26th October – Chadderton to Punchbowl Lock, Littleborough
We ploughed on through some fairly boring canalway, through Rochdale was a highlight – despite the main lock on the centre being a pretty tough one, we were greatly encouraged by three drunk guys who helped us out and shut the gates behind us. But…we had a breakdown. Again! We thought there was something up with the diesel, so checked for both water and then air. Water we had done before – Eric had told us how to do that before. But this didn’t solve it, so we called him and he talked us through ‘burping’ the engine to get rid of any air bubbles. This did the trick (thanks yet again Eric!) and on we went.
Leaving Rochdale, there are a couple of swing bridges. Like the vertical lift bridge, you insert your BW key and this frees up a mechanism by which to literally swing the bridge over to the side, so boats can pass through.
On the first man, this chap was telling me how to use it, and then I ended up fretting so much about Billie who was taking a ride on the moving bridge, that I left the poor guy (who was on crutches!) to do the hard work…oops.
And on and on. I can’t remember how many locks we did that day but it was something like 24. I felt a second wind as we came into the rough, rugged Pennine mill-town landscape that showed we were close to home – leaving the urban concrete of Manchester and Rochdale behind, as we approached Littleborough everything suddenly became a lot greener, a lot wilder. And there were houses made from stone.
We carried on into the evening and did several locks in the dark – I dropped my amazing would-survive-a-nuclear-explosion torch which my dad gave me and was extremely upset. We found some old bits of flapjack which helped. But it was just getting a bit silly so, at 1st below Punchbowl lock, we pulled in for the night.
Except we couldn’t, because I had left a paddle open on the previous lock, and the pound had drained enough that it was too shallow to moor Swallow at the edge. I had to go on to the next lock and let water through to our pound and learned a big lesson about the importance of prudent water management to the functioning of the canal – even when it’s pouring with rain.
That night, it turned out Emma and I both had nightmares about locks and water and diesel…
27th October – Littleborough to Todmorden
Today was the day we finally got Swallow home. But not before another SHEDLOAD of locks. A really nice guy called Ray from the Canal River Trust happened to be doing something to the lock right above us, and he popped up a few times during the day and helped us out.
The forecast was for horrible, horrible storms, and though it was constantly on/off rain, it wasn’t too bad. (Or maybe I was just too knackered and desperate to get home to notice/care…)
But it was an amazing day. The Rochdale Canal is difficult, but it is so beautiful. I felt close to tears at times as Swallow sailed on and on towards Todmorden. We went over the Summit lock – the highest point in the Rochdale canal and the highest canal summit in England. So it was downhill all the way after this. We were used to climbing, so taking the boat in at the bottom and tightening the ropes as she slowly came up. But when she’s going down, it’s important to keep loosening the ropes as the water drains, otherwise the boat would capsize. It was also much trickier getting back onto the boat if one of us didn’t jump down in time!
Down we went and deeper into the Pennines, coming through Walsden – the village to the east of Todmorden, on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. Now things were getting truly familiar – we passed Grandma Pollard’s famous chippy, beauty-spots we’d looked at earlier for potential moorings, I called a friend in a canalside house and she and her son watched from the window and waved as we went through the lock outside.
Coming into Todmorden was amazing. I’ve walked up and down this towpath many times but I’ve never done it on the water. There was so much flooding – at one point my feet inside my boots were completely sodden as I had to traipse through flooding to get to the next lock and set it for Emma and the boat. But the well-known lock names, Copperas, Gauxholme, Shade, spurred me on to home.
On the final stretch of our journey, the last-but-one lock was Todmorden Library Lock – a guillotine lock which again needs a BW key to operate. It’s quite scary doing it actually – you bring the boat into the lock, then down she goes, and a huge counterweight slowly lowers, lifting the big metal gate to allow you through.
There was a really patronising fellow here with his family – they’d hired a boat for a holiday – who dismissed our suggestions about managing the lock sensibly (flood water was still causing a problem and there was simply too much upstream for the lock to fully empty.) He wasted more than a lock’s-full of water in order to get through the lock before us and I wanted to smack him when he said ‘do you want your boat to end up on the bottom of the canal?’ Yes mister. I want to sink my boat, that’s why I’m offering you these suggestions. I was not in the mood.
Anyway, we got through and it was exciting and there was one lock to go, and as we took Swallow through, a really lovely man who had built his own boat – a beautiful, huge replica Dutch barge – gave us a few anti-vandal keys and a super windlass which could take on any lock. He’d been soaking them in Coca-Cola or something to get the rust off, and he was off to see his son, who was a farrier up north. He closed up the lock behind us and saw us on our way, and finally, at 3.30, we arrived at Swallow’s new home, at Baltimore Marina.