Travelling along the Rochdale Canal by boat from Castlefied to Piccadilly is as you would expect totally different from walking the stretch along the towpath.
Back then it seemed a bit of adventure. Chances were you would be the only one on the canal and the loneliness was added to by the state of the buildings along the way. Most were tall some derelict and all seemed to have turned their back on the canal, so that apart from a timber yard the rest had their entrances on the street side. No one you thought wanted to know about this relic from the past.
And on a grey wet morning those same buildings made the place just that bit more desolate and not somewhere where even the adventurer in me choose to be as dusk came on.
The boat offered a totally different experience. First you were with people all of whom knew what they were doing which I suppose my contribution to the journey was limited to helping push the lock gates open and then close them.
We were going up from Castlefield to Dale Street and that meant I think eight sets of lock doors to open and close.
Once in the lock at the lowest level it is impressive how the water cascading into the chamber does its business and fairly quickly you reach the height of the towpath and you are on your way again.
More than anything it is the power of water that gets you. It comes into the lock at some speed.
But it is also that even when the locks are closed there is a constant transference of water. Some of it from side gullies from the lock above to the next one below, and in other cases just back falling over the lock behind..
But all of this would have been much romantic tosh to the people that worked the canals. They carried everything from coal to fine bone china and lived on the water, often with large families. And they endured those journeys come sun or snow, or heavy rain when the surface of the water seemed to boil to those bitter frozen moments when nothing on the canal could move.
Their journey like ours would have taken them through the heart of the city, past timber yards, the rebuilt railway viaduct at Deansgate, under Oxford Road and on taking in a power station the park by the old school and via London Road into the Dale Street Basin.
What I am not sure of is the last part of the journey which today takes you underneath the modern office block now known as 111 on the corner of London Road and Ducie Street.
It is built over the canal and the massive concrete pillars which the building rests on are all around you. It is an odd and a little disconcerting experience and reminds me of that part in The Third Man where the amoral criminal Harry Lime is pursued by the authorities through the sewers of Vienna.
So that’s the end of the journey which began as a wish to share some of the photographs of the canal by Eileen Blake from 1974 and turned into an extended ramble.
Pictures; from the collection of Eileen Blake and Andrew Simpson, “narrow boats passing under Aytoun Street,” L Kaye, 1955, m54251, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
and under 111 Piccadilly by courtesy of Pennine waterways, www.pennincewaterways.co.uk/
And the other stories on the canal at http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Rochdale%20Canal