Ridiculous canal. Should be banned.
That’s all you really need to know. But if you’re still interested, I shall elaborate.
The navigation (part river, part canal) tests boaters beyond the point of all reasonable endurance for 21 miles and 27 wide, exceptionally eccentric locks from Wakefield to Sowerby Bridge. For some (but not all, oh no, and in no discernibly predictable pattern either) you need to use a medieval looking spike to operate the locks. Most of the locks leak, some badly. All are short: 57 feet long maximum. Short locks + leaks = nightmare. Generally feels like it was cobbled together on a shoe string and maintained on less than that ever since.
We managed the stretch from Wakefield to the junction with the Huddersfield Broad last year without too much incident but this year was a different affair. After Tom abandoned ship to head for the far sunnier skies of Valencia (traitor), I invited Maman on board as crew mate. I should point out her experience in locking us through all 30-plus locks of Tardebigge, up the Hatton flight in January, down from Diggle on the Huddersfield Narrow etc etc. No novice crew here!
And still we struggled.
The weather was against us, rendering the ground underfoot treacherous. The ramshackle state of maintenance was… occasionally upsetting… lock landings not long enough for a 53 foot boat to pull in and let crew off safely, paddles so stiff neither of us could move them, gates so heavy it took three people to open them. (Still, I suppose I got to meet some new people when we flagged down passing pedestrians, cyclists, children, anyone to help us get the damn things open!) It’s also one of those canals that people seem to mistake for a litter bin, so we pulled a fair amount of plastic out of the weed hatch. Hooligans. There’s the occasional flood gate (closed only in times of high water on the river stretches, usually in the winter) – but for some reason best known to the Calder and Hebble, these were not all chained open and sometimes the gates had swung to. Once I managed to squeeze Felucca through, but another time Maman had to clamber off (no lock landing) and open the gates then throw herself back onto the boat so we could get through. I was tempted to ram the gates open in true action-thriller Hollywood blockbuster style, but I didn’t want to have to explain to Tom that I’d snapped the boat in two out of bloodymindedness…
But the worst thing was the sense of isolation. I have no idea why but there was hardly anyone around. We hardly passed a boat at all until we got past Brighouse. Barely any passers-by (see above ref opening lock gates, feel our pain and desperation!). On our third day on this sodding navigation, we did meet another boat and to our joy we shared the last eight or so locks up to Sowerby Bridge where the Rochdale Canal starts. I’m sure it’s a pretty enough stretch of waterway on fairer days, but the combination of cold, rain and hard work has left me completely indisposed to revisit the C&H anytime soon.
It’s funny though. We’ve been on canals that are hard old work before, but they haven’t left me feeling quite so irritated. I suspect the added frustration is partly because I wanted it to be a triumphant, easy three days – for Maman as a guest and also so I could crow to Tom about how wonderful a lone skipper I am! I wonder if it’s also just generally harder work having sole responsibility for decision-making and boat handling? I certainly have vastly increased respect for single-handed boaters, who move their narrowboats around all the time without even the benefit of capable, determined crew.
Needless to say, Tom’s doing all the locks on the Rochdale as penance for sending gloating emails about white sand and blue skies when I moaned about getting stuck in a lock…