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Monday, 30 June 2014

Messing About with Water Wherever you are.

If you like messing about with water, if its in your DNA, you'll find a way of getting your fix despite your location.

When I was a kid, being in land-locked Lancashire the sea wasn't an option until I got transport. So, I found the next best thing in the local canals.

When I was five, I used to go down with my friends to the canal and try and float on any old bit of wood we could get to float. If we found big enough chunks of polystyrene, or barrels that could make a serious raft  then we were even happier! I learned to swim at six. My mother had already recognised my predilection for water and decided that at the very least I'd be able to survive if I fell in!

Then when I was six or seven the canal was started to be cleared out and restored. I remember watching the guys push a monorail dunp truck along the towpath. At the time it fascinated me. Over the years the canal was cleared which brought more rafting opportunities as well as Stickleback and Newt fishing.

By the time I was 14 the canal had been fully restored and there was a festival to celebrate at Portland basin, which was where two restored canals met. A narrowboat hire company called Wayfarer Narrowboats had just started working from Portland basin and I persuaded my father that it would be fun taking one of these out for a week. And so, one sunny day during 1976 we started our journey along the Peak Forest canal, hoping to get round the Cheshire ring.

All I can say is we were a bit ambitious, mainly because those of us that lived through 1976 will know we had a severe drought on that year. So severe, that cruising on the canals had to be dramatically restricted to preserve water levels. So flights of locks were actually locked with a chain and padlock very early in the late afternoon/ evening (I seem to remember 5pm being the time). This restriction and an unreliable engine (which meant a call-out to Wayfarer twice in the week) meant we didn't complete the Cheshire ring that week.

My father hired another boat from them the following year and we did complete the ring and he went on the year after that to buy a small cabin cruiser, which is where I got to know about outboard engines, lugging petrol cans from petrol stations, etc.

Anyway, this week I was back in my home town so I took the wife down to Portland Basin so she could see where I was talking about. Here are some pics:

Portland Basin Looking Towards the Ashton Canal. Peak Forest canal on the left.
Portland Basin Looking Towards the Huddersfield Narrow canal.

Portland Basin from on top of the bridge over the Peak Forest Canal.
As the Peak Forest canal leaves the Basin, it goes over the river Tame on an aqueduct:

The aqueduct narrows so it can be blocked off in case of a leak.

The river Tame. No Lancashire landscape should be without a chimney.
As you can see there is industry right alongside water and trees. Its a huge kids playground.

There is a very small linear marina up one of the small arms of the canal:
Portland Basin Marina. No yachts in sight!
The area is looking a bit run down from its heyday. The Canal Festival ran every year until 2008 and the area reflects its lack of attention. Almost back to the days when I was a kid. The place is home to a huge flock of Geese that don't seem to mind the odd human passing by, but I assume are largely unmolested.

Geese. Less of a flock, more like a swarm...

They to fly down to Langstone and eat some of the weed that gets in the way when rowing.

You can be in the middle of town, but nature is all around
River, canal, railway... All together to serve Victorian Lancashire Industry.

Today's guide is.... yours truly.

More nature, more Geese.

I put the pictures up on Facebook this weekend and all everyone can mention is back when I was 15 or 16  I built a Canadian Canoe and used to paddle it up and down the canal.

Its a shame kids these days miss out on all this, I loved getting outside.

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