Floating along on the Rochdale Canal

‘Don’t do it’, they said. ‘You and John’ll be bored’, they said. So I thought I was in for a relaxing holiday… floating along, glass in hand… getting off the narrow boat occasionally to open some lock gates or do some sight seeing… maybe an occasional walk. How wrong was I? As well as all those people who thought a narrow boat holiday would be boring? It’s now day 3 of our trip and we haven’t stopped! Today has been particularly eventful, but more on that later.

On Friday we drove to Sowerby Bridge where we collected our small, but perfectly formed narrow boat, Oxford, from Shire Cruises. We had a general talk about using the canals in the office, then a more specific talk on board our boat. Our heads were spinning with everything we had to remember! But that wasn’t all!

Next we entered a procession of narrow boats heading up the canal for some practical instruction. In pairs, we approached the first lock and were shown what to do… open the bottom paddles to let the water out; open the bottom gates to let the boat in; close the bottom gates and paddles; open the top paddles to let water in and raise the boat; open the top gates to let the boat out; then close the top gates and paddles…. And don’t forget your key and windlass. Phew!

This was all fine when we had someone to make sure we weren’t doing it wrong, and when there was another boat crew to share the tasks, but I wondered how John and I would cope when it was just the two of us. I’m bad enough parking a car, so we’d agreed John would steer while I managed the locks and I hoped I was up to it. Those lock gates are really heavy and some of the paddle mechanisms are really stiff!

After going through a second lock we reached Tuel Lane Tunnel under the main road. This was fun. Because it has a bend in it and is quite long, you can’t see if another boat is coming towards you. Therefore we had to wait for a whistle from the lock keepers at the next lock, before we could go through it.

Immediately after the tunnel was Tuel Lane lock, which is the deepest lock in Britain. Two friendly lock keepers operated this for us. It took a long time to fill and raise the boat because it’s 6 metres deep. I was at the front of the boat chatting to the lock keepers, while John was at the back completing the paperwork with the guy from Shire Cruises who’d been showing us what to do. Then the gates of the lock were opened and we were let loose with a 12 tonne canal boat and a handbook… yikes!

It was late afternoon by now so we didn’t go far. After a fairly long section of canal with no locks we moored up at Luddenden Foot. All the other boaters who’d left Sowerby Bridge also parked nearby. Time to get some rest, ready to tackle the locks on our own tomorrow.

We were up and off early, the first of the Shire Cruisers, shortly followed by another boat. This was good because we’d been advised to share the locks whenever possible to try and save water in the canal. Opening the locks allows it to flow in one direction and reduces the amount left higher up the canal. There hasn’t been any rain for a while so we’d been warned that we needed to be careful… more on this in the next blog!

There was a volunteer lock keeper at the first lock. I think he’d heard that 9 lots of holiday makers were due and wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing. The first lock only took one boat but, with his help, we managed ok.

The lock keeper advised us that the next lock took two boats and we could see the next boat, so we waited for them. Working the locks was quite straightforward with another crew. I was glad of their help to open the heavy gates! Everyone joked that I was doing all the hard work while John stayed on the boat but I prefer it this way. I tried steering and the boat went all over the place! Plus I need the exercise!

After doing two locks close together under the lock keeper’s guidance, I was much happier to go it alone. We only had two more locks before Hebden Bridge, one on our own and one as a pair, and we managed them well. In Hebden Bridge we moored up because we were meeting family for a meal that evening.

Mooring wasn’t straightforward because the water level in the canal was low and we ran aground near the bank. At one point John ended up with the narrow boat across the canal, just missing another boat. The lady on the boat was kind and helpful though and, finally, we moored up. Time to relax!

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