Ashton to Sowerby Bridge

Somerset - May 2005

Although Phil & Wendy own Foamfollower she is 60' and currently moored on the River Avon near Bath. Sarah, Phil, Wendy, Stephen & Debbie decided to hire "Somerset" from Shire Cruisers for a one-way trip along the Huddersfield Narrow.

Several photos were taken as to be expected.

Monday 2nd May

Provisioned at Sowerby Bridge. How long are we going for???
The 5 of us crammed into 2 cars to head down to Shire Cruisers base. Beautiful sunny day waiting for the taxi to take us to Ashton. We're told it will be an 8 seater so hopefully we will squeeze in.
45 minute taxi ride to Ashton through Delph where we spot the canal. However, getting on to Ashton and we turn up this small uninviting lane next to a boarded up pub. Things are looking grim. Our driver opens the huge gates and reverses down a very narrow track where we see Westmorland & Somerset waiting. Phew what's that smell? We load as quickly as possible, we don't want to stay here any longer than we have to.
After a run through the checklist, where's the gas, heating, battery etc. we sign the forms and it just starts to rain. The sky is looking black and strangely Debbie, Phil & Wendy disappear inside and throw out coats to Stephen & Sarah who set off. Well we certainly get a good view of the thunder & lightning for the next 45 minutes!! Hopefully not typical of the weather to come.
Complaints that the boat is too light & moves around more that we're used to when people walk about inside.
Debated visiting the Peak Forest - vetoed in favour of a mooch around Stalybridge.
Some interesting steering from Phil & Sarah "I've gone aground" Haworth. Trip down the weed hatch may be needed sooner than expected.
Eee, it's grim oop North!
Definitely a contact sport!
Bumps so far:
Phil - Two bridges
Sarah - Two locks. Novelty diagonal 35 degree entry technique, must be part of advanced boaty skills.
Phil: "Aside from those mentioned above and Steve who steered and locked, the rest of the crew did sweet f all"
Wendy decided we needed more shopping so hopped off in Stalybridge to visit the 24 hour Tesco. To be fair she did purchase some excellent sized wine glasses that better suited our consumption habits than the egg cups provided.
Refused the visitor moorings in Stalybridge in favour of something more out of town. In hindsight this was possibly the wrong choice as it took over 30 minutes to find a spot that was close enough to the bank to get off. On the other hand the boat which did moor in the town centre had his coal and boat hook chucked in the cut overnight. The boat hook floated. The coal however.....
Debbie cooked a fine pasta dish with some of Sarah's chorizo raided from her fridge earlier in the day.
Perudo and Mexican Train dominos were played and Ardbeg consumed until the wee small hours, accompanied by lots of strange Scottish mutterings.

Tuesday 3rd May

Crew woken at 0615 by the extraction system of a large rubbery plant on the other bank. Much speculation over breakfast as to the function of this plant but we concluded that it recycled tyres & retreads.
Phil wiped up after breakfast - Wendy said this was a first!
A boat passed us at breakfast time but it doesn't count as we've seen it before.
Total boat count so far - 2 not including the trip boat at Portland Basin.
Deb steered this morning leaving little debris in her wake although a three point turn was required into Scout Tunnel.
Impressive railway viaduct at lock 23W. Interesting by washes on several locks made for some good entry angles.
Quote of the day: Wendy "English isn't my first language" (She hails from Wolverhampton).
Very pretty scenery today up the valley. Stopped off at Roaches Lock for some lunchtime beer. Sent Sarah & Wendy off for some fish, chips, mushy peas & scraps. Directions, follow the smell from the pub - highly recommended.
Fairly wet afternoon but no incidents of note. Stopped off in Uppermill for a quick wander around the town. Decided against visiting the museum and to head off to Diggle for the night.
Good peaceful moorings by the slipway at the bottom of the Diggle flight - in sunshine! Just doing G&Ts & arguing over the showering sequence. Off to the Navigation for dinner tonight. Very quality and good value meals and certainly filling. Washed down with some Timothy Taylor's Landlord and some wine.
This was an unusual mooring as we're still floating. Fenders weren't provided on this boat, we presume as it wasn't expected that we would be this close to the bank!

Wednesday 4th May

Stephen up early in the morning to walk over the hill into Delph for a GeoCache and to get a paper. Great views from the top.
Bacon butties in part-baked rolls - yummy.
BW arrived at 0815 to unlock the Diggle flight. William II threw his dolly and set off up the flight in high dudgeon when he found out that it wasn't assisted passage. Pleasant working up flight, lovely views of surrounding hills, some sunshine.
Much faffing & reversing at the tunnel entrance. We were told to wait at the tunnel to be matted, however this left no space for the passenger module so we all had to reverse. William II passed rapidly along the whole line, deprived of his place at the head of the queue. See that bowthruster go! Phil manoeuvred neatly without a bowthruster, marks 7/10.
Much reluctance on the part of the assorted private boats to remove stuff from their roof and to remove cratch covers. We were hardly checked as the BW chap commented that "I know this fits, it's been through more times than I have".
Playground at top of the flight but we didn't get around to the assault course.
BW were concerned about the largest boat in our convoy of 5 as it had no rear dollys so had to go at the end of the convoy. They normally like the largest boat closest to the tug to control it better.
Slow but uneventful passage through the tunnel, 3 hours 20 minutes. Excellent commentary by Fred who'd been on nearly all the trips through since opening. Lots of interesting features, passing places, cross tunnels, trains in the mist etc.
Moored in Marsden about 1700. Tunnel End Inn - excellent beer but not doing food tonight. The landlady was very helpful and said she would let us have some of the pie she was cooking for tomorrow's meals. We decided not to put her out on her night off.
Walked into Marsden for essential supplies then Phil, Stephen & Sarah went back to check the beer was still ok at the Tunnel End Inn. It was. It did mean that Wendy & Debbie finished a bottle of white sparkly stuff whilst cooking.
Cajun chicken, rice & roast veg for tea followed by Mexican Train & bed.
P.S. Comment from BW man to Phil on his way up Diggle flight where we were reluctant to leave one lock until the next was empty and ready on account of the short pounds and windy conditions - "never mind, you'll get the hang of it when you've hired 2 or 3 times!!" Phil has only been boating for 30 years - he was happy to hire on this trip as his own boat is a)down south and b) won't fit. His reply is not recorded.
P.P.S. Much boat washing at Marsden after the tunnel. William II was washing his boat when we went for the first visit to the pub and still going quite a while when we got back from shopping. Still doesn't disguise the fact that he could do with a new paint job.

Thursday 5th May - Election day

Rain this morning turning to unremitting drizzle - is this what they call Yorkshire fog?
Knocked up by BW at 0815 for assisted passage down the next 10 locks in the Marsden flight. We were second in line getting out before William II.
Assisted passage does have its advantages - with 4 sturdy chaps on a balance beam a 4" difference in water level can be overcome.
Marsden flight was not in good repair, some paddle gear was not working, others worked in mysterious ways, often beyond the ken of the BW lads as well. Problem in Lock 37E as both bottom paddles had become disconnected and couldn't be raised. Luckily the gates leaked quite a bit and we were out in 30 minutes by "natural wastage".
Three BW chaps then decided to get ladders out and waders on to see what was the problem (see photo). This didn't go down too well with William II who got pretty stroppy. All this served to do was for them to be more thorough in their investigations. It turned out that both welds on the paddles "the cricket bat" had failed and couldn't be repaired. They would have to fit completely new gates.
Spent a long time in 33E as one bottom gate wouldn't open enough and we got wedged in. Stephen climbed down the ladder and with use of the boat hook managed to fish out a large metal band from the top of the lock gate. The BW chap was impressed with the fishing skills and took the band back to the workshop to hit someone with!
Reports were still coming down over the towpath telegraph of William II fuming due to the delay at lock 37E. We made our getaway!
The remaining pounds were fairly low and Stephen had to rescue Citrine (the boat ahead) as it was stuck 5' out and grounded with both crew on the shore holding a rope. Stephen managed to jump onboard and with rocking and barge pole re floated.
Negotiated the guillotine lock without major problem except aching arm winding it up/down. The TV aerial was a casualty under the low bridges.
Moored in Slaithwaite for a bit more shopping. Left Slaithwaite via the rubbing strake to which Sarah seemed very attached! Filled up with water.
Rain came back in late afternoon and some novelty diagonal boating skills were demonstrated by the more experienced members of the team (Sarah & Phil).
Query: Why does Pearson's show visitor moorings at Linthwaite when a) you can't get into the bank; and b) there is no way of attaching the boat to the bank as the pins will only go in 1". Ok mooring below lock 16E where we met Citrine again.
Now drying out/warming up and considering shower/dinner/pub/crumpet options. Will consider other options over crumpets.
The ok mooring was not as ok as we thought. Soon listing @ 45 degrees (according to Deb). Water coming in the low drain holes on the well deck. Boat re-moored, crew left Debbie to shower, listen to the Archers & cook dinner whilst they went to the Sair Inn - very good beer, no food, interesting decor, very friendly with a great log fire and a nice 'dulux' dog.
Meanwhile chef listing seriously - sent for RNLI. RNLI unresponsive. Eventually crew returned, boat repositioned by lock, now floating. Crew not happy - had to move boat wearing the wrong trousers.
Crew now fed + watered + content.
PS Turned out not to be such a good mooring after all as the boat went graunchy-graunchy all night.

