Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Head for the hills - The Rochdale Canal

As a keen hillwalker I often head for higher ground in search of arduous challenges and breathtaking views. This trip would provide a different challenge. The aim was to get from my house to the Yorkshire border by kayak.

Sean and I wheeled our sea kayaks through the streets to the Bridgewater canal where it passes close to my house at Stretford in south Manchester. We Started paddling shortly before 8-30am.

Paddling through Stretford we passed the backs of terraced housing, industrial estates and container storage areas before making our way beneath the towering framework of Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.

The architecture on the approach to the city centre is a stark contrast of old and new. Scrap metal yards with dilapidated mills remarkably remain beside the latest designer tower blocks with their balconies of pressure treated timber, stainless steel and shiny self cleaning glass. I can only imagine that the old buildings have been left as somewhere for the pigeons and rats to live.

Castlefield basin is where the Bridgewater Canal meets the Rochdale Canal. Residents of the desirable canal side housing are well served at the nearby trendy bars and restaurants. One such establishment takes its name from the lowest (final) lock on the Rochdale Canal. Dukes lock is the 92nd and marks the first step in our arduous uphill battle. Before long we began to see how the others live. The many tunnels and arches beneath Manchester city centre are used for overnight shelter by the homeless and the putrid stench of stale urine urged us to move swiftly on.

Our elation at escaping the city's claustrophobic confines was short lived. Within the city we portaged a series of locks known as 'The Rochdale Nine' only to find that this canal has an average of 3 locks per mile all the way to the summit! We were happy to use trolleys to portage flights of two or more locks whilst we carried our kayaks round single ones. The most irritating is a combination of locks with short stretches of less than 300 metres. Hardly worth paddling, difficult to portage.

On the north side of the city lies the suburbs of Miles Platting and Newton Heath. This stretch of the canal has recently been re-opened here. Boarded up council houses have yet to make way for designer apartments here. Feeding generous chunks of thick, square, white bread to the ducks and geese is as popular as ever but on our arrival amongst the Asian communities of Oldham the square white loaf of 'Mother's Pride' fame is replaced by last night's left over chapati and naan.

Soon after we passed beneath the M60 motorway we found more rural surroundings north of Chadderton and a gruelling flight of locks at Slattocks. (photo - Sean Jesson)

Further still towards Rochdale, low bridges gave us some limbo entertainment. (photo Sean Jesson)

Finally, at 4-00pm, having travelled 35km and portaged 42 locks we decided we'd had enough. We finished at Littleborough, 4km and 3 locks short of the canal summit and the Yorkshire border.

This week my friends Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw have completed an amazing circumnavigation of New Zealand's South Island - I'd like to extend my congratulations to them!

No comments: