Rewind to Monday 8th September
Dunkinfield Junction to Manchester (Bridge 2 Ashton Canal)
Dunkinfield Junction – the Huddersfield Narrow called to us, but not this time, we were bound for new waters on the Ashton Canal..
We set off bright and early this morning – the warnings in Nicholsons about the Ashton Locks are quite pronounced “…cruise the Ashton Canal early in the morning and avoid school holidays if possible. Moor only at recognised sites in this area, and do not offer anyone you do not know a ride on your boat. Keep the front doors locked”.
The navigation notes also advise that “passage through locks 1 – 18 should be commenced before 10am”.
Hmmm, despite these direful warnings, we were light of heart as we set out – it was another lovely morning and, as we waited at the top lock, I got talking to a passing dog-walker (our hounds were on board) who was very chatty. My opinion of the area went up proportionally.
When we got to the top lock, there was a boat doing random things in front of us. It was a hire boat, and I hoped that they were winding and that we’d go down the locks first. But they were faffing around and did intend to go down the locks – small sigh! Actually we got into a good rhythm with them and things were as smooth as they could have been but it would have been nicer not to have a boat in front of us all day!
The top of the Ashton flight is surprisingly pleasant, with neat little houses and quite elaborate gardens flanking the canal on one side and high fences flanking the towpath, which was largely deserted. This meant that the hounds could come off for a bimble whenever they fancied.
Some elaborate canalside gardens on the Ashton Canal..
The landscape got less attractive as we descended towards Manchester. At Lock 10, there was a penetrating smell of rotten fish – I looked in the canal for the offending corpses, but there weren’t any. As we moved on, the smell became worse and worse – then I realised it was probably coming from the chemical factory flanking the canal (see Today’s Trivia!). I got onto to my Facebook friends later – there are a few scientists among them – I had this nagging recollection that the rotten fish smell was characteristic of a particular chemical. The consensus was that it was an amine of some sort – ah well, it’s better than i-spy while you’re waiting between locks :-)
We were having a good passage down the flight until Lock 8, which marked a 3-lock fiasco involving not enough water and a log-jam of boats as the early starters coming down the flight met the early starters coming up!
There is a long-ish pound between lock 8 and 7. We saw the hire boat go down and the crew of the boat coming up which had lock wheeled up and drained the lock even before the hire boat came down. But there was no sign of the upcoming boat. Richard cycled down – the upcoming boat could barely move in the shallow water and kept running aground. We brought Indigo Dream down the lock, hoping that a lockful of water into the pound might help us and the upcoming boat. I guess it must have done, but only barely. We each managed to move out of the lock jaws and upcoming boat managed to get past, leaving me grounded with Richard on the bank!
Aground! Between locks 8 and 7 – there’s no-one at the helm because Richard was on the towpath and I was busy at the bow with the pole…
Luckily,Malcolm our trainer (we’ve thought a lot about him since coming Marple-way!) taught us a few tricks for getting unstuck so I did eventually manage to get her back mid-channel. We then met a hire boat coming up but fortunately they were stopping to pick up crew so I had the mid channel to myself. They told Richard that the pound below was low and that there was no one coming up behind them, ha! There followed a horrible passage down to Lock 7, where the baseplate must have been scrubbed to a shine by encounters with trolleys, nameless tat and the bottom of the canal.
If I thought that passage from lock 8 to 7 was stressful, it was nothing compared to the drama between lock 7 and 6. By contrast, this is a very short pound with barely enough room for two narrowboats. The hire boat had just gone down, the crew obliging cracked a paddle for us and as the lock filled Richard found out that there were boats coming up – except they weren’t – the short pound was nigh on down to mud and the hire boat was stuck halfway across the short pound.
I hardly know where to start the saga of the next hour – it was a bit of a black comedy and I still think that it’s a miracle that Indigo Dream came out unscathed. Richard was not worried.
Right, we (as in all the boats waiting to go down/up) needed to get water into the pound between 7 and 6. But the pound above was hardly full to brimming either, so it seemed to make sense to take Indigo Dream down with a lock-full of water rather than leave her on a drained pound above lock 7. So far so good….
Indigo Dream’s rudder – this should be under water!!!!
Once we were down, we opened the bottom gates and realised that the pound below was so low that one lock-full of water hardly made a difference – we’d need to run more water down. At this point Indigo Dream was in the lock with the bottom gates open, I asked Richard to shut the bottom gates before flushing water down but he thought if would be ok not to; he got that one wrong! He took the stern rope and tied it round a bollard on the lock edge. He started to flush water down, Indigo Dream shot forward, the rope snapped and I screamed at Richard to drop the paddle. He responded quickly, but it was too late, Indigo Dream was now almost halfway out of the lock. This sadly coincided with the guys on the lock below opening paddles to come up and draining the pound further leaving Indigo Dream perched on the bottom cill with her front half suspended a foot or more in the air above the mud below – not good!
At this point I had a sense of humour failure and with a bit of wriggling, I put Richard on the helm while I went to manage the paddles. By now, the man in the boat stuck in the lock below (let’s call him Mr Nuisance) had come up to see why we weren’t running water down faster. He was a pain in the proverbial, he was trying to bully me into opening the paddles fully, but I refused, and had to be quite assertive about it. Why? Because with Indigo Dream stuck in the lock jaws, there wasn’t enough room for the water to flow past, so it started to bunch up behind the stern. Mr Nuisance was obscuring my view, and by the time he got out of my way, the water had ponded over the first of our stern tunnel markings. We had to go slowly rather than risk swamping our engine bay or washing her over the cill and damaging the prop – sigh!
Water rushing past as we run water down to refloat
Eventually, we got enough water down to pound below to get Indigo Dream afloat; Richard reversed Indigo Dream back into the lock, we shut the bottom gates and opened all four paddles – with the boat secure we could run water through at top speed. It still took an age, but eventually we got enough water into the short pound to allow the upcoming boat out of lock 6, for the waiting hire boat to get in to lock 6 and for us to get out of lock 7 to wait in the pound. But the drama wasn’t quite over, Mr Nuisance was so anxious about running aground in the short pound, he came right up to the narrows below lock 7 at a sharp angle before we were out and almost T-boned us as we tried to more forward to the passing place – a”£$!
We had been managing 3 locks an hour up to lock 8, then lock 7 and 6 took 70 minutes to get through! I was very stressed by the time we came into Lock 6 and was worried about the rest of the flight, but from then on it was actually fine!
Sadly, with all the to-do at the locks, I missed seeing the old Commonwealth Games site and the sculpture “the B of the bang” – I was disappointed as I’ve always wanted to see it in real life having seen many photos when it was first built. However, I don’t want to see it enough to go back up the Ashton flight!
Zoomies! It took a while to get through Locks 8 – 6 so the hounds enjoyed a run when we let them out…
We got to the bottom of the Ashton by 3.30pm and stopped for a late lunch. We contemplated going on down the Rochdale 9, but we’d had enough really, so we stopped for the day.
We had some to-ing and fro-ing around Piccadilly, trying to decide where to moor. There are super-secure moorings offside around the gated housing development. It looked appealing enough, but we’d have been trapped as the caretaker was on holiday and his deputy couldn’t give us a guest code for the gate. I’m sure a limited walk would have been fine for the hounds, but it was early enough for us to explore, so we went to the junction with the Rochdale Canal. There were plenty of mooring rings at the junction and some moored boats but we weren’t sure, so we turned back (we later found out that it is regarded as a safe mooring). While we were on the move, we thought we’d fill with water, but sadly the waterpoint marked on our Nicholsons (by lock 2) was long gone.
In the end we moored up on the rings opposite the gated development – it seemed civilised enough and was well covered by CCTV. We figured that if we didn’t fancy it as night fell, we could always move across the canal to the gated moorings. As it happened, the mooring was fine and we had a quiet night.
With plenty of evening left, I took the dogs for a walk and pottered around while Richard went foraging for a takeaway. We had thought about exploring Manchester but I was exhausted so we had a quiet night in. The hounds didn’t mind, they’d had quite enough and were up for an evening of snoozing :-)
Just part of the huge chemical works flanking the canal..
Regular readers will know that I have a fascination with canalside industries, and, as I’ve often said, it should be a legal requirement for them all to display a sign with their name and the products that they manufacture in order to enhance the lives of nosy boaters like me! A lot of manufacturing industries are a bit shy to reveal their identities – I’m sure this is innocent enough, you don’t need a shop front if you’re not retailing to the public. But some searches take longer than others, and some industries e.g. chemical and pharmaceutical, do seem a little coy when it comes to revealing details of their plants.
I set about finding out more about the factory that I believe had generated the “dead fish” smells around Lock 10. I had several clues to work with – I knew the exact location of the works and I knew that fishy smells are associated with the chemical group “amines”. You’d think it would be easy-peasy but it still took a few hours to put the jigsaw together…
First I searched for “chemical industries” and immediately found a factory “East Lancashire Chemicals”, but a search of their website showed that they manufacture various varieties of washing soda – all odourless and highly unlikely to involve amines. Hmmm, back to the drawing board….
End of the day’s locking :-)
Photographs that we took (and a subsequent search of Google Earth and Bing) highlighted a number of large gas cylinders marked “Air Products”. Now, I know Air Products from my other life as a pharmacist – they supply medical gases and I’d assumed that their cylinder was on site as a manufacturing component rather than it being an “Air Products” plant. I was wrong!
Now, before the lawyers get excited here are some possibly unrelated facts:
- A bit more digging (including a look at some Manchester Urban Regeneration committee notes about the compulsory purchase of land from Air Products) confirmed that the site flanking the canal around Locks 10 and 9 belonged to “Air Products”. I carried on the search, because as far as I’m aware, fishy amines do not feature in any medical gas that I know.
- A search of their global, then their UK, websites revealed that the company manufactures a wide range of chemicals including amines. A quick look at their product data sheets confirmed that many of their amine products have a “characteristic amine odour” – which generally ranges from ammonia-like to the full aroma of rotten fish.
- I found it quite difficult to find exactly where Air Products’ plants are located. They list their Head Offices and I eventually got to something like a list of UK plants by going through their “careers” website, but the Manchester/Ashton site wasn’t listed, so I can’t confirm whether they manufacture amine products at the Ashton factory.
Interestingly, when the nearby area was assailed by the smell of rotten fish back in December 2013, the source was never found, so I’ll probably never make the link between the factory and the smell…
For people who like a bit of history, my researches into the chemical industry did unearth this photo from the 1950s – I thought the Ashton Canal looked run down even then :-(
Again for the historians, a lot of my searches were overwhelmed by news articles of an awful explosion at a munitions factory not far from Portland Basin back in 1917 (there’s a map at the bottom of the linked article) . There’s a brief account here.
The Ashton Canal, overall, is a bit grim, but there are some little gems – like this painted bridge, a sort of Belfast Truss but has both chords curved and a pig to calculate by hand…
Some of the old buildings have elaborate brickwork…
Although it goes through a densely populated area, we could let the hounds off for a bimble for most of its length…
And nature soon moves in to cover the dereliction…
There are several low bridges along this canal…
Oh dear, our Olympic Looking team has folded – they really must learn to pace themselves :-)
Henry Beanz makes a good pillow…
Fairfield Junction and the start of the day’s locking…
It was a lovely day for locking…
View from Lock 7 towards the converted Commonwealth Games Stadium…
More low bridges….
Urban regeneration – not sure what I think of the building on the left – cutting edge design or wine-soaked architects?? :-)
Mind your head Richard! The logic-defying steps down from Lock 1!
Piccadilly Village at the bottom of the Ashton Canal – secure (gated) mooring to the right of the photo, good towpath ring moorings on the left. We moored on the towpath side and had an undisturbed night…
We weren’t sure of the status of these mooring pontoons – the sharp right turn under the building takes you to the Rochdale Canal
Archie checking out the cat action at Piccadilly Village – he was disappointed :-)
We last met this little cruiser on the Buckby flight – he’s the adventurous chap who’d bought the boat for a song and was cruising to the far North while doing it up on the way. His boat does look a bit more canal-worthy, quite smart really and he now has a proper engine, not a funny electric thing, water and tea-making facilities :-) The photo below/opposite was taken soon after he started out in April…
On his way North – up to the Aire and Calder – hope he makes it :-)