Friday 6th May

Early start to get through Huddersfield - left 0700. Snuck away leaving Citrene aground at a slightly steeper angle, having pinched a lockful of water from under her. Wendy practiced the advanced steering class.
Major weedhatch visitation by Phil @ lock 14E involving hacksaw, Stanley knife & bread knife. Several lengths of blue nylon fabric retrieved, no hikers attached.
Stephen retrieved a whole bicycle from behind the lock gate at 13E - don't think it had been there long as it was in pretty good condition until he threw it over a wall.
All excitement over now, low pounds, general sideways progress, wheelie bin & trees in cut until 11E where the bottom paddle was stuck up and wouldn't drop. Debbie called BW and they estimated 1.5 hours wait. We managed to get the bow on the top lock gate and made fast. 3 BW chappies (same 3 that fixed the gates yesterday on 37E) came promptly and diagnosed a lack of oil in the winder. They were a bit stuck though as somebody had borrowed their van the previous week and lost the special spanner to get the filler plugs out with. Luckily Stephen spotted that they had a cold chisel that looked a perfect diagonal fit. Replenished the oil and we were soon on our way. So much for an early start. In this time Citrine had nearly caught us up but had run aground avoiding the wheelie bin. He was not a happy chap as he considered BW had only done half a job, fixing the lock but not filling the pound to get him off. We're not quite sure what he was expecting as it wasn't far from the bywash level. A degree of dredging presumably.
Fairly uneventful until 5E when Wendy disappeared to the loo then came back and announced that she'd been wearing her knickers sideways.
Lost Wendy at 3E when she took off on foot for a tour of Huddersfield ring road armed only with a windlass and no mobile phone. The factory tunnels were only accessible by boat so at lock 2E there was no sign of Wendy. Four chaps in orange overalls came out of factory to watch but were fairly uncommunicative.
Found Wendy again at Lock 1E. Bye bye Huddersfield Narrow.
Stopped at Apsley Basin to water, rubbish and a shop in Sainbury's. Australian pinot noir sparkling @ £4.99 reduced from £9.99 so bought 3 cases & stashed in back lockers to take home (if they don't get drunk first). Replenished Ardbeg stocks, the first bottle seems to have emptied mysteriously.
Set off from Apsley Basin on Huddersfield Broad; a luxury after the Narrow with plenty of water. Stephen & Sarah played with the Loco Lift Bridge and managed to stop quite a few white vans.
Locks were wider by much shorter, getting out of them requiring some manoeuvring. Wendy drove down the pounds and into the locks then threw the tiller at Phil until out of each lock.
Met the 2nd boat of the day at lock 5 (first was at lock 9E - only one on the Narrow apart from 2 out of the tunnel).
Engine died mid channel above lock 2. Quickly diagnosed a a loose fuel line & remedied.
Moored above lock 1. Stephen & Phil went walkies in search of the pub - @ time of writing (16:55) they have been gone half an hour. We await their report!
Went to the Royal & Ancient for dinner - don't bother. The beer was ok and looked after, Timothy Taylor and John Smiths Magnet draught. The food was indifferent and the staff didn't have a clue about wine. They sold Piesporter as a dry white. Only red by the bottle was Bulgarian Cabinet Sauvignon, ok but tough if you don't like Bulgarian! We suspect the pub is under new management since previous reports.
Some of us performed a late night GeoCache to walk off some of the dinner whilst Debbie retired to the boat. On the way back Sarah attempted to show us a short cut over the first lock on the C&H. Unfortunately she must have had the map upside down as we ended up too close to a smelly sewage works with not a lock in sight.

