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|Pennine Extremes 2007
A canal journey to Celebrate Corinna's Twentieth Birthday
Firstly, this is the introductory page of a set of 9 pages with nearly 200 pictures, links are at top and bottom of this page.
We have gradually been working our way round the canal system on our narrowboat Corinna and this year is her twentieth birthday. We have now been to the extremities of the connected system, Ripon to the Northeast, the Lancaster Canal to the Northwest, the Fens to the East, the River Avon to the West, and the River Wey to the South. This trip, which also celebrates Corinna's 20th Birthday brings us close to completing our explorations of the major canals in the UK linked system. We have already written up our previous trips to the corners of the system, this adds the vertical dimension and some of the most extreme canals which we had not previously visited. The Pennines were a major barrier and ultimately three canals were built to cross them. Ten years ago we did a trip we wrote up as the Great Northern Ring which took us across the Pennines on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Since then the restoration has been completed of the other two Pennine crossings which take more direct routes and their summits are the highest of narrow and broad canals in the UK. Standedge tunnel at the summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is also the highest, longest and deepest tunnel on the system. They were both major feat of engineering in their time and they were built through some extraordinarily difficult and remote countryside. They traverse some of the most beautiful countryside of any canals these days as well as needing some of the hardest work hence the title 'Pennine Extremes'.
This is mainly the story of crossing the Pennines on the recently restored Huddersfield Narrow Canal returning on the Rochdale Canal. Both canals have suffered a series of problems since reopening, especially the Rochdale and the number of boats using them is small. The Huddersfield Narrow is limited to 4 boats in each convoy each way through the Standedge tunnel, and there are two convoys each week. The Rochdale Canal has double width locks and is limited to 2 lockfulls each day over the summit, so only 4 boats. When we set out from the River Thames the Rochdale was closed awaiting clearance for repairs near the M62 culvert, in an area designated as an SSSI, and these were only commenced whilst we were traveling.
It proved difficult to know where to start and end the detailed write up - the core of the trip is known as the South Pennine Ring and comprises the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the Huddersfield Broad Canal, part of the Calder and Hebble Navigation, the Rochdale Canal and a circular trip (ring) is usually completed by the Ashton Canal. For this part we joined up with friends, Malcolm, Dugald and Lesley on the 55 foot narrowboat Priory meeting at Dukinfield Junction where the Peak Forest, Ashton and Huddersfield Narrow Canals join - we came down the Peak Forest Canal and they came up the Ashton Canal. Our plans were not to complete the South Pennine Ring on the Ashton Canal but to use the Bridgewater Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal and complete the circular trip ('tie the knot') back at Red Bull Basin before proceeding home. Red Bull Basin is near Hardingswood Junction, the join between the Macclesfield and Trent and Mersey and is where Corinna was built in David Piper's yard and was launched at the end of May 1987. It therefore seemed appropriate to start our detailed write-up at the time we joined the Macclesfield and to include the highlights of the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals.
On the way back on the Trent and Mersey to Red Bull Basin we took a side trip starting from Middlewich via the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch to the Llangollen Canal and on to its terminus which is currently the furthest West Extremity of the connected system. Work is continuing on the restoration of the Montgomery Canal which connects to the Llangollen Canal. We went down the 7 miles that are currently open, another first visit. We have write-up the Llangollen and especially the Montgomery Canal in some detail in a way that it can be read as a stand alone page. If and when the restoration of the Montgomery is completed that will become the Western Extremity of the system.
The whole trip was characterised by bad weather, for long periods we got up in the mornings and immediately put on waterproof over-trousers and boots and only took them off at the end of the day when we were moored. We were using the stove many days even into July. We eventually starting counting wet days and got to 34 days in a row with rain at some time! There were no water shortages but many of the locks were overflowing over the gates. We just got off the river stretch of the Calder Hebble navigation where we had the first of the extreme weather, before it closed because the river was in spate. We had less than a day in hand and would have been delayed for weeks. At the last stage we also ran into the most extreme weather which caused flooding in the Thames/Oxfordshire area which in many places exceeded the 1947 levels. This closed the Oxford canal for a week and the Thames was on red boards (un-navigable) for several weeks causing us to have a pleasant but unintentional stay at Fenny Compton Marina on the Oxford Canal Summit for three weeks where the weather improved enough for us to get a lot of Corinna painted and explore an area we usually just passed through. The final section has a few pictures of the floods.
This was largely written up as we traveled, initially on Pete's O2 XDA Executive PDA, then transferred using Bluetooth to OpenOffice under Ubuntu Linux on the Toshiba laptop for tidying up and emailing out appropriate sections then finally into a web editor and uploaded as we travel. Pictures are more of a problem whilst we are traveling. In this case we have several hours of video and about 1800 photographs on the Canon A75 from which we have selected about 600 pictures for printing and about 180 for the web, it sounds a lot but only works out at two a day on a trip of three months. The images are always added to the pages as small 'icons' which can be clicked to get a larger popup image. We manage to upload some of the smaller 'icons' as we travel when we have spare time on the mobile but the larger popup images are uploaded when we had access to broadband WiFi, for example, at the Lime Kiln's Inn on the Ashby canal.
As the write-ups grow we start to split them into a number of pages with a navigation bar/index at top and bottom - || between sections means a page split and | a link within a page. We have completed the process of splitting the write up into sensibly sized web pages which will download in a reasonable time even if you do not have broadband and for those who followed it initially as a single page, the old URL will automatically redirect to the new layout of pages.
