock.
The pair worked on down the evenly spaced locks through Greenfield. It was a pleasant day and there was plenty of water. Nothing to complain about at all.
Sue Day and some people from the horseboating society were waiting with Queenie at Roaches Lock. I asked for people to choose between motor boating and horse boating. Strangely, most people opted for the motor boat and, with Andy McKitterick in charge, Forget me Not worked down the lock and carried on ahead.
I took Lilith’s tiller and, with Bill Huntbach looking after the line and horseboating society people working the locks and leading the horse we set off through Mossley.
Motion asleep is how horse boating has been described. It certainly does have a somnambulistic quality. It is necessary to keep your wits about you whatever your role in the operation though. Things can quickly go wrong. Lines can snag or suddenly snatch taut, catching the unwary. Locks have to be worked both efficiently and safely and all the time you are working out and preparing the next move so that the trip proceeds smoothly.
The only complication on this trip came when we had nearly reached the destination. Work was being carried out on the power cable bridge that crosses the canal at the site of the old power station. The scaffolding necessitated the disconnecting of the line but, more seriously, Queenie had to be led through a tortuous maze of scaffolding tubes and corrugated iron sheets. Sue made her feelings about this known to the workmen on the site.
At Knowl St we tied up the boats on the boatyard and dispersed. Tom and Ralph guarded the beer again and in the morning I winded the boat at Mottram Rd and reversed down to Armentieres Square to unload into a truck that carried the beer back to the rally site! The boat then worked up again to take her place at the rally.