Saturday 7th May

Nice start to the day, beautiful sunshine and blue skies. Through Copper Lock and onto the Calder & Hebble. Stephen deployed "the bat" to operate the C&H locks. He became quite attached to this over the course of the day but did look a bit menacing walking along the towpath with it - although he wasn't wearing a hoodie.
Salterhebble locks very pretty in the sunshine. Stopped below the top lock for water and found a locked GeoCache nearby. Failed to get into the cache container on account of the clue being in Welsh.
Debbie pointed up the locks and managed a 27 point turn at the top to head for Sowerby Bridge. Stopped at the Navigation for lunch. Visitor moorings fine with rings. Pub to be recommended, excellent Timothy Taylors and food. Friendly staff.
After lunch we headed for Tuel Lane having previously phone the lockie from the pub.
Wendy moved in a mysterious way (see photo) between locks 1 & 2. Actually this was ramming the bank rather than moving! Stephen & Debbie operated the lock and took photos.
Sarah wimped out of Tuel Lane and went to Kwiksave for emergency coffee. Sarah doesn't do Tuel Lane.
Howard not on duty today - relief lockie not the most communicative we have ever met. Is this the legendary northern gruffness we have heard so much about or is he just a miserable git?
Uneventful trip to Hebden Bridge but into the teeth of a developing gale - now we know what arctic explorers feel like.
Moored up on visitor moorings behind the trip boat. We had booked the Thai on the Wharf and had an excellent meal. Recommended.
Back to the boat for Mexican Train, Perudo & Ardbeg!

Sunday 8th May

Relatively late start compared with the last couple of days. Stephen cooked bacon sarnies for breakfast and went to chat with the trip boat crew who were preparing to go out at 1000. He was invited for a tour of the newly fitted out boat with 53 seats. Just the right amount for a coach trip, what a coincidence.
The trip boat headed off up the Rochdale and Phil winded whilst nobody was looking.
Weather tranquil at first but wind rising during the day - again.
Another Shire Cruisers boat joined us in the locks, a couple from London on their first weekend trip just to see what boating was like. They could have chosen an easier first weekend than the Rochdale.
Back to Tuel Lane, Howard now on duty. Regaled Debbie & Wendy with his repertoire of dirty jokes and told us his nicknames of "Mr Nasty" and "Captain Slut". He also mentioned how much he enjoyed looking down ladies cleavages as boats were rising in the lock - not much joy from us as a) we were going down, b) it was bl&*dy freezing and we were buttoned up to the neck.
Bottle of Spitfire passed to Howard as our dues for passing through. He confirmed that the relief locky is indeed a miserable git.
Leaving the lock - Phil failed to navigate the tunnel and rammed the side. First claimed lack of attention but then admitted to panic after getting a face full of cobwebs. Phil doesn't do spiders!
Moored between locks 1 & 2 for a quick dash to the Navigation for some lunch as it was so good the first time. Still recommended, both beer & food very good.
After lunch took boat round the corner to Shire Cruisers' Wharf where Stephen, Debbie & Wendy jumped ship and headed back to Bristol.

Phil & Sarah remained on board to head for Salterhebble locks for the evening before returning the boat on Monday morning.

Monday 9th May

Phil & Sarah received a text message on Sunday night with a translation of the strange Welsh numbers and so were able to dash out before breakfast to get into the GeoCache and sign the log. Thanks!

The End.