You can chose the size of popup images between ones which are about 400 pixels in maximum dimension, which are suitable for dial-up and any size of screen and 600 pixels which is better if you have broadband and a large screen. If you double click an image it toggles between a small and large popup size - because of anomalies in how different browsers detect double clicks this takes place for the next image you look at and then for the rest of the time the browser is open, or until you double click again.
More recently (in 2015) the pages have been made 'Mobile Friendly' and the layout has been updated. All the pictures can be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox style) or in a Popup Window. The image display options can be changed using the settings links now at at the bottom right corner of every page which includes pictures. The 'Spanner' icon or the following link takes one to a page covering the Image Display Options in more detail including bandwidth reduction options.
We would thoroughly recommend the South Pennine Ring to any experienced and energetic boaters. The canals were in much better condition and easier than we had been led to expect and we had allowed far more time (3 weeks) than we needed. Even on the Rochdale allowing 15 minutes per wide lock and 2.5 mph provides a margin for the few problems. Two weeks would be reasonable and Shire Cruisers have reluctantly hired to boaters who have only allowed 11 days. Some of the paddle gear and gates are hard work and many gates on the Rochdale only open enough to get boats in separately rather than together because of debris. It is sometimes difficult to moor without a long plank but overall the problems are no worse than on the Kennet and Avon when it first opened. It also needs some planning and booking of the Standedge tunnel, summit crossings and the descent into Manchester but we did not need to call BW out to get us through any problems. Traveling as a pair of boats makes life easier and single handed would offer many challenges in the flights where one really needs to walk ahead.
The rewards are great in the countryside and small number of boats moving. You truly experience the extremes of the canals in the UK. The people we met were as or more friendly than anywhere we have been and there is a pride in many of the towns as to what has been achieved. Whilst we are normally very skeptical about the benefits claimed by studies looking for funding etc the regeneration is clear and obvious along the canal corridor. The sums invested have been large and challenges in maintaining the canal are still present although much of the funding was conditional on guaranteed maintenance for 125 years. It will be interesting to see if the guarantees are worth more than the paper they were written on in times such as now when funding is being steadily tightened and the benefits of regeneration and job creation have largely been already realised and may no longer be dependent on through navigation.
My overall recommendation is to do it now - only plenty of use will improve the situation and justify the huge sums spent on restoration to boaters, otherwise it will be a case of not using it and losing it through some pretext or other.
Books: The best source of information we have found on the Pennine crossings are the books by Keith Gibson, 'Pennine Dreams - the story of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal' and 'Pennine Pioneer - the story of the Rochdale Canal' published by Tempus. Both cover the canal's histories and restoration. They are both excellent and written by someone intimately involved with pulling the funding levers as well as the restoration itself on the Huddersfield - fascinating reading and worth the £16.99 each. We wish we had found them before we did the journey. It is interesting that we had titled our page 'Pennine Extremes' well before we found these two books with similar titles.
Whist not a book I also have to mention that we found a Huddersfield Narrow Canal Information Pack, ISBN 0 900746 40 8 published in 1990 by Kirklees Metropolitan Council which contained a set of information and fact sheets which make interesting reading. They gave us our best insights until we found the Keith Gibson's Books.
Guides: We bought the Geo Projects South Pennine Ring and the Pearson Canal Companion to the Pennine Waterways which does not fully cover the Rochdale or Ashton. These were in addition to the Nicholson guide to the North West and Pennines we already owned. None of them were much good for identifying safe moorings or problem areas of the canal which resulted from the restoration such as the narrow channels with underwater obstructions. Their background and historic information falls far short of that in Keith Gibson's books. I find difficulty in recommending any of them but one does need a guide of some sort and the Nicholson just gets my vote.
BW Information: The British Waterways produced a very comprehensive Glossy A4 sized booklet 'The South Pennine Ring Leisure Guide' (£3.00) which had a lot of information and useful maps as well as a huge amount of advertising - we got a copy at the Child Beale IWA festival last year for free and find that was because it is no longer being updated or printed. It also covers the Peak Forest Canal. It was in many ways a cheaper and better source of information than the commercial guides above, perhaps they have been pressured into discontinuing it for that reason. The BW offices sent us some useful information when we booked for the Standedge tunnel and for the Rochdale. There is information on the Waterscape Web Site but mostly under headings such as stoppages where one finds opening times of locks, phone numbers and advised mooring places.
Other Web Sites: The best source we found was Pennine Waterways which has a huge amount of information covering the Pennine and adjoining waterways including the Macclesfield, Peak Forest and Ashton. It includes a lot of breaking news and also seems to have most of the new and recent BW stoppages and press releases. One does not need to look much further on the web.
We also found it fun to follow parts of the canals using Google Earth when we had WiFi broadband.
Emailed Information: There seem to be few Notice Boards on the Pennine canals with stoppages so it is useful, if not essential, to subscribe to the emailed stoppages updates sent out on canals one selects by BW. They are short, up to date and useful and could probably be received on a mobile phone with GSM or 3G although we used the laptop. Download the complete list of existing stoppages before you leave as you only get updates by email. It is a slightly clumsy system as the only way to change I found is to un-subscribe and re-subscribe.